Reading for Pleasure & the Published Author

Pari Noskin Taichert

In last week’s responses to my piece about how authors can support each other, L. Lee Lowell wrote, "Do I really need to laugh because that author used one adverb too many?"

That simple question sparked a question of my own: Do authors read each other’s works differently once they’ve been published?

Me? I remember a time when I had no mercy. I reveled in snarky book reviews and grinned wide, my lips curving into a knowing sneer. Hell, I even wrote some myself. That was before my own literary efforts hit the bookstores.

Something happened to me as a reader when I signed my first publishing contract. Was my experience unique? Did other authors have similar reactions?

Change #1          More selective
I’ve noticed now that I only read a few paragraphs of someone’s work before deciding whether to invest more time in the book — or to put it aside. This might be because of my lack of free time, and generally fractured life, but I just want to be grabbed quickly by any book I read.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my new selectivity.

"I really do love to read, but am much more ready now to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it. There are too many good ones out there to spend time on one I’m not loving." Judy Clemens

"I don’t know if it’s being an author . . . or knowing more about the craft . . . but I’m a MUCH more discriminating reader now. I will simply put a book down if it hasn’t engaged me by page 20 . . . " Libby Hellmann

"I find I’m much pickier about what I read and notice I ‘edit’ in my head phrases/descriptions I would cut that seem lengthy and unnecessary . . . " Louise Crawford

Change #2          More critical
I have to love the author’s/protagonist’s voice. That’s the key for me. It’s the thing that keeps me reading in spite of botched plots or insane premises.

Other authors have specific requirements as well.

" . . . I do read mysteries, and all books, differently as an author. I read the first 2 chapters then skip to the end 2 chapters. If there is a character at the end who has not been introduced by the end of the 2nd chapter, I don’t bother reading the middle .  . . " Jill Amadio

" . . . it is in the dissection and resolution of plot that I have become most critical. Where once I would tolerate what I call ‘magical’ solutions, I have now become intolerant." Frank Wydra (no url)

Change # 3          More analytical
Almost every mystery I read nowadays becomes a textbook of dos and don’ts. My internal analyst won’t shut up — no matter how many times I tie gags around her mouth.

Several of my cohorts struggle with the same annoying tendency.

"I’m constantly analyzing the techniques, the style, the characterization. This makes me a little sad — I can’t get totally swept up in the story the way I used to . . ." Sandra Parshall

"It’s harder to find books that I lose myself in instead of deconstructing . . . " J.T. Ellison

"I find myself mentally rephrasing a phrase, or questioning a word. I wish I could turn it off and just enjoy the story! Reading used to be much more fun. Is there a writer-rehab I can turn to?" Mary Ellen Hughes

Ah, grasshoppers, there is hope. Some authors are able to analyze without losing the joy of reading their peers.

" . . . when a fellow writer is able to give me deft characterization and evocative settings and even sharp social commentary, without dragging the pace to a screeching halt, I pause and admire a colleague who has mastered a demanding craft." Mary Anna Evans

"Now I see the soldering in the joints, so to speak. I can tell when a character is introduced for a specific purpose, and I can spot forecasting. For a while, that ruined my reading. Now, I just take it in stride and admire the effect when it’s well done. I’m always trying to learn from the mistakes and successes of others." Charlaine Harris

Change # 4         Broader reading
In the three years since I signed that first publishing contract, I’ve met many wonderful authors. Because I like them so much, I’ve sought out their books and have read subgenres in crime fiction that I’d never known existed.

Again, I’m not alone.

" . . . I meet friendly, interesting people and I want to read what they’re writing and more often than not, I go ‘Wow. This is REALLY good stuff . . . " Jeff Shelby

" . . . I now count numerous mystery writers among my friends and warm acquaintances, which has led me to read a lot of books that I normally would not have picked up and read . . . And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at times." Robert Weibezahl

Before I ask all of you a question, I’d like to thank the other, hitherto unmentioned authors (and unpublished writers) who took the time to respond to my initial query. They were: Gene DeWeese, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Mike Manno, Chester Campbell, Sandy Jones, Ilene Schneider and Barry Gelt. I appreciate your willingness to share your perspectives with me.

Final Question for people reading this blog today:

1. Has your reading changed due to publication?
or
2. For those of you who consider yourselves mystery "fans," has your reading changed over the years as you’ve met more authors?

I’m truly curious to know.

Cheers.

