Thursday, August 31, 2017

If I had all the time in the world, would I like to read my own books?

James W. Ziskin

I adhere to the old saw “Write what you would like to read” and not “Write what you know.” So, yes, I would like to read my own books if I had the time…and—I can’t stress this enough—if I hadn’t written them myself. Here are both sides of the argument.

1. Pro: I love books that transport the reader to another time and place. Set in the early 1960s, my books follow a twenty-something reporter named Ellie Stone as she investigates murder for her local paper. There are five books out, with a sixth (A STONE’S THROW) on the way in June 2018. Reading about another time grips me in ways that contemporary fiction does not necessarily. All things being equal, a story set in the past appeals to me a mite more because of that added element of time and distance. As in a dream, it whisks me away, makes me the passenger, and I like that.

Con: I know the endings of my books already.

2. Pro: I love the main character in my books. Ellie Stone is a mashup of the best and worst characteristics I admire/lament in people. She is smart, wickedly funny, and empathetic. She is also a drinker, a modern girl, and alone. For the most part. She does have her one great friend, Fadge, of course.

Con: The hay’s in the barn. I might cringe at something I wrote, and it’s too late to change it.

Me reading one of my own books. Tinker (left) is also a fan of my books.

3. Pro: The cast of characters in Ellie’s world. Ellie lives and works in a small upstate mill town in decline. Its best years behind it, New Holland, NY, is struggling to cope with the loss of the once-powerful carpet mills that moved south and orphaned the town. Like the residents of many small towns, the New Holland locals provide fascinating examples of quirky, lovable folks. Some are odious, too. Ellie’s nemesis at the paper, George Walsh, for instance. But she moves around, too. I try hard not paint New Holland as murder capital USA, so Ellie has investigated murders in New York City, the Adirondack Mountains, and Hollywood, CA. Those locations allowed me to introduce a totally different set of secondary characters. My favorites include the diminutive police sergeant, Jimmo McKeever (STYX & STONE); Ellie’s aunt and elderly cousin, Lena and Max (HEART OF STONE); and the chillingly scheming studio executive, Dorothy Fetterman (CAST THE FIRST STONE).

Con: I might find previously undiscovered errors in the book.

4. Pro: The mysteries I enjoy the most are the ones that need solving. I like to imagine the clean slate detectives encounter at the start of an investigation. They know nothing and must piece together the puzzle, one clue at a time. Some readers find that kind of journey tedious. We all have our own tastes, after all. That’s what makes a horse race. For me, it’s the journey to discovery that keeps me turning pages.

Con: I actually do not have the time to read my books. So many other voices to discover.

Someone else reading one of my books

But the reality of the situation, of course, is that I do read my own books. Many, many times during the revision and editorial stage. By the time I’m finished doing that, I don’t want to look at the book again. Except perhaps to admire the covers and remember that I wrote them once upon a time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Never go back

by Dietrich Kalteis

Pretending there are no time constraints, would you ever get the urge to sit down with your own published work and read?

I went on a trip last year to visit family and went through the reading material I brought along very early on. Being with family, naturally I found a couple of my novels on the bookshelf next to some vintage Reader’s Digests. So, I reread my first one, Ride the Lightning. It did cross my mind that I might find some error that slipped past me back when I wrote it. Happily, nothing glaring jumped out at me, and since the book came out in 2014 I was long-finished with writing it, and I was able to just sit back and kind of enjoy it.

Would I do it again? Since I know the outcome of my own stories, the thoughts and feelings of each character, their arcs, etc., what’s left? Time to move on, and to become inspired by somebody else’s writing. And there are more great books than the hours I have to read them. My own to-read list is pretty long, and the unread books I own could tower to the ceiling, So, why read my own? 

I do re-read novels I loved the first time around — classics mostly. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Catcher in the Rye, Get Shorty and just about anything else Elmore Leonard wrote. It’s not so much about revisiting the stories, but hearing those great voices that I never tire of. 

I read a novel a week, sometimes more, and I like to take my time and really drink them in. Reading inspires me to write, and if it weren’t for time constraints, I’d read even more. I’m always interested in authors who write in the same genre and discovering voices I’ve never read before. Reading a great novel inspires me to write.

And I like to read novels in German from time to time. It’s my first language, and reading in German helps keep me fluent. And there are many talented contemporary writers as well as greats like G√ľnter Grass, Hermann Hesse, Erich Maria Remarque, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann and Edgar Hilsenrath. And there’s something special about reading the books in the language in which they were written: Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, The Tin Drum, Death in Venice and All Quiet on the Western Front, The Reader, and more. And I’m thrilled that my second novel The Deadbeat Club will be released in German early next year by Suhrkamp. It will be called Shootout, and that’s one of my own stories that I am looking forward to re-reading.

If I wrote a series, I would likely go back and revisit my early work from time to time, just to keep things consistent. I’d be looking for new ways of growing the characters, revisiting their motivation, and checking that I was keeping to the general thread of the original story. 

On occasion, I’ve dusted off some of my old unpublished short stories to see if there are possibilities to bring them to life or expand on them. I have given a couple a new twist and finally seen them published. And a while ago, I dusted off a novel I had written many years before to see if I could revive it, but it was pretty terrible. Some things can’t be rescued and are best left to serve as a reminder of how far one’s come. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I'm a Chicken

By R.J. Harlick

Pretending there are no time constraints, would you ever get the urge to sit down with your own published work and read?

I love reading. No matter how busy I am, I always find time to read. It’s one of life’s pleasures that helps me chill out after a busy day. I want a book I can relax with, a book that will help me escape to another world.

