Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shockingly Bad

While I definitely do not believe in limiting myself to positive reader responses (I don't believe I do traditional reviews here), I also am too gutless to intentionally bash another author's work, no matter how awful I find it to be. I'll talk about it, but I won't name names. Why talk about it at all? Good question. Partly to vent, of course, but partly because a writer needs to analyze really bad writing. Even though I agree with those of you who think that "bad" is a matter of perception, my own writing might improve as a result of my focusing on what I don't like in the writing of others.

Yesterday, I read about 50 pages of someone else's writing that I really didn't like.

I was interested in the book because it was a YA mystery, and back in March at YA Authors Cafe some people said they felt more mysteries were needed for YA readers. Well, first off, I found the writing very flat and bland. I hate to say that about an author's work because I don't know how to fix something like that. It's like trying to explain color to someone who only sees black and white.

But last night as I was continuing reading, I began to notice that additonally nearly every page contained a cliched situation, if not true cliches. You had your immigrant grandmother who provides obstacles to the female protagonist going into an unusual field of work. You had the parent who is missing under mysterious circumstances. You had the dad who brings his only child into his business. (Shades of Nancy Drew.) You had the taciturn sheriff. (He actually said, "What in the Sam Hill are you doing here?") You had the James Dean-type deputy who admires the protagonist's backside. You had a teenage girl who's into boys. You had someone throwing up at the sight of a dead body. (Though, I will admit, it was particularly revolting. One way I could tell was that everyone kept talking about how ripe it was.)

This book also contained cliched sexual stereotyping like I have not seen in decades. The sheriff wanted to finish up work because his wife had cinnamon rolls waiting. The main character was described by her father as being unlike other girls because she was twice as smart as most of them. Her female friend told her she was like a guy because she was "into science and all that boy stuff."

Soon after that I decided I couldn't even skim this thing and gave up.

This book is the beginning of a series being published by a major publisher. An editor presumably thought this was good writing. I can't help but wonder what manuscripts he or she turned down in order to get this one into the publishing pipeline.

How might my own writing improve as a result of my griping to you about this book? I'll tell you one thing--if I ever have a character bake cinnamon buns, she won't be keeping them waiting for when the little man comes back from work.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Negative Side Of Reading A Good Book

It always happens. Whenever I finish reading a good book, the next one I pick up is not. Good.

And that happened yesterday. I picked up a book that's been sitting in my TBR pile for months, opened it, and found...the dreaded journal format! With a very flat writing style and a twinkly grandmother. She made me long for the grandmother in Magic Lessons. Really, I should have given that book more credit for its grandmother. Man, she sure didn't twinkle.

Anyway, I only read a few pages of yesterday's book before saying, "I just can't do this."

I'm reading a book now that appears to include a dragon. After I started that one, I said to myself, "Gail, why don't you just accept that dragons are right up there with fairies as far as things you hate are concerned and ditch this book, too?" But the writing is decent in this book so I'm going to stick with it a while.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

How Does Something Like This Happen?

Usually when I read a book that I don't think is very good, I feel sad. Authors don't set out to write bad books. We all think we've created something wonderful. We're like parents so in love with our children that we can't see their faults. Someone loved that bad book. Someone sent it out into the world hoping it would have a wonderful life, find love, etc. etc.

A very few times I've read a book that was so bad that I became angry. I can't remember why that happened the earlier times, but this past week when I was reading a book that was stunningly awful, I suddenly thought, "Hey, it took more than one person to make a book this bad. An editor and a publisher had a hand in this, too." That's what got me going.

I'm sure many readers are shaking their heads and thinking, "But, Gail, editors don't edit these days." I've been hearing that for quite some time now. Though it hasn't been my experience, personally, I have to admit that some of the books I've read the last couple of years have led me to believe it may be true.

But even if editors aren't editing, they are still acquiring books. They're still reading manuscripts and deciding what to buy. And if other publishing houses are like mine, those editors are passing those manuscripts around to a few other people, possibly the publishers above them, before making an offer.

Which leads me to a question: If editors and their publishers know their house does minimal if any editing before publication, why do they buy manuscripts that require a great deal of work?

Before the book I read this week was purchased by its publisher, a few people read it in manuscript form. No one noticed that on the fourth page a first-person narrator suddenly appeared even though the preceding material appeared to have been written in the third-person, complete with the earlier characters' thoughts? No one noticed that there were quite a few characters who did very little? No one noticed that characters were always pulling conclusions out of thin air? No one noticed that two of the three storylines had antagonists who just sort of disappear? That the third storyline was a pointless cliche?

No one noticed that this pseudo-thriller had no climax?

At least some of these problems are major flaws and not just Gail being a judgmental witch. (I know you're thinking it. I also know you're not thinking "witch.") The book editors I've worked with would certainly have suggested correcting most of them.

But if it's true that there are publishers who don't have their editors do much in the way of editing, what does that mean? Do they accept absolutely anything? Does absolutely anything go?

Of course, that would be a bad situation for readers. But it would be a far, far worse situation for writers.