A Midsommer’s Post

With my Neil Gaiman binge coming to a close, I’ve been trying to find another author to leach, er, latch on to. Because you can’t write if you don’t read. I don’t care what anyone says, reading is to writing what eating is to pooping. Plain and simple, it is impossible to do one without the other.

We learn to read the alphabet. We learn to read Dick and Jane and the Bernstein Bears. We learn to read before we can write. We see pictures before we learn how to draw. But that’s not what this post is about, so moving on.

Midsommer Murders has become something of a staple recently. It’s refreshing in that it follows the life of a quiet county detective whose health, family life, and personal enjoyment are not ultimately destroyed by the job. He has a loving wife who extends her care to the partners and to the other professionals within Barnaby’s life. His daughter is a successful actress who eventually marries another performance artist of a sort. It’s a a well balanced series and the stories are never contrived. Characters actions always have a consequence on the over all story.

Seeing the author of the Inspector Barnaby books in the credits, naturally I decided to check out one of her books. Because as much as I enjoy reading, my goal is also academic as I try to understand the author’s approach to their work and attempt to incorporate that approach into my own writing.

I picked one of the books at random and… I got about three pages into it before I quit.

There was already a ton of characters in the beginning of the book. Okay, that’s fine. But the worst part of that was that the perspectives kept changing. This story was written in omniscient third person, something that really rattles me having mostly been a reader of first person, or limited third person narratives.

I tried picking up the book again, giving it a second chance, but I couldn’t even remember where I left off the story was so confusing at that point.

You know what? That’s okay.

Caroline Graham obviously did something right to have a successful series of books which later became a successful television series. She is not required under any circumstances to impress me. Her readers are not required to justify themselves to me. This is a matter of personal taste.

It’s the same personal taste that turned me off to Patricia Cornwell’s literary style. It distracted me to the point where I could not read past a few pages of the first chapter. But Patricia Cornwell is a celebrated author with a proven track record.

All of this ties in with my previous post entitled, “Stop Asking For Permission”, wherein I expressed my frustration over people who seem to only want other people’s approval before writing their stories. This frustration stems from a number of instances where someone was “providing feedback” to my own work, or responding to a question I had asked in the spirit of research, by presuming to act is if their opinion was the final word.

One reader flat out told me that The Old Man’s Birthday was not science fiction. It wasn’t science fiction, in his opinion, because the story could have taken place anywhere. Therefore it was clearly not science fiction and I had no right to call it such. This is not the only story I have written where a reader has felt the need to criticize (sorry, “provide feedback”) my need to place a story in a science fiction-type setting when they felt it wasn’t necessary to do so.

Imagine if someone had told Graham, “You really shouldn’t provide so many different perspectives in that first few pages. It isn’t necessary to tell us the back story of any of the characters in this scene so soon. You’re going to confuse your readers if you do it that way.” It should be easy to imagine, because I’m certain someone has given her that very comment, or something like it. It’s true that it did confuse and put me off, but that’s fine because my opinion obviously didn’t stop her from finding her audience.

There were probably quite a few people who didn’t like the epistolary format of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Others might not have liked the way Doyle broke the fourth wall by having Dr. Watson and other characters within the Sherlock Holmes stories make references to the “published accounts” of the titular detective. Look where they are now.

Okay, yes, right now they’re dead but you know what I mean.

I’m experimenting with a lot of different techniques and story telling styles. Readers will be turned off by some, hopefully not so much by others. I just wish that when people gave feedback, they would be equally as mindful of the difference between their personal taste and a hard and fast rule. It’s true, I shouldn’t presume to do something just because it worked for a more successful author. But by that same logic, I shouldn’t flat out refuse to follow that path either.

Neil Gaiman did somethings that were not what other authors would do. Bradbury, Cornwell, Moffatt, and a score of other writers and authors have all done things that were different from what others had done. Not everyone liked them, but that is the beauty of being such a vast and diverse species. Not everyone is required to like you, or like what you do.

Midsommer Murders is something different. So are the Inspector Barnaby novels. If all stories were written to the specifications of everyone on the planet, the author would either be incredibly gifted, or incredibly boring.

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