I judge mercilessly. I fling aside into the DNF pile with wild abandon. I curl my lip at typos and sneer at poor word-smithing. I flip the bird (and sometimes the book) at puerile plotting.
However, over the course of my life, I have encountered books that have rocked my world in various ways. Some books entertained me. Some books changed my fundamental views of life and love. Others pushed my development as a writer. Still more became the type of books I want to write when I grow up.
So, without further ado, I present…the exquisite collection of Fiction Cait Would Save in a Fire.
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
These were the books I read as a tween and teenager. Over. And over. And over again. Aside from Dandelion Wine, they all featured strong heroines on amazing adventures. These heroines faced their greatest fears, overcame mistakes, and saved the day. I read Dandelion Wine in my freshman year of high school, and one story in particular about the old lady and the young man blew me away with the magnitude of life, love, and death.
COLLEGE, FRANCE, AND THE BEAUTIFUL PAIN OF WIT
I was a French major in college and studied abroad in Paris. I made my pilgrimage to Victor Hugo’s house. I sat in cafes. I thought deep, dark thoughts about life. I then learned to both embrace the strange, bittersweet finality of things and shrug my shoulders at it, because it’s only life after all.
A cautious step beyond classics and comfort zones
Nobody should be surprised to see Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, and Dracula on my list. Halton Cray is one of the most delightful riffs on Jane Eyre that I have ever read. But then, I realized I needed to start reading beyond my comfort zone, and I discovered books like Apathy and A Confederacy of Dunces that made me laugh, and books like The Shipping News and The Red Tent that made me cry.
Going Way, WAY out of my comfort Zone
None of these books have anything in common…except for the fact that they are amazing. Each one of them is exquisitely written, completely immersive, book-hangover-worthy, and taught me something absolutely vital about the craft of writing.
THE UNICORN: SERIES I WILL ACTUALLY READ
I will not read series. In general, I find it difficult to maintain interest in the characters over the long term. However, these writers managed to convince me that their characters had more to give, more to grow, and more to say. That is the highest tribute I can give a writer’s craft. Well, that, and buying the next book in the series.
I SHOWED YOU MINE…
Now, show me yours!
Leave a comment with your “Shelf of Fiction You Would Save in a Fire”!
I am insatiably curious. This has led to a slight issue (some might say addiction) with buying books.
For an author, my actual collection of fiction is quite small. That’s probably because I’m such a picky bitch about the caliber of storytelling and writing I will read.
But, non-fiction? OMG, it’s a real problem. Eric and I recently went to IKEA because I had to buy a whole new bookshelf system. I got the Billy bookshelves…and the extra shelf extension. I literally have books floor-to-ceiling now.
Yet, I regret nothing. NOTHING.
but…but…isn’t all that non-fiction boring?
Hardly! Most of the time, I end up reading things and am like, ‘You seriously can’t make that shit up.’ Reality is way, way weirder than fiction. Dragons included.
I will absolutely admit that non-fiction has experienced a renaissance since the 90’s, shaking off the dust of academic ponderous pomposity and embracing engaging narratives, clever topics, and intelligent and witty writing.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that through non-fiction, we learn more about the world and people around us. What’s more fascinating than that? The more I read, no matter what the subject, the more I see intriguing connections that help me weave more complex, compelling stories.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing historical, contemporary, paranormal, romance, or even epic fantasy. Reading non-fiction will make you a better writer.
Non-Fiction and Research
It’s hard to think of a single really good work of fiction that hasn’t relied on some pretty solid non-fiction research.
I can think of a lot of really, really bad fiction that clearly shows signs of the author not giving a fuck about facts. I remember reading an erotica story where the main female character is an interior designer. She lands a multi-million dollar project designing a hotel…and pitches in with the painting crew she hired to help paint the owner’s suite to get it done on time.
REALLY? REALLY???? Seriously?
It would have taken exactly six minutes to go to Wikipedia, look up ‘interior designer,’ and scrolled down to the bottom where it lists exactly the type of work that interior designers do, as opposed to…interior decorators. As opposed to people pretending to be interior designers who violate all kinds of union, OSHA, and other insurance and contract restrictions to ‘pitch in’ and help paint walls.
