The arrogance of elite readers

I didn’t know it’s been twenty years since the Harry Potter books came out.  We didn’t even have ebooks then, and that’s hard to believe now.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I didn’t read the first book when it took off, primarily because the reviews–rightly so–said that the girl characters didn’t get much attention.  I grew wanting to see girls have adventures in books and mainly seeing them stand by while the boys had all the action.

But once the series started really getting attention, I went back and got the first three books.  Went each book in one day.  They were so good, they triggered a reset.  After I hit that last page, I had to go back and read it again because I wasn’t willing to let it go.

I haven’t had too many books like that.

Unfortunately, the above assessment about Herimone was true.  She was smart, intelligent, and Harry got most of the adventures.  But I later read that J.K. Rowlings wanted to make Herimone the main character … and it wouldn’t have sold to the publisher.

That’s why I’m indie publishing.

The Price of Commercial Success

Invariably though, the naysayers wandered out and sneered with contempt at the books. Somehow, the elite readers think that even if the writer is a good storyteller, if the books aren’t to a standard they set, they’re no good.

Where does this stuff come from?

We have movies competing with books.  We have iPhones competing with books.  We have internet games competing with books.

So naturally we’re going to shoot down a successful book that got people in to read more books instead of doing something else?

Is commercial success really that bad?  It’s missing the entire point.  The books got people to read, and we need more like that.

Especially with girl characters.


What does a character look like?

Whenever I’m reading a book, it’s hard for me to put a face to the character if the writer doesn’t describe anything.  I know there’s a crowd that says to leave it off, leave it up to the reader’s imagination or imagine herself.

I don’t imagine myself in the character’s place.  If I don’t get a description of the character, it’s a missing piece of the characterization for me.

Not only that, it gives control of an aspect of the story up to the reader.

Even non-fiction tales about people describe the people as part taking the reader back into that world of the past.

If someone walks up to you, don’t you look at them?  See what they look like?  Maybe notice that the clothes don’t fit or that they lost weight?  Don’t you form an opinion about that person?

The problem is how description of characters is taught.  As an exercise, separate of a character’s point of view and separate of the story.  It’s like a mug shot:

He had brown hair and his eyes were blue.  He had to be over six foot tall.  He wore a black suit.



He was a big guy.  Made me feet short, and I wasn’t short.  Hair shaved to hide he was going bald.  He wore a black suit, but had gotten it off the rack without looking in the mirror.  Shoulders pulled wrong, button strained.  The pants hem pooled around his ankles.

Some of the particularly memorable writers I’ve read have been that because they described both the setting and the characters.

And just for fun, here’s a picture of what Ian Fleming thought James bond looked like.

What makes you stop reading an author?

We used to have a B. Dalton’s in a local mall—now a Starbucks. At least a couple of times a month I was in that store, checking the speculative fiction and mystery area for book series by my favorite authors. Was there anything new?

It was like finding buried treasure when I discovered a new book was out!

Then I would race back and read it in one sitting, and then reread it because it was so good.

But over time, I’d discover that maybe about book 7 or so, something changed. With some books, they felt worn out and tired, like the author was bored with the series. I’d usually buy another book, but here was where I would stop buying hardbacks. At $27.00 a pop, that’s pretty expensive if the book isn’t a satisfying read. After paperbacks went to $7, they started getting too expensive, too.

In the mystery genre also, I started seeing some of the long term series mix first and third. The stories had started out in first, and I liked the voice, so third seemed disruptive. It felt like the author thought they had chosen the wrong POV for the series originally and had now painted themselves into a corner. I think I would have been less bothered by that if it had been in book one, not suddenly introduced 10 books in.

Then there were the books where the author made a very sudden change: A character getting married for no other reason than simply to do it; a character finding lost family after making such a big deal throughout the series that she didn’t have any; and a character who crossed a major line that was completely out of character.

And in some books, it was apparent the author stopped learning, or figured they knew everything about writing. It’s fun as a reading watching an author get better, and especially finding new things to like an enjoy, and disappointing when the author stagnates.

Somewhere in all that, I stopped buying those books because the buried treasure turned into a box of rocks.

