Different Likes

February 25, 2010

Ever met someone who only reads one type of book? I imagine you have. They only like cozy mysteries or they only like chaste romances or they only read military sci-fi. I think that’s a little crazy, but whatever, to each his/her own.
My own reading tends to be all over the board. For several years it got narrower, focusing primarily on mysteries and thrillers, and the edgier ones tended to be more to my taste. My favorites are probably fast-paced, action-oriented, somewhat heroic in nature.
Hey, go figure. How would I describe the Derek Stillwater novels? Fast-paced. Action-oriented. Heroic in nature.
Not everybody likes those kinds of books. As mentioned a couple days ago, the book reviewer for Publishers Weekly didn’t seem to like those kinds of books. A gentleman writer who read it in manuscript format thought the writing was good, but felt that Derek Stillwater operated at too high a level given the abuse he undergoes in The Fallen, ala Jack Bauer from “24,” or Jason Bourne or Bruce Willis’s character in the Die Hard movies.
Ultimately, I don’t feel a real need to justify my books on that basis. I could, I suppose. I could point out that it was a Special Forces (or was it a Navy SEAL?) that founded the first Iron Man triathlon–swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles followed by a 26.2 mile run, all back-to-back without rest, and the winning times tend to be in the 12-15 hour timeframes. I could point out that if you read, for instance, Doug Stanton’s HORSE SOLDIERS, about the first Special Forces soldiers into Afghanistan after 9/11, one of the stories (and there many of this type) was of a soldier who rode a horse all day long on a wooden saddle in excruciating pain, was unable to get off the horse by himself at the end of the day… and it turned out that he had ruptured a disk in his back, but kept on going.
Derek Stillwater is a character who is routinely pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits. Hence: thriller.
But there’s no real point to defending those sorts of things any more than a writer of cozy mysteries should bother defending how their suburban housewife is constantly solving mysteries that the police can’t solve, book after book after book.
Certain types of books have certain types of conventions and along with those conventions, certain types of readers.
I no longer care for a steady diet of one type of book. David Hewson, who writes slow, layered, meticulous, detailed police procedurals set in Italy has argued in his blog that there’s no need for supermen in crime fiction. Well, that’s David’s taste in books and it reflects in his own writing. And David’s books are wonderful, even though I wish he’d move things along a little bit faster.
Jodi Picoult-type books with their lengthy interior monologues drive me crazy. It’s not a slam on her books or her readers. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Some readers don’t like first-person, some don’t like third. Some don’t like multiple viewpoints. (Want to frustrate me as a reader? Write it in present tense. Drives me crazy). Hell, some people don’t like fiction or don’t like reading at all.
When you develop a readership–and I guess I might be slowly doing so–you start to get a sense of who your readers are and what they like. Here’s one thing I know about the readers who like my books the most–they’re men. That isn’t to say women don’t like them, because I know women do. But the reader most likely to say, “Man, that book was awesome!” to me, is a man. Maybe Derek Stillwater is our heroic alter ego the same way Spenser is or James Bond is or Jason Bourne is. Maybe what men want as a reading diversion is fast-pace and high adventure. That’s really too broad a statement, I don’t like to stereotype readers by gender or any other way, but I do wonder.
In terms of writing, I think it’s worthwhile to pay attention to what you MOST respond to in reading. It’s a good chance that that is what will work best in your own writing. Not exclusively, perhaps, but if you respond to books with witty dialogue and lots of action, why in hell would you try to write slow, layered, inner-monologue laden novels? If it doesn’t appeal to you, why would it appeal to someone else?
Maybe the answer actually is: because you want a change of pace. Or your own taste in reading is shifting. Or you wanted a challenge.
All good reasons, I think, to try a different approach. Use another tool from your toolbox. Shake things up a bit.
Just remember, a lot of times, different types of books appeal to different types of readers.
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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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