Now there's a question!
Being an author is one of the most solitary professions there is, as I know from experience. I work from home, keeping normal office hours, and unless I venture out at lunchtime, I don't see or talk to anyone until the evening. I'm not complaining. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I've always needed plenty of solitude, and can get a bit stir-crazy if I'm surrounded by people for too long. Before I carry on, let me explode the most persistent myth about introverts: that we're shy people who dislike socialising. Not so! No way do I consider myself shy, because I'm not. Despite my strong need for solitude, I love spending time with my friends and meeting new people. Like other introverts, though, I prefer smaller social gatherings, and not to spend too long at them. Furthermore, loud noisy events or people don't sit well with me. Live music is my idea of torture and I prefer to socialise with fellow introverts.
So how does one define an introvert? The word itself provides the clue; it originates from the Latin 'intro' (inwards) and 'vertere' (to turn). A great definition is this one from Psychology Today: 'Introverts are drained by social encounters and energised by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia, or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialise easily; they just strongly prefer not to.' Part of this makes me cringe. For anyone to label introverts as having a personality disorder because they're not raving party animals is ridiculous. The perception persists, though, with some dictionaries defining the word as meaning 'shy person,' which neither tallies with its Latin roots nor with reality. As Psychology Today points out, introversion or extroversion has nothing to do with levels of confidence, shyness or social skills. Instead, it relates to how individuals respond to stimuli and replenish their energy. Extroverts thrive on hustle, bustle and social connections, whereas introverts find such situations draining. In contrast, we derive energy from within and by being alone.
We're frequently misunderstood, though. Partly, I suspect, because we're in the minority. Estimates vary, but it seems between 25 - 33% of people fall in the introvert camp. As part of this misunderstanding, introverts can suffer pressure to socialise more by well-meaning friends, which can be very wearing. Some people have postulated that there's a distinct global bias towards extroverts; their traits are perceived as desirable, with job adverts requesting 'bright and bubbly' or 'outgoing' candidates. I think famous introverts such as Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg prove we have much to contribute to the workplace!
Other well-known introverts? How about Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Stephen Spielberg, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffett or Frederick Chopin?
One of the few professions that's carried out alone
Let's examine how this relates to writing fiction. Whether novelists tend more towards introversion, I can't say, but a Google search on 'famous extrovert novelists' reveals nothing, with most of the search results concentrating on introverted writers instead. Many of my author friends regard themselves as introverts. Given that we need solitude, and creating novels being one of the few professions that's carried out alone, it does seem we may have an advantage. I imagine it would be torture for an extrovert to spend hours at a computer, cut off from human contact, whereas it's entirely natural for introverts. Any extrovert drawn to writing would probably thrive better as a journalist, perhaps. Or maybe they'd be attracted to other forms of creative expression instead, such as acting or the music business.
Not all writers need solitude, of course. I know authors who write in coffee shops, libraries and pubs, places where the hum and bustle of daily life surrounds them. They're probably further along the scale towards extroversion than I am, that's all. Or perhaps they just get cabin fever more easily than I do. One consideration that acts in favour of introverts becoming novelists is the fact that, as Psychology Today says, we're often drawn to creative pursuits during our alone time. Famous introverted writers are plentiful; J K Rowling is said to be one, along with Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, J D Salinger and the entire Brontë family. I'm in good company!
Vive la différence! Each to their own...
Both introverts and extroverts have their strengths and weaknesses, of course, and those strengths can be brought to the writing table. Introverts are often better listeners, and this skill enables them to find great true-life stories that provide great fodder for book ideas. Hand in hand with that goes an increased ability to understand human foibles and behaviour. I've often said on this blog how I'm fascinated by what drives our behaviour, especially when it encroaches into weird and wacky territory. All the time we spend alone gives us time to reflect, explore ourselves, skills we can use when creating our characters. Lastly, of course, we're better able to deal with long periods of solitude, a prerequisite of the writing life.
But we don't hold all the cards. Extroverts meet a wider variety of people and engage more with them, thus providing material for characters and stories from a different angle, as well as from more plentiful sources. I suspect they're also far better at promoting themselves on social media. I love Facebook and Twitter as much as anyone, but don't post that often - it's simply not my style. Neither is better or worse, of course - people are what they are and a mix of extroverts and introverts makes for a more interesting world. I'd prefer the split to be more evenly balanced, but vive la différence, as they say!
Over to you - what do you think?
Do you think introverts are more suited than extroverts to the writing life? Are you an author yourself, and if so, in which camp do you consider yourself, or are you somewhere in between? If you're an introvert, have you experienced misunderstandings about what the word means? Extrovert authors, do you need to write somewhere public, so you get the stimulation you need? Leave a comment and let me know!
