So you can read my books

Friday, November 23, 2012


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.



  1. Can't think of any books right now that have disappointed me. I seldom buy the latest 'bestseller'.

    I tend to read by author.

  2. It's so weird that it's getting praise from some awesome authors though. I don't get it!

    I hate backstory that stops the story moving forward. Urgh. I agree it's necessarily sometimes, but you can reveal it as the plot goes forward simultaneously.

  3. Hi Roland .. I can quite see a good book grips us, while others we skim read - me too.

    I liken your back story (in some strange way!) to looking for something on the internet - staying on track can be tricky .. while deciding enough is enough .. should happen quickly. Thankfully I'm quite single minded like that ..

    I must look at one of these books you mention to see exactly what you're referring to .. but can quite understand.

    Waiting around seems to have some advantages ... Glad you had one of the good and bad days waiting with a book, but waiting with a not so brilliant first half of the book ..

    Cheers Hilary

  4. D.G.:
    I'm usually like you, but to have Stephen King praise tempted me. I should have remembered Adam's fate! Sometimes the premise of a book will ensnare me. That approach has gotten me to read Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs.

    I'm with you. Backstory as the main story progresses. Telling the story instead of showing it always bores me.

    I like your analogy of likening backstory to researching a subject on the internet.

    THE TOMB weaves backstory in expertly.

    I washed my mind by listening to the end of the audio book, BROTHER ODD, by Dean Koontz. His THE GOOD GUY is an excellent example of how to reveal backstory in suspenceful snippets.

  5. ...will have to check out The Passage. I agree, if King likes it, that's usually enough for me.