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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » What I'm Not Reading Now Thread

   
Author Topic: What I'm Not Reading Now Thread
Robert Nowall
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Felt the urge to rant about something literary (more below) and thought that most of us have some pet peeve about what's been published, what's being published, and so on and so forth. So I'd thought I'd just start something and see what comes along.
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Robert Nowall
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Anyway, for awhile, I've been noticing this particular kind of novel starting to turn up. They use real people as characters, real situations in their lives...yet they're novels, fiction, made up. It's been going on for a long time, I guess---that historical cycle of Gore Vidal comes to mind. But a lot of them are about things I'd be interested in reading about---if only they were non-fiction.

I've picked up some of these (I did like one: Watergate, by Thomas Mallon), but some of them just seem beyond the pale. There was another one I picked up, about the Collyer brothers (look it up), by a prominent mainstream writer, that played so fast and loose with the facts that I couldn't finish it.

(I'm not talking "alternate history" here---there's no change in the history in these books, near as I can tell---that makes them not science fiction.)

Why do this? Why write about real people as if they were fictional characters? A desire to put words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads? A lack of definite and precise information about the real people? A marketing concept? I just don't know, and it bothers me...

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History
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Young adult fiction with teens in love with vampires, werewolves, witches, demigods, and fiction with teens murdering each other.
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tesknota
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What History said, the vampires category in particular.

But Robert, I would also not be reading the types of books you're talking about. I feel like if it's too loosely based on a real person (but still not alternate history), it's almost fanfiction.

I have nothing against fanfiction - it's just that I think fanfiction belongs online and requires disclaimers.

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KellyTharp
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I agree with getting tired of vampires, werevolves, witches, demigods, etc. It's like the publishers and/or agents are sheep, all following the other's leads with no variation in the market. I think they all believe in only what's selling rather than the idea that variety breeds more markets. I'm also not fond of alternate histories as I feel they've kinda been done to death. What I long for is good old fashion sci if/space opera and good fantasy. Okay getting off soap box. Thanks for listening.
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MattLeo
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I feel the same way about playing fast-and-loose with history. I think a writer has a responsibility to the truth. Obviously not literal truth in the case of fiction, but in historical fiction I think it's important to do no harm to people's understanding of historical events. I have no problem with *Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter* -- no ethical problems at least -- because nobody takes that seriously.

As for vampires, werewolves and demi-gods and what-not, as far as I can see publishers have always tried to cash in on a few successful books by selecting books that closely resemble them.

Still, it does seem like the monster as Byronic hero trope has had more than it's appointed innings. Maybe it's because there are so many monster's to choose from; you can start at vampires and work your way down to zombies. There's the folkore of the world to raid in service of the genre; we'll no doubt be seeing the Twilight formula repeated with Celtic selkies, Iranian peris and Asian fox spirits dragooned into service before the genre is well-and-truly dead.

Or maybe it's a sign of a publishing industry in upheaval becoming even more risk-averse than before. If there isn't a new break-through book in the next year or two I think that'll be looking more likely.

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Robert Nowall
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I haven't been thrilled with the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies / Android Karenina commercial trend, either...when I do want to read a public domain classic, I don't want it cluttered up with somebody else's cute notion that it'd be better with this extra tacked-on stuff.

I can certainly relate to using someone else's fictional characters and such---I've written quite a bit of fanfic (and had more fun and got more fan mail doing it than I've ever gotten for straight commercial writing) and of course have read a good deal of it along the way. But real people? Except for the odd joke cameo here and there, I can't see the comparison.

I think what set this off was this book I've seen on the "new" table at the local Barnes & Noble. I forget the title. It was a novel, it said it was a novel...but when I read the flyleaf it seemed the main character was Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Why not just write a biography of her?

I remember another novel (also I forget the title) that involved the historical facts behind the song "Tom Dooley." That's something I always wanted to know more about, but all I've learned are a few barebones facts (of which I'm uncertain of their truth, for that matter). I would've picked up a book about that if it had been straight non-fiction---I've got books on "John Henry" and "Stagolee" and am on the lookout for others---but this one, alas...maybe the writer did his homework, but, it's just another lost opportunity for me...

