October 26 – November 1: “Do you find it more difficult to just read for pleasure?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members B. K. Stevens, Eric Beetner, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, Diane Kelly, Paul D. Marks, Cheryl Hollon, Peter James, Rob L. Palmer and Bernard Maestas to ask: As an author, do you find it more difficult to just read for pleasure?

 

 

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Pane&SufferingCoverCheryl Hollon writes full-time after an engineering career designing and installing military flight simulators in England, Wales, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, and India. Living her dream, she combines a love of writing with a passion for creating glass art in the small glass studio behind her house in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

 

you are deadPeter James was educated at Charterhouse, then at film school. He lived in North America for a number of years, working as a screenwriter and film producer before returning to England. His novels, including the Sunday Times number one bestselling Roy Grace series, have been translated into thirty-six languages, with worldwide sales of fifteen million copies. Three books have been filmed. He has also written a short story collection, A Twist of the Knife. All his novels reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research, as well as his fascination with science, medicine and the paranormal. He has also produced numerous films, including The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. He divides his time between his homes in Notting Hill, London, and near Brighton in Sussex.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning noir mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Howling at the Moon (EQMM 11/14) is short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. Midwest Review calls Paul’s noir novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea.

 

 

SurvivorsRobert Palmer is a lawyer and law professor in Washington, D.C. His clients have included cops and school teachers, members of Congress, judges, and agency heads – and more than a few psychologists. In his spare time he enjoys distance running, downhill skiing, and backpacking in the Blue Ridge, the Rockies, and anywhere else with mountains. He lives with his wife and son and their Portuguese Water Dog, Theo.

 

 

 

ConvalescenceMaynard & Sims are the authors of fifteen novels with more scheduled, as well as numerous novellas and stories. They have won awards for screenplays, have been editors, essayists, publishers and reviewers. They are currently working on new novels, novellas, stories and screenplays.

 

 

 

backlistEric Beetner writes hardboiled crime fiction. A lot of it, with more to come. Many folks have said nice things about his books. He’s won a few awards like the 2012 Stalker award for Most Criminally Underrated author. He lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts the Noir At The Bar reading series.

 

 

 

you think thisBernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement. When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games and the internet, he finds time to write novels. His fast-paced, wise-cracking “Internet Tough Guys” series (which began with the brash “Say That to my Face” and “Godwin’s Law”) continues December 2nd with the explosive “You Think This is a Game?”

 

Fighting Chance CoverB. K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published almost fifty short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Some stories have been nominated for awards such as the Agatha and the Macavity; another won a Derringer; and another won a suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. Her first novel, Interpretation of Murder, published by Black Opal Books in April, 2015, is a traditional whodunit that offers readers glimpses into deaf culture and sign-language interpreting. Her second novel, Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for young adults, will be published in October, 2015, by The Poisoned Pencil / Poisoned Pen Press. She’s also published three nonfiction books, along with articles in The Writer and The Third Degree. She blogs at SleuthSayers and also hosts The First Two Pages. B.K. and her husband live in Virginia and have two grown daughters.

 

Death, Taxes and Cheap Sunglasses high resDiane Kelly is a former state assistant attorney general and tax advisor who spent much of her career fighting, or inadvertently working for, white-collar criminals. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas Citizens Police Academy. Diane has combined her fascination with law enforcement and her love of animals in her K-9 cop Paw Enforcement series.

 

 

17 Comments
  1. Very difficult. Reading tends to get done only when on holiday and for pleasure. Reading when engaged on a project gets a bit distracting. Sure that’s just a personal thing but when reading a book it does tend to get a bit like – oh, right I could do ‘that’ with my plot, or I like that technique, I could fit that in.

    Then there are the sub-conscious effects where you find yourself going off on a plot strand that eventually you recognize as being from the latest thriller you’re reading. Or perhaps that’s just me being feeble minded.