I used to give the books a benefit of a doubt, and pick them up at the library. I just had two of those I got, and sad to say, the series is no longer the same.

What makes you stop reading an author?

Culling the eBook Herd

My Nook was giving me the evil eye—it was full! How’d that happen?

Well, yeah, we know how that happened. Books, and more books, and magazines.

So I’ve had to spend some time archiving my collection of eBooks. It was a curious thing going through it—there were a lot of them that I didn’t even remember. Those were probably the free books I got early on. I was just trying to get everything I could.

But if something is free like that, there tends to be not a good reason.

Of course, some of the paid books bit the dust, too. I have one that looked interesting, bought it for pre-release, and when I got it, I couldn’t make sense of the story. Very strange to find that.

Another was a book based on an enthusiastic recommendation of a Facebook friend (she just posted it to her wall, and I happened to see it, so no spamming involved).   It was an urban fantasy. But when I got it, the book didn’t survive the first chapter. No setting, beyond mentioning that characters were in a mine.

I was surprised at how much that bothered me, considering I’ve been doing the same thing in my stories until about three or four years ago.

Then we have the magazines. I was subscribing to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Poets and Writers, National Geographic, Shop Smart, Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Analog, and Asimov’s. Surprisingly, everything up through Shop Smart were quite huge.

So I started thinking about what I needed.

Poets and Writers tends to focus on getting an MFA, which is just about teaching writing not doing it professionally. It had interesting interviews with writers, but it really wasn’t doing anything for me. I wasn’t learning anything new from it.

The same thing for Writer’s Digest. It seems to be focused more on beginners starting their first novel and doesn’t have much beyond that. I wasn’t learning anything new from it.

The Writer I opted to stick with, though I’m still thinking about it. They seem focused on a broader range of writers. Besides, I’m partial to them anyway. I remember seeing them on my uncle’s coffee table. Isn’t it awesome to have an uncle with writing magazines on the coffee table?

National Geographic was a test run. I was thinking that reading it might help with stories, but it ended up not working out that way. So zap, that one’s gone.

I was learning new stuff all the time from Shop Smart, so that stayed, and I like the fiction ones. Short stories are fun to read.

I was surprised I had that many subscriptions though. The only paper magazine I get is Entertainment Weekly (I’m a charter subscriber). Once in a while I’d get Real Simple, but they start sending me renewals the first month of the subscription and keep sending them until I give up in frustration and let the subscription die.

Of course, now with all that room, it’s time to hunt for more books …


Telling someone they’re not a writer

A question popped up on one of the Facebook groups that I’m on: “When did someone tell you to be a writer?”

No one told me to be a writer.

But it choose me.

I was 8 when I started writing.  My best friend was writing a class play.  I thought that was a cool idea, so I wanted to write one, too.  And I wrote and wrote and wrote.  If I got to class early, I pulled out a sheet of notebook paper and added to whatever story I was working on.  And sometimes, if the class got boring, I did the same thing.  Got caught a few times, too.

It was fun.  Some of my friends got in on it and illustrated my stories, so that was really cool.  I’ve always liked it when stories came with illustrations, like the Nancy Drews. I’d flip through those first to see the pictures — sort of like a preview, because there was always something exciting.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote.  When I was in 7th grade, a class popped up for creative writing.  My BF got into it, and I tried signing up for it, too.

Then I was summoned to the counselor’s office.  She was a Chinese woman with shoulder-length black hair and bangs, and a stern, unfriendly face.  She informed me that I couldn’t take the class because she didn’t “think I was capable of it.”

In hindsight, I probably wasn’t a good student.  I’m visual spatial, and teaching of the time ignored that learning style.  As part of that I’m not a great speller.  I had to memorize a lot, and sometimes by sounding out the word, I learned it wrong.  The problem is that once I learned it wrong, it was imprinted wrong (spell checker is a god!).  I also read words in a gulp, rather than one letter at a time, and I skip words when I read.

A lot of test questions can change meaning entirely if one word is omitted, so I could get something really wrong. I’m sure the teachers thought I wasn’t trying hard enough or didn’t care.

