February 25, 2010
Ever met someone who only reads one type of book? I imagine you have. They only like cozy mysteries or they only like chaste romances or they only read military sci-fi. I think that's a little crazy, but whatever, to each his/her own.
My own reading tends to be all over the board. For several years it got narrower, focusing primarily on mysteries and thrillers, and the edgier ones tended to be more to my taste. My favorites are probably fast-paced, action-oriented, somewhat heroic in nature.
Hey, go figure. How would I describe the Derek Stillwater novels? Fast-paced. Action-oriented. Heroic in nature.
Not everybody likes those kinds of books. As mentioned a couple days ago, the book reviewer for Publishers Weekly didn't seem to like those kinds of books. A gentleman writer who read it in manuscript format thought the writing was good, but felt that Derek Stillwater operated at too high a level given the abuse he undergoes in The Fallen, ala Jack Bauer from "24," or Jason Bourne or Bruce Willis's character in the Die Hard movies.
Ultimately, I don't feel a real need to justify my books on that basis. I could, I suppose. I could point out that it was a Special Forces (or was it a Navy SEAL?) that founded the first Iron Man triathlon--swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles followed by a 26.2 mile run, all back-to-back without rest, and the winning times tend to be in the 12-15 hour timeframes. I could point out that if you read, for instance, Doug Stanton's HORSE SOLDIERS, about the first Special Forces soldiers into Afghanistan after 9/11, one of the stories (and there many of this type) was of a soldier who rode a horse all day long on a wooden saddle in excruciating pain, was unable to get off the horse by himself at the end of the day... and it turned out that he had ruptured a disk in his back, but kept on going.
Derek Stillwater is a character who is routinely pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits. Hence: thriller.
But there's no real point to defending those sorts of things any more than a writer of cozy mysteries should bother defending how their suburban housewife is constantly solving mysteries that the police can't solve, book after book after book.
Certain types of books have certain types of conventions and along with those conventions, certain types of readers.
I no longer care for a steady diet of one type of book. David Hewson, who writes slow, layered, meticulous, detailed police procedurals set in Italy has argued in his blog that there's no need for supermen in crime fiction. Well, that's David's taste in books and it reflects in his own writing. And David's books are wonderful, even though I wish he'd move things along a little bit faster.
Jodi Picoult-type books with their lengthy interior monologues drive me crazy. It's not a slam on her books or her readers. It's just not my cup of tea.
Some readers don't like first-person, some don't like third. Some don't like multiple viewpoints. (Want to frustrate me as a reader? Write it in present tense. Drives me crazy). Hell, some people don't like fiction or don't like reading at all.
When you develop a readership--and I guess I might be slowly doing so--you start to get a sense of who your readers are and what they like. Here's one thing I know about the readers who like my books the most--they're men. That isn't to say women don't like them, because I know women do. But the reader most likely to say, "Man, that book was awesome!" to me, is a man. Maybe Derek Stillwater is our heroic alter ego the same way Spenser is or James Bond is or Jason Bourne is. Maybe what men want as a reading diversion is fast-pace and high adventure. That's really too broad a statement, I don't like to stereotype readers by gender or any other way, but I do wonder.
In terms of writing, I think it's worthwhile to pay attention to what you MOST respond to in reading. It's a good chance that that is what will work best in your own writing. Not exclusively, perhaps, but if you respond to books with witty dialogue and lots of action, why in hell would you try to write slow, layered, inner-monologue laden novels? If it doesn't appeal to you, why would it appeal to someone else?
Maybe the answer actually is: because you want a change of pace. Or your own taste in reading is shifting. Or you wanted a challenge.
All good reasons, I think, to try a different approach. Use another tool from your toolbox. Shake things up a bit.
Just remember, a lot of times, different types of books appeal to different types of readers.