    Reading is a great pleasure but as we get older we both find it increasingly sidelined in our lives which is probably a shame. We spend so much time writing and then re-reading our own stuff that there is less time for other authors.

    We also edit – currently a UK/Europe based ITW writers anthology and we read a lot of stories in that role. We also edit and proof writer’s work by commission and that is another area where we are constantly reading other’s writing.

  2. Definitely. When I’m in the process of writing a novel I can’t afford to spend much time reading other works. When I do, after turning a few pages, I begin feeling guilty not being at my own work in progress. Maybe guilt is not the word—“need” might better explain it.
    I just finished the editing process with my publisher for my new manuscript, The Yemen Contract, and it appears on the way to publication. Now I have some time to tackle the pile of unread novels on my shelf. Last night, I stayed up late reading a mystery set in Tuscany. Thoroughly enjoying the descriptions, the author’s word play, and imagery, I kept stopping, wondering how many times he had to rewrite those phrases to make them perfect. What darlings did he have to sacrifice to his editor? Once again, I’m back to work, thinking how I can improve my own writing, instead of just sitting back and enjoying this author’s world.

  3. My reading habits have changed dramatically after I decided to become a full-time writer. Typically, I would read between two and three books a week. Usually, in bed in the last hour before sleep. Reading at that time was a bit of a risk since if a book took hold, I would read far into the wee hours. After I began to write with hopes of publication, all that changed.

    As a method for improving the quality of my writing, I participated in an on-line group that analyzed a best-selling mystery each month. The lessons learned were invaluable, but it changed the way I read for pleasure. In fact, I have difficulty turning off my critical eye for examining the story’s pacing, plotting, and character development. I eventually determined that I had to separate analysis mode from enjoyment mode and that has made all the difference.

  4. Being a writer changes the way I read, but it doesn’t take any of the pleasure out of it. For one thing, I read more broadly now. My novels are set in Washington, DC, so I’m more likely to pick up a book about politics or something historical. I’m also always looking for things with a fresh style. That’s a new sort of pleasure that comes with being a writer, slowing down to savor (and second guess) the choices another author makes. Of course there are down sides. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the good fiction out there. I should read that, and that, and that other one, too. But time runs out on the day, and some great books get overlooked. As they say, we’re all on the same clock, and it never stands still – well, except in science fiction.

  5. Curiously fun question. Reading is a passion, not only for story but a way to admire the writer’s technique and voice. Too often I read with an editor’s eye, like a psychologist can’t help but analyze those around him or a chief critiques another cook’s creation. I have a favorite writers, and they successfully transplant me into their story world.
    Oddly enough, I read more when I’m on contract. The well-written stories that wow and move me are a huge challenge to make my own work unique, fresh, and full of passion.

  6. Emphatically yes! Which is why when a book really sucks me in and I can overlook the schematic hiding just below the surface I love it, can’t put it down and hate for it to end. I think one of the occupational hazards of being a writer is seeing how the sausages are made. We’re always looking for the act break or, in a mystery or thriller, the MacGuffin. And we often see the Scotch tape that holds it all together. We’re also constantly second guessing the author, asking ourselves why did they do this instead of that? I would have done it this way.

    When my mom would read a book she would tell me “I don’t care if it’s perfect or even well-written, I just want to be taken along by the story.” So she could read books that would make me crazy because the writing was so bad, even if the plot and characters were good. And where that might ruin it for me, she would just enjoy the thrill of the ride.

    So when I don’t see the nuts and bolts of a story and it pulls me in and holds me there, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. And it does happen more often than not.

    1. Great comment — know exactly what you mean. Among some very big names, I can fairly easily pick out where they began and ended writing for the day just by the tone of their narrative. Always felt bad for them when they were clearly struggling or distracted.

