(Guest post by Samuel Marquis)
Readers should support authors of any stripe for only one reason: great writing
Years ago, when I was a literary neophyte and secretly harbored delusions of grandeur about the publishing industry, mega-author James Patterson gave me a blistering review for my Colorado-based earthquake thriller 'Blind Thrust'. The simple truth is I deserved it (he also gave me a glowing quote for my book 'The Coalition', but that’s another story). I fully deserved his ridicule for the first incarnation of 'Blind Thrust'—fully deserved to be flogged like an 18th century seaman in the Royal Navy—because my novel was, though I didn’t know it at the time, not up to industry standards in terms of the opening and overall plotting. It was not a bad novel; it just wasn’t sufficiently enticing to persuade someone to shell out $20 at Barnes and Noble or Tattered Cover. In other words, I didn’t give the creator of the Alec Cross Series and the biggest-selling author since the Precambrian Era sufficient justification to promote me or my writing because the book I was peddling was flawed, even though it was reasonably well written and seemed to me and my circle of reviewers at the time to be promising. In short, I had done the unspeakable thing that no storyteller—whether you are indie, traditional legacy, or a cave-painting Cro-Magnon at Lascaux—should ever do, and that is put out a story that isn’t quite ready for prime time. To my infinite chagrin, I had not earned the right for James Patterson to lend me his support for this particular novel.
So what did I do? I went back and rewrote the book. Literally salvaged the submerged wreckage and rewrote the whole bloody thing. Then I had it professionally edited. Then I rewrote it again and edited it some more until I had revised it at least a dozen times. The editorial process landed me an agent, who proceeded to give me more editorial input, but at this point they were only minor tweaks because the book was highly polished. And now, recently, I received a completely different response to this reconstituted prose that had once been considered slush pile fodder. And from a highly credible critic I might add, someone who knows a thing or two about the written word, as he has perused hundreds of thousands of pages of non-fiction and fiction alike in his lengthy career in politics and as a Homo sapien sapien: “Blind Thrust kept me up until 1 a.m. two nights in a row. I could not put it down. An intriguing mystery that intertwined geology, fracking, and places in Colorado that I know well. Great fun.” —Roy R. Romer, 39th Governor of Colorado
73 eager fans on four continents...
The quote, I might also add, was unsolicited. So, by a simple twist of fate, the three-term governor of the Centennial State and one-time chairman/co-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Leadership Council, and National Committee, as well as the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign, got hold of an Advance Reading Copy of 'Blind Thrust', proceeded to read it cover to cover, and decided to give me a rave review (Okay, full disclosure, he snagged a copy of the ARC from his son, my friend Tim, that had been laying there on a table in Vail, but please note that the honorable Gov. Romer doesn’t know me from Donald Trump). What’s important about the episode is that a book that was once justifiably pilloried in its earliest incarnation had miraculously become so enthralling that a highly discriminating reader who presumably likes to go to bed early could not put it down and was forced to stay up late two nights in a row to finish the book. That same discriminating reader then proceeded to send me an unsolicited book blurb declaring before the entire world (or at least the 73 people from four continents, including my 94-year old Aunt Margaret, who will actually read my book): “I could not put it down.” The quote has made its way onto the front and back covers of Blind Thrust, which has now been released for the enjoyment of my 73 eager fans.
There is only one reason that any of this happened: the novel went from subpar, or just not good enough for publication, to something closer to superb, or at least good enough that it was deemed 'unputdownable' by an unbiased reviewer whose opinion actually matters.
Authors should hold readers hostage with their writing
So why should readers support indie and traditional legacy authors? For only one reason: good solid writing. Craftsmanship. Actual hard work, sacrifice, and talent coming together into an amalgam of significance.
Having gone through this experience, I realize now what the ultimate goal of a thriller writer should be: Make people stay up late at night against their will and not want to put the book down. Hold them hostage with your writing. Because they will only go against their will if the suspense is so gripping, the plot and characters so riveting and unpredictable that the story literally casts a temporary spell over them. Because the book you’ve penned—even if it’s not 'Moby Dick' or 'David Copperfield'—is quite good in its own unique way. And that is the only reason why readers should support authors, be they indie or traditional legacy authors or those fur-clad, cave-dwelling raconteurs at Lascaux. Because a work is actually really damned good.
