Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, July 11, 2015

La Dance Diabolique: A Red Hot Boogie Woogie





Joining us today are six hot rising stars to discuss the relationship between writers and their audience. In alphabetical order:

Debbie Bennett
Tells lies and makes things up in dark and gritty crime thrillers inspired by her day job – but if she told you about that, she’d have to kill you afterwards…

Ryan Holt
Screenwriter and film enthusiast. He manages the film blog I’ve Seen That Movie Too and was most recently published in the third volume of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema.

Wendy Jones
Born in Dundee, the setting of her crime novels, Killer's Countdown and Killer's Craft. Wendy has served in both the Army and the Royal Navy

Valerie Laws
Crime and comedy novelist, poet, playwright,performer, sci-art installations & commissions.

Chris Longmuir
Author of four crime novels, a historical saga, and a nonfiction reference book, Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution.

David North-Martino
Author of Wolves of Vengeance. His short stories have appeared in numerous fiction venues including: Epitaphs, Inner Demons Out, and Daughters of Icarus.

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                       Dance Warmup

Image result for dance beginning images

Recently, I was admonished for stating that I've grown more mindful of readers' reactions when I'm revising a book. The other writer took this as a way of 'selling out', claiming that he goes wherever his story may lead without any thoughts of his readers. When I'm revising, though, I'm not censoring--I'm tightening my grip: fine-tuning to get the reactions I want. E.g.: I reduced the number of 'F' bombs in MonsterTime because, I felt, a thousand bored...whereas one might shock. (Stephen King proved this in Misery: the cussing-hating Annie Wilkes swears just once--but big-time--at the very end.) This difficult, delicate act we all do I call La Dance Diabolique. And I now turn the floor over to you.







1) To begin at the beginning...What do you see as the ideal relationship between you and your readers? Are you friends...collaborators...even co-conspirators?

Bennett
Depends on the readers! I have readers who are friends – and friends who are readers. I have readers who have Friended me on Facebook and readers who I’ll never know about. But writing for publication is different from simply writing. Writing for publication is a business relationship: I write stories and readers pay money to read them. If/when they stop paying money, I will doubtless rethink my strategy here! I have been known to include ideas and suggestions from friends – my main beta reader is a guy who got in touch after book 2 in my series and told me what he thought should happen in book 3 and how all the loose ends should be tied up. I asked him if he’d like to read it as I was writing it and feel free to make suggestions. So he did and he’s been the devil-on-my-shoulder ever since, telling me what works and what doesn’t. But, generally, sharing too far pre-publication doesn’t work for me – it dilutes both energy and self-confidence.

Holt
The best metaphor is that of a conjurer and his audience.

An author is one who knows the secret power of words. He coordinates those words to produce a magical effect. The process is inherently risky, fraught with dangers and difficulties. Words are far too strange and peculiar to ever truly master them. But the author knows enough to find his way.

The readers are the conjurer’s audience, looking on in the hopes of glimpsing some great power.

Jones
The readers are an integral part of the process for me. Although I don’t know then personally, they seem like friends. Friends I’ve never met, if that makes sense. When I read a good book I feel that the author has given a part of him, or her, self to me and I would like the reader to feel like this when they finish the book.

Laws
I do write to be read and to reach people, and I strive to make my work engaging and accurate because I write when I have something I feel needs to be said or explored, a story to be told, a voice to be given to someone or something voiceless. I see my readers as people I might affect, make laugh or cry, or feel something or see something in a new way. I suppose I see my readers as an audience perhaps more than anything, though individuals who respond to my work are an important part of the process for me.  I like to entertain and be accessible as long as it serves my purpose in a particular poem, novel or play or installation. I write to express ideas that come to me and I like to share them for the same reasons I read other writers’ work or go to galleries or theatres, to expand my view of the world.

Longmuir
Before I start to look at the nature of the relationship between an author and their readers, I think it is important to acknowledge that, although writing is a hobby for many authors who write to suit themselves, once an author has become professional they are then providing a service. A professional author provides the service to his customers, the readers, and that being the case there is a duty to provide the best service possible. This means that the nature of the relationship is dependent on whether the author is a hobby writer, or a professional.

On the other hand, I’m not sure you can pigeon hole the relationship between authors and readers. although I would rule out collaborators and co-conspirators. In some cases readers may become friends, but in most cases they are an author’s customers and it is the author’s job to provide them with a service. But I would rather think of them as readers rather than customers, and my relationship with them is to listen to what they want, and provide it the best way I can.

Obviously when I meet readers at events, the relationship is friendly, but this does not make them friends, and I don’t think most readers would want that, although there is always the exception.

