Monday, December 28, 2009

Divine Misdemeanors

Over my long Christmas weekend I read two books just for fun. Not because I know the authors, am planning to review them for anything, or think I might learn something. Not because they are market research, are in a genre I've ever written in, or were chosen by one of my book clubs.

I did not write. I did not blog. I did not use my cell phone or pull my laptop out of its satchel. I hung out with my family, played Nintendo, went to see a movie, and read.

Both novels I completed were the latest in long-running fantasy series. Besides that similarity, the two books differed greatly.

And I found myself thinking: at which stage in an author's career does the editor stop editing? Is it deadline pressure - the market demand for a book every six or twelve months pushing novels to the printer before they've had the appropriate amount of development? Or is it authorial pressure - I've become way too important for you to touch my beautiful prose? Or is it something else entirely?

I've always enjoyed Laurell K. Hamilton's story telling. She creates fantastic worlds and then teases me with just enough of a glimpse that I want more more more. But I frequently want more of some bits and less of others. The stories themselves are fabulous and compelling fantasies. But the writing does get in the way sometimes.

Early on in the Anita Blake series, the reader was subjected to lengthy examinations of the need to match the swoosh on one's black Nikes to one's t-shirts. And in one novel every single character used the phrase "ass deep in alligators" so frequently I thought it might make a dangerous drinking game.

But the books move quickly and the first person point of view - even though the narrator frequently frustrates me - puts me front and center in scenes that feel all too real. I just wish the characters would stop bickering so much. Some dialogue can remain internal. And quite a lot of internal dialog can be excised altogether without losing substance or voice. (Yes, I get the need for the characters to argue. But how often in real life do people really ask the police to step aside and put their investigations on hold so witnesses can have lengthy discussions about their personal lives, feelings, and relationships?)

So. The new Merry book. There's some of the writing style stuff that always takes me out of the story - the constant bickering, overly sensitive characters, and too-frequent pauses in the plot for exposition.

But there's also a compelling mystery and intriguing developments in the over-arching series plot. I finished the book feeling like I was just getting started. I wanted the rest of the story, the one that was picking up steam as the novel ended. So of course I'll buy the next book, and the author's strategy works very well.

I just wish there'd been less "telling" throughout, especially in dialogue - both internal and external. (This particular narrator tends to talk directly to the reader and over-explain her world to us.)

But additional editing could have smoothed over some of the rougher bits and reduced quite a bit of the repetition. (You've already explained that "thank you" is a deadly insult to the fey twice in this novel. I think readers get it without a third full explanation.)

In the end, I buy the books. In hardcover. And I'm only one of many who does so. So what the author's doing is working; each of her novels is an instant New York Times Bestseller. But in the interest of making the best book possible, it would be nice if there was a little more editorial oversight. (I'd like to point out here that Hamilton is FAR from the only successful author whose down-series titles seem to suffer from a lack of editorial guidance.)

For instance, did I really have to learn that the main character would like to go wash her face and brush her teeth, planned to go wash her face and brush her teeth, did go wash her face and brush her teeth, and HOW she washed her face and brushed her teeth four times in less than a page? Perhaps not. (Sadly, this is a real example.) Perhaps that could have been cut altogether and the author could have given me a little more information about the new faery sithen in Los Angeles.

Or perhaps it's a sign of a good story-teller that I - a mere reader and fan - am so engrossed in the story that I want to control its direction.

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