At Left Coast Crime in Seattle two weeks ago, a woman asked me what I liked to read. Her question, and three days of hanging out with readers, only some of whom are also writers, prompted a realization. Or maybe it’s a confession:
I am not a normal reader.
And I’m kind of sorry about that.
Writers are readers, too, of course, but some conferences – and LCC Seattle was one of them – are programmed with a focus on the readers who aren’t writers. Writers adore these readers. Readers admire writers, ask about their days, their process, when the next novel or story is being published. Even where they get their ideas, a question that the much-published often scorn but that I’m still new enough to enjoy answering.
Readers who go to cons aren’t just potential buyers. They’re the heart of the writing world, the people we do this for. The people we want to satisfy most, after ourselves. They’re the people we once were.
They can sit for hours in front of the fire with a good book, and sometimes even a bad one, only getting up for more tea or a visit to the bathroom. I miss that. Me, I’m reading with a notebook nearby where I jot down an image that works or doesn’t, note an awkward sentence, question the use of point of view. I read wondering if some detail is going to play out later in the story the way I think it is, or if it’s a red herring. Or worse, a bit of sloppy writing that diverts me for no good reason. I’m reading with one eye on the magician’s hands and the other on the curtain, asking How did she do that?
Readers don’t feel compelled to finish a book just to see if the writer can pull it off.
Readers keep reading a series they enjoy without feeling like they can’t spend the time on a book they’re not likely to learn new tricks from, or that they should be reading the new hot thing.
Readers choose a book because it looks good, not because they want to know why it made the NY Times Bestseller list despite lousy reviews, or why it got great reviews but tanked.
Last weekend, Judy Clemens wrote here about discovering mysteries. And what she described started with her love of the genre, how she couldn’t wait to find out what Lord Peter said to Harriet Vane next, how she scoured bookstores in unfamiliar towns for new discoveries. Only later did she realize she could try writing the kinds of books she loved to read.
I am convinced that when I started writing fiction, my work took the shape of a mystery because that’s what I’d been reading and listening to. I’d been working several days a week in a city 45 miles from home, a city whose library held an excellent audio collection. Many of those tapes – and they were tapes, back then – were mysteries: Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Tony Hillerman, Ellis Peters, Elizabeth Peters. What I loved to read became what I needed to write.
Writers, remember that connection that first brought you to the page. Remember the joy. Your readers want that experience, too; honor their passion. Take time to relive that experience yourself. Pick up a book you last read ten years ago – or one you’ve been saving for a snowy day – and read it again for sheer fun. Leave your review notebook by your desk, and keep your bottom in your reading chair. Stay up too late reading just because it’s fun.
The more you do that, the more that joy will dust your own manuscripts.
In the spirit of remembering the books that brought us here, let me paraphrase Jane Eyre: Reader, I thank you.
Leslie Budewitz is a published short story writer with novels in progress. She provides legal research for writers through Law & Fiction, www.lawandfiction.com.