So many books, so little time!
Once I used to reread favourite novels, happy to revisit those I'd enjoyed before. Sometimes I'm nostalgic for the times when I'd curl up with a treasured book to savour its magic again. Even though the story was no longer a mystery, I'd always catch nuances I'd missed before, making each reread a new take on the familiar. A long time has passed since I read the same title more than once, though. It's a trend that's set to continue.
Why? Well, thanks to changes in the publishing industry, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to fiction. Thousands of new novels are uploaded to Amazon every day. In addition, the new wave of self-publishing is creating new genres by merging existing ones. Which makes for fascinating choices! Fancy a science fiction romance? No problem. Want to add Vikings to the mix? Your wish is granted. There are novels about dragons in space, unicorns in ancient history, you name it. In addition, self-publishing has revitalised more than genres. Short stories and novellas are making a comeback, providing even more reading options. With such a cornucopia of material available, not to mention classic novels I've yet to read, I don't have time to pick up the same book twice. Not that I'm complaining, you understand!
I don't want old favourites to disappoint
Besides the plethora of new titles available, there's another reason I don't revisit past fictional adventures. A strong possibility exists that, after a gap of several decades, they'll disappoint. Take Iris Murdoch's 'The Sea, The Sea'. I first read this novel in my twenties, and I loved it. The character of Charles Arrowby, his selfishness, the way he blinds himself to the obvious, mesmerised me. The novel charts his reunion with his first love, Mary Hartley Fitch, whom he has not seen since his youth. Thanks to his reclusive life, he develops an obsession with her, despite the fact she now sports an old-lady moustache and doesn't return his interest. I've always been fascinated by human behaviour and foibles, and Charles's egotistic pursuit of the unfortunate Hartley, which involves her kidnap, makes wonderful reading.
Years ago, a friend and I discussed the novel, with her being as taken with 'The Sea, The Sea' as I was. Recently, however, Doran told me she'd reread the book. Had it reprised its magic for her? The answer is no. 'I've no idea why I liked it so much in the first place,' she said. Which makes me wary about rereading my old favourite. Disillusion can be a bitter pill. Isn't it better for 'The Sea, The Sea' to retain its place in my affections, rather than me risk tarnishing its memory?
Tastes and priorities change...
Perhaps this reflects the changes we all experience in life. Tastes and priorities alter. In my fifties, I'm very different to the woman I was in my twenties. Who wouldn't be? There's a good chance that Iris Murdoch's iconic book may not enchant me second time around. Take Thomas Hardy's wonderful novels, for example. As a teenager, I read every single title, relishing Hardy's biting examination of social injustices. I loathed the hypocritical Angel Clare in 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'; Michael Henchard's character in 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' appalled me. A man who scorned his bride-to-be for not being a virgin? A rogue who sells his wife at a country fair? Shame on both of them!
I also loved Hardy's lyrical descriptions of the Dorset countryside, for which his books are justly famous. An example: 'Here in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass. The atmosphere below is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes of that hue, whilst the horizon beyond is of deepest ultramarine.' (From 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles').
Nowadays I feel little desire to read any of his books again. For one thing, I'm less concerned with social commentary than I was. And whilst not denying the beauty of Hardy's prose, I'm now impatient with long-winded descriptive paragraphs. I prefer brisk action rather than eulogies about hedgerows. So I'll leave off revisiting Hardy, or any of the novelists who enchanted me as a younger woman. Time's a wastin', as they say. Instead, I'll choose something new to read.
What about you?
Do you like revisiting fictional favourites? Are there books that are timeless for you, providing enjoyment every time you read them? Or do you prefer to discover fresh treasures? Leave a comment and let me know!
'I have to like the main character in a novel in order to enjoy reading it,' a friend once told me. 'If I can't like them, then I need to empathise with them, at the very least.'
A while back, I read Peter Høeg's novel 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow,' and it got me thinking about whether a protagonist should be likeable. You see, Smilla Jaspersen, the main character in Høeg's novel, isn't. Not to me, anyway. She describes herself as a bitter shrew; her personality's as cold as the Greenland ice on which she was raised. She professes to love her neighbour's son, six-year-old Isaiah, but she's not above hitting him. Her feelings for the man she refers to as 'the mechanic' rarely rise about the carnal, despite her alleged tenderness for him. And yet Smilla is a mesmerising character. She's possessed of an acerbic tongue, she's mistress of the quick riposte, and she'll fight dirty with screwdrivers or whatever implement comes to hand. I neither liked nor empathised with her, but she made a fascinating character to lead me through the book.