North-Martino
My goal is to connect with as many readers as possible. If that’s selling out, so be it. I feel my job, as a writer, is to create a story that resonates with my readers. To resonate with as many readers as possible you have to create stories and situations within those stories that are timeless, situations in which everyone can relate. I also look at writing as work first, art second.

I think it all depends on your goals. Some writers are happy writing fiction to a niche audience. Writing an extreme horror novel, for instance, will cater to a much smaller group of readers than a mainstream thriller.

You also have to be a truth teller. Not your truth, but the truth of the story. The story is trying to say something, and you have to let it say what it wants without interference.


2) Why should you, or should you not, be mindful of your readers?

Bennett
My first crime novel Hamelin’s Child acquired me a big London agent. Over coffee in her posh London premises, we discussed whether or not I should leave in a graphic rape scene. I felt it was cheating the reader (and the character) to leave it out as it’s a pivotal plot point and not in any way gratuitous in my opinion. She agreed with me. Since subsequently self-publishing, I have had only one negative review that was down to that scene but the reader hated everything else in the book too – as she was perfectly entitled to do so, I should add. I have no quarrel with bad reviews. So I think (I hope) that I estimated reader-reaction reasonably well – I was counting on earlier scenes to establish my character and create enough empathy for the reader to go with him through the bad stuff and out the other side. I guess in that sense, I was mindful of my readers, yes. But I would never not include something I wanted to write because I was worried about reader reaction.

Holt
There is a school of thought that says that considering your audience is equivalent with artistic compromise. This perspective so completely ignores the history of storytelling, where stories were not simply individualist art projects but were actually the bedrock of an entire society. Besides, we’d certainly never criticize a father telling his child a bedtime story for keeping his child’s interests and desires in mind. Certainly we shouldn’t do the same of an author who chooses to craft a story specifically for his readers.

This is not to say that a writer needs to keep anyone else in mind besides his or her self. After all, the author is the primary reader and critic of any work he or she produces. Many of the great writers simply followed their own desires and fixations (look at Joyce or Proust).

But, if we hold to the metaphor of author-as-conjurer, should a conjurer wish to display his skills, then he or she will no doubt wish to demonstrate good showmanship. To put on a good show, you have to be able to read the crowd. A great many authors have demonstrated concern in this direction, as well, without artistic compromise (Dickens being the obvious example).

In the context of writing, good showmanship means that everything has been coordinated according to the appropriate effect. Showing restraint with violence or sexuality or profanity isn’t about censorship as much as it is about aesthetics. It’s about making sure that all the pieces have their proper place.

Jones
I write my books for a crossover market. This means that I want my books to be read by anyone, regardless of race or religious persuasion. I am a Christian, but my books are not Christian. I am conscious that I need to write it in a way which will appeal to all readers. However, as I write crime books I also have to be gritty and portray the story in a realistic way. This is a very fine balancing act.

Laws
If we wish our work to be read we must be mindful to some extent, in making our work as high quality, readable, gripping and engaging as we can.  I suppose we can try to imagine reading our work as someone else – what would they experience? One has to be mindful of words and their impact, and the likely response to them from readers, but not be confined by that, in my opinion. We can challenge readers or take risks of alienating them, as well as entertain them.

Longmuir
When an author writes they should be true to themselves and the story they are telling. However, an author should never lose sight of the fact that they are writing for their readers, and without readers they are nothing. A writer needs readers to justify their existence and they ignore readers at their peril. It would be unrealistic, however, to think that they will be able to satisfy all readers and any attempt to do so is bound to end up disastrously.

As authors we have to accept that not everyone will like our work, but at the same time we should never ignore the warning signals when the majority of readers dislike what we’ve written, particularly if those readers are fans of previous books.

North-Martino
If you’re not mindful of your readers, you eventually won’t have any readers. What good is being edgy if no one is reading your edgy stories? You have to learn what boundaries you can push and how far you can stretch over that line. It’s great to take your readers into new territories and new realms of thought, but you have to be careful of alienating your readers.


3) Is the relationship ever, at least partly, antagonistic? A few of my favorite mystery/thriller writers have likened what they do to 'beating' their readers at chess. Not hostile war, but playful war--mindful that their readers are trying to outfox them. Do you ever feel anything like that?

Bennett
No, never. I don’t play with my readers – most of the time I try to pretend they don’t exist as everything is far less stressful. But then I don’t write the kind of fiction where the writer leaves clues for the readers to pick up. I’ve never written whodunnits – I far prefer the whydunnits and will-they-survive-its! And the beauty of independent publishing is that we don’t have to write for our readers or have any kind of relationship at all if we don’t choose to. But my subconscious is extraordinarily good at planting seemingly irrelevant things. I’ll write something and I don’t know why – thirty thousand words later and there’s the pay-off! I do love my subconscious.

