Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Searching

NaNo update: I more than made up for the Thursday lapse on Friday, finishing up the Thursday goal, hitting the Friday goal, and then going past that. Then Saturday was a lost day. I was out all day and then too tired to get anything done. I got my target word count plus a little extra done on Sunday, so that extra plus the Friday extra means I don't have to go too far over today's target word count to make up for doing nothing on Saturday. The story is flowing, and I'm really liking these characters. I've already accomplished my errand for the day, and it's a nice rainy day, which means good writing weather and nothing that should get in the way of my writing.

A blog by an anonymous editor had a post last week about some of the current economic challenges in the publishing industry and why a lot of returns right now is bad for bookstores, publishers and authors, and how we could all make a difference and help the cause of books by just buying one book this weekend. As a bookoholic, I'm totally on board with any scheme that requires me to buy a book as a civic duty, in spite of the stack of books I currently have checked out of the library and the towering to-be-read pile that will someday topple and kill me.

So I started browsing the online bookstores to see what might catch my fancy of something that's currently in print and that I might possibly find in one of my local stores. And it seems like the current publishing doom loops are leaving me out in the cold. Apparently, the things I like and want to read aren't what's currently in vogue. The books that caught my eye were all either out of print or not being published in the United States, while no method of searching managed to bring up something that really fit what I wanted to find (browsing by category, looking at the "people who bought this also bought" lists for books I'd liked). That could be why my book buying has been down significantly in the past year (other than the fact that they opened a nice, new library two blocks from my house). I'm reading older stuff from the library that isn't available in bookstores and not finding newer stuff to my taste. Maybe I'm a total oddball and the only one with this problem, but it is possible that the publishing problem isn't purely related to the economics of returns and how people are choosing to spend their money. There could be more people like me who would like to spend money if we could find something to spend it on.

Here's what I'd love to find:

A good gothic, something in the vein of Mary Stewart. You know, spooky village or old house, lots of secrets that put Our Heroine in danger, a man who seems good but who turns out to be evil, and a man who seems dark and dangerous but who turns out to be good. I wouldn't mind it being a little updated from the heyday of the gothic, whether in a contemporary setting or in a historical one, with the heroine being allowed to have a brain instead of just being the damsel in distress, and no cover illustrations of a girl in a white nightgown fleeing a castle while glancing over her shoulder. Some of the romance publishers have done what they call modern gothics, but they've mostly consisted of books about freaky men who live alone in remote mansions bringing about the sexual awakenings of women who somehow get stranded at said mansions. What I'm looking for is that blend of mystery, suspense, atmosphere and a touch of romance.

A lighter contemporary-set fantasy, something in the vein of the Harry Potter books, but for grownups (or, you know, like my books). Yeah, the Harry Potter books got pretty dark and serious in places and had some serious consequences but I still wouldn't consider them truly dark because they always maintained that sense of whimsy and they didn't wallow in the darkness. Harry himself always remained firmly on the side of light. Too much of contemporary-set/urban fantasy wallows in the darkness, without that sense of fun and whimsy (unless you count a wise-cracking heroine). I haven't found anything that really scratches that itch for me. The fantasy/chick lit hybrids have been a little too focused on the romance and relationships (and sex) without the world-building (too much real world), the urban fantasy is too dark, and the fantasy romance tends to focus on vampires and sex and has gone very erotic. Basically, I don't want anything that could use my Halloween costume as the cover illustration. I know this is a really narrow niche, but I can't be the only one writing it or the only one who wants it.

A fun epic or traditional-style fantasy. Not necessarily funny -- I have Terry Pratchett for that -- but more in the vein of adventure romp instead of facing the Ultimate Evil that will suck the entire world down into the pits of hell if the hero doesn't succeed. Yeah, you want the stakes to be high, but that doesn't always have to mean the end of the world. The stakes can be personal and still be high. I think that's why I enjoyed that Doris Egan series so much. The main characters were in peril and their situation was life or death, but they weren't facing Unspeakable, Ultimate Evil. They were caught (in my favorite book in the series) between Overzealous Bureaucrat and Ruthless Outlaw, so their fates were at stake, but the fate of the whole world wasn't at stake. So give me quests, give me dragons to slay, give me corrupt wizards who want to take over the kingdom (rather than the whole world), give me princes or princesses who need rescuing. I want a fun adventure story with magic involved. And preferably without lots of darkness, demons, hell-spawn, etc.