13 thoughts on “Reading for Pleasure & the Published Author

  1. Deborah P

    In answer to your second question (the first doesn’t apply), I AM more likely to read authors I have met and/or corresponded with via e-mail, at least once. And, luckily, only once has a book disappointed. For the type mysteries I don’t usually pick (hardboiled for one), I don’t always continue to read the author, but do recommend her/him to someone who enjoys that type of mystery. And who knows? My tastes may change. If that happens and I’ve had a good experience with an author, I’ll be more likely to go back to that author before starting a new one.

    Deborah P

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  2. JT Ellison

    Great post, Pari. It’s fascinating to see how other writers approach reading.I look forward to answers to your questions — I for one know my habits have changed dramatically since I’ve become a mystery writer.Don’t forget to check out the KillerYear blog today, Murderati fans.http://killeryear.wordpress.com/It's going to be a Killer Year…

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  3. Pari

    Deborah,I’ve noticed this as well. I’m simply more interested in people I meet than the latest trend or big name. One of my favorite authors is now a friend. Her name is Lee Killough and she writes psychological detective/police mysteries with vampires and werewolves — definitely NOT my normal cup o’ tea, but, boy, she’s such a fine writer, I’d go just about anywhere with her protagonists.

    And, J.T.,Congrats on Killeryear.com. What a great idea!

    Re: reading other authors — I found consolation in reading other authors’ responses to my query. No, I wasn’t going mad . . .

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  4. Elaine

    Selective? Critical? Analytical?

    Yes to all above. Unfortunately, it’s an occupational hazard – but then, there are some writers I so enjoy – I’ve managed to turn all those pesky devils off.

    Broader reading?

    Yes,again – writer friends I’ve made – whose books I might not have picked up. And, I must say – whose works have enriched my precious reading time.

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  5. Rob Gregory Browne

    My problem is that I WANT to read more books, I’ve been introduced to so many new authors, but I’m so busy with my own writing that I rarely have time to do anything but buy the books and stare at them on my shelf.

    I keep promising myself that I’ll catch up with all the reading sooner or later, but the stack keeps getting higher.

    When I DO read, I’m very critical. If a writer doesn’t grab me in the first paragraph or two, I’m out of there. But I’ve always been that way, even before I was published.

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  6. Pari

    Elaine and Rob,You both write about similar experiences. What intrigues me is how just about everyone who wrote me initially — and today — has thought about this question.

    Like you, Rob, I don’t have much time to read and that may affect my selectivity. I do know that I’m harder — in some ways — on my cohorts than I used to be. This is just in terms of my own reading; again that one-or-two paragraph rule really holds. But, in other ways, I’m more sympathetic. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I won’t recommend it to someone else if I think they would.

    Elaine, isn’t is a pure joy to read someone who brings you such pleasure that internal editor goes on vacation?

    Ah, bliss.

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  7. Sandra Ruttan

    I’m not published yet, but if anything, I’ve become more sympathetic, more forgiving.

    It isn’t just about the author on a learning curve, but it’s also about editors and whether or not you get a good one, and the pressure from some readers to keep those books coming, come hell or high water.

    Now, I’m not one to just blantantly shred a book. I much prefer to only review what I like, which has changed somewhat, because now I get arc’s so I have to be prepared to review beyond what I buy for myself.

    I have less time. But I’m reading a broader range of styles than ever before. Two years ago you wouldn’t have found something as dark as The Wire in the Blood on my shelves, or as hard-boiled as The Business of Dying or A Good Day To Die, or that many American authors – I was stuck in a British police procedural loop. Not that I complain – I’m a big fan of that part of the genre. But now I’ve got amateur sleuth stories with comic elements and military mysteries and more and more thrillers.

    Whatever I’m reading, I try to look for the merits within it’s style. Now, if I’m not interested in the character or the story, then I won’t finish it, but there’s precious little I haven’t finished, once I’ve started it, unless it really doesn’t grip me or worse – puts me off.

    Of course, beginnings are weaker for me than the rest, and I’ve really had to work on that. I’m a “build to a boil” person myself, and stories that start with too much action before I know who anyone is or have a reason to care about them run the risk of putting me off a bit, but all in all, I’ve been blessed to discover a lot of great reads and I’m glad I’ve tried more and more different styles and subgenres over time.

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  8. Eric Mayer

    I read a lot less fiction since Mary and I have been published, hardly anything current, and nothing that resembles what I’m working on. Partly it is because my spare reading time is taken up by writing. More importantly, I’m a sponge, and an enthusiastic sponge. Every book I read, if I half like it, strikes me at the time as *THE* way to write, as *EXACTLY* the sort of thing I’d like to write. Even if I can resist the impulse to consciously rewrite my current project, my writing is liable to sound like what I’m reading. Obviously I want to avoid being influenced too much or unconsciously plagarizing.

