Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is it me?

I'm nearly ill.

Honestly.

How could this happen?

She's been my favorite author for nearly 20 years. I buy her hardcover releases without flinching. Something delicious lies within, and I'm willing to see sparks fly from my credit card to partake.

I once drove 600 miles to attend a conference--dragging 2 friends along--where the author read from her latest book. I mouthed the words as she read.

I wrangled a picture with her. It stands with my collection of her complete works, even though I am smiling like an idiot in an incredibly ugly sweater I had no business wearing.

I aspire to be as authentic, as poetic, as tender with my reader as she is.

Was?

This is too sad.

I'm reading her latest. And no, I'm not telling who she is. She's earned the right to slip just this once. At least, I hope it's just this once.

What am I grousing about? Well, she's using italics like they ran a sale at the dollar store. And they don't make sense. She writes in present tense, which I find appealing, immediate, surprising. BUT she takes one small step forward in her story only to take five steps back in a flashback. Aack! I'm getting motion sickness with all the back and forth. Every chapter, several times each. And so much introspection. Pleeease. And get this, her main character is a writer who can't write after the death of her husband.

Hey howdy!

Or is it me? Am I so obsessive about the craft of writing that I can't enjoy a story that is structured differently or strays from the sacred cows of writing craft? Has being a writer ruined me as a reader?

Is that a price I'm willing to pay?

Am I alone? Do you find yourself editing published works as you read? Are we too hard on the writers out there? Do we criticize the speck in someone else's writing to ignore the plank in our own?

Help.

11 comments:

Latayne C Scott said...

No doubt about it, Patti, being a writer ruins some aspects of life. Because a crucial part of our daily job is self-editing, we stay on high alert not only for misspellings (I may hold the world's record for scoffing at misuses of its and it's) but also for flabby writing.

I once wrote a book about hospitality and was dissuaded by an editor from including a list of reasons for practicing that Biblical virtue. The list was from a friend's church bulletin. The last reason for being hospitable to a stranger was, "Who knows whether that person will become your bother in Christ."

Like Edith Bunker, sometimes I just have to stifle myself.

Or like most editors, give a book a chapter or two and then toss it if it's too irritating.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Okay, so that 'delete' was me. I should not be allowed to post before 7:00 am.

I agree with you and Latayne that being a writer can ruin enjoyment of a book. I cringe to think how mistakes that slip through the screening process with my own books will ruin someone's enjoyment. But when I see frequent point of view changes and tense-jumping, etc., I wonder if the best-selling author who's already written a gazillion books had an editor who was on auto-pilot this time. Or maybe the author earned the right to experiment a bit - stretch the rules.

I once took a watercolor class (and found out that I had absolutely NO talent in that area). All it accomplished was to break down the beauty into process and remove some of the magic behind the paintings. For the longest time, I saw the technique behind the different effects and the colors, not the beauty. So now I try to step back and get the overall picture in perspective. I try to do the same with books I'm reading.

Carla Gade said...

No, its not just you!
I find some books I just cannot read anymore. As I have been learning the craft of writing I have been so observant of the way others write, and have learned alot. At first it really took the joy out of reading. Now, it is a more natural process. Although sometimes I just want to yell at the writer and say, "You can't do that, it's against the rules!" Writers break the rules and sometimes that's what makes a good book. But other times I just cannot get over how things are missed that not only disapoint me as a reader, but as a writer as well.

The Sentinel said...

Absolutely! Becoming more expert in anything will do that, and the more technical your expertise, the worse it is. I got a degree in theatre, focused on the technical aspects, and now I can't watch a live play without thinking about what is happening technically, seeing every tiny slip up, and wondering ahead how they will handle transitions. Same thing can happen with studying literature from a scholarly point of view. I begin to see weaknesses that would never have bothered me as a casual reader.

That said, it might not JUST be you. Maybe she is slipping this time around. Maybe the story is too close to home for her and she got caught in it. Maybe her editor is having a bad year. So much happens in the time it takes to craft an entire novel, it's a wonder any of us come out with a unified product!

Mary Anne Gruen said...

I hang around mostly with jewelry makers. Plus I've been involved in more years of community theatre than I'd care to confess. Even with something as basic and ancient as the circle of a necklace, I've learned that there isn't just one way to do things.

It's hard not to look at a piece of art in an area that you're familiar with without thinking how you'd personally do it. But each artist has to go their own way and do what's true for them.

Janet said...

It can take away my enjoyment of mediocre books. But really good ones sweep me off my feet so that I can't possibly remember to watch for the craft. I've got some on my shelves I've specifically tried to read to see how they did it, and I still get lost in the story on the fourth read.

One of the nicest comment I got from a critter was that she was sure there were mistakes she had missed, but she kept forgetting to look for them. :o)

Steve G said...

I like what Mary Anne had to say. Sometimes when we become proficient at something, we become proficient in only one way of doing something. The question is, "Is there more than one way to do fiction? How much is fundamental to the craft, and how much is specific to a genre or specific application of the craft?"

I understand certain genres have pretty rigid structures. Isn't "upmarket fiction" itself a blending across some of those traditional lines, that would cause "old school" writers/readers consternation?

Marybeth said...

I read the book you are talking about... she's one of my faves as well. I agree it's not one of her best but there were still some parts that just took my breath away with the brilliance. That part where she's talking about all the moments slipping by in her daughter's life-- I screamed out loud after reading it, "It's not fair!!" (I was alone at the time so it was okay...)
And on page 43 when she talks about how writing is where she puts everything (I think "put" was italicized) :) I totally identified with that.

I still love her and was challenged in reading this one to go back and re-read her old stuff. It's been awhile, I am sure I could enjoy it all over again.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Okay, I need to know: who are we talking about?!?

Kathleen Popa said...

I see things a little differently.

When I was in college I took dance classes, and mostly what I learned there was how easy it is to look silly, and how very, very hard, how much muscle and work and fire it takes to be graceful. Now, even more than before, I love to watch dancers, and if they are good, if they move me to joy or tears, I feel such gratitude.

I can't say if being a writer has changed the way I read, because I have always read as a writer. In fact, few things goaded me on toward publication more than to turn the last page of someone else's story and to think, "I could have done it better."

It does upset me to see bad writing from a good writer. I think he isn't trying; I think he should should known better. But when the writing is good? Well, if you ever hear me alone in the next room exclaiming, "Oh, oh my! Oh, you sweet darling! Oh, you sweet brilliant darling!"... chances are I'm reading something wonderful.