Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reading different genres - Kathleen O'Brien

I've been reading some strange books recently.

Blood, guts, werewolves, zombies, mutant monster spiders...not my usual choices by a long shot!

I'm definitely a romance, historical, women's fiction kind of lady. Ordinarily, the furthest I wander outside my comfort zone is a nice murder mystery, and even there I prefer books written by women and cozies. Character-driven stuff with a decided absence of gore.

Truth is, I'm…well, I’ve got a very vivid imagination, and after reading a scary book I sometimes have to ask His Highness to escort me from one room to another so that the boogeymen don't get me. He is not amused.

So why am I suddenly spending my free time reading Stephen King, Clive Barker, Jonathan Maberry and other shock masters? Only one possible reason. Because I am enrolled in an MFA program that requires me to. We're studying all forms of genre fiction, and this term it's horror for me.

Actually, the class is kind of fun. I'm meeting a lot of crazy, icky creatures. I marvel at the writers' inventive genius. But the most important thing I'm learning is that, at heart, all good books have one thing in common: characters we can love.

Think about it. There's a big, disgusting monster rampaging across the lunar landscape, eating every pebble and rock in its path. He's unique, fascinating, dangerous and vivid.

Okay.... But so what? What's scary about that? No matter how hideous his little mud-colored eyes are, or how sharp his boulder-crunching teeth, we're safe on Earth in our La-Z-Boys, eating cashew Poppycock and watching “Castle.” (Or whatever your version of the perfect Monday night is.) Old Mud Eye is up there, a zillion miles away, bothering only rocks.

But add this to the equation: a stolen space capsule carrying three brave but terrified teens is about to land just a mile from Old Mud Eye's moon cave. The kids have gone rogue for this trip, because moon dust has been found to have cancer-curing properties, and their adored grandmother, who brought them up, is dying.

Now the monster has a chance to scare us. And if the author can make us care about those teenagers, to know their fears, their dreams, what makes them smile, cry or yawn, then the drooling approach of Old Mud Eye can bring us to the edge of our seats.

I'd love to hear from you guys. Do you read other genres, too? Which ones do you love? I'm always looking for a great book recommendation! Can reading more widely can teach us anything about writing romance? Are good characters at the heart of the best novels, no matter what?

The first three people to offer a suggestion will win a copy of any one of my books you like. Just make sure you give me an email address so that I can get in touch.

Meanwhile, happy reading! And remember, when you're sending those suggestions, nothing that stirs up the boogeymen!



Tura Lura said...

I read pretty much every genre of fiction, as well as some nonfiction.

I love romance - in any form, be it historical, paranormal, etc. Mystery, Fantasy and Science Fiction are favorites as well. I've also been reading a lot of young adult novels recently.

Reading widely definitely help with writing - in any genre. Descriptions, characterizations, and plot carry over across all genres. ^_^

If you haven't read SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, I highly recommend it. It made me cry. And the ending made me want to do a victory dance.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is another wonderful book. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel (BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS), which released yesterday. ^_^

Tura Lura said...

Forgot to add my email address. (D'oh!)

luraj2612 AT gmail DOT com

Laney4 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie said...

I primarily read romance contemps and historicals. I do also read intrigues/ suspense. I've slowly embraced paranormals. The whole YA line. My daughter teaches 7th & 8th grade English so she's exposed me to Suzanne Collins, Rich Riordan and Stephanie Myers. Also the following books: The Book Thief, The Shack, Snow Falling on Cedars and My Eyes Were Watching God.

I do agree that great characters make the book. There has to be a storyline where you care about the characters and what happens to them.

I'd recommend The Hunger Games series and Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief series.

I also read Tim Dorsey's and Dave Barry's satirical books for a change of pace.

I recommend Pamela Clare's books! contemps and historicals!!

Laney4 said...

I guess I'm not in the running for a book, as I can't offer you any suggestions at all. I have not bought any of these books! I have read mostly contemporary romances, only JUST expanding into historicals this year.

Good luck in your quest. I'll stay in my La-Z-Boy chair and have sweet dreams at night, LOL!

seytype at hotmail dot com

Laurie said...


johnslake at usa dot com

Laney4 said...

MY suggeestion would be to remain in YOUR La-Z-Boy chair too!
After reading Laurie's, I realized that I have read other genres too, like suspense/mysteries. I just think of them all as easy reading, as I can still go to sleep easily at night. With the contemporaries, though, I can have sweet dreams.
seytype at hotmail dot com

Alison said...

I don't have as much time as I used to read, and I really miss it! I tend therefore to stick to genres I know I'll like since there's no point in wasting my limited time on something I don't even fancy! So it's mostly historicals, the odd chick lit - I used to read more cosy crime, but it got a bit samey for me. One I would recommend though is 'The Thin Woman' by Dorothy Something - very funny, and inspiring, and a good twist at the end.
alisonjlindsay att gmail do com

runner10 said...

Lisa Scottoline's Think Twice was one of the best books I've read in a long time. It made me want to read her backlist.
It is fun to find a new author.

Terry Odell said...

Right now I'm reading "Crossfire" by Dick and Felix Francis. I love the horse theme in all his books, but his plots are so varied, I'm always learning new things -- photography, computers, banking, you name it.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Tura Lura (I love your name! Is it from the old Irish song?) I was so excited to see you mention SPEAK. I read it a year or so ago and was absolutely blown away by it. What a fantastic story! If you liked BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, too, I'll definitely put that on my list. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your good reads! I'll send you a private email about the contest asap!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Laurie, I've heard so many people rave about Hunger Games that I know I'm going to have to break down and buy the series! It does look intriguing. The problem is, though, that so many books do! There's just not enough time, is there?

