Thursday, February 7, 2019

Excuse Me, Are You Reading YOU?

Stephen King once mentioned that sometimes when he’s out getting a cup of coffee and reading a book while he enjoys some leisure time, people are apt to come up and say “I thought you’d be reading one of your own works.” He said he generally replies, “No, because I know how all they turn out at the end.” Good answer.

I would never do it in public, for fear of being thought self-centered, egotistical, or a braggart (all of which may be true but I don’t feel like having that pointed out to me), but I do reread my own work. Sometimes I reread past Bridgeton Park Cemetery books just to get a feel for the voice I use when writing those stories. That may sound insane: after all, it’s my voice. On the other hand, I try to write with a slightly different “accent” when I write other work. I hope there’s a difference in feel between my BPC books and my Corts-Holdridge books (Saving Jake and Missing Persons). I also hope there’s a different feel between my fiction and my non-fiction. I hope. I don’t know that there is. After all, it’s just me sitting at the keyboard.

Maybe it’s a trick of memory, or maybe it’s a streak of insecurity (which I realize could lead very easily to being self-centered, egotistical, and a braggart), but there are times that I need to reread past work because what I’m producing at the moment doesn’t ring exactly true. I don’t worry that my readers might think I have someone ghost-writing my work. I can’t pay for that, and besides, who’d want to?? But I will go over what is currently in my work-in-progress file and realize that the feel of it is a bit off, like a piano that’s just a little bit out of tune. So then I go back to my previous published work to get back to the original, true melody of my characters and their world, if that makes any sense.

I am in awe of those writers who produce book after book in a series and all of it feels cut from the same cloth. That’s amazing. And also a comfort, like a familiar face in a mob of strangers, or curling up in your own bed after having been away for a period of time. I know when I pick up those books, Reacher, God bless him, will always be Reacher. Likewise for Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers and A.X.L. Pendergast. (Cotton Malone and the whole Sigma crew, as well.) That kind of a consistency is an art-form in itself.

My ultimate goal is to imitate my author-heroes, and keep my characters as consistent to themselves as possible, so that my books can be a comfortable and familiar-enough place my readers will want to return to again and again. Without going back and re-tuning my pitch from time to time, I don’t think that will happen.

I wonder if Lee Child re-reads himself. Or does he have a beta reader, an agent, or editor who will say something like, “That doesn’t sound enough like Reacher”? The idea is almost inconceivable to me: the Reacher books are sooo consistent it’s mind-boggling. So are the others that I read. And I think they are all writing far more complex stories than I am. Wow, how do they do that?

Sustaining that consistency has got to be a little bit of a struggle. Over time, our feelings about things may change. Events and incidents and losses happen throughout our lives and surely that can alter our worldviews, maybe enough to affect what we choose to write about, and how we do it. And yet, every series I have listed above has been going on for years and years. Their authors—and their characters—somehow keep plugging along in their own wonderful ways.

I’m oly working on only book seven of my own series, and my characters are young. They are going to grow and change and encounter major upheavals in the course of their adventures. I hope that somehow, though, regardless of what may come, they’ll still be the people that first started out on this journey. And for that, I guess I’m going to have to keep rereading myself.

But still only in private.

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