Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Read When I'm Writing?

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

From Frank Zafiro

At any given time, I've got at least three books going. 

One is usually non-fiction, probably history. At present, I'm re-reading a biography of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome by Anthony Everitt. It is a very accessible bit of history, and after Julius Caesar, Octavian/Augustus is probably the most interesting Roman in his era.

The second book is fiction, and frequently crime fiction (I wonder why!). James Ziskin's Cast the First Stone has been this book for months now. It keeps getting bumped by library books that come available and spring to the front of the line. The most recent example is K Chess's Famous Men Who Never Lived

The third book is on audio, usually borrowed via Overdrive and played through my phone. I have an account with my local library, and if I'm confessing my sins here, I kept my account back in the city where I used to live. My dad still lives there, so I use his address. This gives me two library systems to find titles to download, which I know sounds greedy, but whatever. I hit return as soon as I'm done listening, so at least I'm polite that way.

Right now, I am sans audio, having just finished Bernard Cornwell's War of the Wolf. I'm sure I'll seek out an new audio book before this post even goes live.

Add to that a slew of eARCs on my phone that I can pull up in those odd moments where I have down time away from home, and I'm pretty stacked with stuff to read. 

Now, as to the question at hand, do I read different stuff when I'm writing than when I'm not?


Because I am basically always writing. There may be a few down days here or there, but I always have an active project. As I write this, I just finished one collaboration, am embarking on another with a different author, and am hard at work on River City #6, Place of Wrath and Tears.  So one is in final edits, one is just jumping off, and one is in the midst of a first draft. With that, there's just rarely a time when I'm not writing, and if it happens, it's for a very short period of time.

But I will say that I am careful what I read while I'm writing a particular project. For instance, while working on a police procedural, I don't read that subgenre. If I'm writing something hard boiled, I stay away from that in my reading. 

The reason is simple. I don't want to be unduly influenced by a similar project while I'm in the middle of a project. We writers are already little sponges, soaking up everything around us and then wringing it out in slightly different form as our own creation (and truly, it is, but let's not pretend it wasn't influenced). At least this method is indirect. I don't want to risk direct influence.

For example, I loved Sons of Anarchy. Watched the whole series, years ago. When I was writing In the Cut, though, I tried to not even think about the show, much less re-watch an episode. See, the book is set against the backdrop of an outlaw motorcycle gang. I'm certain my seven seasons, or whatever it was, of the show had an influence on my writing. But I'm all for keeping those influences indirect, as I said.

So right now, I'm not writing about Rome. Not writing an amateur sleuth, or about Ninth Century Britain. If I do, though, you can bet my reading list will shift accordingly.

Blatant Self-Promotion, brought to you by me

My novel Charlie-316 came out just a couple of days ago. It's a suspenseful procedural set in the aftermath of a controversial police shooting.

Dana King, Shamus-nominated author of the Penns River series, said about it: “Few books have the ambition to cover the scope attempted here; fewer can pull it off. Charlie 316 does more than pull it off: it succeeds. Not since The Wire have I seen a better mixture of crime, law enforcement, politics, and media.”

Trust Dana.


Dana King said...

I'm with you on reading while working on a project, for somewhat similar reasons. For example, I can't read James Ellroy while working on a novel. The voice is too strong and wants to make itself felt on my WIP. I read Ellroy between drafts when my writing consists mostly of short stories, non-fiction, and, more recently, the Western. (I'm not all that concerned with his voice asserting itself in a Western.)

On the other hand, except for Ellroy, I don't limit what I read or watch while working on a piece, as too often my reading brings to mind something I should be doing. For example, several years ago I wrote an action scene that didn't work for me. I went on, figuring I can fix it in another draft. About that time I read something by George V. Higgins (I forget which book) and the answer to my problem became clear: write the scene through dialog, one of the participants looking back and describing it to someone who wasn't there. It's a much better scene now.

Thanks, George.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Frank. I've usually got a few books on the go at one time too. And your new one just became one of them. I was hooked by the opening chapter you read at LCC. I'm looking forward to the rest of it. Best of luck with Charlie 316.

Frank Zafiro said...

DANA, great thoughts! Excellent example of that indirect influence I was referring to. You didn't write a Higgins copycat scene, but the book's craft influenced your work. Perfect example!

DIETRICH, thanks for the support! (You, too, DANA). I hope the book meets or exceeds your expectations. And I'm glad I'm not the only one with multiple titles going at once.

Terry said...

I'm looking forward to your new book. It was interesting to read what your reading list consists of. Mine, too, is all over that place, although I tend to go for sci-fi or interesting science books as reading outside the mystery field. I also tend to really like the kind of mysteries that I don't write. I write a series that is in the traditional mode of small-town cops, but I like reading hard-boiled crime novels. I also like thrillers, as long as they have some decent characterization and don't consist of one fight scene after another. I don't pay attention to reading something different when I'm writing, because I don't think I'm influenced. Jeez, I hope I'm not wrong.

Jim Wilsky said...

Frank, great post with good insight and strategy. Plan your work and work the plan. My problem is that more times than not, I plan the plan too much. Good luck with Charlie 316 too, although luck will have nothing to do with the success I'm expecting you guys to have.