But your vote has definitely tipped the balance, so I now know where my next Border's GC is going to go! Thanks so much for coming by and sharing. I'll email you privately about the contest soon!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Laney, lol about staying safely in the La-Z-Boy and protecting our dreams. Sometimes that's the best bet. (And hey, there's always "Castle" or "Dancing with the Stars" to pass the time!

Your suggestion definitely works for me! I'll be emailing you privately about the contest soon. Meanwhile, thanks for coming by!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Allison, boy, can I sympathize about the lack of time! I guess we're all running as fast as we can, and the time to sit down and relax is getting rarer and rarer! But The Thin Woman sounds fun, and I'll pop over to Amazon asap and check it out!

Thanks so much for coming by. Because Laney slipped in there with her words of wisdom about avoiding the heebie-jeebies, I'm going to expand the winners to four! I'll email you about the contest very soon!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Runner, you sure make Think Twice sound wonderful. And yes, yes. Isn't finding a new author (particularly one with a big backlist)exciting? I can't wait to check Scottoline out!

Thanks so much for coming by and alerting me to this gem. I'm sorry you weren't among the first entries, but I almost always include contests with my blogs, so I hope you'll stop by next time, too!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Terry, great to see you here! I'm a big Dick Francis fan myself! But I didn't know about "Crossfire," so it's cool to learn! My favorites of the oldies are "Banker" and "Bolt." Have you read those?

Dick Francis is, I think, one of the best examples of the point I was trying to make. I wouldn't have thought I'd enjoy a book about horse racing, but because he creates such vivid, wonderful characters, I love the books anyway!

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your thought-provoking post, Kathleen.

I'm a big mythology and folklore wonk, so I tend to read a lot in those departments. I could analyze any narratives I read (including yours) from a mythic/archetypal perspective. But don't worry, I won't. Unless, of course, the author I'm analyzing is also a big mythology and folklore wonk.

I also dig history (I'm currently reading a book on the Byzantine Empire), science, true crime, and strange-but-true stories. My favorite fiction genres are science fiction, fantasy, romance, and thrillers.

I don't think romances MUST be character-driven. Probably virtually all of them are. But---just my opinion---too often romance writers go about it the wrong way.

They spend lots of time, effort, and wordage creating characters and their interactions, but they're just the usual types. The cynical, arrogant, ruthless hero. The smart-mouthed, feisty virgin/prude he's forced to marry, or otherwise relate to intimately. The miserable match that, surprise surprise, turns out to be gloriously happy in the last chapter. Gimme a break!

Yes, I know how popular this kind of romance is. But what about readers (like me) who'd prefer something different? Something, dare I say it, more realistic?

Okay, enough of me on my soapbox. Suffice it to say that I dig romances in which the plot matters at least as much as the characters.

Maybe that's why I'm on a romantic suspense kick lately. In this subgenre, if the story lacks a good strong plot, what's the point?

Keep up the good work!

Terry Odell said...

Kathleen, I've read ALL of Francis' books and they're auto-buys. The first I read was "Reflex" which had a photography theme, and I was so stoked that I knew what clues he was dropping because hubster and I were both into photography then, and had our own darkroom.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Mary Anne, I definitely understand your comments about the problems the romance plot can pose. It is difficult to find the right balance of fantasy and realism to please everyone, and it's *definitely* difficult to find a new way to tell that same grand story--of falling love and overcoming obstacles. Every romance writer I know struggles with finding ways to make the story fresh without creating situations or characters that are either off-putting or fatally unrealistic.

Lots of times we fail, and that's disappointing for us and frustrating as heck for the reader.

I agree that romantic suspense has that little something extra that can really make a plot rock along. I love them myself! Who is your favorite RS writer? I've been enjoying Tana French lately (though she's technically just mystery, there's always a nice romance subplot). Have you tried her yet?

Thanks so much for stopping by. You always have such thoughtful comments, and keep me thinking...a VERY good thing! :)

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Terry, how cool that you and your husband could enjoy "Reflex" even more because of your own hobby. I've never had that specific overlap with Francis, but I love his books anyhow. I imagine he must be such a warm, open-spirited man, or else he couldn't create such endearing characters!

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your response to my comments, Kathleen. You keep all of us thinking!

I guess it's up to each reader, writer, and editor as to what makes an endearing fantasy. And of course, everyone's take on reality is different---the Rashomon Effect.

I don't have any favorite romantic suspense authors, just favorite themes. Same goes for other fields. I can be SO annoying that way!

But if I run into a title I think you might enjoy, I'll let you know. I must check out Tana French next time I'm at the library or book store.

I'm looking forward to more of your posts.

Linda Style said...

Hi Kathleen. Great post! I'm late getting here, but wanted to weigh in anyway. :-) I'm all over the place when it comes to reading and love non-fiction as well as fiction. But mostly, I read thrillers and suspense & RS. No horror. I'm not inclined to read much Sci-fi either, but a well written book in any genre can suck me in.

Like you, great characterization is a requirement for my reading pleasure. I love complex plots, but character always comes first for me.

Books....I usually have more than one going. I'm reading the Steig Larssen books right now. Late in getting on board with those, I know, but, it's the time thing for me, too.

I loved reading all the recommendations. My son, who never reads for lack of time (he listens to audios on the way to work) is also reading "Hunger Games" so now I'm really curious and may have to take a look at that series, too.