Author-Reader Trust: The Key To A Great Book

This weekend, I went to the library’s annual book sale. Most of the books I bought, I’d never heard of – but the synopsis looked interesting, or they dealt with topics/genres that I’m currently involved in. The only book I was curious about previously was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend + Short Stories. I like that many of Matheson’s stories are about being alone, which is relevant to my NaNo novel, and he’s just a classic pillar of sci-fi.

Anyway, the book I actually started reading was Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox. Knox is revered as an elegant author and the series has supposedly decent world-building.

I’m 40 pages in and I’m constantly editing her prose in my head. On the very opening page (of a prologue -_-), I’m like “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE TREES. This description is awful! You’re just throwing pretty words into a run-on sentence with places and other Proper Nouns that you haven’t defined!” About three paragraphs in, she brings in a sentence with a setting’s name, a main character, what they’re doing, and some intriguing aspect of their situation, and I’m like there. Why isn’t that your opening line? Everything that came before this doesn’t matter, and THIS is your good sentence.

I have this problem with a lot of books. In fact, it leads me to abandon many these days, and almost table-flip reading entirely. While I recognize that Knox writes like a professional, I find myself overly critical of her. Why? I’ve never even heard of her. All I know is her writing in this one book. And I’m not enjoying it.

It’s not just because I write fast-paced commercial fiction. I’ve also read slow, cerebral novels I’ve enjoyed enough (like Never Let Me Go) because what they lack in action they make up for in intrigue. And there have been some recent reads that my mental editor did not mind. As much as I disliked Hazel and Gus in The Fault In Our Stars, I never mentally edited Green’s prose.  I also enjoy House of Leaves – and so far, I can’t think of anything that I would change about it. Just when you think Mark is going on some tangent about nothing for three pages, his concluding paragraph relates it all together and you’re just like “AHHHH.”

What does this come down to, really? Why can I be patient when Dashner takes his time setting up questions in The Maze Runner, but I’m desperately waiting for Knox to spell out her world in Dreamhunter? Why do I give Mark Danielewski the benefit of the doubt during his tangents, but in other books, I would skim such rants? Why can I look past the poor prose of some novels if I enjoy the characters and story? It’s because for some unexplainable, astral reason, the ‘good’ authors are the ones who gained my trust. They successfully created enough of the fictional dream – the verisimilitude – for me not to care about what rules they break.

I’ve also been reading Gone Girl. The first chapter is awful. It’s boring. It’s clunky. The prose tries way too hard, making you far too aware of the author. The narrator, Nick, is just whiny cardboard.

Then, the second chapter switches tenses, time, and narrators, and suddenly the book is interesting. I’m left wondering why this isn’t the opening chapter, because Amy’s voice is actually interesting. It’s natural. There is motion. I’m less doubtful of Gillian Flynn now. I trust her a bit more, because chapter two proved that she can write. And that’s why I keep reading.

I can’t pinpoint what makes me trust an author. In the end, I can’t say I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go or The Fault in Our Stars, but I did finish them. I finished them because the authors kept me gripped enough by….something. Some sense of trust and investment in them. So, one of my continued exercises is to figure out how readers can trust me. My main tool is a strong opening and an attempt at strong voice. I also try to be really direct. I want to give the sense that the world is deeper and broader than what is on the page, but I don’t want the reader to ask questions every second line.

In the end, you can’t please everyone. My father and my friend Greg both read Paradisa. Dad complained about the book in a very specific way – a way that made me realize he did not trust me. He questioned everything from line one, while Greg kicked his feet up and just ‘went’ with it. In the end, Greg understood the novel nearly as well as I do, and Dad was left lost and bitter about ‘the worst thing he’d ever read.’ How can one truly be ‘right’ if the other one exists?

I think we all have different expectations out of an author we trust, which is one of the primary influences on our ‘taste.’ It’s the reason we gawk at how some books were ever critically acclaimed. It’s the reason we sometimes enjoy stories that most of the population scorns. For whatever reason, those authors gained our trust, and I believe that’s the foundation for a subjectively great book.

Writing vs. Having Written

“It’s not the destination,” they say. “It’s the journey.” I have never believed this, at least not for myself. I’ve never fancied road trips or Lord of the Rings or cruises to islands I don’t care about or any other stories/events/situations that depend on me enjoying the journey instead of the place I’m actually going. I live for the destination, for the end game, and I mean that both physically and metaphorically.

As writers, we should love writing, yeah? We should enjoy the process of tearing down worlds, breathing life into characters, creating something our own. I enjoy this well enough, probably more than most “journeys” I could name, but the real satisfaction comes from having written. I live for that sense of accomplishment, for seeing a 200 page stack of fiction bound on my desk.

