Friday, April 23, 2010

Reading to Learn to Write

I recently picked up JOHNNY AND THE BOMB, a Middle Grade Science Fiction (I think) Time Travel novel by Terry Pratchett.  Sorry to say, I didn't like it enough to give you a full review.  But, I think reading half of it (that's as far as I got) was educational enough for me to tell you about it, because I picked up HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by J.K. Rowling right after.  The difference in how appealing each was to me was so radical I knew there must be an educational opportunity in it.
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See, I'd like to write Middle Grade fiction one day, although I doubt I'll ever write anything compatible with New York publishers.  I can't seem to help myself from wanting to do it.  Nasty habit, I know.  I tried underwater basket-weaving instead, but it just didn't work out.  Too cold in Alaska.
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Anyway, so I started reading the 3rd HARRY POTTER novel too.  Thankfully, I have my very own Middle Grader, my brilliant daughter, and I turned to her and said, "I don't like JOHNNY AND THE BOMB.  Can you read it and tell me if you do?  And why or why not?"  I wanted to know if it was just me being a fortysomething mom or if my readerly instincts were on to something.  So, we read.  After a while, she sighed and said, "It's okay."  That's how I'd felt too.  It was just 'okay.' 
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HARRY POTTER on the other hand is 'FREAKIN' AWESOME!'
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"Why?"
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More discussions are forthcoming.  However, at this point, I believe it's all in the *characters.*
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Harry Potter and his friends are living breathing human beings on Page One whom you feel sorry for and desperately want to win as you read along.
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Johnny and his friends...   Well, you know I only like to give positive reviews here, so I'll just say JOHNNY AND THE BOMB is more plot-driven than character-driven.  The characters are okay, but they *feel* as if they were created by filling out one of those character creation forms you can find on writer's websites.  If you're a plot-driven reader, this will work for you.
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I'm a character-driven reader.  If the characters don't grab me, I couldn't care less about the plot, or anything else about the story.
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If you're an aspiring author, you've probably been told to read a lot.  This is why.  It also helps to talk to representatives of your target audience, I believe.
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Here's a review of JOHNNY AND THE BOMB by someone else-     http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0060541911.asp

I originally picked it up because I love Time Travel stories and this one's set during the Battle of Britain, one of my favorite time periods.  However, there was not a single Spitfire in any of the pages I read. 

Hello?  This is a book for boys, primarily, and there were no Spitfires?   That's just...just crazy.  My GIRLS dream about Spitfires!  Spitfires are only the coolest airplanes ever!  How can you not include Spitfires in a story set during the Battle of Britain?  That should be considered sacrilege.  Okay, okay, I'll stop now.
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All due respect to Mr. Pratchett, but it just didn't work for me.

6 comments:

Rebecca Lynn said...

Aaah, great post Kimber. This is part of why I read so much... to get a better sense of why books are getting published today. I think I should do more of the discussing, though. And this got me to thinking about author's loops and how much I wish we would read books together and discuss them.

But for now, I'll stick to reviewing. :-) And maybe I'll ask a couple of my friends who read romance if we could read a book together and talk about it. Because I write for adults, I often think that my opinion of a book as a reader is enough, but I do think it's important to see outside ourselves as well. Great post!

Kimber An said...

This is why I think it's a good idea for us, the reviewers, to post on the sidebar what we are reading.

(Note to Self: Update Mine)

That way Blog Buddies can *Scroll Down* and read, "Oh, Rebecca's reading another Linnea Sinclair novel!" Then, she might read her copy and compare notes with you when the review goes up. Good for you, as a writer, good for her, the reader, and good for Linnea, or whatever author because she's getting more free word-of-mouth time.

Unfortunately, I don't have a book to read for reviewing right now! Can you believe that? I'm actually reading the Harry Potter book, but that doesn't count because I won't be reviewing because, let's face it, an author with her own theme park doesn't need anymore publicity.

So far, I've turned down or passed along the ARCs offered me. I'm being very selective, it's true, because of Time and Tendonitis.

(((sigh))) If only a fabulous World War II-set Historical Romance novel would come my way...

Nayuleska said...

(I'm working on the what I'm reading widget this weekend).

Yes, it is really important to read a lot in the genre you're writing in. It's a great way to see if there's a market for your idea, the style of writing (first person vs 3rd person), and to get a feel for what people like.

I haven't got any WWII hist-rom novels for you - sorry!

Kimber An said...

"I haven't got any WWII hist-rom novels for you - sorry!"

Darn. Thanks for trying. World War II isn't a popular time period in Historical Romance and publishers are only going for the surest of the sure thing these days, so I won't hold my breath. I did pick up a promising World War I novel at the second hand store. Maybe I'll do that next. Even has a hero pilot.

The other thing my daughter and I have figured out since then is

World-Building.

The Harry Potter Universe is vivid and emotionally engaging.

The Johnny and the Bomb Universe is just a drop-cloth, which I suppose can be a matter of taste like the plot-driven story is.

My daughter and I also think it's because we know a lot about the Battle of Britain already, whereas very few other Americans do. So, when we read a story set in it, we're easily disappointed when our favorite things are not there.

Where's the Spitfires?

Where's Hitler's Secret Weapon?

Why didn't he explain the Blackout better?

(P.S. Hitler's Secret Weapon was what a lot of civilians called the National Loaf. It was bread made from specially fortified flour meant to keep the population healthy. Tasted like crap.)

Rebecca Lynn said...

Can I post a widget of what I'm reading? Or should I send the info to you? I mean, I have a GoodReads account where I keep track of what I'm currently reading, and I could easily make a special bookshelf for Enduring Romance reviewing. That could work.

Also, I'm a big fan of writers learning to world build. I did a workshop on it last month with a local writing group and was amazed at how receptive they were. I think, outside of SF/Fantasy/Paranormal, it's not something a lot of writers think about. Or they don't have a system for it. But it's so necessary. Otherwise, you leave *big* holes in your story... like Spitfires. :-)

I'm not in WWII, but I just got an ARC for the 1920s American West, which is something I haven't seen a lot of. It happens to also be the time period I write in, so I'm very excited about it. If I ever finish my own 1920-30 book, the next one will probably be set in early WWII... if it ever gets published, Kimber, I'll let you know. :-) It would be a WWII Historical Romance. :-)

Kimber An said...

Rebecca, why don't you go ahead and try to put your widget on Enduring Romance. If it doesn't work, then send me the information and I'll do it.

"It would be a WWII Historical Romance. :-)"

Yeah! I love the 1910s and 20s too.