Let's look at other fictional nasties...
Unpleasant characters abound in novels, of course, but they're often cast as the antagonist, with a thorough comeuppance served up at the end. Let's look at some novels where the lead character, as opposed to the antagonist, is very definitely someone with a nasty streak. Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley springs to mind. Charming, amoral and ruthless, surely he's far most interesting to the reader than the dull Dickie Greenleaf? Or what about Scarlett O'Hara? She's vain, she's selfish and yet isn't she compelling, especially when compared with the vapid Melanie Wilkes?
Moving to historical fiction, Mary Saunders from Emma Donoghue's novel 'Slammerkin' is shallow, self-serving and impulsive. She trades her virginity for a ribbon and uses the infatuated Daffy Cadwallader without compunction for her own ends. Tom, Scarlett, Mary; we may not like them but we can't ignore them, and all three fascinate and compel in equal measures.
The lure of the antagonist
Some books have the reader rooting for the villain simply because their counterparts aren't likable either. As a teenager, reading Thomas Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' for school, I loathed Angel Clare with a passion. He's supposed to be a moral man, with Christian values, but his behaviour stinks. Sure, he's a product of Victorian England, but could he be any more hypocritical? Rejecting Tess for not being a virgin immediately after informing her he's not one either? Alec D'Urberville may be the villain of the book but at least he doesn't pretend to be the good guy. In that, if nothing else, he's far more honest than Angel Clare ever is. I know which one I prefer.
Why is it the bad guys are often more interesting? Take Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca', as well as Rebecca herself. Don't these two women possess more fire, more spirit, than the second Mrs De Winter? What about 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'? Doesn't Hyde draw us in far deeper into Robert Louis Stevenson's novel than Jekyll ever does?
What's behind all this?
I believe many of us harbour a dark side. Most of us lead law-abiding lives and are decent enough people, but I suspect we like to examine life's grittier side occasionally. From a safe perspective, of course. Why else would crime and horror novels be so popular? We're like children, scared yet thrilled by tales of witches and warlocks; there's something compelling about the seamier side of life. For me, that explains why often it's the bad guys in novels who grab the limelight.
What about my friend, though, who prefers her characters to be the good guys? For me, fascination can replace empathy, but for her it's clearly different. I suspect the reason here is because many people choose to identify with the lead characters in a book, to walk in their shoes, experience life through their eyes. So it makes sense that we'd want to like them, because for the duration of the book, we become them.
What do you think?
What's your take on this? Do you root for the good guys or do you prefer your fictional characters more flawed? Leave a comment and let me know!
I'm delighted to welcome my friend Ellis Shuman to my blog today. Ellis is the author of the gripping suspense novel 'Valley of Thracians' as well as a collection of short stories entitled 'The Virtual Kibbutz'. He also writes a popular blog, where he posts book reviews, articles about Israel, Bulgaria, and anything else he fancies. You can find it here. https://ellisshuman.blogspot.com/
Reading one of Ellis's posts got me thinking. Which is the better medium for e-books, a dedicated e-reader or a tablet? Me, I love my basic Kindle. The battery life is amazing; I can go weeks between recharges, despite using the device most days. I also love e-ink; I can read my Kindle in bright sunshine, whereas the shiny screens on tablets render that difficult. Kindle Paperwhites also have a backlight facility, which enables readers to use their devices in the dark, and are also waterproof. Once my basic model stops working, I'll upgrade to a Paperwhite.
I also like the fact that I can't access the Internet. Sure, my Kindle is wi-fi enabled, allowing me to browse Amazon for new books, but that's as far as it goes. For me, the fact I can't access Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or any other of my favourite websites, is great. I can lose myself for hours in social media!
Ellis prefers to read via a tablet
Ellis has a different take on the subject. 'I don't own a Kindle,' he says. 'I am a late adapter, if I adapt to a new technology at all. I have recently considered purchasing a Kindle, but feared that I would be falling behind the times with a single purpose device. In the end, I've elected to buy a tablet, giving me a handheld unit that will enable me to read digital books comfortably, as well as interact with the Internet when I see fit to do so.'
I mentioned above how my Nook allows me to read in the dark. Ellis, of course, can do that as well with his tablet. The rest of this post is given over to him; he's written an article about why he enjoys reading digital books in bed at night. Seems his wife prefers the more traditional paperback, though! Over to you, Ellis.
Reading in the dark - 'Lights out!'
