I have been writing up a storm to finish the last few pages of the novel Ascension of Peary before my beta reader starts breathing down my neck for them. Something I didn’t expect came up in the writing but it’s all good, since it defines characters better and makes for a more holistic story. It is strange to write as a pantser (by the seat of my pants) or in the new parlance, a gardener who throws seeds and watches what grows. Either way, my characters occasionally take a turn where I least expect it, and it’s fun to follow their lead.
Which gets me to reading. I started reading a series of books about magicians, because I not only write about these things, I like to read other people’s take on the subject. I get through the first book mildly amused and invested enough to start the second book. And then I hit one of my least favorite tropes in stories of magical tutelage. I have called it the Harry Potter syndrome for lack of a better name, and it applies to Harry in the books prior to the last two. Harry had a habit of thinking he could handle something because it was, after all, his problem, and ignoring all the more advanced wizards and witches who were available for their skills, he goes off on his own, gets in trouble, but manages to triumph over adversity by a combination of luck, and a little skill. The emphasis is on luck. This is a plot turn that has become de rigueur for learning magicians.
The plot turn shows up with startling regularity, and I’ve had enough. What the young magician is doing is stupid and misguided. It is hard to maintain interest in a character so devoid of common sense. Does magic cause stupidity in young learners? I certainly hope not. In the book I am now finishing, the young magician is appreciative of the lessons she is learning and looks on her teacher with trust and affection. When she thinks she should do something, she (gasp!) asks for assistance and advice.
Maybe I can start a new trope.
I may be taking my life into my hands but I have committed to reading David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, this summer. My writers workshop, of which I have spoken often, has set aside 13 Tuesday nights for discussion of this monster piece of work. Over 1000 deeply packed pages of absurdity, comedy, mayhem, and madness, it offers a wonderful view into the mind of one of the best writers (if not the best) of the last thirty years. The young man who will be leading this group, well, it’s his third year in a row doing it, and he re-reads the book every year.
I have bitten the bullet and bought the book in paperback. Wallace has written a number of footnotes (yes, I know it’s fiction) on the order of nearly 400, some of which it is necessary to read to get the full scope of the book. Some of them cover many pages. Should I have my head examined, having undertaken this absurd challenge? I will still be reading for my regular workshops, presenting at one or two, and managing the space of our workshop. I also hope to get a book out by fall, though I have my doubts that it is feasible.
It is a terrible state to be in, to have to choose between reading friends’ work, writing, and reading this huge volume. And don’t forget the Red Sox. Infinite Jest is not a book you can read when the count is 3 and 2 with 2 out and runners in scoring position.
So if I don’t post too often this summer, you will know it is because I have bitten off more than I can chew. And that hasn’t happened n a long time!
I have discovered one downside to becoming a writer. Actually two, and they’re related. I used to read voraciously, and now am struggling to finish a book, even one I like very much. Just as I am ready to sit down for an hour or two of comfortable reading, one of my characters will grab me and drag me back to my computer. It could be a character from either of the books currently in the writing stage, or one from the book that the editor will start work on next week. They are insistent, and the ideas are sometimes so important that I must write them down, or run the risk of forgetting.
There’s another problem that arises in reading that I never had before. I was more lenient with those not totally skilled in the art of writing if their story was good. Having struggled through the polishing of my work now in editing, I find I am less tolerant of those who have not put in the time and effort that I have. One of the big downsides of self-publishing is that writers can take shortcuts that would not be allowed in a thoroughly vetted work. The first obvious shortcut is the failure to utilize a proofreader. When every paragraph has a mistake of some sort or another, misspelling, bad punctuation, bad grammar, homophones (you get the idea), I cannot tolerate it. More insidious is the book that has not been given at least one editorial pass. Writers who make the same mistakes over and over are easy to spot. Writers who fill their books with excessive modifiers and telling, rather than showing, are not as quickly discoverable. And hope springs eternal that the problem will resolve. These are ultimately killers of the reader’s appetite for the book in question.
And, as I write this, I realize there is one other problem. If no one has reviewed your book in any way, why do you automatically assume that you have a good story? Beta readers, writer workshops, myriad other tools are available at little or no cost to give the fledgling writer a quick read for issues regarding story telling. When I have so little time to read, I don’t want to waste it finding out whether there is a story there. I delete books from my nook and my kindle with reckless abandon if I have not been hooked within the first twenty pages. Sometimes sooner.
Please, self-publishers, get professional help before you publish your book. Once you have lost a reader, you will have to fight ten times as hard to get that reader back. I am going into debt to get my book edited and published. Why? Because I will not put out bad books, even though I will be able to fix it later. I will publish only when a professional editor agrees that my work is ready to be published. Please do the same.