BOOK & BLOG
September 22, 2009
Books of the Week:
It’s definitely been urban fantasy week here at my house. Between protracted sessions of going through the manuscript of DEAD IN THE FAMILY to make changes suggested by my first readers, I whipped through some excellent books, all on the gritty side. I’m not sure what this says about how I was feeling; maybe that working on the book was so difficult that I felt grim?
I’m always ready to read Lilith Saintcrow, and her bad books are more interesting than some writers’ good books. Now that I’ve established that I’m a Saintcrow fan, Redemption Alley was a same-note book. Jill Kismet’s boyfriend, the shapechanger Saul, is out of town tending to his dying mother, and Perry, the hellbreed Kismet is bound to, only appears once in person and the rest of time is present only in her thoughts. So this book is pretty much danger, danger, danger, violence, violence, violence. I do love the scene where Kismet blows up a whole airfield cool, indeed. And let me refer you again to sentence one in this paragraph.
As part of my effort to better understand Patricia Briggs’s Alpha/Omega books, I reread On The Prowl, the collection of novellas in which Anna and Charles Cornick first appear. I did have a better understanding of the omega wolf’s role in the pack after I read it, which was what I was after, and as always I loved Brigg’s characters and their relationships to each other. While I had the book in hand, I read Karen Chance’s “Buying Trouble” again, and enjoyed it a second time, too.
I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of Stacia Kane’s forthcoming Unholy Ghosts after I met her at DragonCon. Unfortunately, this novel won’t be out until May. You should put it on your calendars NOW. The world-building is unexpected and complex, the characters are alive, and the protagonist Chess is a treasure. I have a very hard time reading a book with an alcoholic or drug-addicted hero, and in fact I almost closed the book after the first chapter. I’m so glad I didn’t. The characters are complex and indelible, the plot is fascinating, and I can hardly wait for another book, months before this one will be out.
John Meaney’s Bone Song is another great example of world-building. I admit I’m in the middle of this book, so I can’t completely judge it, but I’m reading it at a great rate. Meaney’s cop protagonist, Donal Riordan, lives in a world where the buildings can be amazingly huge, many machines are inhabited by sentient beings who have been forced to operate them, and people are not always what they appear to be . . . as far as their actual humanity is concerned. And there’s a huge force stacked against this cop in Tristopolis, a city powered by incinerated human bones. Yeah, that’s what I said.
As I was slogging through my first readers’ suggested changes for DEAD IN THE FAMILY, I reflected on how lucky I am to have trusted people to do this thankless job for me. For most of my writing history, only I and my editor (and a copy editor) read my books before they were published. But that’s changed in the past couple of years, and I think my books are the better for it.
For those of you who aren’t deeply into the writing world, a first reader is someone who plunges into your book before anyone else. What is the purpose of a first reader? To tell you what you’ve done wrong and what you can do to make it better. So a first reader is someone you trust to tell you the truth, not someone you know will tell you comforting lies. An ideal first reader is intelligent, consistent, conversant with your other books and with the laws of the language, and diligent. When I say “diligent,” I mean someone who’ll drop everything to plow through your book if you say, “This was supposed to be on my editor’s desk three days ago.”
Fortunately for me, I have two great first readers, my friends Dana Cameron and Toni L.P. Kelner, who may gently tell me that fifty pages do not belong in the middle of the book (Dana) and that I’ve totally forgotten to bring an important plot point back into the book after I raise it (Toni). Thanks, ladies. I also have continuity readers who know the material in the past books as well as they know their kids, and these two wonderful people are always ready to tell me that I’ve gotten a character’s name wrong yet again, or that a street had a different name in the previous book.
Now, by the time my overworked editor sees the book, I think it’s in much better shape. This saves time and worry at least for me! And I think the reader comes out ahead, too.
Of course, I still take the blame for errors and continuity glitches in my work. Though I can’t carry the whole series in my head and refer to it all the time, I ought to be able to, I tell myself; and it’s very upsetting for me when I make a mistake. It’s not from lack of caring; it’s from lack of brain room. My memory is so full after my long career (at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it) that I don’t have room for more facts, especially now that I’m sure other people are going to help me do it. My two continuity experts, who shall remain nameless, have helped me iron out quite a few little issues in past books, so the reprints are much more error-free.
My thanks to all these people. I’m sure there will still be mistakes in the books, and I’m sure plot points and developments will not please all readers, but these are things every writer has to deal with. This is like a Quality Assurance Notice; I’m doing the best I can to deliver the best book possible.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris