So you can read my books

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Bizarro books.

I've read them. You've read them. Sure you have. You just didn't use that term.

Bizarro was the character from the Superman universe who was a mirror opposite of the Man of Steel, doing everything backwards.

Hence my photograph of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.

He wrote backwards in them. Some say it was because he was left-handed. Others say it was because he was dyslexic {which would help explain his difficulty in completing paintings and assignments.}

Still others say it was to keep his secrets : dissecting human corpses was considered proof of witchcraft and necromancy by the Catholic Church in those days. I guess it's not smiled on by them when done by private citizens these days either.

But back to Bizarro Books :

You know the path of good writing : you create tension, you increase the dangers crowding in on your heroes, and you narrow the focus like a lab tech with a microscope. Your narrative is a spear hurled with all your creative might. And remember :

A spear has no branches.

Stephen King and Zoe C. Courtman both endorsed Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE. That was enough for me. I downloaded it onto my Kindle.

While I was being forgotten by the Beaumont blood center at the wild gas station we couriers call "the Star Wars cantina" in Orange, Texas, I had an unexpected hour and a half to read 20% of it {between politely refusing four crack addicts the opportunity for affordable romance, that is.}

Mistakes happen. The couriers at Beaumont just plain forgot about me. But if that's the worst thing that happens to me all weekend, won't I be a lucky man?

But back to THE PASSAGE. One review said "I couldn't turn the pages fast enough." And he was right. I was skimming page after page while shouting in the van, "Get on with it, already, Justin!"

There was more backstory than story.

My mother was once a chaperone to one of my first junior high dances, and she came to me after two young ladies suggested I leave the dance with them and not my original date.

After the second one, she slipped silently beside me and smiled, "That one was very pretty, Roland. It must have been hard to say "no.""

I shook my head. "I'm going to stay with the one I brought, Mother."

"Those are wise words, son. And they apply to more than just a dance."

She started to ruffle my hair but stopped when I whispered, "Not in front of everyone!"

She laughed all the way back to her corner.

But "Stay with the one you brought" is good advise for writers, too. We get tempted to stray into sideroads of different characters. No. Stay with the narrative you started.

No detours, no matter how artistic they are. If they slow down the story, roadblock them in your mind.

Critics praise THE PASSAGE. But in the words of Bizarro : "I R not critic. I R audience. I pay 10 bucks. I get Arteest writing for self not reader."

Two-thirds of Justin's backstory could have been trimmed, making the story flow smoother, faster, and more enjoyable. {Trust me. If his book is made into a movie, it will be.} He wasn't building reader tension -- he was building reader frustration.

I love the poetry of words. When I skim through pages at a gallop, something is wrong. Those are just my opinions. But they were also my ten dollars. If he had been getting closer to the danger, to the supernatural mystery, I would have felt better.

No, I got the sense he actually hated the supernatural aspect of his story. Somehow he got forced into it, and he took every chance to veer away and write artistic literary fiction. I'm all for literary fiction. But don't promise me pizza and give me oat meal. I had my mouth set for pizza, darn it!

{I've just gotten through reading THE NEW YORK TIMES review of the book. In part it reads : "As Justin Cronin clearly knows, if you’re a writer seeking to slough off highbrow pretensions — to reject your early efforts at “quiet” fiction and write something with commercial appeal, something that will, if not conquer the critics, at least pay for your kid’s college education — you’d be wise to opt for a vampire novel.

Ballantine Books bought the trilogy for over $3 million, and the film rights to the novel sold before the book was completed. If there’s a class at Iowa on exploiting publishing crazes, Cronin surely aced it." }

I bought the thriller, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, by the New York Times bestselling team of Preston and Child. I found the same bloated side trips into backstory that slowed down the narrative. I put it down to two authors losing track of their story and each other. There were whole chapters not necessary to the flow of the story. In fact, they made the book feel bloated. The premise, as in THE PASSAGE, was intriguing. It just got lost.

I bought another in the series, STILL LIFE WITH CROWS, at the same time. It is collecting cyber-dust in my Kindle. And we're talking an albino Sherlock Holmes who works within an X-Files type department within the FBI here. And I still won't touch it.

Ever hear someone tell a joke you already know? But they were telling it so badly, you caught yourself going, "Somebody just shoot. Me or him. I don't care. One of us has got to have relief."

Now, backstory can be done well. THE KEEP is an example. Nazis getting picked off one by one by a supernatural killer their greed let loose from its ancient prison.

The book did so well that the publishers snapped up F. Paul Wilson's second book. They re-named it THE TOMB. He pleaded with them : "There's no tomb in THE TOMB!"

In true Bizarro fashion, their actual response was : "Yes, but the readers loved your book, THE KEEP, so much, they'll snatch up this one with a similar title. By the time the readers figure out there's no tomb in it, the book will be bought and enjoyed enough for good word of mouth."

Which they got in Stephen King, who became the President of The Repairman Jack Fan Cub. {THE TOMB was the first in the Repairman Jack series of urban fantasies.} If you haven't tried one of those books, please get a copy of the tombless THE TOMB.

{Repairman Jack is a fixer of situations -- situations wherein someone has gotten a raw deal and wants to set things right. He has no social security number, no credit cards, pays no taxes, and makes every attempt to avoid the spotlight whenever possible.

The Wesphalen family is living under a curse; a death curse placed a century ago in retaliation for the murderous acts committed by a greedy ancestor.

Kusim Bhakti and his sister have come to New York City to carry out the curse and wipe out the rest of the Westphalen line. To assist with this task, Kusim has brought with him the Rakoshi, perversions of the human species brought about eons ago from the Otherness. You'll discover more about the Otherness in the books that follow.}

Such is the joy, you might say of selecting my own examples. True. So how about you? Have you ever picked up a book, caught up by the premise and a sampling of the prose, only to feel it bloated as if the author were being paid by the word?

