Question: What do you look for in a book?
I read to get to know people. Depending on the book, this may be the author, this may be the characters... I look for a distinctive voice. Not just fun action sequences, new and exciting places, thrilling plot twists, striking fantasy worlds. Those are nice, but the work needs a strong underlying personality.
Especially with the emphasis on commercial viability, it's getting harder and harder to find good, honest writing. Maybe we've gotten more scared of confrontation in our personal lives, especially now that employers may view our facebook, and penalize us for our words or choices. Maybe we're just used to more and more scrutiny, and don't feel a sense of safety to develop our own view of the world. Or maybe we've lost our capacity to research and interpret, when even the news channels can't be assed to ensure the accuracy of their reporting, in the rush to present breaking news picoseconds before the competition.
My wife rants a lot about the "fantasy disconnect." She describes it as a writer getting carried away in their story and concept, and failing to look how that lifestyle or action would emerge. Kings are cruel to their people, enslaving and killing at will, long past the point when the people would have risen up, and their own counselors would have betrayed them. Clothing uses materials that would not, could not, should not exist with the lifestyles and technology available. I think this is most egregious in television and film, where you can easily see that the peasant girl is wearing a hair style that would take seven hours to create- leaving her no time to work the fields or gather food. My point, though, is that I look for books that consider their perspective, and choose one. Catharsis is great, but how will readers relate to it, and differentiate it from any of the other fictional worlds out there?
I think the age of twitter and Facebook has changed the nature of creation. Audiences connect very deeply with the authors they love, and though the reasons may vary, it all comes down to specific pieces of them that they shared in their work. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of time for reading. I'm shamefully underread for an author. But there's very few finish-a-novel-a-day readers out there. and I'd venture to say that most readers are similar to me, both in their time commitments, and their desire to see something human and relatable in their literature.
Hunter S. Thompson has long been a favorite of mine, because his writing was honest, right on down to the pieces of his own bias or social conscience that emerged. I've tried hard to emulate that in my own work, to let readers know me a little better, or at least let them know how I interpret the world around me. I don't want to see stories set in a vacuum. I don't want the author to whitewash their work to avoid pissing people off, or "unfairly" presenting things.
Poe, for all his personal demons, wrote with an unwavering optimism. This may sound like a strange reading of his work, but his symbolism is all very upbeat.The mystery was solved. Characters broke free of restrictive mortal elements or institutions. While his stories might not have a happy ending in the everybody-lived sense, while the world did its absolute damnedest to crush the man, he never relinquished that strand of hope- even if he was often forced to invent it for himself.
Garth Ennis, my foulmouthed hero, turned beautifully illustrated pages blue with the strange, obscene, and flawed. He's definitely a niche taste, if only for his fascination with the seediest elements of the world, but he infuses even the most ridiculous characters with a humanity it's impossible not to relate to. It's a unique combination of world-building and humanity that makes it feel like I know Garth, though I've never met the man.
Though those are my all-time favorites, I've stumbled onto a few Indie authors with similarly unique outlooks. Jonathan Moon is a favorite, right now. Read a few pages of his novel, Heinous, and you'll see what I mean.
I hope that the factors leading to more restrained writing are cyclical, and we soon find ourselves with an abundance of honest stories. As things get progressively more restrictive, I hope that our authors don't find their voices silenced or distorted in the search for immediate profits, a clean online record for employers, or our own limited attention to hear their stories.
About Nicolas Wilson
Nicolas Wilson is a published journalist, graphic novelist, and novelist. He lives in the rainy wastes of Portland, Oregon with his wife, two cats and a dog.
Nic has written eight novels. Whores: not intended to be a factual account of the gender war, and Dag are currently available for e-reader, and will soon be available in paperback. Nexus, The Necromancer's Gambit, Banksters, Homeless, The Singularity, and Lunacy are all due for publication in the next two years, as well as several short story collections.
Nic's work spans a variety of genres, from political thriller to science fiction and urban fantasy.
Follow Nicolas Wilson's Work:
http://nicolaswilson.com/ Nic's site, with links to purchase Nic's work from all available retailers.