Mark Terry

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Different Likes

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.

7 Comments:

Blogger Aimless Writer said...

I read all over the place too. Sometimes I write like that, too. I was brought up on Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts and I love them all.
And I don't get the comment on Derek operating too high given what happens. He's hero and he has all that training and experience so I expect him to take it on. Derek also has a side that feels the fear and that comes through too. It makes him human.
A wise man once said that courage is just fear holding out a moment longer. You do what you have to do to get through. So does Derek.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, comments like that do make me wonder if the readers shouldn't get out more, go to the gym, you know, do something besides risk paper cuts.

I will say, one of the guys and I at the gym were laughing the other day. One of the trainers who typically has female clients, was having them do assisted chin-ups and when they asked how many he said, "30!"

I commented that one thing you constantly see in the movies is somebody dangling from a building or a helicopter and all you have to do is try some unassisted chin-ups to realize just how difficult that is, even if you're in good shape. That said, I once saw that particular trainer tie a chain with a 45-pound weight around his waist and do unassisted chin-ups, about 20 of them.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Funny, but I don't write the books I like to read. But I write the books I like to WRITE. And I write about characters I really, really like.

My reading tends to be all over the map. But if I was to pick a component, it's a wounded interior hero (like the hero in Child 44), a dose of angst, and a character(s) that I find fascinating (love Lawsen's characters; used to read all of Vachss's books).

7:42 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Besides books on physics, what type do you read? And why do you think you don't write them?

9:16 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
Besides physics, and biographies of mathematicians and physicists (read the one on Oppenheimer that won the National Book Award and LOVED IT!! What a complex guy.), I read Russian classics (Tolstoy), Dickens, and a few other writers of a long time ago. I love post-modern (Don Delillo's White Noise!!!). Atwood. Terry Pratchett. Neil Gaiman. Patrick McGrath. I love audacious concept novels.

That said, I AM writing, now, the sort of book I like. In my wip, I have an Angel of Death originally from the black plague become obsessed with a young boy survivor of Chernobyl, who contracts thyroid cancer, survives it, and goes on to become a leading scientist and doctor at what seems like the end of the world when a virus that assaults memory and mimics Alzheimer's goes critical mass. So I am finally writing something that is what I would read. Death's best friend is a 100-year-old nun from the Nun Project on memory in Minnesota (where 627 nuns are actually ALL donating their brains to science in the largest human organ donation ever recorded) . . . and the main heroine is a filmmaker creating a Shoah-like project of memories as the world is ending . . . lots of intersecting lives.

So . . . I don't know . . . for the most part, I love writing snappy dialogue, but my own genre doesn't tend to have enough meat for me. But I am, indeed, trying something post-modern.

11:24 AM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

Interesting question ... I read lots of novels, in lots of genres and from lots of time periods. But the unifying thing that knits together all the books I love is voice. Always voice.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I suspect the average reader might be a little too quick to classify some physical exploits as implausible. Having done a little (slow) running and orienteering I have observed people who, although they are only at a local level and hardly elite athletes, perform feats of endurance and speed that, to me, seem impossible. (Actually that goes for any 20-year old these days, but never mind...) I also recall the day that Steve Spence, who had been on the US Olympic team, happened to be in town for a friend's wedding and was talked into doing a local race. Well, not that it was any race.

I have a problem in that I like too many sorts of things, from fantasy to mysteries, to sf, to classic literature....I find I am sometimes in the mood for one thing and sometimes in the mood for another. You put yourself in the frame of mind for what you are reading. All genres, including literary genres, have their own conventions. You can't criticize a book for being the genre it is. I mean, I suppose someone who likes literary novels, and nothing but, would say a slow moving, unexciting thriller featuring a frail nebbish of a poet was Real Literature, while people who like thrillers would call it crap.

Many books I like to read, though, are ones I couldn't write. I like them precisely because they tell me something I don't know of give me, vicariously, give me some experience I wouldn't have imagined.

3:31 PM  

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