Monday, June 10, 2019

Read, Read, Read

Q: Do you read different stuff when you're writing from when you're not? Why?

-from Susan

When I was starting out, I was afraid of inadvertently borrowing from other novels, so I avoided art-related mysteries, for example. I also worried that my “voice” would not be strong enough and that I’d sound like Sue Grafton or Sara Paretsky. Fat chance! For better or worse, my own voice got stronger even in the first draft of the first book, so I let go of my fears. And ten talented writers can create fiction about the same topic and write ten different stories, I now know.

Now, my reading changes from time to time for other reasons:

  • I can only read so much crime fiction before it loses its genre appeal – even too much chocolate gets boring!

  • There’s so much non-fiction I want to read – books about intelligent octopuses, about the film industries in the 1940s, about the recuperative power of the natural world, what Jane Austen’s life was like….

  • The fiction outside the genre that’s getting rave reviews – Elena Ferrante’s quartet of novels set in Naples, the re-published early 20thcentury novels offered by Persephone Books, Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternative histories and future fiction, short story anthologies…the list is endless.

  • The classics. I reread my favorites, like Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Octavia Butler, Rex Stout whenever I get tired of current trends. 

  • And I have to grit my teeth, be a grown-up and face the dangers of our time as chronicled in long articles in the New Yorker, in books like FALTER by Bill McKibben, and accounts of how humans are driving everything from whales to butterflies to extinction.

The thing is, I read, read, read all the time. Sometimes I watch streaming TV series, but when they cut into my reading time too much, I am not happy. If I really thought I had to curtail my reading in order to write, I’d be miserable. 

One last thing: There is nothing – no class, no workshop, no degree – that is a better teacher of good writing than good writing. 

While I am not trying to suggest my own writing equals theirs, I’d love to have you read one of my books if you haven’t yet. My stories? 

"A pleasant getaway from hard-core killers." - NYT Book Review

“Fresh, fast-paced, and great fun.” Library Journal

The Dani O'Rourke series
The French Village mysteries


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Susan. I like to read outside the genre too. The key for me is the quality of the writing.

Paul D. Marks said...

I think what you say here is so true, Susan, "And ten talented writers can create fiction about the same topic and write ten different stories, I now know." Everything's been done, everything's been written about, it's just what we bring to it. I write a lot about L.A. It's been done before, as we all know. But they haven't read about *my* L.A. We just have to make it our own.

Susan C Shea said...

Dietrich - that sounds like a great future Q for CMs: name 3 books outside the genre (fiction or non-fiction) that are sop well-written they inspire good writing. Yes?

Susan C Shea said...

Paul, I roll my eyes when a student in a writing group opines that he or she doesn't want to tell a potential agent what the story is about for fear the agent (or the editor) will steal it!

samiworldtravel said...
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