Ever notice there are some people whose opinions matter? Two such people for me are Allison Hurd and Trike on Goodreads.
Why do their opinions matter to me?
Nutshell response: I don’t know.
I could figure it out. Things like kindness, graciousness, wit, intelligence, writing skills, comments they’ve made, nature of their responses to other people, things we disagree on and how we disagree, … all sorts of things like that come to mind.
But that’s not what this post is about so let’s move on except to note that Trike and Allison are the impetus for this post.
I won’t be reviewing Autonomous, Wit’s End or The Fifth Season on Goodreads. I read them pretty much simultaneously.
The Fifth Season I may yet review, I’m not sure. I may yet review them all. Again, I’m not sure. Let me deal with the other two first.
Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End had such an interesting teaser to me; “What happens when your readers steal your characters?” Okay, that premise wasn’t as interesting to me as the one my lexdyksia created for me; “What happens when your characters steal your readers?”
I mean, just park it at a red light and walk home, right? I’ve got to write me that kind of story someday, where your characters steal your readers, right while they’re sitting comfortably at home, reading and sipping a nice wine. Or listening or reading during some commute? There they are in a crowded train heading into the city and then they’re not.
Enoch walked with God and then was not. – Gen 5:24
Talk about an Enoch moment!
I got about one-third through Witt’s End and put it down. Bored, frustrated. I wanted to like it. I wanted to revel in it. I studied under Karen Joy Fowler years ago (I doubt she remembers my writing although she told me I should not rename a story, Cicatrix, even though everybody else in the class said they couldn’t understand the story because they didn’t know what the title meant. She did and thought it was perfect for the story.
Neener neener neener, everybody.
Or she might remember the night I made chili for the entire class. It was a bonding exercise that failed. Everybody liked the chili. One guy even told me he knew why I was making chili for everybody. He appreciated the effort, although he didn’t think anybody else would understand.
I wonder what became of him?
He was correct, by the way. It didn’t work as a bonding exercise. So it goes) and was a good teacher. I still have the exercises she gave us to do and bring them out to brush up from time to time.
Wit’s End read like just about everything I’ve read by Karen Joy Fowler.
I never really liked anything I’ve read by Karen Joy Fowler. Even when I was her student (and enjoyed her as a teacher!) I didn’t understand why people were blown away by her writing. It seemed so Meh!
But I figured I was older now, smarter, wiser, more mature, wouldn’t try any bonding exercises with people who didn’t know what “cicatrix” meant, that kind of thing.
Nope. Her writing still bored me.
But she’s won all those awards! What gives?
Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous also had an interesting premise to me. And Annalee Newitz’s background is…Whoa! She’s got some chops! And, reading Autonomous, I totally get that she really has those chops, she’s earned them, she’s knowledgeable, she definitely writes well (so does Karen Joy, for that matter), …
And again, about one-quarter to one-third of the way through, blech, mindfart, brainpoo, somebody wake me up or kill me and put me out of my misery.
But she’s got such chops! And she’s won some awards, too!
(at least I think she has. I’m not going back to look right now. I’m on a roll!)
The Fifth Season
I picked up N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season because Allison Hurd and Trike liked it. A lot.
And they’re good people.
Whom I love, respect and admire.
And I still do!
Because here’s what I learned…
The exchange that caused revelations
Allison wrote: “Haha! I hope you get to it and love it as much as I do! …”
Well…I didn’t. I had such an adverse reaction to it that based on your intense joy in it, Trike’s review of it and the fact that I have great respect for both of your opinions, I’m concluding that I need to give it another read, this time keeping watch on myself to learn what (if anything still) is causing me such troubles.
I mean, I noted that the writing was quite good (I often put books down because the storycrafting isn’t there or the editor was just getting off a ten-day bender…) so it wasn’t the writing. Often when I have such adverse reactions to books it’s more to do with me than the book. A great opportunity for learning, maturing, evolving, that.
So another go it is!
I tend to read several books simultaneously, going from one to another for lots of reasons. This time I was simultaneously reading two other books I enjoyed; The Western Star and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
So many voices seeking my attention! And they’re all in my head!
Meanwhile, and because nothing ever happens in isolation (someday, if you’re really bored, I’ll explain the quantum, behavioral, classical and meta physics of this), Annie Neugebauer’s The Differences Between Commercial and Literary Fiction, Chuck Wendig’s 25 REASONS WHY I STOPPED READING YOUR BOOK and yours truly’s Why I don’t read in my genres any more were in my mind, working their way around, looking for a comfortable place to sit, maybe have a drink or two (I strongly recommend the first two posts. They’re wonderful, entertaining, educational and did I mention wonderful? Mine’s pretty good, too, but I’m still working on that self-promotion thing, so…).
Also topmost in my mind was something my writing coach, Rich Marcello, shared with me about energy levels in stories and scenes, something I’m actively working on in my Ritchie and Phyl series plus some things that have been banging around in my head since I read Jill Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View.
I like stories where the energy levels change(!!!) in a scene, in a chapter, on the page (this only applies to fiction so far that I’ve noticed).
I mean, shabang shaboomie. Revelations like steamrollers smacking the forehead wow.
How come I didn’t like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible but loved her The Bean Trees? How come I couldn’t get enough of Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods but was less enthusiastic about his Thirteen Moons?
How come this book was great but that book sucked? How come I can’t get enough of this author and would rather have a root canal than read that author? How come some of my Goodreads reviews come down to “Great writing, but I was screaming ‘Will somebody please do something?'”
Because I like changes in energy levels in the stories(!!!) and the longer I have to wait for some kind of energy shift the less I’m going to like the story.
Me and my toolbox
da dat de dah de dat de dah dah
Straighter than your ox
(okay, I’m not Nilsson)
This is so important because…
…it’s another tool in my toolbox. I can go back to all those books that I recognized were beautifully written but sucked, pick them up…
…and throw them in the trash forever!
Bwa-ha-ha-ha! (bear with me, folks. I’m drunk with power. I get that way when I figure something out. Especially if it’s something about myself)
I never have to wonder if it’s me or them anymore! I know it’s me! It’s not that I’m stupid or don’t get it or aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the subtleties inherent in their structure,
It’s that they suck!
But now I know why!
And that means I can fix it!
Especially in my own writing!
Because I don’t want someone to read something of mine and wish they’d opted for a root canal instead!
And now there’s lots more books I can enjoy because I’ll understand why I think they suck and the understanding brings a joy all its own!
So again, thanks to Allison Hurd and Trike for helping me through this.
PS) I’m having fun learning about callouts. Can you tell?