Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Something Worth Remembering

Writers have been known to remark on what hard work it is to finish a book. Successful writers sometimes comment on the difficulties of cranking out a book a year. In the press kit for her now book, A Darker Domain, no less an authority than Val McDermid lays it out:

People sometimes remark that I must work hard to produce a book a year. They look offended when I laugh. Then I explain. And they get it.

Both my grandfathers were miners. The one who only had daughters rejoiced that no child of his was going to have to spend a working life underground. Deep underground in the heat and the stink and the filth and the danger, they knew what hard work was, my grandfathers.

The next time any of us, myself included, feels the need to complain about a writer’s plight, we should stop, get on our knees, and thank whatever higher power we choose that we have the privilege, and the leisure, to be able to write.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The sole discouraging aspect of my initial Bouchercon trip last October was learning how many writers toss a book if they’re not into it within two or three pages. As someone who likes books that break the story to me gently, I am inclined to write that way, and it was disconcerting to think even other authors wouldn’t give a book any more of a shot than an editor only looking for the next blockbuster.

I felt a little better when John McFetridge pointed out in a Crimespace discussion that writers were likely to toss a book quickly if the writing itself didn’t appeal to them; they were more forgiving about how quickly the plot or action unfolded. I felt a lot better when it finally occurred to me that I do exactly the same thing, except I don’t often get to stop reading, since many of the books I read are for reviews. (I finish all the others, too, but that’s an OCD issue.)

I got to pondering this off and on between and during naps while I had mono over the holidays, and realized it’s voice that does it for me. The plot has a certain level of interest it has to maintain, but I can forgive a lot if the voice captures me. Same with the characters, setting, descriptions. A writer who gets me wrapped up in his use of the language will get me every time.

The proposed trailer for John’s new book is a good example. I know nothing about this book beyond what’s in the trailer, which isn’t much. That’s enough. I saw enough in the voice of those first several lines to know I want to read the rest of the book. It doesn’t hurt that I’m already in the tank for John, having read his first two books, but that just reinforces why people are most likely to buy books by authors they’ve read before: they like the writing.

I’m not parochial in my taste for voice. I love Ed McBain and Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke, John Connolly and Carl Hiaasen. A certain amount of indigenous humor is always nice, with realistic dialog and characters who are believable as people, but I like to read writers whose voice fits into my head as comfortably as an old pair of slippers on my feet, where I know I’ll be taken care of for however long he wants to hold my attention. He can tell me any story he wants.

What about you? Is it voice? Plot? Non-stop action? Don’t forget to say why. You might surprise yourself.