A classic chick-lit novel. The publishing doom loop really struck here. A few funny novels about single women navigating the minefield of bad bosses and worse boyfriends with the help of their friends were hits, so suddenly publishers were scooping up more and more of the same. And then when they had too much of the same old thing, they wanted something "different," but that different wasn't as much fun (to me), and they entirely walked away from any at all of the original recipe. I guess they've never thought of just branching out. Instead, it's all or nothing. So the books filling that slot now tend to be about issues and family woes, etc. Or else motherhood and parenting. Way too many of them have cover blurbs that start along the lines of "She thought she had the perfect life with her perfect husband, but then he walked out/she discovered he was cheating, and suddenly her life was different." I did find a few old books I hadn't read yet (some imports) on a used bookstore crawl, and I'm hoarding them. None of the authors I really love have anything coming out soon in the US, or if they do, they've moved on to the manic mommy/departing husband type books. They're still publishing some of the big names, but the second tier of British authors doesn't seem to be hitting these shores.

A mystery that falls somewhere in between "cozy" and "gritty." The so-called cozies -- the ones without a lot of gore or violence (a la a lot of Agatha Christie) -- have gotten pretty twee, with all sorts of wacky gimmicks, so that the amateur sleuth has to have some entirely unrelated career that lends itself to clever pun titles and things to include in the books, like recipes or knitting patterns. I'm sorry, but I find it hard to believe a cake decorator whose clients keep getting murdered would stay in business for long. On the other end, we have the mystery equivalent of urban fantasy, with hardcore grit and gore, really rough language and graphic sex. If it's a series, I'd like the personal lives of the main characters to actually progress instead of them remaining in a ridiculous holding pattern. Really, I guess I'd like more people writing like Dick Francis. Not necessarily involving horses, but with that mix of action, danger, mystery and a hint of romance (but not in the same way as the gothics). I have a stack of Dorothy Sayers books to get through, and that's right along the lines of what I want, but it doesn't really help in the "buy books to help save the publishing industry" effort.

Is anyone else having similar difficulties finding what you want to read? Of course, any recommendations of any recent/current books along these lines would be appreciated.

If you do find things you want to buy, buying books now could make a difference for bookstores, authors and publishers (and you might not find a lot if you wait much later because they're purging inventory for Christmas stuff). If you want to be strategic about your purchases, support the authors you like because if their books are selling, they may be less likely to be selected to be stripped and/or returned. Support the genre you like so it can maintain its shelf space and get new books in without returns. My guess is that the really vulnerable books right now are those that are on the front tables that aren't bestsellers because once the co-op time runs out, if the books still haven't sold, they'll be the easiest to sweep away to make room for the Christmas displays.


Carradee said...

Two words: Patricia Briggs.

Heard of her? Specifically her Mercedes Thompson books. Adult Harry Potter-esque, darker than books, but still hilarious.

Don't let the misleading covers scare you off like they nearly did me and failed only thanks to a happy accident. First person not-quite-reliable narrator. (Don't you love them?) :-)


Mercedes gives the local werewolf Alpha, Adam, the address of some rogue werewolves. He dismisses her to go home; the wolves will take care of it. Mercy protests--she did just fine getting that address from the vampires, thank you.

Adam: You got this address from vampires?

Next scene: "I am not pack!" Mercy mutters to herself on her way home.

And then there's the Scooby Doo-loving vampire.


You can check out Moon Called's excerpt on the author's site, if you're curious.

The books are surprisingly clean. Very little objectionable language, perhaps one blaspheme in one of the books. The style alone is fascinating. I didn't even notice many of the typos on my first few read-throughs.

*thinks* I recently read Jennifer Lynn Barnes' Tattoo, and that was a light, fun, quick YA fantasy read. Lovely character interaction, with an entirely unexpected plot twist.

I do have trouble finding stuff, too. That's why I started writing to begin with. :-) I've noticed I'm more apt to like modern YA fiction. :-/

Something I've done before--how I found you!--was check out other books that your agent Kristin Nelson has represented. It's worked amazingly well, so far.

Carradee said...

Some fantastic books comparable in tone and style (though not world, strictly speaking) to your Enchanted books are Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

You're more apt to find those at the library than in the bookstore, though. Still, they're well worth it. :-)

Amanda Ashby said...

My friend Amanda Grange has some gothics out - I think the last one was Stormcrow Castle. Only problem is that while some of her books are available in the US, some are only printed through Hale which is a UK library publisher so not sure if you can get her gothics over there.

Also, my new favorite author is Jonathan Stroud. His books are meant for kids but are seriously awesome and I'm sure you would love them if you haven't read them already.

Anonymous said...

Megan Whalen Turner's books are on my top 5 list. There were a few slow parts in Thief, but the ending was amazing. The sequels, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia got better and better. I suggest you don't read the inside of the book jackets. It is best if you aren't privy to info before it unfolds in the story.
PS They are in the YA section