*****

Also what History said about vampires and werewolves and so on...

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Meredith
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The historical figures plus vampires, zombies, insert monster du jour, are just the current easy rip off. I have no interest in them at all.

What makes me want to pitch the book across the room are stories in which the female protagonist (and I use the word loosely) sits around and waits for some guy to show her what to do. There are more of these in YA than you'd think and it's the surest way to make me not want to read anything, ever again by that writer.

Also, I still have never figured out why THE FALSE PRINCE has so many good reviews when it is the worst case of withholding I've ever encountered. Not only that, but it would have been a much better story if the "secret" had been revealed at the outset. Never reading anything else by Jennifer Nielsen, either.

Some people here will disagree with me, but I'm not reading anything more by Rae Carson, either. GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS wasn't bad, but it wasn't that compelling, either. What killed it was the blatant deus ex machina ending. Blech.

My two cents.

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mayflower988
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
There's the folkore of the world to raid in service of the genre; we'll no doubt be seeing the Twilight formula repeated with Celtic selkies, Iranian peris and Asian fox spirits dragooned into service before the genre is well-and-truly dead.

Ooh, selkies, peris, and fox spirits, you say? Excuse me, I need to go do some research for my next story. ;) I kid, I kid. Seriously, though, it is frustrating to see so much of the same thing on the store shelves these days. If I'm going to read a YA novel, it's got to sound like nothing I've ever read before.
I think my main frustration is YA books that read as though the author is out of touch with today's young adults. I don't know how to explain what I mean, but I know it when I read it. It sounds like they're trying too hard to write a "cool" book, but it comes off sounding silly.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I did a presentation at a recent SF/F convention on what I call "Advanced Point of View" and, of course, the discussion also included some "basic point of view" stuff.

One of the "basic" questions had to do with how most YA seems to be in first person, and was that a requirement?

I told them it was not, and pointed out that The Best-selling YA series, bar non, is not in first person point of view at all. And Harry Potter is most definitely NOT the exception that supposedly "proves the rule."

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mayflower988
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What about all the YA that's in the present tense? Why is that so popular now? I'm getting a little tired of: "I taste the cake batter. 'Needs more sugar,' I say." I guess it increases the tension because the action feels more immediate. (A cheap trick, maybe?) Also, there's the possibility that the narrating character could die, since you don't have them looking back on the past. But something about all the present tense just grates on my nerves, I guess.
KDW: What is the best-selling YA series of all time?

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RyanB
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Harry Potter
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Robert Nowall
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First-person is a trap that new writers sometimes fall into; "I" will say the most appalling things...if you have reservations about your first-person narrative, try recasting it and rewriting it in third-person, without any other changes, and see how it looks to you then.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As RyanB said, and as I said in my post, mayflower988, the best-selling YA series of all time is J K Rowling's Harry Potter series.

I strongly recommend that you read what OSC has to say about whether or not first person is as immediate or intimate as some new writers may believe it to be. He covers all the basics of point of view in his book CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT, and it is well worth the time it takes to read it.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
First-person is a trap that new writers sometimes fall into; "I" will say the most appalling things...if you have reservations about your first-person narrative, try recasting it and rewriting it in third-person, without any other changes, and see how it looks to you then.

I dunno. First person, third person limited and third person omniscient all have their pleasures and challenges. I think it may be easier for a complete novice who hasn't mastered point of view to produce a marginally acceptable MS in first person, but first person takes considerable skill to master.

I see first person narration as having many layers:

1. What the narrator is intentionally telling you.

2. What narrator's conscious agenda is (the lies he tells you).

3. What the narrator's unconscious agenda is (the lies he tells himself).

4. Stuff that the narrator is not conscious of, but the reader may notice.

For me, playing these four layers of meaning is the pleasure of first person, and it takes plenty of skill. And then there is the task of giving the narrator's voice a distinct personality, which is no mean feat in itself.