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  9. B.G. Ritts

    The more authors I’ve met, the more I see the overall tenor of their work seeming to match their personalities — perhaps some corollary on the write what you ‘know’ theme. I’m not necessarily referring to the subject matter, but the broad view, the joie de vivre, or lack thereof, which emerges from the pages as I read. So if what I read (or what someone I know tells me) about an author gives me the impression I’d like to know that person, I’ll put that author’s books on my radar. If I actually meet an author, and find her/him interesting, absorbing, remarkable to speak to, I will definitely read at least one of his/her books – even if the story is not something I would normally bother with.

    Pari, a case in point is the serendipitous discussion we had at the 2003 Bouchercon. I liked you immediately. If we hadn’t talked, I very likely would not have known about your first book — or if I had read it had alien abductions, hallucinations, and flying saucers, it probably wouldn’t have interested me.

    But, along with meeting more people (not just authors), I think another part of widening our reading interests comes from the natural act of aging, having more life experience and (hopefully) discovering more ideas that come to enchant and captivate us. So, now that I’m older, I find myself willing to read different types of books from what seems to merely be a natural consequence of time.

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  10. Pari

    Wow. I go to put a little Calamine lotion on a kid with chicken pox and come back to these marvelous posts.

    Sandra,I like your take on reading and understanding more fully the author’s life (editors, demands, etc.). I notice a similar feeling when I do freelance manuscript evaluations for a publisher. But, of the few I’ve read so far, I could only recommend one for publication — though my heart ached for each author and the work she or he had done. I understood it all — and, yet, knew the work wasn’t strong enough to be published or marketed effectively.

    Eric,I know what you mean about being a sponge. That’s one reason I avoid reading humorous/wry mysteries when I’m writing Sasha. Once I start my new series — a darker one — I wonder what I’ll have to avoid as well.

    re: the sponge — one time I was reading CJ Cherryh and found that I’d used “coolth” in one of my drafts. It’s her word, but I liked it sooooo much.

    B.G.,Hi there. It’s great to see you on Murderati. Thank you for coming.

    Yes, that conversation nearly three years ago was such a pleasure. I actually tell people when I’m talking about why I like to go to conferences and the YNK factor (you never know).

    You’re right, I think, about expanded interests for some of us as we age. Though, isn’t that counter the stereotype of older people becoming too insular and set in their ways? I wonder.

    I’m willing to pick up just about anything to take a look now. The only things I avidly still can’t read are books in which children get hurt/tortured. I don’t have the stomach for it right now.

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  11. Iden Ford

    I think since my wife has been published, I am a much more critical reader. But I also think this is because I started reading mysteries and more fiction back about 10 years ago, prior to that I mostly read non fiction. I think many chat sites, and fan sites often get on a rampage of psychofanatacism about certain authors, which always perplexes the hell out of me because I wonder what all the fuss is about. But honestly this is a matter of taste. My wife and I were speaking of this very thing last night. She feels that some people enjoy reading books that have a hint of depth to them, and are more easy on the “challenge the reader with depth”, oh what a clever writer, what a clever story, type novels. Then there are the fans who like books that give you really insightful, and meaningful characters, and writing that sort of wallops you with story, character, plot, etc. I tend to enjoy the latter rather than the former and this has never changed for me. But I do try books by authors I meet and like, and I try them more than once if I can’t connect with just one book of theirs. I am rambling, but here it is, write deep books that will stay with your reader and get them saying these magic words ” When is the next one coming out????”

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  12. Pari

    Iden,I’ve thought a lot about the deep vs. entertaining angle — and appreciate the skill required for both. That keeps me more open, I think, than I used to be. I rarely make grand pronouncements about what I do — and don’t — like, because as soon as I do, I meet someone who writes just the opposite and his or her book is wonderful.

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  13. Iden Ford

    Thanks yeah, I know what you mean. Thrillers are pure escape but I love them when they are well done. In fact an author who moves a reader in any way, whether it is a riveting plot, frightening, edge of your seat, moving storyline, great characters who you want to revisit, etc. is all good stuff. Personally I think a course in mystery writing or any writing could take Tom Cook’s novel Red Leaves and break down why it is so good. To me that is a perfect, flawless novel. There are many others who also write as well, but I use his book as a prime example. Sorry Pari I am way the hell off topic, but you stimulate fine discussions.

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