Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reading Likes

I am pleased to announce that I am now ready for fall. Not emotionally ready for cooler weather and sweaters (I've been there since about June), but prepared for fall baking and eating. I have tons of blueberries in the freezer for making blueberry muffins on cool mornings. I have peaches in the freezer for making peach butter to go on biscuits or homemade bread. I have several slices of peach cobbler in the freezer, as well. And last weekend I made my fall batch of strawberry jam, so I'm ready for scones, fresh bread, crumpets or whatever else I feel like baking when it's cool enough to turn on the oven.

Which it has been this week. It's been raining for about a week now, and I'm loving it. Since I'm more creative around water and get my best ideas in the shower, this has been like being in the shower for a week. Unfortunately, I've been too busy for serious writing, but I have been thinking, and I came up with a brilliant twist (if I say so myself) this week that wouldn't have been there if I'd been trying to write. Today, I should be able to do at least a little writing, since my to-do list is a little shorter today and I don't have to go anywhere.

After listing the things that make for auto-rejects for me earlier this week, I thought I'd go for the positive side. What are the plot elements that will have me grabbing a book off the shelf?

Again, these are not meant as value judgments or statements of what is "good" or "bad." This list is certainly not inclusive -- there are many things that aren't on this list that I might also read and enjoy.

I think that right now, fantasy in a non-traditional setting will really catch my eye. I'm still fine with the conventional quasi-medieval setting, but after so many of those, it would take some really interesting angle on plot or character, and probably a recommendation or two, to stand out for me amid all the other fantasy novels. But if a fantasy book has a cover that shows a setting that looks Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco (oooh!), Midcentury Modern or contemporary (but not with black leather and tattoos), I will more than likely pick it up.

I'm a sucker for reunion stories -- where people who knew each other at a different phase in life run into each other again -- and not necessarily strictly in a romantic sense. In fact, I'm not too fond of the exes getting back together plot, because unless they were kids/teens and torn apart by other people who had control of their lives at the time, there's generally a reason they split up in the first place. But something like childhood friends encountering each other as adults is interesting to me. (Hmm, does that weird kid next door grow up to be a wizard?).

These days, I'm finding myself intrigued by things involving dance, but that's probably just because of my late-in-life rediscovery of ballet.

I like time travel stories, but not romances -- at least, not the kind where the time period difference is the romantic conflict, like where he's from the past and she's from the present (or vice versa) and one has to give up his/her time for them to be together. I guess I don't believe that ending will really work. But I do like things like To Say Nothing of the Dog where the romance was between the time travelers who were both from the same time or The Time Traveler's Wife.

I absolutely love what my agent sometimes calls "Sucked Through a Portal" stories -- where either someone from our world goes into a "fantasy" world or where someone from a "fantasy" world enters our world. Whether it's through a portal, a rabbit hole, a looking glass, a wardrobe, a book, a tornado, etc., I like that clash of cultures and the search to get home that comes with that kind of story. It gives me a chance to see the fantasy world through the eyes of someone like me who can really appreciate the wonder of it all, as opposed to a character in that world who sees it as normal. I suppose it was early indoctrination by the Oz books and the Narnia books. There don't seem to be as many of these in the adult market, at least, not that I've found (or enjoyed). Maybe it's a childish fantasy to be swept away to a magical world where you're more important and special than you are at home.

I will generally at least pick up and look at any book that has an old-fashioned sailing ship on the cover.

As a raging Anglophile, I tend to be drawn to books involving England or analogues for England (as in otherworld fantasies).

I can't resist books about old houses/manors/castles and restoring them or discovering their secrets.

I have a real fondness for books written in interesting formats -- like journals, diaries, letters, e-mails, etc. I like those Victorian-style (or mock Victorian-style) chapter headings, where either they list things in the upcoming chapter or say something like "in which our hero discovers the truth." And I like books that take place within a specific time frame -- like in one night or one day, or else that follow the entire course of a year so that you see the cycles in life.

This isn't necessarily something that shows up on a book cover or cover blurb, but I really enjoy the concept of "found" families -- where people away from their blood families, for whatever reason, create a sense of family with the people who are near them. I think there's more of this in TV series, where the crew, team or whatever group comes to act as a kind of family, but this was also something that showed up a lot in chick lit books (and had a lot to do with my fondness for the genre). Those books were about single people in big cities, which often meant that even if their relationships with their families were good, they still weren't geographically close, and so they often created a sense of family in their friends or co-workers. I guess this appeals to me because I was a military brat and was never all that close to my extended family because of sheer distance. I remember when we first moved to Germany, and the people across the landing just about adopted us, then suddenly I felt like I had two surrogate older brothers. And then there was the time we had a couple of young soldiers from my dad's unit over for Thanksgiving, and I was all "Yay! More big brothers!" (Which may be why I tend to write characters who have older brothers.)

Supposedly, these are things I should try writing about, since they're my reading passions. I did write a fantasy series (using more traditional fantasy elements instead of "urban" style fantasy) in a contemporary setting. I've tried writing a couple of those "portal" stories, but editors apparently weren't interested in the whole parallel worlds thing, especially not in the adult market. I suppose Katie had a sister-like relationship with her roommates, and Rod was like a big brother to Owen, but I didn't write those relationships thinking in terms of found families. Otherwise, I haven't delved into any of these areas. I think that one of the reasons I like some of these things is that I don't write in those areas, so they can be pure escapism for me. For instance, I don't think I could write about England very well without a lot more research, but I love reading about it. Ditto with sailing ships. I tried writing a book in journal form, but it didn't work so well in a more plot-centric book (because if it's written in a journal, the action is all a recap of action you know has already happened, and it loses immediacy). I haven't yet tried a one-day book or a one-year book. Those only lend themselves to certain kinds of plots.

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