August 3rd, 2009

Why I stopped reading

I’m a freelance book reviewer for the Oregonian, specializing in mysteries and young adult books. A PR person asked if they could send me an ARC for a stand-alone thriller from a well-known author coming out this fall.

I gave it up after 50 pages. I also learned something when I thought about why I gave it up.

1. Readers are looking for clues. They see clues in everything you write. Even stuff that you forget about. So when the girl in the first chapter is locked out of the trailer because the slatternly mom and the latest stepdad are fighting, and the author makes it a little worse for the girl by saying that she has to go to the bathroom, the reader will file it away. And feel worse and worse for the girl, mentally crossing legs, as the time goes by. And when the girl finally gets in the trailer, the reader will wonder why she never goes to the bathroom.

2. If you set stuff in the past, readers might actually remember how things worked in the year you write about. Part of this book was set forty years ago. In this case the author is old enough to remember 1968, too, but for dramatic effect perhaps, there are a couple of things that jarred me. One is an injured kid thinks he will “bleed out” – a concept he supposedly has learned from TV. 1968 was kind of the Adam 12 era. People didn’t do anything as gritty as bleeding out on TV for years and years. In another section, a lawyer tells an 11 year old accused mass murderer “I’m good enough to save you from the death penalty.” In 1968, I don’t think they would seriously have tried to give an 11 year old the death penalty. The youngest juvenile who was given the death penalty that I could find was a 14 year old black kid who was put to death in 1944 after being accused of murdering two white girls in South Carolina. I think it would be very hard to try an 11 year old as an adult, now or in 1968.

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A bookstore asks that a reading be “curse-free”

When Jennifer Weiner was on tour, she received what she called "a sternly worded email" from a book store in Framingham, Massachusetts requesting her upcoming reading there be curse-free.

That seems kind of weird. People who like her books know they have swear words in them. And that they are funny and well-written and sell very, very well.

Now I will admit I have caused some discomfort on authors parts by showing up with Teen, back when Teen was Kid, to some readings where the authors wrote books full of blood, swear words, or both. I always told them (if I had the opportunity) not to skip the words on Kid’s account. Sometimes they were worried about the violent content, but Kid was usually not paying that much attention anyway. One author, I remember, smoothly substituted a similar-sounding word for a frequent curse.

But for an audience of adults, the request seems over the top.

You can read readers’ and Weiner’s amusing response here.

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Remembering five hours too late

For months, I've been planning to drive five hours south and visit my mom while Teen was at a rafting camp. It was going to be my opportunity to write for hours and hours each day.

Today was the day. I brought everything I needed. And some things I didn't. Like a jacket. It was 98 here today.

When I pulled up in my mom's driveway, I realized I had forgotten my laptop.

It was like arriving at a long-awaited vacation in Europe and realizing you forgot your wallet.


my brother had a spare laptop.

it was even a Mac.

and I backed up my work on Friday by sending myself an email.

So I downloaded Scrivener and got to work.

And tried not to notice that this laptop is basically a furnace.

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