And then there's the problem of information management. How do you let the reader know about things outside the first person narrator's ken that produce suspense? I see this as the biggest challenge of first person narration.

I don't buy into any narrative mode having any more immediacy than any other. A trip through your personal library will turn up some gripping stories told in any mode you care to choose. It's not the mode that produces the effect, it's the writer's mastery of the mode. First person is the easiest mode for a novice to produce something readable in, but probably the hardest to master.

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Meredith
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Hmm, a tad off track here, but interesting. Sometimes, first person works, sometimes it doesn't.

I've read at least one book (the aforementioned GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS) that I'm pretty sure was originally written in third person and then converted to first. That just doesn't work. First person requires a whole different mind set. It's not just changing the pronouns and the conjugation of the verbs (Btw, that's why I think it was originally written in third. I caught a place where the verbs and pronouns hadn't been changed.)

I've read other stories that worked really well in first person (PARANORMALCY comes to mind. First person really brought out that character's voice, but it got lost in the sequel.)

*Why, yes, I have been reading a lot of YA lately. [Smile] *

I've only ever written a handful of stories in first person--one because that story needed to be closely tied to the POV character's perceptions ("Heart of Oak") and the others because that's just how I heard the story in my head. It would have been a struggle to write them any other way.

I am not a fan of first person present tense, though I've seen it done well once or twice.

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extrinsic
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I'm not at present reading anything for purely recreational reasons. The day will come again though. . . .

Both first-person narration and present tense's strengths are their greatest shortcomings. Double bind that a strength and a shortcoming are one and the same. First person and present tense are the most subjective voices of all. Reliability is most on point in both cases. I delight in either or both when reliability is artfully open to interpretation.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One the major problems, as I see it, with the Twilight series is that it's written in first person. Because of that, Bella Swan, who is a very unselfish, self-sacrificing person (but who, because she is truly that way, can't tell you that in first person, because she doesn't think of herself that way) comes across to some readers as "whiny" and "wishy-washy" and other unpleasant things.

So, yes, mastering first person is a real challenge, especially when you need to be able to get across your character's virtues without detracting from them in the process, and it's something I would not recommend to inexperienced writers.

EDITED TO ADD: in spite of any problems other readers have had with the Twilight series, I want to make it clear that I loved it, and I think Stephenie Meyer is a top-knotch storyteller. I hope she keeps writing and growing as a writer.

[ March 09, 2013, 02:13 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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mayflower988
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Wow, lesson learned: No more posting at midnight for me. I meant to write about present tense and first-person POV; somehow I got them lumped up together. And I guess my brain wasn't sharp enough to understand KDW's post about Harry Potter. :)
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
What about all the YA that's in the present tense? Why is that so popular now? I'm getting a little tired of: "I taste the cake batter. 'Needs more sugar,' I say." I guess it increases the tension because the action feels more immediate. (A cheap trick, maybe?) Also, there's the possibility that the narrating character could die, since you don't have them looking back on the past. But something about all the present tense just grates on my nerves, I guess.

So, is "I tasted the cake batter. 'Needs more sugar,' I said," any better?

It might be better if we knew that the cake batter were laced with strychnine, and therein lies the primary difference I see between first person past and first person present, which is that in present tense it's even *harder* to bring in information that the protagonist isn't aware of. In the past you could write, "Little did I know, but the cake batter was laced with strychnine! I tasted it..." But could you write in the present tense, "Little do I know, but the cake batter is laced with strychnine!"? Past or present, it's a bit trite, but in the present tense it's positively illogical.

Aside from that, I see little to recommend or condemn first person present. It's just a stylistic choice that's become a fad since THE HUNGER GAMES. We're not all used to it yet; I know I find it grating at first, but that fades away if the story's any good.

