When a Writer Reads

I’ve been asked recently by a friend whether my relationship with reading has changed—now that I’m officially a Published Author in capital letters.

Yes.

That’s the bare bones answer. Yes—by all the salty tears in heaven—yes. And like most of the other nitty-gritty practicalities of the publishing career, I never saw it coming.

What do I mean by ‘it’? I mean the internal voices that now kick into life whenever I open a book. Before I wrote for a living, I used to do a nose dive into a story and remain there in a happy wallow until I’d read the final sentence. Now, I’m on the other side, not the receiver but the giver of the word. That’s quite a sea change. I still read, but as I do, I’m often engaged in a one-sided conversation with the author.

I can see your undies, darling.?

Having struggled to absorb the importance of story narrative, I can appreciate the presence of structure (or the absence of it) in other people’s work. Aren’t I around the 60 page mark? Shouldn’t a hint of the first significant turning point have shown up by now? Oh, wait, there it is…

You clever bastard?.

Back in the days before the emergence of Leigh Evans: Author, I flowed in whatever direction the writer took me, much like your eye will follow the magician’s wand. But now, I can see the sleight of hand and the intent behind the trick. I can appreciate the staccato sentences of a deftly written action sequence. I can and will applaud the choice of the right visual detail to support an emotion that would have otherwise lay flat on the page. And when the writer surprises me? Now that gets a standing ovation.

Took a snooze there, didn’t you?

?I hate this part but here it is: I’ve become uncomfortably aware of other writers’ laziness. Sorry, guys, but I can spot where you got tired and fell back onto what felt easy and comfortable. I winced when you blurred the focus in an effort to disguise that oh-so-awkward plot bump. (It’s a sad fact, hard learned, but all the misdirection in the world won’t help hide that awkward lump under the carpet. You know it. I know it.)

Man, I wish I could steal this from you.

?I don’t really have to explain that statement, do I?

Oh, that’s a beautiful paragraph.?

Look at that sentence. Look at that flow.

That’s it. I totally hate you.

?This is the worst aspect of running with the other athletes—the recognition of their superior talent and your subsequent jealousy. Fact is, when you’re jogging solo, you don’t notice if your pace is off. But when you slap a contender’s number on your chest, and you line up, toe to toe with other writers—you know when they’re better than you. You know it deep inside. And quite frankly, sometimes you fleetingly hate them for it.

So, what have I done? Completely gone off reading? Well, the answer to that is a qualified no. I don’t enjoy urban fantasy anymore because I’m constantly on guard. What if I unconsciously stole a world rule from them? What if enjoying their work sends my self-confidence into a tail spin? Thus, I find myself turning more frequently to other genres—mysteries and historical romances/fiction. But still, even in those categories, I’m far pickier than I was before and sadly, some of the authors that used to fall into the auto-buy category have been taken permanently off my list. I can’t surrender to their imagination anymore because I see the flaws in their delivery too acutely.

That can be dispiriting for a woman who once had a book a day habit.

Doesn’t matter. I still buy heaps of book, knowing that sooner or later I’ll stumble over an author whose work will temporarily turn me back into a reader.

That happened to me recently. My finger hovered over the buy button for a long time. The contemporary fiction novel had a long string of stars following its title and something around 1,200 reviews. That’s a buy-me sign if I ever saw one, but I don’t read much of that particular genre. I read the back cover blurb one more time, chewing my lip. It had been out for awhile. Why hadn’t I heard of it? (Ah, its release coincided with my own debut.)

Enough. I bought it and began reading, feeling at first, somewhat detached. I wasn’t completely won over by the protagonist, the man or the romance. But I kept going, thinking I knew where she was taking the story.

I tore through the first few chapters and then the next… and then… I wasn’t reading. I was hoping (Please, don’t go there, please don’t go there) and I was experiencing (Oh, God, she’s taking us there) and I was…

Inside. The. Book.

I finished the novel at 1:30 in the morning. Then I stayed awake till 2:00 thinking about it. And you know what? All I wanted to do was get out of my bed and hit Facebook and Twitter and the phone and every other vehicle I knew of to get the word out. Because, even if I was late to the party, I knew that this book was absolutely brilliant. And I wanted the world to know it. To feel it like I had.

Me Before You, written by JoJo Moyes.

Thank you, Ms. Moyes. You made a reader of me again, and ever more, I shall carry your story inside my heart.

Oh, shit. There I go. I just teared up again…

I love books and, despite the ceiling scraping height of my To Be Read stack, I’ll continue to buy them—hoping to uncover that nugget of gold. What makes you pick up a novel? Are you lured by the review stars following the novel’s title or are you won over by the story?

This article was originally published by Tor UK on July 16th


Leigh Evans has raised two kids, mothered three dogs, and herded a few cats. She lives in Southern Ontario with her husband and a short, fat, black dog. Her Mystwalkers series includes The Trouble with Fate and the forthcoming The Thing About Wolves. You can follow her on Twitter.

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