Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SIN Reading Tonight!

If you're in the Chicagoland area tonight and feel like having a drink, listening to some readings, and hopefully buying a book, come down to Quimby's bookstore for another SIN Anthology launch party. Joining me are A.C. Frieden, Alverne Ball, Julia Borcherts, and author of RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL Jamie Freveletti, all reading from the anthology. It will definitely be a lot of fun.

Male-Dominated Bookshelf

Last week, M.J. Rose made a comment on her blog that nearly all of Oprah's book selections were written by men. I'm not entirely certain of the criteria for being an Oprah Book Club pick, but it seems surprising to me that a female icon picks so many books written by men for her predominantly female fan base. And, isn't she supposed to be about equality?

But before I passed judgement, I stepped away from the computer to take a look at my own bookshelf. Out of about a hundred hardcovers, only eleven were written by women. I was totally surprised. I know that the mystery/thriller genre is dominated by women, but most of my hardcovers are literary fiction, which I thought to be more balanced. Guess not.

Is it simply because there are more male writers out there or is there a difference in writing styles? When I run through my favorite books - PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, SURVIVOR, MYSTIC RIVER - all of them are written by men. Is it just a coincidence? There isn't really a pattern: a crazy Jewish family with a child addicted to masturbation, a collection of short stories about the drag queens and junkies living in one area of Brooklyn, the sole survivor of a creedish cult about to crash his plane, and how a childhood abduction changes the lives of 3 friends forever. Any pattern I see speaks to my tastes in fiction, not my preference in author gender.

As a female writer myself, I'd hate to think that like so many other industries, writing is so male-dominated. But looking at the books on my shelf and thinking back to my days in fiction classes, I have to admit, men definitely outnumbered the women. There are so many wonderful female authors out there. They're making it to bestseller lists, they're winning awards, and yet the playing field still doesn't seem to be level.

Take a look at your bookshelf and see if you have a similar realization. I believe the only exception would be if you only read romance, a genre where women do dominate. Is it a coincidence, do you prefer male authors, or is it simply because there are more books out there written by men?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pace Yourself

When someone talks about a book they love, how do they describe it? A page turner? Impossible to put down? Gripping? Thrilling? They probably wouldn't praise it's slowness or meandering way of storytelling. Whether it's mysteries, romance, or literary fiction, pacing plays a huge role in the success of a novel.

At every writing conference I've been too, there has been a panel about pacing. Thriller writers, agents and reviewers talk and preach about ways to pick up the pace of a story. Add a time constraint. Raise the stakes. Make it seem impossible for the protagonist to triumph. I agree that if you do all of these things you will have a "thriller that's impossible to put down." But is it always necessary? Does the protagonist always need to race against time?

I bring this up because I'm currently reading NOTHING TO LOSE by, Lee Child. For those of you who aren't familiar with his work, this NYT bestselling author is known for his suspense and intriguing series protagonist, Jack Reacher. His novels are mysteries, but they are often referred to as thrillers because they're so suspenseful. But this book is different. The story unfolds slowly and Lee takes the time to describe Reacher shaving, eating, thinking. His motivations for investigating suspicious activities in this small Colorado town stem from pure "curiosity". It's not about life and death. His motivations aren't personal (at least not in the beginning). And yet, he executes the story in such an intriguing way, that it is still "impossible to put down."

Throughout the book I have wondered if a newbie author could get away with such a thing. Because it's a Reacher novel, and I love Reacher novels, I've stuck with the slower pace and let myself be pulled into the story. But if it was an author I was unfamiliar with, would I have put it down 50 pages in? Possibly.

I always respect authors taking risks in their work, but if they want to be successful, I think it's smart to take those risks after they've established a loyal audience. The Reacher fans of this world aren't going anywhere and Lee can afford to try new things. But with newer authors, I think it's better to go with the pace you've established in previous books. If you're first book was a gripping, race against time, you better stick with that pace in the second.

It just goes to show you that there are no hard and fast rules in the world of fiction. While I usually want fast pace books that raise my heart rate and make me question how a protagonist could ever get out alive, I happen to be enjoying the slower pace of this book. The plot and characters are intriguing and as the book moves on, the pace definitely picks up. To me, the gripping part stems from Reacher's curiosity. His drive to uncover the truth carries over to readers and we try to solve the mystery along side him. At this point, I haven't really feared for his life, though maybe that's because Reacher is very capable in the survival department. Like Reacher, I simply want to know the secrets of this small town and that want will keep me reading until the very end.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In Lieu of Real Content...

Unfortunately, the flu has prevented me from blogging, reading, and any other activity other than lying down. So for your literary fix, I refer you to the following:

Enjoy and hopefully I'll be back to normal by the end of the week!