Monday, June 17, 2013

To Read or Not to Read

By Reece Hirsch

The only books that I will not read while I’m writing are the books that I don’t trust myself not to steal from.  By that, I mean books that deal with the same subculture, place or specific type of story that I’m writing.  For example, about half of my current work-in-progress is set in another country.  There are several mystery and crime writers who have placed their stories in that part of the world, and a few them are on my To Be Read list, but I must stay away until this book is done.

If I were to read one of those books, I’m afraid that every plot twist and bit of local color would force me to say, “No, I can’t do that.  I have to go in a different direction.”  I would find myself trying to reverse-engineer a book that was as different as possible from those others.  Writing is difficult enough without that added level of stress.  If I end up employing some similar plot devices or settings, then at least I will have come by them honestly.

I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t like to read truly great writing while they’re working because it's too intimidating.  I understand that point of view, but I don’t share it.  There is something therapeutic about reading a solidly entertaining, craftsmanlike book where you think you understand the writer’s choices and how they could be improved upon.  Sometimes you do learn more from a book’s flaws than from its strengths.

On the other hand, a great book or bit of writing is a mystery, a magic trick that never gives away its secret.  I will never be able to fully understand where these things come from:

*  Cormac McCarthy’s bloody, incantatory Old Testament grandeur;

*  Raymond Chandler's similes;

*  Richard Price's dialogue, particularly when it's being spoken by his cops;

*  Kate Atkinson’s balance between jigsaw-puzzle plotting and complex characterization in Case Histories; and

*  Dehane Lehane’s ability to do so many things at once and superbly in Mystic River.

The only explanation is that these things come from singular talents writing at the top of their game.  Every miraculous, surprising sentence that I read reminds me that I can do better.  I may never be able to get my head around these particular magic tricks to the extent that I could replicate them, but what would be the point in that, anyway?  Reading these writers reminds me that magic is still possible, no matter how humble my attempts to summon it.

Note:  Over the past year or two, more than a few people have asked me, “Where the hell’s your next book?”  Sometimes, and this is particularly true when speaking to other writers, I could sense them delicately refraining from asking the question.  As one writer friend of mine put it, it’s kind of like asking a woman if she’s pregnant.

Well, I'm happy to report that I finally have an answer to the question.  I recently signed a three-book deal with Thomas & Mercer to write a series of thrillers as part of Amazon’s Kindle Serials program.  The books will feature Chris Bruen, a former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor who is now in private practice combating hackers and cybercriminals on behalf of his clients.  THE ADVERSARY, the first book in the series, will begin appearing in installments later this summer.  Being published in serialized form should be fun, and I'll have more to say about that later.


Chris said...

Reece, I couldn't have answered better myself. Which is a problem, because I'm going to have to come up with something to say anyways.

But much more importantly, CONGRATULATIONS!

Reece said...

Thanks, Chris! And I know you'll come up with a great post later this week -- you always do.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Congratulations, Reece! Great post!

Catriona McPherson said...

Congratulations, Reece! Love your top picks too.

Reece said...

Thanks, Sue Ann!

Catriona -- I knew you'd appreciate the shout-out to Kate Atkinson. Thanks!

Robin Spano said...

Really good points. And true: nothing wrong with reading great writing while you're reading. Just not something you might copy.

Looking forward to reading your work one day soon.

Reece said...

Thanks, Robin. I look forward to reading your work, too. Hilary Davidson's been saying really nice things about your books.

Meredith Cole said...

Congrats Reece! Terrific news!

Reece said...

Thanks, Meredith (and thanks for the RT, too)!

Susan C Shea said...

Congratulations, and I love the idea of serials coming back in a new format. (No, I'm not old enough to have read Dickens in the newspaper, not quite, but I like the concept of drawn out pieces with rhythmic cliffhangers.)

I too shy away from mystery novels that might embed themselves into my brain and lead to echoing in my own work. Then I catch up on them while my editors play with my finished manuscript.

Reece said...

Thanks for stopping by, Susan (and for the excellent guest post last week)! I've read that the publishers that are bringing back serials are trying to create a literary version of the "watercooler experience" we have watching TV shows like "Homeland" or "Game of Thrones." It's going to be interesting.