Unfortunately, it is hard to make something hard to put down and make every page, indeed every line or paragraph, fume with tension. I know I have failed miserably in the past and I will no doubt fail again in the future. But ultimately quality and constant tension should always be the goal in a suspense novel. Nothing else should matter. We all have to write better and put forward the best material we can. Material that has been thoroughly vetted and edited and re-edited until we are bleary-eyed and brain-dead and so utterly preoccupied with making the thing good that our friends and significant others are convinced that we’ve taken a lover on the side. Ultimately, readers don’t care if you received your Creative Writing degree from Oxford or Yale, are a mega-best-seller, or are close friends with J.K Rowling or Lee Child. They just want a great story. Over and over again, every time out.
Readers will always support great writing. And they will stay up late at night to read it. But only if we writers put in the hard work and truly do our jobs. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
More about Samuel Marquis
Samuel Marquis works by day as Vice-President – hydrogeology for an environmental consulting firm in Boulder, CO, and by night as writer of historical and modern suspense novels. He is the author of 'The Devil's Brigade, 'Blind Thrust' and many other novels, has published over 25 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals/books, and has served as an expert witness on multimillion dollar environmental cases.
He can be reached on his website at www.samuelmarquisbooks.com or by email at email@example.com.
Fiction writing as a catharsis?
Do novelists use their fiction as a catharsis for their personal issues? Since I began my writing journey, I’ve realised that many people believe they do. ‘I’m keen to read your books,’ someone once told me. ‘I’ll find out more about what makes you tick.’ I’m paraphrasing, but that was the essence of her words.
‘No, you won’t,’ was my inner response. Her comment got me thinking, however, so I mentioned the conversation to a fellow novelist. ‘A friend of mine believes fiction writers explore their issues via their writing,’ I told her. ‘I think that’s a huge overgeneralisation. I don’t.’ The reply was immediate, its tone dismissive. ‘Of course you do. Don’t all writers?’ I was flabbergasted.
It’s a view I strongly contest. Its proponent is, I believe, falsely extrapolating from her own circumstances. For her, writing is indeed a catharsis; she uses her work as a vehicle to explore her childhood issues. She’s not alone. Stephen King has said that he writes about what scares him as a way to exorcise his own demons, using fiction as an alternative to therapy. Fair enough, but for me, it seems a flawed assumption to say that all writers are the same.
We're not all tortured souls in need of therapy
The notion that authors use their novels as a catharsis for exploring their psyche seems a common one, though. Perhaps it comes back to our tendency to embrace one-size-fits-all stereotypes as a convenient, but lazy, way of interpreting the world. Once an image gets into the popular imagination, it sticks. Fiction writers? Aren't they all tortured souls who fuel their literary outpourings during the small hours via copious amounts of alcohol, in between lamenting the perils of writer’s block? Take Ernest Hemingway, right? Case closed.
The truth is, novelists are a diverse bunch. Sure, some will seek to explore personal issues via their fiction. Others won’t. There’s no cookie-cutter profile that fits all. I can best give my own position by saying that I’m a private person; the notion of exploring my psyche publicly via my novels fills me with horror. Writing is not, I repeat, not a catharsis for me. None of the terrible issues I inflict upon my long-suffering characters have ever happened in my life. I’ve never been kidnapped, violently raped, endured a psychotic sibling or absent parents. Phew, plenty of things there for which to be grateful!
My motivation for writing fiction is simple. I love being a novelist. OK, so my books fall into the psychological suspense category. That in itself says nothing about me. Yes, I’m fascinated by the workings of the human mind, but there aren’t many topics in which I’m not interested. Maybe some people will say 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much', but if that's you, then so be it. I can't change how you think, and besides, I'd rather be writing. My seventh novel beckons...
Novelist Iain Rob Wright's take on the subject
Other fiction writers agree with me. The British horror/thriller novelist Iain Rob Wright said on his blog: ‘Just because someone has read one of my books, does not mean they know a single thing about me. I write characters with views of their own. If one of my protagonists collects stamps, that does not mean that I do. The truth is that I would never make my own views entirely obvious through my work, because then I am not creating fiction, I am writing propaganda.’
My point exactly! So to readers of my books, of Iain’s books, to fiction readers in general, I’d say this. Read our novels because you enjoy them, not to discover more about us. Don’t think you can judge an author by his/her books. You can’t presume to know a novelist's motivation for writing, unless they’ve publicly stated it.
