Friday, April 6, 2012

How Does Reading Affect YOUR Writing?

Blatantly riffing off Mike Duran's blog this morning, "What Do You Read When You're Writing?" It's an interesting question, one I think is very important, because I believe that for a writer, a healthy reading habit is very, very important.

Of course, as I've already confessed, I'm hopelessly addicted to reading, so there's no question that I'd be reading and writing at the same time.  And I'd have to say that for the most part, I read what I'm in the mood to read, or read books that I'm reviewing.  Like I said over on Mike's blog, I like to think of my head as one big pot full of stew.  And I want a stew of varied substance.

In fact, substance is the key word.  Now, to be clear: I think ANY type of story can be WRITTEN well, especially down on the word level.  It could a quiet, suspenseful, psychological drama.  It could be monster fiction.  It could be offbeat, quirky, very literary, or...hey, why not?...feature a killer clown.  But it can still be written WELL.

And that's become my mandate for reading.  I'll swing between all sorts of different types of stories - weird westerns, weird fiction, quiet horror, Lovecraftian horror, monster horror, adventure/dark fantasy - but the bottom line is...

I want it to be well-written.

Here's a sampling of my current reading plate:

Kealan Patrick Burke's KIN, which I'm in the middle of.  It's a pretty disturbing story.  Grotesque, actually (it's characters, not necessarily it's narrative). On a recent Goodreads update, I described it as thus:

"a novel co-written by Harper Lee, Robert McCammon, and the folks who wrote Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now, imagine the Ewell family (from To Kill A Mocking Bird) as a bunch of fanatic religious cannibals..."

But the prose is FANTASTIC. Rhythmic and lyrical.  So for, it's a no brainer.

Greg Lamberson's  Personal DemonsRight now, it's a pretty straight serial-killer, police procedural suspense/thriller that promises supernatural overtones.  Completely different tone than KIN. But well written.  Brisk pace.  And a highly sympathetic - yet flawed - main character. BUT WELL WRITTEN.

Ron McLarty's The Dropper. This is a moody, melancholic but at times sentimental portrait of a young plumber, part-time boxer in 1922 England, trying to care for both his disabled younger brother and alcoholic father, in the wake of his mother's death.  Not supernatural at all (well, maybe a hint).  Very literary.  And it's first-person present tense, written in common, British street-slang.  But SO WELL DONE.

And, just recently, I finished Charles Grant's In A Dark Dream, which was quiet horror - suspenseful.  Subtle. Built completely on mood and atmosphere.  Once again, completely different from the three books above, but very well written.

Some folks will argue the "well written" point. Say that's subjective.  I'm not going into that here.  I'm just going to be bull-headed and stubborn and say, that from the stance of wording, phrasing, description, tempo/pacing, characterization, internal logic and plot resolution: sorry. I believe there is a standard.  And I've come to the point  in my life in which I only want to read things that handle those factors in efficient to superior to SUPERB levels.

As I mentioned on Mike's blog, the only type of fiction I'm holding out on reading right now is short fiction.  When I have both this novella and novel in the hands of beta readers, I really want to spend some time consuming and writing lots of short fiction.  Kinda like my own, self-motivated "short story bootcamp".  I DO believe that being in the "novel" mode and "short story mode" are two different states, so I want to structure my reading to reflect that.

So.  How about you folks who haven't already wandered over to Mike's blog, and would like to give this blog some love. What do you read when you write? Is there a certain genre or author or style that exerts a positive - or negative - pull on your own writing?