Sure, we could say that it’s ‘just’ erotica, and we’re supposed to be suspending disbelief anyway. Let’s just put aside any kind of professional pride, attention to detail, and desire to produce quality books. From a purely technical perspective, taking care to get a little detail like that right (even if it means reading a boring Wikipedia article) actually encourages the suspension of belief. Accuracy grounds a story in reality in a way that is absolutely tantalizing because it is logical and could happen, and therefore enhances the fantasy.
Okay, I may have gone off the rails a bit here, but my main point stands. Good fiction needs research, and research gets easier the more we accustom ourselves to reading non-fiction.
It’s almost as bad as wearing a pocket protector
Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. It’s not just books I have a problem with.
I am an insatiable magazine article ripper-outer. Daphne Lamb, Kim Alexander, and Genevieve Raas from The Fabulous Fictionistas can attest to this, having seen me tear through show dailies, catalogs, and other periodicals at Book Expo America.
My husband, bless him, knows me so very, very well. For Christmas one year, he got me a subscription to ‘Astronomy.’ I have my own subscriptions to ‘Discover’ and ‘Archaeology.’
I am the chick on the beach, drinking things with umbrellas in them and completely engrossed in an article about black holes. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a scientist and even less of a mathematician. God invented calculators for a reason. ‘Discover’ is written for people like me. Obscure scientific ideas are broken down simply. The writing is clear and entertaining. And, over time, the more I read, the more I learn, and the more familiar scientific concepts become.
I know what you are thinking. Don’t I write historical romance and paranormal YA? What am I doing reading about amoebas and pretending it makes a difference to my writing?
Well, just for the record, I drew on some of the articles I had read about quantum physics and astronomy for ‘Downcast,’ and the sequel has quite a bit of science behind the scenes. In fact, the whole premise of ‘Thunderstruck’ came from an article in ‘Discover.’
It’s more than that, though.
I’ve come across articles about how neurochemistry can explain why we get such a rush from reconnecting with a first love. I’ve read about pioneering immunology research in the 1880’s that used bacteria and provided a critical breakthrough with major writer’s block. I get clues I didn’t know I was looking for, plot bunnies, and just the sheer pleasure of exercising my brain.
Science and history are not everyone’s cup of tea…or Petri dish. I get it. But, we should all be constantly learning and expanding our horizons in both literature and non-fiction. The more we learn and know, the more we naturally anchor our story to facts, pay attention to world-building, and create connections between characters and concepts that make our stories deeper, richer, and most importantly…more worth reading.
It’s the start of a new blog – sort of. File it under “The Sort of Thing That Only Happens to Cait.” It began with going to my blog and seeing that all my images had disappeared…and ended up learning more about Bollywood porn spammers than I ever wanted to.
Long story short (because I’d have to include all the language I used when learning how to ftp into my site, clean virus and spam files, rebuild the site, etc., and that would mean putting an Adult Content Warning label on this blog), it ended up being a bit of a mixed blessing.
I lost some of my funny manuscript marginalia posts, but I gained clarity about what I actually want to blog about. And, what I want to blog about goes against the advice of almost all the author social media experts: writing.
Yup. I want to blog about writing and editing. (I know, you’re wondering when I get to the canceling Kindle Unlimited part, but it’s coming.) Apparently, I have a lot to say about it because my friends and family all cautiously edge away when anyone asks me my opinions about writing and editing.
Okay, now we’re getting to the Kindle Unlimited thing
I canceled it.
Oh, you got that already.
WHY did I cancel a service that for $9.99/month would let me read ALL the books I wanted to…so long as they were participating in the Kindle Unlimited program?
Because I couldn’t stand it any longer. The typos, the sloppy craft, the puerile plotting, the two-dimensional characters, and the utterly, utterly predictable endings all drove me into a wild rage. Admittedly, I’m a picky b*tch when it comes to reading fiction, but frankly, out of the hundreds, if not thousands of KU books I read or tried, only a handful barely come up to the quality standards that most traditionally-published books meet.
Wait! Wait, before you flame me for being one of those dream-crushing, anti-self-publishing haters, just hear me out a little more?
I have been self-published. I have worked with small publishers. I have worked with hybrid publishers. I’m pretty sure there are probably still typos in my books, and while what I have published is solid, I suffer from the writer’s dilemma of looking back at cringing at writing from two or three years ago. I feel your pain. I hear your cries of “Why, KDP, why won’t you update this file?” I know what it’s like to dwell in the purgatory of the 200,000 rankings and get that whopping $0.26 royalty payout.
But, here’s the thing. I have also seen the rise of competitive review trolling (seriously, it’s like an Olympic sport now), buying reviews, gift-ranking manipulation scandals, and Amazon’s own delightful habit of deleting reviews from people we care connected to on social media (because ‘Build relationships,’ they said…’It’ll be fun,’ they said…). I have seen the rise of ‘authorpreneurs’ where we writers are desperately hawking our other talents in editing, proofreading, ghost-writing, cover design, and layout to other authors in hopes of paying the bills for our own publishing costs, thereby creating a damnable feeder loop of dependency in the space-time continuum.
What really drove me over the edge, however, is waking up one morning and finally seeing how writing and publishing are truly in peril from Amazon KDP.
The Sword of KENP
With Kindle Unlimited, we authors are paid by the page. More pages. More money.
Except, remember that whole PageFlip thing from last year? Yeah. How many people woke up to find NO pages read? Fun times. Oh, and let’s not forget the slowly dwindling payout-per-page rate. $0.0049 per page. On a 200-page book (with pages determined by Kindle), that is a whopping $0.98 payout.
Considering that we pay $150 on average just for a decent cover, not to mention the $300-500 for editing and proofreading, and up to another $100 for layout…
Better start cranking out those pages, because now, we’re on a hamster wheel of endlessly trying to play catch-up with our expenses. Let’s not even talk about the cost of websites, advertising, swag, etc.
When we are paid according to KENP (stands for something about number of pages read whatever), we are trapped. Yes, there are authors out there making decent money from self-publishing. But how many aren’t? How many are getting lured into the authorpreneurship-hamster-wheel loop of the space-time continuum?
What is the price of all of this…because there is always a price.
The price is quality.
The price is being able to make a livable wage.
The price is having no gatekeepers to push us to improve our writing and tell us when a story is not ready for prime time.
That is why I canceled my Kindle Unlimited account. If I want to see things change in the publishing industry, I have to put my money where my mouth is.
If I want to read a book, I will buy it.
But, in return for my money (and more importantly, my TIME), that book had better be damn good. I don’t want typos. I don’t want sloppy writing. I don’t want predictable plots and boring characters. I don’t want a glaring lack of research, logic, and pacing.
If we want to keep claiming that self-publishing is where it’s at, then we need to up our game. I just came back from Book Expo America, and I have to tell you, the saddest area of the show floor was where the self-published authors all had their little tables. For all the noise about the Big 5 failing, they seemed pretty unconcerned as they watched the lines for their ARCs and autograph sessions wind three times around the booth.
Don’t get me wrong. The rise of KDP did some great things for publishing, waking up the establishment and giving access to voices that couldn’t find purchase in the mainstream. However, just like the housing boom and every other boom we’ve ever seen, there is going to be a bust.
I guarantee it.
The number of authors and books is growing at a rate that is outstripping KU subscribers. The pressure on Amazon’s profit margin for KU is increasing. Why do you think they started PageFlip? Why do you think they have been dipping their toe into various submission/gate-keeping programs?
Winter is coming. And, by winter, I mean quality control.
Which…brings us full circle back to the fact that I am going to be writing about writing and editing and publishing from now on. Okay, maybe I’ll throw in some cat marginalia from time-to-time, but for the most part, I’m here to man the barricades and lead the revolution.
So, buckle up. It’s a new day, and a new era of demanding better from ourselves in order to demand more from the publishing industry.