I am not excited about the massive rewrite I’m working on. If I was excited, I wouldn’t be procrastinating on editing Chapter Six. But I’m super excited about the future finished version of this draft, and how fun it will be to share  with a new group of betas, and how I’ll be more confident in this draft versus previous ones.

I’m curious about your thoughts. Do you prefer the writing process, or do you live for the finished product?

On a personal note, my short story Goliath was rejected from its first anthology submission. I guess that’s a whole new journey I’m beginning, and I will definitely prefer the destination!

Follow Friday! – Flash Fiction from Raven Apotheosis

In this week’s edition of Follow Friday, I encourage everyone to visit the beautifully designed blog of Edgar Hernandez – Raven Apotheosis. Edgar is a professor who posts daily short/flash fiction on his blog, primarily in *my* favorite genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. All of these flash fiction pieces emerge from some thought-provoking prompts or caveats. He’s also a heck of a nice dude, so go check him out!

In other news, my round one betas have one week left to read and review Paradisa. Eeek! Next week will surely be a bountiful harvest of feedback :P

Additionally, I’ve spent my evenings fixing up the study, doing my back exercises, and reading through my mythology books for sequel fodder. I’m about four chapters into the outline for Paradisa’s sequel, Ascendent, despite telling myself that the next novel I work on will not be Ascendent. Alas. Perhaps getting the outline done while I’ve still got the mojo isn’t a bad thing, though. I have until November to get cracking on an outline for Still Unnamed Trippy Othello Filmmaker Metafiction Novel .


To Pseudonym or Not To Pseudonym?

I have a long last name. It’s so long and intimidating that my coworkers seem to recoil every time they hear it. Funny enough, Iannantuono is not as bad as it looks.  My family drops a syllable, making it ‘Eye-En-Twon-Oh’.

Which brings me to the pseudonyms. This is a topic that has been discussed at length on WordPress – but as someone with a difficult name, it would perhaps benefit me to go by a pseudonym. I even did it in Heroes fandom – I was the very ordinary Michelle O’Rourke for a tic. Perhaps I’d sell more books with the gender-neutral M.L. Iannantuono,  or perhaps I could brand myself easier with the snappy Chelle Tuono.

But I *like* my name. I like that you can’t get me confused with anyone else. My name is a conversation starter. Part of it translates to “thunder” in Italian, which I appreciate. When I query agents, I hope the uniqueness of my name will stick with them. Because it’s so long, it often sticks out furthest in a list and catches a reader’s eye first. And really, to be an author, do I need readers to find my name pronounceable? People still pronounce J.K. Rowling’s name wrong and that one’s not even hard! (Hint – it’s ‘roll-ing’).

If I wanted to write in different genres, particularly things I don’t want my mother reading (aka erotica), then I’d certainly use another name. But I’d feel weird about taking on a false or shortened ‘stage name’, when everyone close to me would still know me as Michelle. Additionally, I’ve spent 15 years on the con circuit getting to know authors who I may eventually hit up for a foot in the door. ‘Iannantuono’ is the recognizable name to them, and can make the difference between an ignored email and an answered one. Or a followback on Twitter.

So for now, I’m keeping it. I haven’t ruled out a self publishing career on the side, and perhaps that would demand an exciting alter ago. But for now, I’m going with my born name, because you can’t get better than being named ‘thunder.’

Follow (almost) Friday

I love that WordPress is not just a blogging site, but a community. As a way to give back, I think it’s good for me to do a Follow Friday on here – starting today, a Thursday, because it’s basically Friday for most of America :P (for Austin, yesterday was “Friday”. But his hours are whack). Happy 4th!

Today, I’m going to showcase two of my first followers :)

1. H.K. (Heather) Rowe is a dear friend of mine from our days in Heroes fandom. We’ve been reading, and occasionally beta’ing, each other’s stuff for years.  She recently self-published her debut novel, “Unbridled”, which is a dark, suspenseful, erotic romance about a young assassin named Ethan. I read it almost all in one sitting! It has a lot of momentum, hot chemistry between characters, and a roaring climax. You can buy it in ebook or print via her site!

2. Grady P. Brown just followed me last night, but I immediately followed him back. He is a writer and autism ambassador who does great work in spreading autism awareness through his books. I connect a lot with Grady, as I am a huge superhero fan and I too visualize my stories like movies as I write them :) His site is well organized and his posts give great insight on his projects.  His debut book, The Young Guardians and The Genesis Spell, and its sequel, are available for purchase through his site.

In my own news, my mother crossed the finish line on Paradisa last night! I meet with her Saturday to discuss. Her response has been mixed so far (she hasn’t seemed to find it boring, but I believe she finds it derivative and isn’t very enthusiastic about the characters), but it’s nice to get reaction from a different demographic. 2 down, 5 to go!