Have you ever read a book someone raved about, only to feel it took forever to get to the point? And when it did, it was hardly worth the effort. The moral, being evil hurts people, is hardly earth-shattering.

Why do you read?

Is it for information, for research? I do that too. But why do you read fiction?

Isn't it to be caught up in a sense of wonder, of rooting for a character you care about?

The abandoning mother in THE PASSAGE was dealt with in such painful, long detail, I suspected Justin of enjoying inflicting abuse and abasement on a woman.

He truly only needed a third of that detail to supply the reader with her motivations. It got me hoping he wasn't married ... for the wife's sake.

Authors who spend fingernail-pulling amounts of time on the physical and emotional torture of their characters tend to make me think some of them might have issues with the parent of the characters' sex.

Have any of you felt like the author or the publishers teased you with a false promise, delievering another horse of another breed altogether? Which titles? What authors?

Feel free to tell me I'm full of apple sauce on this. It's just my take on the present world of publishing. I'm curious. And I bet our other friends out there reading this are curious on your take on this as well.


And just because this song was playing on my computer as I was writing this here is :


  1. You're not full of applesauce (even if you were, it would be okay-I love applesauce-it's good for you!). There's a certain trilogy out that I tried to get into and couldn't. Other examples, People of the Book, Book Thief, The Historian (which I actually read), Time Travelers...all recent purchases that I could not bring myself to keep reading. Too, one of my all time favorite authors...I can't read anymore. Like so many 'serial' authors (for lack of a better description), he seems to be writing the same book over and over...makes me sad. I read fiction for fun, to escape, to relax. The second time I read it (always do) I usually find the underlying themes and have to read it a third time...crazy, huh? Then there are books that are not as well known, and sometimes they're kind of convoluted, but still great: The Doomsday Book, The Eight, Inkheart, The Last it personal taste? A side note: about writing backwards-I can do it with my left hand. At the same time, I can write forward (right) and backward, upside down (left) the same word. With practice, I can do it with two different I qualify for weird,now?

  2. Words Crafter : You qualify for Leonardo da Vinci : not weird but gifted! And I have just read the New York Times review of THE PASSAGE.

    Ballantine Books paid $3 million for the trilogy with only one book having been written. He was padding it. And the review implies he turned to vampires because he wanted to get into the publishing mainstream. The movie rights were sold before the book was even finished, sight unseen just on the premise -- which Justin waffled on and jumped ahead a 100 years in the midst of the book. Sigh.

  3. I just read the NY Times review. So, basically, we just need a pretty good idea, original, but just barely, and find a way to pitch it to some studio exec...? Too bad they didn't name his agent-you could have shown them examples of what real writing looks and reads like! And personally, I loved Treasure Planet. They just did a lousy job marketing it. I have to go now, the bottom half of my jaw fell off and I have to screw the hinges back in...

  4. It's thoughts like this that make me think I'll never be published. What I think is crappy or subpar, does really well, while stuff I think is good is overlooked. I think my own writing is not half bad, but what do I know? I clearly can't judge appropriately.

  5. I've done it all the time. Someone recommends a book and I end up shouting at it.

    Yeah, it's frustrating to read book when they don't live up to the hype.

    Great thought-provoking post.


  6. Goodmorning Roland
    Your finding my site and leaving me a comment has opened up a whole new world for me today.
    Your post today kept me glued to screen wanting more.
    My biggest regret in life is not writing.
    Looking forward to being a follower and getting to know you.
    One thing I did learn today from your comment is you have good taste in women.
    Thanks for joining me in the world of writing and blogging

  7. WOW, what a thoughtful review. P.S. If you visit my blog you'll only say how much you love my art, right? O.K., you can be sort of honest.

  8. I guess this just proves that every writer must decide what their motivation for writing is. I don't think there is anything wrong with writng for money as long as you are honest with yourself. The sad thing is that so many books are being written for movies or even after the movie has been made. There is no magic. When you pick up a classic and read it, you feel like a part of you has changed when you are finished, like you have gone somewhere you have never been before. I pray that there are still writers in this world that put magic and ispiration above monetary gain. If not, humans will be in real trouble intellectual and spiritual level as the years go by. Thank you so much Roland. This post was very thought provoking.

  9. I read to be entertained. If I'm not having fun, I put it down. Period. I loved Dan Brown's early books, they were fast-paced with a good story. I HATED his most recent one. I bought the hard back, read MAYBE a whole chapter and gave it away. It was awful. Were the earlier books bad, too, or did his writing just get slack? Or maybe his editor went on strike. Something.

    I recently bought Danielle Steele's new paperback. I've never really read her, but since I'm writing a Southern Romance novel I decided I should read some 'classic' romance authors. Again, it was awful. It's wordy and I stumbled over sentences. Sherryl Woods I discovered about a year ago, light, breezy, fun, girl gets guy. I bought a recent paperback of hers and it was awful.

    I don't understand the disparity. Nope. Just don't get it. I also don't understand how a publisher would let those books hit the street. Don't they CARE?? Geez!

    ~That Rebel, Olivia

  10. I'm reading The Passage now, having bought it after reading so many wonderful things about it on the internet. I haven't gotten all that far into it, but so far I'm just plodding along hoping it's going to pick up soon. I guess I'll see soon enough!

  11. and they scream at us -- don't write backstory, start with the here and now. I don't think publishers/agents/editors know what they want anymore. Although I suppose if they think it will make money, they publish anything. and that's just sad.