But here’s the thing I don’t get in all this:  To become a writer, you have to practice.  Writing is a hard skill to learn to do well, and certainly, writing fiction, even harder.  I was writing at every opportunity and was practicing continually — and on my own.  Yet, I was deemed “not capable of it.”

I’m sure the counselor thought she was saving me from disappointment, but honestly, it was not her place to do so.  Especially since I was writing on my own.  I had a relative who said she wanted to be a writer.   I was reasonably certain that she probably wouldn’t follow through, since that’s her personality type.  But what I did was go out and buy her a book on writing because it wasn’t right to tell her she couldn’t do it.

Sometimes people think they know best and they don’t know anything at all.  I came from that counselor and just cried because I felt like such a failure.  I so wanted to go to the class.  It was more writing!  And I wanted to learn!

And a counselor was telling me I couldn’t learn.

Then I got mad.  I continued writing, and two years later placed honorable mention in the school essay contest.  Not capable — hrumph!

My BF, who got into the class, stopped writing in high school.  I’m the one still writing.

Desert Storm: Patches — one of the benefits of war

That probably sounds really strange, because war’s such a scary thing.  But there were also a few things along the way that we were told about that were kind of cool.  Or at least, they seemed cool since we didn’t have them.

One was that we would wear a combat patch as a permanent part of our uniform.  It was a way of identifying that we had done soemthing important.

So you get some pictures of patches:

FORSCOM:  This is the patch we wore at Fort Lewis, as a part of being part of the command our battalion fell under.  FORSCOM is an acronym that stands for U.S. Army Forces Command.  Initially, when we went over to Saudi Arabia, we remained under our battalion

The company the link goes to is a name I recognized: When I went to purchase additional patches at Clothing Sales (military store for buying uniforms), this was the company selling a lot of the products.

7th Transportation Group: After we arrived, the forces were restructured and we came under 7th Transportation Group.  This is the combat patch that began a permanent part of my uniform and was worn on the right shoulder.

We also wore the American flag patch on the right sleeve.  We thought it looked strange, like a mistake, because it was backwards.  But we were told it was to show the flag streaming behind us when we were going into battle.  According to the linked site, it’s now a permanent part of the uniform, but it wasn’t at the time.

I did the color ones here because they show a lot of the detail — those are the ones that went on the dress uniforms.  The ones we wore on the battle dress uniforms were known as the “subdued” patch, which meant it was olive green and black.

Once we returned, we wore the FORSCOM patch on the left shoulder and the combat patch on the right (I had to look this up because I don’t remember any more!).  It looked cool to the soldiers who hadn’t been to war, just like it had looked cool to us before we went over, but it’s kind of like reading an action-adventure book.  Fun to read, but you wouldn’t want to actually do it.

The Importance of Book Titles

My uncle, Ernie Rydberg, wrote a children’s book (not YA; this was before YA existed) wrote a book called The Day the Indians Came.  I remember going into my school library and spotting a book with the exact same name — but it hadn’t been written by him.  At the time, I was outraged.  This other writer stole my uncle’s title!

I think it was the first time that I saw that book titles could be duplicated.  Then, though, that was the days of card catalogs.  Now it’s day of the search engine.

And that’s where the problem comes in.  I went to Capclave over the weekend and heard a panel where a book was discussed.  It was about a black woman with a disability who was a pirate.  One of the panelists had been a model for the cover, which I got a look at.  Of course, I had to get it, so after the con ended for the day, I went up to search for the book.

This is what I knew:

The title of the book, which was Ascension.

The cover was green and had a black woman on it.

I didn’t have the name of the author.

So I searched Barnes and Noble.  I figured it would pop up in the first two or three books.  It wasn’t there.  At first, I thought that the book hadn’t been posted to B&N.  In the indie circles, writers will publish their book on Amazon, and then forget about Barnes and Noble.  But this one did come from a small press, and those are pretty good about being everywhere.  So I started scrolling.

The book was in the fourth row, at the end, and there were more books that followed, also with the same title.

More unusual titles help a book be found in this world of internet searching.  Have you had any similar troubles finding a book?