When I was a young boy, this parental request meant an end to my nightly reading adventures, whether they be solving mysteries with the Hardy Boys or traveling 20,000 leagues under the sea with Jules Verne. In those days, I was obedient to a fault. The lights in my bedroom invariably went out at chapter's end. I never read books by flashlight because I could barely breathe under the covers. Four decades later and my reading preferences and habits have changed. Now, the words "Lights out" declared in my conjugal bedroom signal a start to the night's literary activities. My wife and I fire up our tablets, turn off the lights, and start reading in the dark. While my wife reads a family drama set against the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, I read fiction as well as non-fiction, having selected recently published titles that will not only give me pleasure but which I will also review for my blog.
Books delivered seamlessly and instantly
I was the first in our household to purchase a tablet, not for its Internet connectivity or for the ability to play games and watch videos on a handheld screen, but purely for the joy of reading digital books. While I appreciate the look and feel of flipping through the physical pages of a paperback, I also find pleasure in selecting a title to read, clicking a button, and having that book delivered seamlessly and instantly to my tablet. As a book reviewer, I frequently bookmark passages that I will consider quoting or paraphrasing in my reviews. This function is not available when I'm reading an advance reader copy (ARC) of a new book received in PDF format. Just the other day, my wife asked me how I keep track of passages to include in my reviews when reading a hard copy of a book. I realized that reviews of those books rely on my often faulty memory, rather than my leaving paper notes between the pages.
Some of the books I've recently reviewed have been quite good and I gladly recommended them to my wife. This was a bit difficult when we were a one-tablet family and I was the only one reading in the dark. My wife purchased her own tablet and some of the ebooks I received made their virtual way into her hands as well. My wife hasn't totally warmed to reading digital copies of books. "What percentage are you up to?" I sometimes ask her, comparing how far each of us are in our respective reads at the end of the night. My wife doesn't see any benefit in a note informing her that she is three minutes away from the end of the chapter. She would much prefer to skim ahead through physical pages to determine when she plans to put down her book for the night.
Time to go to sleep
There are other things you just have to get used to when reading via tablet, whether it's the size of the font, the way you hold the device, and how to swish your finger to turn the pages. It's not the same experience as reading a paperback, that's for sure. But, there is one thing that my wife and I both experience at the end of the night, and it doesn't matter if we're reading a physical book, or a digital one on our tablet. When our eyes become tired, we end up reading the same sentence over and over, not comprehending the text or remembering what we've just read. It's time to shut down the tablet for the night, extinguishing the small light of its screen. At that point, the words "Lights out!" signal, just like they did in childhood, that it's time to stop reading and go to sleep.
More about Ellis Shuman
Ellis Shuman was born in the United States but moved to Israel as a teenager. He served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives outside Jerusalem. For two years, 2009-2010, Ellis and his wife lived in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ellis writes frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, books, travel, and other interesting things on his blog, which you can find at https://ellisshuman.blogspot.com/
And about his books, starting with The Burgas Affair
She’s an Israeli data analyst. He’s a headstrong Bulgarian detective. Together they must track down those responsible for a horrific bombing.
In the wake of a deadly terrorist attack at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria, Israeli and Bulgarian intelligence agencies launch a joint investigation. Detective Boyko Stanchev on the police task force teams up with Ayala Navon, a young Israeli intelligence analyst on her first overseas assignment.
The two must establish whether the terrorists were assisted by a Bulgarian crime organization in laying the groundwork for the attack.
It should be a routine investigation, but shadows of the past keep interfering.
Boyko’s interactions with a crime boss pursuing a vendetta against him threaten to throw him off track. Ayala’s pursuit of the terrorists and their accomplices brings up painful memories of a family tragedy.
Boyko and Ayala form a shaky alliance, one that evolves into growing cooperation and affection as they desperately race against time to uncover who was behind the Burgas bombing.
The Burgas Affair is a fictional account of the aftermath of a very real terrorist attack. On July 18, 2012, a deadly explosive rocked a tourist bus at Burgas Airport, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. The terrorists responsible for this murderous attack have never been brought to justice.
Valley of Thracians
A Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artefact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover. Matthews travels through a Balkan landscape dotted with ancient tombs and fortresses, unaware that his grandson has been confined to an isolated mountain cabin, slowly recovering from a severe head injury. Nothing can be taken at face value, as the woman assisting Matthews in his quest and the nurse caring for his injured grandson may have ulterior motives in helping the two reunite. Even when Matthews succeeds in joining up with his grandson, departure from Bulgaria is only possible if the missing relic can be found.
The Virtual Kibbutz
In this debut collection of stories, the author introduces you to kibbutz residents challenged with adapting to new realities. Along the way you'll see how kibbutzniks face up to the violence of the Intifada, cope with the Internet, and struggle to have more control over their lives.
Today's post is a collaboration between myself and my novelist friend Jerry Byrum. Welcome to my blog, Jerry! Together we’re going to examine how author gender affects reader perception.
Personally, I don’t care whether men or women write the novels I read. What does it matter, so long as they provide great content? To me, gender, when it comes to authors, is as relevant as hair colour or shoe size; it simply doesn’t matter. I’ve never agreed with the Mars/Venus approach, preferring a philosophy of life that emphasises similarities instead of differences. I’m betting, however, that if you’re someone who views the world in terms of male/female dichotomies, you’re likely to have a strong preference for either male or female writers. Fair enough if you choose male authors because you enjoy spy thrillers, or female ones because romance is your thing. There's no denying men and women dominate certain genres. What's more suspect is when people won't read espionage novels if they're written by a woman, such as Gale Lynds, or romances when penned by male authors, such as my friend Jerry Byrum.
Stereotyped gender attitudes definitely exist towards novelists. When I told a friend I’d completed my first novel, his first question was ‘Is it a romance?’ Then there’s the time I told somebody I intended to write novels. ‘What sort?’ she enquired. ‘Children’s books?’ This person knew children don’t feature in my life. So why the presumption I’d write fiction for them?
I find it a shame that in 2019, there’s still such strong gender stereotyping. Women are clearly supposed to write soft, fluffy material, whilst men stick to hard action topics. Shouldn’t we be past this nonsense by now? Fair enough if the Bronte sisters had to write under male pseudonyms in Victorian England, but for gender still to matter in 2019? I don’t get it.
Initials have no gender bias
Other writers report similar issues. Author Joanna Penn writes thrillers using her initials J F Penn because she doesn’t want buyers to judge her work based on her gender. She writes in the Action Adventure category, one dominated by male writers. Her books contain violent scenes; one features a psychiatric patient being disembowelled. She’s received comments about how the reader thought a man must have written the book, or that they expected something more ‘delicate’. Joanna says on her blog: ‘The author’s gender shouldn’t impact the way the story is read so it’s best to make it a non-issue. Initials are neutral. They have no gender bias and I like that approach.’ So how do these prejudices operate when it comes to men?
Here’s where I step aside and let Jerry Byrum take the floor. I asked Jerry, as a male romance writer, to give us his take on the subject. Here’s what he had to say.
There is no sacred ground or ownership
The notion that women or men writers/authors are better at particular genres is almost as mythical as saying short people should only write about short people and the same for tall people. Or that only doctors who've had a dreaded disease are permitted to treat it. Men and women have successfully broken through all kinds of areas or endeavors traditionally reserved for the respective genders. In my view, neither has a monopoly on a particular genre. There is no sacred ground or ownership. Creativity, such as writing, takes place on a broad playing field, and it's okay to break the rigid rules and color outside the lines, or write in the margins and off the page. But what about writing romance? That shouldn't make a whit of difference. Even though real-time hetero romance fiction is composed of 50/50 male/female, the bias exists that only the female 50% can write better romance stories. That's hard for me to buy into. However, a piece of information that shows up regularly across the internet is that women writers write approximately 95-98% of all romances, leaving a single-digit percentage to male writers. That high percentage alone, though, does not confirm that women are better at writing romance than men.
So why don't more men write romance?
I believe that question takes us back to how we raise boys and girls in the home and culture/society. Boys and girls are usually directed into certain activities, and heavy emphasis is placed on "behaving" like a male or female. One of the criticisms often leveled at men who have written in the romance/erotic romance/erotica genres is that men writers tend to be rough-edged, abrasive, abrupt, or a combination in their writing of romance. Nicholas Sparks puts that argument to rest, and so does James Waller, of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ fame. Both capture the "softer" edges of romance, and reflect well the female perspectives of their characters. Their works are immensely popular among women.
On the other hand, you've got Sandra Brown who writes edgy romance-suspense with a strong storyline, but with an impulsive romance angle. As well as a good dash of explicit description when things get intimate. Very popular with women.
The process of writing is gender neutral
Then we've got the current BDSM/"billionaire-bad-boy" trend now popular. Both sub-genres have received criticism that they foster a "harsher" portrayal of romance, and rough treatment of women. However, those bestsellers that have hit the New York Times and USA Today hallowed lists are authored not by men, but by women, and women readers drove those authors to the top of the lists. (There are deeper currents as to why the popularity exists, but I digress.)