Now you ask, would I chose one of my own?

You have to understand that by the time one of my books is released into the big broad world, I will have read it three times.

The first time is after the first draft is complete. While I am writing this first draft I never go back and read what has already been written. Only when it is finished, do I go back and read it. But, honestly, you can’t really call this reading, at least not for pleasure. I’m working very hard when I do this first read.  I want to know if the story hangs together and if the characters make sense. I want to identify where changes need to be made, which parts of the story need working, which characters need fixing, which if any chapters should be cut or characters removed and so on and so forth.  I also look closely at the words themselves to make sure they do what I want them to and to identify changes when they don’t.

The second time I read the complete text is after the second draft is finished. Again, this read can hardly be called a read. While I would like to do a complete read of the text before jumping into the editing, usually I don’t have this luxury because I am bumping up against a deadline. Instead I will read a chapter at a time, which I then edit. This third and final draft will be the one I send to my publisher. So, during this so call ‘read’ I am wanting to ensure all the changes work and the words make sense. I also use this draft to reduce the word count to that required by my contract. Since I tend to be rather voluminous with my words, this becomes an exercise in deleting. Not much pleasurable reading happening here.

Once this third draft is complete, I hit the send key and off it goes to my publisher without another read through. You no doubt are asking yourself how I can do this. My answer is I dare not. Because if I did, I know I would be into another round of editing. It would be impossible for me to leave it alone.

The third and final read is when I proof the manuscript that is now in print ready form, ready to be shipped to the printer. But once again this is far from a relaxing read. Though I’m reading every word, I’m looking for typos, editing mistakes and so on and so forth. It’s the last chance I have to make any changes before it is beyond my control. Occasionally I forget myself and read it for the pleasure of reading it, but when I do, I lose my concentration and miss the problems, so I have to go back to ensure I didn’t miss anything. In case you are wondering if I read the manuscript after my editor's changes have been incorporated, the answer is no. I never do. 

Many months later, I finally get to hold the printed copy in my hand. A thrill I never tire of. But do I read it?

Nope, I don’t. Not in its entirety. I will do an out loud, short reading, usually the first chapter, at library and other events, but I have yet to pick up one of my books to read it the way I would any other book, for pleasure.

I suppose it is in part because I’m intimately familiar with the story and definitely know whodunit. But that doesn’t keep me from rereading other books. No, I suppose it has more to do with my being chicken. What if I don’t like it? Nothing I can do about it now. But say I do like it, really like it, I know I wouldn’t be able to prevent myself from noticing where improvements could be made.  I would read it like an editor and end up getting absolutely no enjoyment out of it.

Though all seven books sit on my bookshelf, it is safe to say that they are the only books that I have not read in my library. And when Purple Palette for Murder comes out in October it will join them and it too will remain unread by me. Oh dear, I’m beginning to feel rather sorry for them. Maybe, just maybe, many years from now I will summon up my courage and read them.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t read them. Please do. Because you will be able to read them as a reader and will be able to escape into the mysterious world of Meg Harris.

What about you other writers? Do you read your books once they are published?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Would I read my books?

Terry Shames answering this week’s perplexing question: if I had all the time in the world, would I like to read my own work?

I assume the question means would I pick one of my books out of all those wonderful books at the bookstore and read it. The answer is yes, and here’s why:

1)       The covers. I love the cover designs on my books. I love the colors, but even more I like the idea that they present: there is a certain desolation that each depicts that I like. The old, rusted car grill, the deserted stadium, the field with a crushed can. The last cover presented to me gave me a problem: it featured a beautiful field of bluebonnets. My objection? The book is set in dreary November (no bluebonnets blooming then), and it is a tough read, probably the hardest to write because it has some teeth-gritting scenes. Pretty bluebonnets? I don’t think so. Luckily, I know what the book after that is about, and the bluebonnet cover will fit beautifully. After I described the forthcoming book to the designer, she came up with a fitting cover—a field full of weeds and brush.

2)       The protagonist. I admit to not being drawn to cozy amateur detective books—with some really, really good exceptions. Although my books don’t have a lot of overt sex and violence, they aren’t cozies. If anything, they fit into the police procedural category, which means I would love it.

3)         The publisher. Seventh Street Books puts out some dynamite books. I am proud to be associated with authors like James Ziskin, Adrian McKinty, Susan Spann, Larry Sweazy, Mark Pryor, and Jennifer Kincheloe to name a handful. I know when I pick up a book published by Seventh Street that it’s going to be a book of substance, well written, and (especially!) well edited. These days, with so many publishers not putting a lot of effort into editing, it’s a pleasure to know that SSB puts a priority on that.

4)       It’s what I know. I grew up in Texas, and still have the sights and smells in my mind--the desolate landscapes, the Gulf Coast, the oil wells, the sandy west Texas desert, the glorious wildflowers (thank you, Lady Bird Johnson), and the dusty small towns. I have the sounds of Texas talk—different accents for different parts of the state. Even though the state of Texas politics these days stuns me, I maintain an affection for my roots. And it seems, these days, that Texas mysteries are popular. From relative newcomers Reavis Wortham and Melissa Lenhardt, to the tried and true Bill Crider and Joe R. Lansdale books set in Texas are having a heyday.

5)       Reviews. If I looked up the professional and reader reviews of my books knowing nothing about them, I would snap them up. I have been really lucky to have a following of people who write humbling reviews—ones that would compel me to read my books….if I hadn’t already read them too many times when I wrote them.