Reading: A Preliminary Study in Typologies (with excessive background)
Forgive the title – I’ve just started The Isle of Blood and it’s making me all Victorian-scientisty.
I’ve been thinking about reading again in relation to what I’m reading now and because the stack of unread books next to my bed is Really Tall. I nearly bought another Seanan McGuire book except that I’ve got a lot of books to read. Fun books. It’s okay. October Daye isn’t going anywhere. Anyway, I’ve re-conceived the framework for A Mechanical Bestiary (updated blurb here) and that means I need to start reading mysteries.
There’s Rosanna, of course, and I picked up a copy of Jo Nesbø’s Nemesis over the New England Weekend Extravaganza, and I downloaded Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon on audiobook for driving. Given Lisa’s work schedule for the past four months (and the crazies she’s been working with), I expected her to fall asleep pretty hard on the road. Nemesis was a little… coincidental for me. Too many things happening at the same time for not a lot of obvious reason. I haven’t finished mulling, opinion still in flux, but that’s the first impression. The Surgeon is the first installment of Rizzoli and Isles and has as fantastically gruesome and misogynistic a villain as you could hope for. Lisa was enraged. Now my brain is going on mysteries and stakes. Then, a bit randomly, I picked up McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue, which turned out to be the exact kind of mystery I was looking for. Because it was so perfect, I wanted to analyze it, but I didn’t really want to re-read it. So I bought the next one, too, A Local Habitation.
One of the most consistent pieces of advice I see from agents is read in your field. If you’re going to write YA, read YA. I’m reading Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series because I want a horror-flavor for A Living Effigy, but that’s atmosphere and not structure. Also, they’re terrific reads. The impression I get from these agents is that as writers we should know the landscape we are trying to enter. Who’s writing what kinds of books? If vampire books are a tough sell for agents at the moment, does that mean we should put our vampire WIPs down? Not necessarily – but it does mean that we should adjust our expectations. Dystopians are hot right now. Will they be by the time we’re querying? Is there, truly, gold in them thar hills? Adjust adjust adjust.
Another reason to read is to see how things are done. That’s one of the ways I go about looking at structure, for example, by outlining the novels I read. I’m reading for craft and for learning. It’s not as fun as pure escapism (for which, I hold, there is a place), but it doesn’t have to go to the logical extreme of an MFA writing seminar, either. It’s definitely a different kind of fun. When I’m taking my time and thinking about the storytelling and considering what just happened in the most recent chapter, the writing strategies are a bit more clear, which means there’s a little less surprise. I’m combing the how (what the writer is doing) with the what (the content of the story).