So who writes better romance, men or women? I say both can write excellent romance, and have. If we as writers, male and female, take our craft seriously, we'll quickly realize the process of writing has no gender; it is gender neutral. Men and women writers are equally capable of learning how to be flexible with words as they capture the full dimension of their characters. I think it's fair to expect all writers to get inside the head of each of their characters, male and female. I don't think writers can hide behind the solitary advice of writing "what you know," but we should also feel free to write what we don't know, and with a bit of research and imagination no telling what wonderful stories we can share with readers. Fiction is our invitation to do that.
Thank you, Jerry!
It's been a pleasure having you on my blog. So what do readers think? Does the gender of a novelist influence you over whether to read their work? Do you expect women writers to be more ‘delicate’, as was said to Joanna Penn, and men more aggressive? Do you have a strong preference for either male or female writers, and if so, why? In which genres?
Or perhaps you're a writer who's encountered gender stereotypes when it comes to your work. Are you a male romance writer who find people expect guns and not roses from your fiction? Or are you like Joanna and me, surprising others with our choice of disembowelment and psychopaths as subject material? What do you think about novelists concealing their genders behind initials or pseudonyms? Leave a comment and let me know! Meanwhile, thanks for reading!
More about Jerry Byrum
Jerry Byrum is a native of North Carolina who now lives near Washington DC. He is a graduate of High Point University, and East Carolina University. After service in the U.S. Army, Jerry taught public school science six years, and served as science consultant four years. He enjoyed a 25-year career as a National Representative of the American Federation of Teachers, with assignments in more than 30 states. He is a member of the Romance Writers of America, and enjoys writing edgy contemporary romance, with strong female protagonists and other runaway characters usually on a mission to satisfy their passions.
How do you define a happy ending?
''I won't read a book with an unhappy ending,' a friend once told me.
'So how do you define a happy ending?' I asked.
'Well,' she replied, 'I guess it's a broader issue than everyone living happily ever after, like in a romance novel. For me, in order to have a happy ending, good has to triumph over evil.'
This got me thinking. Is it really necessary for every novel to serve up a morally nutritious dessert at the end of the fictional feast? Must good always emerge the victor? Real life, as we're all painfully aware, isn't like that. So why should we expect fiction to paint an unrealistic picture of the world we live in?
A place for unhappy endings
Genre is important here, of course. I'd bet that most romance readers prefer happy endings for their novels. After all, isn't that the point? Character A meets Character B, they're attracted, but obstacles abound along the path of true love. Eventually A and B conquer their issues, declare their love and live happily ever after. Death, unpleasant divorce statistics and marital disharmony would be unwelcome guests in the soft-edged and fluffy world of romantic fiction.
'I remember reading a romance book back when I was a teenager and it had the heroine dying at the end in childbirth and the hero being sad and never finding someone again. What the hell kinda ending is that!?' A comment made in response to me posing the question about happy endings in a Goodreads group. Hard not to see her point, really! In the same group, someone mentioned a romance in which the hero gets shot two chapters from the end, totally ruining the reading experience. For romance novels, a stereotypical 'happy ever after' ending is almost implicit.
Not always, of course. Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is the obvious example of a doomed romance, but there are plenty more. Take 'The Fault in Our Stars', a novel by John Green. No happy endings here, not given the death of Augustus Waters from cancer. But then, with this novel, the reader is primed from the start to wonder whether a feel-good conclusion is in the stars. After all, the protagonists meet at a support group for cancer patients. And let's not forget many readers enjoy a good weepie. There's definitely a place for unhappy endings, even within the romance genre, provided they're done sensitively and don't come as a shock to the reader.
A world without hope, an unthinkable future
Let's stick with the issue of genre. If happy endings are the norm for romance novels. the opposite is often true for dystopian ones. Dystopian novels are, by their definition, about unhappiness, with the protagonist primed to fail in a world without hope. The point of such a novel is to portray a an unthinkable future, one that can serve as a warning.
In his dystopian epic 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', George Orwell allows us to glimpse the horrors of a totalitarian world. I've written in a previous blog post about how affected I was by reading the novel with the expectation that good would triumph and that Winston would eventually defeat Big Brother and the Party. I was a teenager at the time and the final chapter came as a huge shock to me, destroying my adolescent expectations for a different, less bleak, ending. I've sometimes wondered what kind of novel it would have been had Orwell delivered the ending my teenage self expected. Personally, I found the long, boring passages about Ingsoc a chore to read. What if they had been replaced by Winston and Julia fighting the good fight and overthrowing the Party? In the hands of a master like Orwell, the reader would still have been assured of a great read. Would it have been a better novel? Impossible to say, of course.
