web analytics

Favorite Books & Authors

Image courtesy of pexels.com

Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.

As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.

Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas

You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.

Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.

Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.

“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.

Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.

“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.

Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.

For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.

This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.

Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?

Pondering

Okay, I’m wondering if any other authors have noticed this. I follow a number of agents on Twitter. In particular, I add them to a private list when they’ve requested materials from me so I can sort of see what they’re thinking and get any updates on their slush piles. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a lot of agents and agencies running bootcamps and workshops. And every time I see it, I think, But aren’t they already too busy?

Agents have their clients to look after: sending out manuscripts, reading new ones, etc. And they have a bazillion queries coming at them, plus they need to wade through any materials they’ve requested. We all hear about how swamped they always are, and that’s why it takes them forever and a day to respond to queries. So when I see that they’re also helming bootcamps and workshops, I get a little frustrated. Because I know it means I’ll be even less of a priority, and I was already at the bottom of their lists.

Then I start to wonder why they’re doing this. Are they not making enough money for and from their clients, so they need to supplement the income? That’s a bad sign. Or are they simply looking to part hopeful authors from their money? That’s a really bad sign. And I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe agents are truly doing what they think is best for new authors. Trying to help them succeed. But with the hundreds of writing conferences and whatnot out there, these agents and agencies are not filling a need. There’s no hole in the industry as far as workshops go. So again I wonder: why?

Meanwhile (and not entirely unrelatedly), it looks more and more likely that I’ll be self-publishing Hamlette. But I’ve done pretty well with that route. Check out the feature in yesterday’s BookLife newsletter:

There’s Brynnde! And Faebourne is on the way! 7 August. Mark your calendar!

Author Diversity

The other night my writing group had an in-depth discussion of diversity in the writing and publishing world. As we’re all writers, we mostly focused on that aspect: the push for more authors of diverse backgrounds.

There are a lot of parts and pieces to consider when discussing this topic, and I don’t mean to make light of any of them. If I skim over something, or fail to consider an angle, I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

I am not a person of color, nor am I LGBTQ+. The most I can say is that as a child many people mistook me for Latina (and sometimes still do if I’ve been out in the sun). People will come up to me and start speaking Spanish until they interpret my blank expression as lack of comprehension. I am French Creole, and I do speak that language (very rustily now), but in the eyes of the world at large, I am Caucasian and privileged.

This is, I think, the fundamental starting point for a discussion like this one. I can identify as French Creole, but I did not grow up with as much of the oppression as many other people of color. (Though I did find Adam Sandler’s Cajun Man extremely offensive when I was younger.)

I won’t lie. I do sometimes get frustrated when I see so many calls for books by diverse authors. I want to ask, “Aren’t my words worth something too? Even if my skin is ‘white’ and my sexual orientation is hetero?” But I also understand WHY it’s so important to get a variety of perspectives into print. Readers need to see themselves represented, and the world needs to hear stories that go beyond what we’ve had for the past 400 years. In all that time, literature has been dominated by white, heterosexual characters penned by white, mostly male authors. It’s long past time to change that.

One of the reasons that literature has skewed in favor of white authors is that those were often the people who had the means to sustain themselves as writers. Writing was an elitist hobby, something rich kids did for fun and sometimes profit. There weren’t many wealthy people of color who had the time or education to sit down and write novels. Even now, the publishing world depends largely on interns who can afford to live off their parents, often in expensive cities, while attempting to learn the trade. And there’s no lack of nepotism either. Recently a literary agency has had to deal with backlash because the founder’s son became an agent who, to put it bluntly, screwed over many authors.

So here we are in a world where it can be difficult to get people of color to write. Not necessarily because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the time or means to do it. The result has been a rise of scholarship type programs to help those would-be authors.

At the same time, I find myself wondering whether an agent would have signed me by now if I’d come from a more diverse background. That’s probably me making excuses for why I haven’t landed an agent, though—I recognize that. I know that if my writing were truly great it wouldn’t matter what color or sexual orientation I was. So don’t rage at me. I’m just trying to be totally honest in this post and voice my doubts and fears.

The flip side of all this is the ever present discussion of whether authors who are not from a diverse background can/should write characters from those backgrounds. As someone who writes a lot of gay characters, I certainly hope that’s permissible. And I hope I haven’t offended anyone in doing so, or gotten too much wrong. I do talk to my gay friends for perspective. The spread of sensitivity readers speaks to writers’ desire to get these things right. That said, sometimes it does feel as though one cannot win. If we try to write incorporate diverse characters in our writing, we’re “pandering” and told we can’t write these stories because we haven’t lived the right experiences to tell them—we’re “whitewashing” characters, or making them tokens so we can fulfill a checklist. Yet if we write stories about all-white, heterosexual characters, we’re not being inclusive. Short of only ever writing in collaboration with a minority author, I don’t know what a white, hetero author can do to meet the conflicting criteria.

And AGAIN, I’m not angry or putting anything or anyone down. I’m just saying that I’ve heard all these different arguments and I don’t know the answer. Or if there even is an answer. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Writers use their imaginations for a living. If men can write women characters and women can write men, it’s not so farfetched to me that a hetero writer can possibly imagine an LGBTQ+ character, or a white one can imagine someone of color. I do think it’s important to get feedback from those quarters. Don’t write blind. Writing, really, is a blend of experience, direct intel, and imagination. An author can make something up, something fantastical, but for it to have impact it must speak to the reader in a way that the reader nods and says, “Yes. I know that feeling.” And that feeling may not be, “I know what it’s like to be gay,” or, “I know what it’s like to be black,” but it can often be, “I know what it’s like to be other, an outsider. I know what it’s like to want something I can’t have. I know heartbreak and joy and love and hate. I know what it means to strive and fail. I know fear, and stress, and frustration, and relief.”

Anyway, this post is really just a collection of thoughts on the subject of author diversity. I’ve endeavored to be open and honest and cover a variety of angles, but as I said, if there’s something I missed, please let me know.

IWSG: Spring Fever

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Still hammering away at Faebourne! Looking down the barrel at that August 7th pub date . . . Also nervous but excited to have started doing Facebook videos. So if you have any questions you’d like answered, ask away and I’ll answer in my next video!

Question of the Month: It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?

Spring lights a fire under me in terms of writing because I realize that the kids will be out of school soon and my chances to write will become smaller. At the same time, I find myself wanting to be out in the warm weather (when we have it). Why not write outside? For whatever reason I find that nearly impossible. The glare on my screen or off the paper in particular makes it difficult for me. And I have to sit in the sun; for me, that’s the point of being outside to begin with. So writing in spring usually ends up being a kind of internal tug-of-war. A real need to sit down and get some work done versus a restlessness and desire to be out and about.

You Are Not Alone

I want to put in a little plug for this book that released today. You Are Not Alone is part memoir, part self-help book. It delves into the grieving process, particularly in dealing with the loss of a loved one. I helped edit the book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d recommend it. I’ve never read anything like it. You Are Not Alone is both gentle and strong, just the right mix for the people who need it. And everyone will need it at some point in their lives.

If you’re grieving, or know someone who is, please pick up this book.

Good News/Bad News

Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:
 
 
 
 

So that was fun.

I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.

The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.

The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.

I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.

I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.

Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.

Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.