  7. In one sense, yes, I think it’s harder to read just for pleasure after we become authors. We’re more likely to read analytically now, more likely to read critically. Sometimes, we’re more likely to read enviously.
    Ultimately, though, I think reading as an author enhances enjoyment, rather than detracting from it. When I was an English professor, students sometimes complained that they didn’t want to learn how to analyze poetry. “I don’t want to pick poems apart,” they’d say. “I just want to, like, let them flow over me. I just want to enjoy them.” I responded with an analogy. I know nothing about figure skating, but I enjoy watching it on television. When I watch skaters compete at the Olympics, I’m in awe. If skaters fall down, I know something’s wrong. Aside from that, everything looks beautiful and perfect to me.
    Then the expert commentators start picking the performances apart. Her landing was too hard, they say; he turned only once when he should have turned twice; she was too slow; his leap wasn’t high enough. You could say I enjoyed the performances more than the commentators did, since I simply admired everything, while they picked the performances apart and saw the flaws I’d missed.
    In another sense, the judges probably enjoyed the performances more than I did—they enjoyed them on a higher level, since they really understood what was going on. And when a performance was outstanding, the commentators definitely enjoyed it more. I can’t distinguish between merely good skating and truly excellent skating, but the commentators can. So the pleasure the commentators get from watching an outstanding performance must surpass the pleasure I get from watching any skater who manages to avoid falling down. The commentators must feel an excitement I can scarcely imagine.
    I think it’s the same with writing. As authors, we don’t read just for pleasure. We read to analyze, to criticize, to learn, to envy, to emulate. In the end, I think all that adds to the pleasure we experience in reading what our colleagues have written.

    1. Good points! My daughter used to dance competitively and it was the same way. Sometimes I would think a group’s dance was awesome because it was lively and unique, but the judges would rank it low due to technical deficiencies that an unskilled observed doesn’t know about. And vice versa. Something that might not grab the audience would really impress the judges because they knew better what moves were difficult. The experts in dance, figure skating, and writing all manage to make it look effortless.

    2. Great points, and I think that the comparison to figure skating is very insightful. Thanks for the interesting post!

  8. As an author, do I find it more difficult to read for pleasure? Perhaps surprisingly, I find that this is rarely the case. My favorite authors have a way of taking me out of my mind and into the story, thus effectively turning off my “writer brain” and allowing my “reader brain” to simply enjoy the book.

    When I write, I have to be in a relaxed position or my words just don’t flow. It’s as if my brain equates sitting upright at a desk with “work” and my creativity turns off. I usually write on my chaise lounge chair in the backyard or on the couch with my legs stretched out in front of me. I read for pleasure in this same relaxed position and my “work” brain seems to understand that it is off duty. When I’m editing, either for myself or someone else, I tend to sit upright at a desk or table. This puts me into work mode.

    I will admit that on occasion I slip into author mode while reading a book that isn’t quite grabbing me. I might think of how I would have handled the plot, or characters, or dialogue differently. But this is a rare case since I usually stop reading a book if it doesn’t pull me in quickly. There are so many good books out there that I don’t force myself to continue with one that isn’t my cup of tea. Reading time is too short!

    1. Diane – Good thoughts. I still get a lot of pleasure out of reading, which seems not to be the case for many of our colleagues commenting here. In fact, I’m surprised at some of the negativity. Sure, we’re busy and can’t read all we would like, but that’s true for a lot of book lovers. It’s true also that we may pick at a book more than other readers, but it’s saying a lot to think we can see all the plot devices. I find I’m more often surprised while reading a book now than in my pre-fiction-writing days. The thing I’m surprised about may be something entirely unexpected, though, such as a romantic angle or an under-card character’s remorse and redemption.

