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.


Ann said...

I'd highly recommend that you'd read your own books. They are all quite good

RJ Harlick said...

Ah yes, the approach-avoidance we have with our own books. Good post, James.

Anonymous said...

Good list of pros and cons. I wonder how different the list is for books that aren't mysteries. In other fiction, you're probably trying to figure out what's going on, but it's less of a central part of the reading experience.

Unknown said...

A new series to follow, and from my own growing up times. Nice! Look forward to reading.

Susan C Shea said...

Lots of pros I agree with for your series. For me, the serious con - for yours, mine and others - is that we know how the mystery, or investigation, or high drama is resolved. That pretty much kills the draw of a piece of crime fiction, doesn't it? That's why a 'spoiler' is called a 'spoiler.'