On the other hand, I don't see any of the magical qualities its most vocal proponents claim for it. At best I think it may help some *authors* visualize their stories, but in most cases I think a present tense story re-told in past tense would be just as good. That's just my opinion of course; I'm open to being persuaded that the present does something for the reader the past tense cannot. THE HUNGER GAMES was a terrific novel that happened to be written in the present tense. I think it would have been just as terrific in the past tense, but there's no reason to change it because it works as-is.

I'm not sure how you'd handle the main character dying in present tense. Introduce another narrative viewpoint, I guess, but that'd work for past tense too. Again, I don't think it makes much difference to the reader from a suspense perspective. When a narrative mode is working, I don't think readers are aware of it; either way they're drawn into the story along with the protagonist and their nitpicking critical faculties should be well lulled to sleep.

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Meredith
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Oh, and as long as we're ranting, sloppy world-building. I just finished one in a medieval-ish setting (like at least 2/3 of the fantasy out there). But the character had a suite with a private bath--apparently with running water--and the "game room" was furnished with a billiard table and a piano. No explanation for why any of this existed in this otherwise medieval world.

(The billiard table appeared to be there for the express purpose of permitting a gratuitous scene in which the prince taught her how to play pool by getting up close behind her--you know the one. The piano was there for a similar reason--to wow the prince with her musical ability. Neither were really necessary to the plot.)

But what really got me, was that this character is supposedly an assassin of some skill, but a prisoner. The first thing she does is to search the room for possible weapons. She ends up making herself some half-a**ed version of a knife from sewing pins. Never once did it occur to her to use piano wire to make a garotte. Really?

(THRONE OF GLASS, if anyone is interested.)

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MattLeo
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Meredith -- You piqued my curiosity. I looked up THRONE OF GLASS, and apparently you have two more installments to look forward to!

Looking at the reviews of the book, it appears to have a kind of Twilight fan profile -- either people love it or dislike it. It's interesting that the crux for both fans and detractors is the same: the protagonist Celaena. Fans love that Celaena is so amazingly awesome at what she does. Detractors hate that she is so amazingly awesome at what she does.

This happens to bear on a couple of things I'm preparing for Hatrack. The first is a writer's book report on DORSAI! by Gordie Dickson. The other is an Open Discussions post on the importance of giving your protagonists vulnerabilities.

As for the anachronistic world-building, it's commonplace to have medieval stories with anachronistic features like fireplaces, tobacco, maize, and pig-iron. I'm not entirely where to draw the line, especially with alternate universes. That'd be a good topic for Open Discussions about Writing. I suspect if the story as a whole felt credible to you, the anachronisms wouldn't have felt as jarring.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Meredith -- You piqued my curiosity. I looked up THRONE OF GLASS, and apparently you have two more installments to look forward to!

Looking at the reviews of the book, it appears to have a kind of Twilight fan profile -- either people love it or dislike it. It's interesting that the crux for both fans and detractors is the same: the protagonist Celaena. Fans love that Celaena is so amazingly awesome at what she does. Detractors hate that she is so amazingly awesome at what she does.


Yeah, she's pretty much a Mary Sue--tragic past, can do anything she puts her hand to better than anyone else, actually holding back so as not to seem so superior. About the only thing she didn't immediately succeed at was billiards.

The story started out well enough, but it couldn't hold up until the end.

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rcmann
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The remark about sloppy world building reminded me of a pet peeve. I get impatient to the point of irritated when a story presents life under primitive conditions as being idyllic.

It ain't, and it bugs me when a writer glosses over the fact that people in the past had an average life span of about 35-40 years, and started losing their permanent teeth almost as soon as they came in.

Filth, hunger, cold, these things were simply facts of life for people in King Arthur's day, and even more so during stone age times. Yet I have read so many stories where the protagonist blithely saunters along, well fed, well shod, well dressed in warm clothing, and sleeps on a comfortable bed (built out of what, precisely?) and so forth.

One thing about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Prince and the Pauper. In those books Twain never sugar coated things. He may not have gone out of his way to upset people, but he didn't sugar coat things either. Or in Huckleberry Finn, when he describes the living conditions of poor people in the antebellum south. One of many things that make him my favorite author.

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