  9. I wish it were not the case, but it is getting harder. The thing I find difficult to distance myself from are my own bad habits laid out on the page of some other book. Words I have overused in the past and have worked hard to train myself against now stand out like spilled ink. Awkward phrasing like the dreaded “had had” drive me mental because I know ten different ways to rewrite that sentence and remove what bumps to me as a reader.
    I find it the mark of a truly go do book when I can get lost on the story. I find that. I’ve always been one who prefers prose to be a bit invisible. I don’t like to feel the heavy hand of the author too often and I notice it even more since I’ve been publishing.
    On the flip side, I’ll forgive an errant typo here and there because I feel the pain and embarrassment of the author and sympathize.
    I always see it as a sign that the book isn’t capturing me like it should if I’m dissecting the prose or rewriting sentences in my head. I’m always of the mind that it’s me and not them, however. If a book doesn’t do it for me because of my own inability to let go from the editing process, then that has little to do with the author outside and everything to do with the author within.

    1. I’m in the same leaky boat. I do editing/proofreading work for my day-buck and it’s hard to turn it off when I read for pleasure. I’m reading Lysley Tenorio’s “Monstress” and digging it all–the characters, the settings, the setups, and the payoff–but one weird thing he does with commas trips me up several times a page. I mean, SHUT UP, Brain, and let me enjoy! Or is this a good thing?

  10. Posted on behalf of author Peter James:

    ‘I read avidly and widely and one of the hardest things about being a writer ironically means I never get to read as much as I want. I’m a total stickler for research and accuracy so I find it very hard to read any novel where there are mistakes with these, especially regarding police procedures. I always wonder what the point in writing totally inaccurate police work is – for me, certainly, there is no point in reading it – other than to make me angry! I want to know and understand inside out anything what I am writing about. Whether it is describing a taxi driver, a police diver, a lawyer, a plastic surgeon, or a hairdresser. For example, I spent an entire day a few years ago doing a 12-hour shift as a garbage collector in Brighton. Damned hard work, but it gave me a wonderful character – and invaluable insight into their world for a crucial scene in my book. I remember reading a novel, by a foreign writer set in England, and it started to become apparent to me that the writer had been less than diligent in his research. When I got to the sentence in which his character was driving North along the M25 in the direction of Birmingham, I binned the book. Why? Because the M25 is the famous – or notorious – ring round around London. It doesn’t go anywhere! Instantly I had lost all trust and confidence in the author’s integrity.
    Reading for pleasure goes out the window for me during the writing process, I do not like to read fiction during this time – which is around 7 months of each year – as it is too easy to pick up someone else’s style, or to inadvertently steal someone else’s original description of something. During this time I read huge amounts of non-fiction, mainly for research. I read a broad cross section of the Bestsellers lists, crime, literary fiction, and sometimes women’s fiction, because I can learn so much. I’m always looking for that one book which I put down and go “Wow! Wish I had written that!” It is a rare moment, but then I know I’ve read something from which I can learn. Thomas Harris’s Silence Of The Lambs was one, and Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire Of The Vanities another.’

  11. A little late to the party but here are my thoughts.

    In terms of time management, reading has been difficult for me for many years, even before I started writing more seriously. A busy career always eats into the time you have for pleasure reading, for sure. Add writing into the mix and it’s harder to budget the time for reading, I definitely agree.

    At this point, it seems like the only time I really find time to read is in the bathroom (or am I the only one who does that?) and at the gym (because what else are you going to do while you’re sitting in the sauna post workout?). I do, however, relish the opportunity to read in those instances. Reading has been a lifelong passion of mine, along with my writing hobby so I find it important to keep at it.

    I think reading can also be critical in giving some cues as to where to go with your next story or sparking up thoughts about future plots.

    When I saw this question come up, I read it less about finding the time to read and the difficulties with processing what you’re reading with your author brain. In that instance, I would say reading hasn’t changed much for me with a few exceptions. Mainly, I don’t read many thrillers these days, actually. Like most people, I have trouble reading about (or watching movies/TV about) my line of work but certain authors have ruined the genre for me as well.

    That said, I still generally enjoy sci-fi and fantasy (especially urban fantasy) and I’ve been reading a lot of YA the past couple of years or so.

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