Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Personal Tastes

After reading my recent post on whether the publishing business is personal, I was asked to tell a little about my own personal tastes, likes, and dislikes. Primarily, though, I was asked whether or not there are subject matters I won’t represent and what I would like to get my hands on.

The last question is the easiest to answer. I would love to get my hands on some really great romantic suspense or thriller. I don’t have much on my list now and it’s the one thing I’ve always looked for, but also one of the toughest to find. I get a lot, but not much of it is really new or different, or suspenseful enough. I think good romantic suspense needs to read like a mystery. It needs to have a lot of red herrings and a complex plot. Without that it’s just not enough.

The really tough question is what don’t I like (I think you have a good idea by now of what I like) or what subject matters I don’t represent. I honestly don’t think there’s a really easy answer to that. At this moment I can’t think of anything I will reject immediately because of the subject matter. I know some agents won’t handle books with child abduction and others have a fear of small spaces and can’t read anything in which a character might be trapped in a coffin-like area. I don’t have such issues. In fact, both of those work quite well for me because they bring the fear factor up that much more. I have a very, very difficult time reading about child abuse (as I suspect most of us do), but I think if the subject matter is handled well, and I don’t actually have to witness the abuse, I won’t object to it. Rape also makes me cringe, but again, if handled well, and primarily off-stage, I won’t object. And of course victims of any of these crimes are different than witnessing the crime itself.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there isn’t a subject matter I immediately reject. I’m open to reading anything as long as it’s done tastefully, it’s done well, and it’s done within the context of the story.

Now, there are some things that I don’t like when it comes to style and types of voices I don’t like reading, but I’m not sure I can tell you through a blog what those are. I can say that typically I do not like it when the character introduces herself to the reader. “My name is . . .” Of course, again, if done in the right way this could easily work. More often than not, though, I think it’s a cop-out on the writer’s part.

I really try not to say that there are subject matters I refuse to look at because the minute it’s out of my mouth an amazing book on just that subject will cross my desk. I think that almost any subject matter can be done if done well, and that’s really the key. Often when agents say that they won’t read a certain subject it’s because they’ve seen few things on that subject that have been done really well.

But what about you? Readers have personal tastes too and I imagine there’s a subject matter or two out there that you’re reluctant to pick up.

Jessica

28 comments:

Reid said...

I only like books that start "My name is..." if the sentence is finished with the words "Hammer," and it was written a few decades ago by Mickey Spillane. Otherwise, it sounds like the start of every hitman/thief/con man/impish rogue story out there.

I had actually written something that began that way once, and I realized how bad it sounded when I read it aloud. If you read something and when it hits your ears, you feel like you're just read the opening line of a Mickey Rourke movie, you need to do some rewrites.

As for what I'll read, I'll always read a mystery or other book that sets up a clear goal and a time limit. I'm less likely to pick up something open-ended, a romance or a character piece that doesn't grab me with immediate urgency. I have to be in a certain mood to read those.

Love the blog, as always!

Linda said...

I've always found it tough to find a really good book with a woman heroine. It's easier to find more books with heroines now, but I'm seeing shortfalls in the characters. They tend to either act like alpha males, act like guys, or be a strong character until they get into trouble--and then they have to be rescued by one of the male characters. I don't mind if the cavalary shows up to help, but the heroine should at least be doing something to help herself first, and that's what's often missing.

Loquacious Me said...

I've found that, after becoming a mother, I have trouble reading things where harm comes to children (and the closer they are to my daughter's age, the worse it is). It just gives me the willies in the worst way.

(it should be noted that my word verification says "sbeltkid" which I thought was a slightly odd coincidence. Then again, it could be the cold meds talking)

Anonymous said...

I cannot read a book that deals with any sort of abuse -- those you mentioned, such as child abuse or rape, or anything with purposeful harm to animals. I have in the past, but as I get older I'd rather not deal with those subjects better left to the newspapers.

Aimless Writer said...

I like romance but only if there is more to the story. I need the romance to happen within the action and not be the action. I read more action/mysteries then anything else. Konrath is a fairly new author with maybe three books out and he scares me silly. James Patterson is great but the Quickie seemed to have a new chapter every other page. It was strangely formatted and that broke up the reading for me. I'd like to know how that got past the editors? Dean Koontz has great language and a good vampire novel is always welcome.
I hate books with too much discription. I really don't care that the curtains are blue brocade. Too much of that makes me close the book. Cut to the action!
In learning the craft I had to slow my stuff down as an agent once told me she felt I rushed through the story. Okay, so I guess some need more discription... I'll have to find that middle ground.
What genre would a book with a serial killer fit? Mystery? Crime?

Chris Redding said...

I love strong heroines. I love kind of nerdy not obviously alpha heroes.
I need action and a story with a beginning , middle and an end. And character growth.
cmr

Kristin said...

I dislike books with too little description. Books with pages of conversation and short bursts of one or two lines of action. Ick. I want to feel like I am in the scene and really there. Sadly, it seems like most books nowadays have to jump right into things, so you feel like you are in a whirlwind and can't stop to catch your breath.

Unless, of course, you are an established author. Then, it seems, you are 'allowed' to describe and slow down a bit. Let the book build.

Anonymous said...

Kristin - Your comments speak to one of my worst fears as a writer. How do I avoid the words, "I wasn't drawn into the story" from an agent reading a partial. I almost feel like somebody has to get shot in the first chapter, even when the story is a family saga.

Still, I can't help but paint in the scenery as I go. That being said, based on agents' comments, part of not being drawn in on earlier versions of my novel was that I held the reader at arm's length with respect to getting to know the main characters well enough to want to continue reading about them.

I have been working to correct that, but it sure is easier said than done.

Jessica, you may now chime in with some easy-to-implement advice on the subject of keeping an agent's interest long enough for him/her to request the full - and then of course to offer representation.

Please?

Southern Writer said...

I loathe genre romance, but adore a great love story. You can keep vampires and werewolves; they do nothing for me. I think the spunky heroine is overdone. I like riveting tales about ordinary, everyday characters who turn out to be unforgettable (Call & McCrae from Lonesome Dove; Sophie, Nathan and Stingo from Sophie's Choice; Andy Dufresne and Red Redding from Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; Emma and Aurora from Terms of Endearment.) Great friendship + great story will get me every time.

Josephine Damian said...

Knowing that rape and anything bad that happens to a kid are hard sells, it's interesting that "The Lovely Bones" sold so many copies since the rape of the young girl is depicted in graphic detail, and not "off scene."

Me? I hate any kind of animal abuse. And even when an animal in a book is really old and sick and has to be put down, I have a really hard time reading that.

Category romance, HEA's, and chick lit just don't do it for me. Neither does sci-fi unless it's written by Margaret Atwood. Vampires and fantasy? Ditto.

And thrillers with way too much emphasis on the characters' back stories and personal relationships and not enough emphasis on thrills are getting old, fast, and thriller endings I can see coming a mile away - I've seen too much of it lately.

Anonymous said...

I love historical romances that respect the realities of the periods they are set in. Think Laura Kinsale, Lynn Kerstan, or Judith Ivory.

I'm seeing very few of these now, and have bought too many books where the heroines behave in ways that would be pathological in the time when the story is set. If you want to write a book full of modern characters and dialog straight from TV, why set it in the Regency?

For me what makes a historical work is a conflict that grows from the restraints that existed in earlier periods. Virgins who jump into bed with a "hero" because they are horny just don't do it for me--and lately I'm reading far too many of them.

Horny heros don't do much for me either. I want the hero to want the heroine, but I want it to have something to do with an emotional bond that grows up between them.

Brandi. said...

I'll read anything you put into my hands, but I generally don't seek out romance, westerns, or horror.

I'm also not a big fan of violence, but as I write my first novel, I've found that the story calls for it in certain spots. It was a surreal experience to write it.

Zany Mom said...

Is there any room out there for character-driven stories of love and loss, trust, friendship, and hope, with a suspense element?

I kind of like 'when bad things happen to ordinary people' who then have to deal with/overcome with the issues left behind, and how they move on...without it being a cop/PI/legal whodunnit.

Karen Duvall said...

I have a strong aversion to overly-sentimental romances, historical romances, chicklit and erotica. I've read too many where the author seems more in love with her own words than with her characters and it really puts me off.

I love a really good romantic comedy and contemporary fantasy (ie Urban Fantasy) as long as there are no werewolves or vampires in it. I've had it up to my eyeballs with weres and vamps.

I really, really enjoy dark, edgy suspense and thrillers by authors like Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritesen, and Linda Howard.

As for my opinion on style, I'm not at all crazy about characters who don't seem to feel anything. They do a lot, maybe even think a lot, but their emotions are swept under the rug. However, I find this mostly in books written by male authors. Women authors usually have it going on when it comes to expressing emotion.

bran fan said...

Am I the only one who hates novels written in present tense? I just can't read them. The description sounds like stage directions and the whole thing seems "off."

Luckily there aren't too many of those. Past tense is the natural way to write a novel. You wanna write present tense? Write a screenplay.

Tammie said...

Hmmm, romance is fine but like others have said here as long as it isn't the main action.

I'm a big Stephen King fan and love how he takes ordinary folks and throws them into something incredible.

I like present tense (sorry bran fran), it puts me right in it. But I get your screenplay point.

Probably really bad stuff happening to kids or animals and its safe to say I'll pass.

2readornot said...

I can't read anything about child abduction/death/kidnaping -- now that I have kids of my own, those are taboo subjects for me. I also don't do well with graphic violence, especially if that violence is aimed at a woman. Other than that, I love romantic suspense. Right now I write YA...someday, I might try my hand at adult and attempt a romantic suspense...maybe.

Christa M. Miller said...

I too struggle with bad things happening to children. Whether direct or indirect (parent dying, for example) - sometimes I skip that part, other times I put the book down. I will admit to avoiding some books altogether (Laura Lippman's EVERY SECRET THING) for that reason, but I think once my kids are past the ages they are, it will be easier to read.

I did once put down Stephen King's THE DEAD ZONE because of that graphic animal-abuse scene in the beginning. I had a dog at the time, plus pregnancy hormones. Just couldn't deal with it.

I try not to avoid books on principle, with the exception of chick lit that has to do with shopping - I hate shopping! However, reviewing for MotherTalk has put some pretty good mommy lit in my hands that I wouldn't otherwise have picked up, and I'm glad. I'm not much for fantasy either, though if my boys get into it when they're older, I'll probably read with them.

I also love well-written non-fiction that can pull me out of my world, though when I tried to read the 9/11 Commission Report, I struggled. That one may take more time as well.

Anonymous said...

I like stories that have a great sense of family even if it isn't evident at the beginning and there are no blood ties between them. When push comes to shove, the real sense of "family" unfolds along with the story.

I like whodunit mysteries and romances that develop between seemingly incompatible personalities who start out despising each other and are thrown together for whatever reason. Good conflict and often both funny and sweet when the tide begins to turn.

pomo housewife said...

I'm with Bran on the present tense (yuk) and Karen re characters who don't feel anything. I could forgive Clive Cussler his data-dumps if his characters actually experienced emotion.

I recently picked up a book, 'Jacka', about an Australian war hero, which I really, really wanted to read. It was the worst prose I've ever read. there was he 'interjected/replied/stated' instead of 'said' - ten variations on a single page. A dozen other stylistic crimes. The final straw was the dialogue of a Scottish woman written in the most mind-bending attempt at 'phonetics' .... the writer has an excuse, he's probably just some amateur history buff, but how did the Allen & Unwin editor not do something to fix this woeful prose?

Helen

Anne-Marie said...

I need to be interested in the characters to be drawn to the genre. For me, it all starts there. I can read anything if I feel a pull to the people in the story- I don't have to like them, and sometimes I just love to hate them, but I need to find them interesting. If I don't care about them, I don't tend to want to finish the book.

Chumplet said...

I enjoy everything from fantasy, science fiction and thrillers to women's fiction and young adult. I've been steering away from genre romance (although I enjoyed it in my youth), and my writing has changed as a result. As a matter of fact, I'm writing a romantic suspense right now.

Must... write... faster...

curious mouse said...

Um, just what is "romantic suspense," anyway? Suspense where two people fall in love and live happily-ever-after at the end, or suspense where the romantic element is part of what is causing the suspenseful situation? Or both? Just curious.

JDuncan said...

I am curious how the publishing industry seperates out mystery, suspense, and thriller. Mystery seems to really be focused on whodunnit, at least to my way of thinking. There can be suspense of course in the effort to catch the bad guy, but the interest in reading the story, beyond interesting characters is solving the crime. Suspense on the otherhand, while certainly can have and often does, a heavy element of crime solving, the focus is on the danger to one of the main characters. Someone is going to die and the focus of the story is on saving them before they do. Thrillers seem to be suspense on a grander scale. Lots of people will die or some major shit is going to hit the fan unless the bad guy can be stopped.

So, when you say you want a suspense with lots of mystery, i.e. red herrings and the like, I'm not exactly sure what it is you are wanting. Could you give an example of a writer you think does this well?

As for what I like or don't like, it really just depends. Really, I just want interesting characters, an intriguing story, and strong writing. I tend to read across a lot of genres or at least have over the years, but I don't really have any no-no's other than stories that might espouse morally corrupt behavior as being a good thing. I don't mind the cringe factor from reprehensible behavior being depicted, but that character sure better get what's coming to them in the end. The world is full enough with people getting away with horrible things without me having to read about it.

JDuncan
www.jimnduncan.com

flightless said...

I'll read pretty much anything, but I will read it right now if it's been written by Cormac McCarthy. In the past two weeks, I've read Vonnegut, Heinlein, a nonfiction work examining the peculiar Satanic child-abuse cult hysteria in the U.S. in the 80s, another nonfiction about Biblical archaeology, a few essays from Jacques Lacan's Ecrit, and Laurell K. Hamilton's first vampire hunter book.

I think allowing yourself a dogma regarding what material you will or won't read is short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating. (Which is to say nothing about the position advanced in the article... just to the viewpoints of some of the commenters.) Flat refusals to consider experimentation or the slightest remove from formal mores serve nothing but to bolster the status quo. I think it's productive to avoid cultivating preferences that become exclusive.

Chumplet said...

Would romantic suspense be defined as something by Catherine Coulter, Laurie Breton or Joy Fielding? Then that's my game.

Michael S. Hugh said...

I love books that do basically two things - entertain me and educate me simultaneously. These requir extensive research and I can't say how many books I read today that have fault research that immediately turns me off.

Like the other comments, I really cannot deal with abuse in graphic terms. If it's doen tastefully - wonderful

I also love a great set of conflicted characters that I can identify with (not that I am conflicted or meybe I am(alugh))

Anyway that's my two cents. Hope it helps

Anonymous said...

It has to have a great voice, and humor helps a lot. Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones made me roar, while most chicklit leaves me cold. It was the vernacular, and how well she used slang and sentence fragments (and even word fragments) to point up and punch the humorous voice--that's what made those books such fun.

I read mostly mysteries. I can't dissect why some writers break every rule in the book (annoying characters with psychological problems that irritate me; citing their own brilliance but making grammatical errors) and yet craft an amazing book. Robert B. Parker is a perfect example of this.

I tried to read a Kathy Reichs book (the show "Bones" is based on her books about forensic pathology), but gave up because her metaphors were so tortured I cringed once a page.