Life isn't all roses and honey
Reader requirements are important too, of course. In a world where there's hunger, poverty and cruelty, many people employ fiction as an escape mechanism. For a few short hours, they can forget the awfulness portrayed on the nightly news as they lose themselves in a happier world between the covers of a book.
Other readers may disagree. After all, real life isn't all roses and honey. Not everyone wants to read books that deliver a moral message, preferring to escape the pervading political correctness of our times with a book that doesn't attempt to sugar-coat life. Novels that reflect the myriad problems affecting our world can reach out to readers more authentically, because they enable them to identify more strongly with the plot-line.
An unhappy ending also avoids clichés. We're almost conditioned to expect a neat, happy wrap-up at the conclusion of a novel, so when the author delivers something quite different, it can come as a refreshing change.
Unexpected endings can jar the reader
Not always, though. Sometimes endings can jar the reader. I suspect this is often because they don't deliver what my friend requires - the triumph of good over bad. Perhaps that's why the end of Gillian Flynn's novel 'Gone Girl' (review here) has attracted so much criticism, with many readers hating it. Without wishing to give spoilers, Flynn doesn't provide a neat wrap-up in which the novel's resident psychopath meets a well-deserved comeuppance. Her finale is refreshing for that very reason, although I confess I also found it somewhat unsatisfying.
Let's look at another example. Take how Thomas Harris concludes 'Hannibal'. OK, so the final chapters of this book have been derided as being totally unrealistic - 'that would NEVER happen!' is a typical response - but like with 'Gone Girl', I suspect some of this is because the ending offends many people's sense of morality. Where is Lecter's punishment for his terrible crimes? What's more, not only does evil come out on top, the closing events portray the corruption of Clarice Starling, a former federal agent, someone supposed to defend right versus wrong. Lecter perverts whatever's decent in Clarice by leading her to share his cannibalistic depravity as well as making her his lover. End result - evil triumphs over good. Unacceptable to many people, I suspect; hence the criticism.
The fun that a good villain provides
For some readers, it's easy to set aside questions of good versus evil, of course. Many people adore a villain. There's something about the bad guys and girls of fiction that's oddly compelling. Take the popularity of Patricia Highsmith's series of Ripley novels. Tom Ripley is a psychopath who kills as and when it suits him, but he's also a charming and engaging individual. Polite, cultured, moving in a glamorous world of travel and luxury, he delights the reader with his total lack of a moral compass. When he fails to get his due desserts at the end of Highsmith's novels, we don't mind, because Ripley has entertained us so much along the way.
Perhaps that's why we also love Hannibal Lecter. He's a depraved cannibal, sure, but he's also intelligent, witty and cultured, a dichotomy that intrigues us and draws us in, as we endeavour to understand what drives such a man. We're revolted by the idea of him eating Krendler's brain, but also filled with admiration for his brilliant mind and ruthless cunning. Ah, the contradictions of human nature! Aren't they fascinating?
Do you prefer a happy ending?
Let's hear from you! What do you require in order to be satisfied with a novel's ending? If you're a romance reader, do you need A and B to live happily ever after, or are lots of tears and a death or two OK? If you're into dystopia, do you believe a happy ending runs contrary to what the genre should deliver?
Are there any novels that ended in a totally different way to what you'd expected, and if so, were you pleased or disgruntled? Do you read to escape real life, or are you somebody who prefers novels to deliver a social commentary in line with the world's issues? Leave a reply and let me know!
I'd like to give a warm welcome to Amy Morse, author of the Sheridan and Blake four-book thriller series. who has written this blog post about why you shouldn't judge a book by its movie. Take it away, Amy!
A book is more intimate...
It has often been said that the book is always better than the movie - I saw a quote recently that said 'don't judge a book by its movie'. But why is that? A book is more intimate. When you read a book you are experiencing your own private screening of a movie being beamed directly into your brain.
A unique experience for every reader...
Movies are a visual feast...
The actors cast in the roles of the characters can also alter the feel of the story. Take 'Interview with a Vampire', for example. I must admit, I did love the film, but predictably I enjoyed the book more and was a big Anne Rice fan as a consequence. Never in a million years did I picture Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as Louis and Lestat. Both actors were brilliant, but it tarnished the sheen the book had left me with and altered my perception of the original story. Movies are a visual and auditory feast and a shared experience. You can talk about a movie and adopt catch phases with your peers in a way that you rarely can with books. After a few of us at work went to see 'American Hustle', the office microwave is now forever known as the science oven!
Imitation is the highest form of flattery
My ultimate dream is to have the Sheridan and Blake series made into movies, and in my head my hero Tom Sheridan would be played by Clive Owen and my heroine, Sasha Blake, by Kate Winslet. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I love movies, I really do. It's difficult to eat popcorn when you're reading a book! My advice? Read the book first, and when the movie comes out, try to think of them as two different stories that happen to have the same title.