What do you think? Let me know!
I’d be interested to hear from other fiction writers. Is your work cathartic for you? If so, to what extent? Readers, do you make assumptions about an author based on what they write? Leave a comment and let me know!
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Susanna Bavin to my blog this week as a guest blogger. She's going to share her thoughts on the subject of reading as solace. Take it away, Susanna!
How myths, legends and folk tales helped one young girl...
A while back, Maggie wrote a blog post covering the various reasons why people choose to read fiction. It was a lively and interesting post, but I felt there was one reason missing: reading for solace.
So what does that mean? Obviously, it is closely linked to reading for escapism, but it is a specific type of escapist reading. According to the Concise OED my parents gave me one Christmas years ago, and which remains my favourite dictionary no matter how many more modern dictionaries have climbed onto the bookcase since, solace is: comfort in distress or discomfort or tedium. Now I must confess I didn't have tedium in mind when I read Maggie's blog. It was distress I was thinking of. So what is reading for solace?
The best way to explain it is to give you an example. My dad died in his 60s, which came as a brutal shock to the family. Through that first week, I stayed with my mum. Understandably, she had trouble sleeping, but after the first couple of nights, she came downstairs in the morning and showed me a book. “This stopped me going mad,” she said. Was it a self-help book? A discussion of grief or widowhood? No, it was a novel. The book that had got my mum through the first endless nights was a story.
I wish I could tell you what it was, but I can't. All I can tell you, based on my mum's reading habits, is that it was written by a woman (or by a man using a woman's name) and the plot was set at some point after the building of the railways. I seem to recall it was a contemporary novel, but I couldn't swear to it.
Books can provide comfort in times of distress
I remember years ago reading an interview with Dick Francis, who described receiving a letter from a man who had lost a companion in a car accident. The accident happened in the middle of nowhere; no other vehicle was involved. The man walked until he found a phone box, then he returned to the car to await help, knowing his companion was dead. Assistance took a couple of hours to arrive and the man started to read a book that had belonged to his late companion – a Dick Francis novel. In the letter he subsequently wrote, he thanked Dick Francis for keeping his mind off a tragic situation.
Another example that comes to mind is linked to the person who introduced me to the phrase reading for solace – a former boss of mine, the late Wendy Drewett, who for many years was the head of library services for children and schools in Buckinghamshire. There was nothing Mrs Drewett didn't know about children's and teenagers' books. She knew about authors, reading development, dyslexia, avid readers, reluctant readers... you name it. Above all, she knew about getting the right book to the right child at the right time. In the course of her career, she worked alongside many families, teachers and schools and it was from her that I first heard the words reading for solace in connection with children who live with a chronic condition that means they cannot lead an ordinary physical life. (Maybe there is an element of comfort in tedium here?)
An example of this is the wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff, who suffered from juvenile arthritis from the age of two, which left her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. Although she famously didn't learn to read until she was nine (why bother when she had such a gifted storyteller for a mother?), she grew up on a diet of legends, myths and folk tales; and it was these, together with her ability to examine things close to her in minute detail, that occupied her mind and her imagination. Reading for solace? I don't imagine for one moment that Rosemary Sutcliff thought of it that way, any more than the reader of the Dick Francis novel did at the time – any more than my mother did at the time. I don't think it's something you do consciously. I think it's something that, in certain circumstances, simply happens; and you don't realise until afterwards.
What do you think? And if the author of the book my mum read is reading this blog – thank you.
Thank you, Susanna!
Many thanks to Susanna for a wonderful post. Susanna Bavin lives in North Wales and is an author of historical sagas. She also blogs fortnightly about books and writing. To relax she enjoys her garden, needlework and exploring the beauty of Llandudno.
Susanna's latest, novel, The Sewing Room Girl, was published in November 2018. You can find out more from her website, www.susannabavin.co.uk, or connect with her on Twitter.
Let us know what you think!
Are there any books that have provided solace for you? Do you find comfort in reading when life gets tough? Leave a comment for us, and thank you!
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!
Welcome to my blog! I'll be writing about all things book-related, including author interviews, book reviews and progress on my forthcoming novels. The blog will commence during December 2018, and the initial posts will include an interview with best-selling novelist Rachel Abbott. Watch this space!