I’ve been a voracious reader for most of my life. Name a genre, and I’ve read it. Mystery, horror, romance, adventure, fantasy, erotica, historical, science fiction… Whatever I could find was just fine.
My favorite? All of the above and more. I like variety. Story is what matters to me. Give me a good one and I’m in to the end. Shoot, depending on the circumstances, it doesn’t even have to be very good. Thirty years ago I read through a big box of Harlequin romances a coworker kept under her desk just to pass the time.
Becoming a writer has raised the bar. Story is still important. But now I pay attention to a lot of other stuff that I really never noticed before.
I was going to rant about bad writing. But bad writing is easy to spot and offensive to everyone. What slipped by me before my time in the Athens Writers Workshop is writing I’d call lazy.
Take adverbs — totally, completely, and thoroughly out of your wonderfully brilliant writing, he said adamantly and intensely. Think of these words that end in -ly as cologne. A little goes a long way. Some adverbs can just go and nobody will notice the difference. Most of the time, the need for an adverb means the writer has selected the wrong verb. Instead of walked slowly, he dragged his feet. Coming up with the right verb takes time.
But I digress…
Sometime before I started writing, I quit reading. In retrospect, the gradual deterioration of my vision was more to blame than a loss of interest. But the end result was the same. Except for the audiobooks I listen to on road trips or when I run, I haven’t read much outside of submissions from my writers group for years.
After a very early draft of the first few chapters of what was to become Until Thanksgiving, Adrienne Wilder recommended several M-M romance writers for me to read. The genre was new to me, and that so many of its readers and writers were straight women surprised me. I ain’t gonna lie. For a while I wrote like I had something to prove. But it was just an ugly phase. I’ve moved on. The point being I really haven’t read much of the genre I’m supposed to be in.
The Athens Writers Workshop just critiqued the last 5000 words of After Christmas Eve. Every other Saturday night for two years, I’ve sat around the table for two or three hours and longer with my writer friends discussing every possible aspect of each submission. As with my new M-M romance writer friends, the members of my group have been generous with their time and talent.
I’m taking a break from the group for a couple of months. My new work in progress has hit a bump in the road. I need time I haven’t had to think about how to get from where I am to where I want to go. I’d like to finish it before I go back, but can’t see myself staying away for more than three months–if that. They complete me…
In the last six months, I’ve come to know a number of M-M romance novelists well enough to call them my friends. You’ve met them as they’ve popped in for guest appearances here. Competitive? Not in the least! They’ve taken me under their collective wing and have helped me in countless ways. As Philip Potter would say, I’m forever in their debt.
Although I denounced any faith affiliation long ago, thanks to my Catholic upbringing, guilty feelings about my failure to read novels written by my new writer friends drove me to act. In the last few months I’ve read and enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Knot by Tali Spencer, The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet, Priceless by M.A. Church, and am well into Naked Tails by Eden Winters. I’ve got Zahra Owens, Michael Murphy, Chris T. Kat, Shira Anthony, Rodney Ross, J.P. Barnaby, Jana Denardo, Julie Lynne Hayes, H.B. Pattskyn, and more from all of the above still to read.
Back when I started writing my memoir, I told myself I wasn’t reading so as not to be influenced by someone else’s writing. A memoir and two novels later, I’ve found my voice. Now I’m soaking up those influences. I see these writers employ techniques and devices that will help me to improve my writing. The more I read, the more ideas I get for different ways of moving my own stories forward.
Writers read to become better writers. I hope I don’t forget that again.