More about Amy Morse
More about the Sheridan and Blake Series
Bristol-based archaeologist, Dr Sasha Blake, is recruited by a covert organisation specialising in the repatriation of stolen antiquities from the black market - The Agency.
Partnered with Tom Sheridan, a man from her past, they must deal with their tumultuous relationship and learn to trust each other.
Together, Sheridan and Blake embark on an increasingly hostile mission to locate a stolen artefact - a mysterious bronze box, the keys to the box and an ancient manuscript needed to open it.
In this international conspiracy that spans the ages, told over four books, they must find the artefacts before a ruthless criminal, known only as The Libyan. Click or tap the images for more information (affiliate links):
Thank you, Amy!
Thank you, Amy! I couldn't agree more that a miscast actor can ruin a film. There can be exceptions, though. For instance, I found it hard to believe that Tom Cruise, not the tallest actor around, was cast as 6' 5" Jack Reacher in the film of the same title. Somehow, it worked for me, but I suspect only because at the time when I saw the film, I'd not yet read any of Lee Child's Reacher novels. And Tom Cruise is a good actor, in my opinion.
What do YOU think?
Have there been any books that have been spoiled for you by the movie version? Or vice versa? Leave a comment and let me know!
For some, there's nothing like a real book
Ah, the pleasures of reading...
'I get how convenient e-books are,' a friend told me recently. 'But there's nothing quite like snuggling up with a real book, is there?' She's not alone. Since I started publishing novels, I've lost count of the number of people who have told me they prefer to hold an actual book in their hands as opposed to a tablet or e-reader.
Personally, I'm happy to use both. I have a Kindle as my chosen e-reader device. I love it, but I also read hardbacks and paperbacks borrowed from my local library. I believe our free book borrowing system is amazing, so I'm keen to support it, and there's also an ever-growing range of e-books available from them as well.
Ebooks, defend your corner!
So why are e-books so popular? Let's look at the advantages.
1. Immediate gratification. In a world where change is occurring at an increasingly fast pace, e-books provide near-instant enjoyment. With Amazon's 'one click' facility, it's a matter of seconds to get the latest blockbuster on your Kindle.
2. Portability. E-readers and tablets can hold thousands of books, great for travelling. It takes seconds to add or delete books, and it's a doddle to move them between devices.
3. E-readers are customisable. Need to read in a larger font? Simple. Like to make notes you can erase later? Easy-peasy. Want to read in bed at night but your partner is asleep beside you? No problem - simply activate the built-in light on your Kindle or Nook.
4. Price. The price of most full-length novels on Amazon UK is around the £3 mark. Paperback novels tend to retail at £8 or £9. E-books have made reading far cheaper and often free. The advent of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited programme has helped boost ebook reading.
Let's hear it for physical books!
It's reassuring to note there's still a gratifying rise in the sales of actual books as well. So what makes so many people love snuggling up with a physical version of their chosen read?
1. Ah, the pleasure of a brand-new book! Many people give this as a reason for preferring paperbacks and hardbacks to e-books. There's something incredibly sensual about holding a new book purchase, smelling its pages and feeling the smoothness of the cover beneath one's fingers. How can an electronic version compete? Straight answer - it can't. Set beside their physical counterparts, e-books appear somewhat homely at best. And doesn't a well-stocked bookcase add something wonderful to a room?
2. Whilst textbooks are becoming increasingly digital, there are some books that undoubtedly do better in physical format. Cookery books, for one, with their glossy pages full of photos of wonderful culinary delights, look much better in a physical format. So do the types of books destined for life on the coffee table - exotic travel tomes, photographic books and the like - against which digital versions can't as yet compare.
3. For me, it's easier to flip backwards and forwards in a physical book. I can skim through the pages of one really quickly with my fingers. Not so with an e-book using the content/search facilities on my Kindle - sure, I can do it, but it takes longer.
4. Finally, plenty of people are technophobes. I'm not, but I do know a few! They're simply not comfortable with using electronic devices for reading.
What's your preference? Ebook or actual?
So what's your stance on the e-book versus actual book debate? Are you one of the many people who savour the feel and smell of a real book in their hands, something which will grace their bookshelves and hallmark them as a bookworm? Or do you love the convenience and cheapness of e-books, loading your e-reader or tablet up with the latest bargains as they hit the digital shelves? Maybe you're like me, mixing the tangible with the digital as it suits. Leave a comment and let me know!
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