Holt
This depends almost entirely on genre. The mystery/thriller genre, which places a great deal of emphasis on narrative structure, lends itself to that sort of game-playing. Other genres are not necessarily as interested in the twists and turns of narrative.

Jones
As a crime writer this describes exactly what I am trying to do. I want the reader to feel that they are a part of the action. They need to be all knowing, and yet kept in the dark. This is the most satisfying, and yet the most difficult, aspect of crime writing. I try to keep this going until the very last line of the book so the reader is guessing until the end.

Laws
In my crime novels, there is an element of trying to trick and beguile readers, because as a crime fan myself I know that’s what a lot of them enjoy about the genre, the puzzle-solving and wanting to be outfoxed and kept guessing to the end. Crime readers are quite ruthless, they will spot any plot weakness or ‘unfair’ trickery by an author! And they are very savvy too. I don’t feel this way about the other genres and forms I work in. If people feel antagonistic to my work because it’s demanding, risky or controversial - poetry about the science of dying, dementia, malformed foetuses; comic poems about sex and dating; installations sprayed on live sheep; drama about war; that’s up to them. I don’t set out to offend. Generally I’ve not had hostile reactions from audiences or readers.

Longmuir
I think it would be unwise to regard the relationship between authors and readers as antagonistic. Crime readers love the guessing game a mystery novel provides, and it’s the writer’s job to keep them guessing. Both sides are aware of the rules of the game, and if a writer makes it too easy for the reader to guess the outcome, that can leave the reader dissatisfied. From my own experience as a reader, I love the books where the author has kept me guessing, teased me with thinking I had cracked it, and then twisted the plot so that my guess is wrong, and I’m off on the hunt again. Jeffrey Deaver is a master of this and often twists his plot several times. The best books are the ones where the outcome is unexpected and a total surprise, and that’s what I attempt to do in my own murder mysteries.

North-Martino
In my case, it’s more of a feeling of discovery than actually trying to outfox the reader. My early stories were very linear, they didn’t have twists or turns, and I think the reader could predict where they were going. Over time, I learned to subtly withhold information and divert the reader down different tracks. This invariably became more interesting for me to write, and I believe more interesting for the reader. I also found that my short fiction sales increased.


4) Is it even possible to be totally mindless of readers? When we revise, aren't we thinking of the effect of our words?

Bennett
We owe it to ourselves, our characters--and to paying readers--to produce the best possible work. I’m a bit of a perfectionist anyway – everything has to be as good as possible when I’m writing, before I can move on to the next scene. That niggling typo or homophone I spot from the corner of my eye is jumping up and down on the screen and taunting me, sticking out its tongue and blowing little raspberries as it scurries off to infect the rest of my manuscript, so I simply have to hunt it down and shoot it before it has chance to breed…. So I’m revising for me, and because it is my mission in life to find and eradicate typos, homophones and bad grammar wherever they may lurk.

But no, you can’t be totally mindless of readers. Even if you write primarily for yourself, the very fact that you dress your baby and put it out there for the world to see and comment, means you must be mindful of what those comments are. Bad reviews always sting; no matter how immune to them you become, it always hurts just a little bit when somebody says your child is ugly. I don’t believe anybody who says it doesn’t. But I’d consider myself terribly arrogant if I thought I didn’t need feedback and had nothing to learn. We only grow when we learn.

Holt
To be totally mindless? Perhaps not: when writing you’re at least partially mindful of yourself.

But whenever you’re being careless or lazy in your writing, that’s when you’ve let yourself and your readership down.

Jones
I don’t think it is possible to be completely mindless of readers. Not when revising, or editing work anyway. Writing the first draft, the reader does not come into my conscious being. However, they may be there in my subconscious. However, during any editing or revising I think the writer should be mindful of the reader. Writers are striving to produce a book which readers will love. This is only possible if I remember who those readers are.

Laws
Well quite. If you write for yourself alone, eg for therapy, pouring out words, or because you enjoy the process, you can be mindless of readers but in that case why publish? However I have to ask myself, would I write ‘proper’ work if I was alone and nobody was going to see it, (as opposed to notes or diary entries etc) and while I’d like to say I would, I don’t know – part of me would still be anticipating a reader seeing it one day somehow. But one should try to make work as good, as accomplished, as polished, as expressive, as authentic as one can. Just because!

Longmuir
Readers are the most important people in the author, reader equation, therefore an author who is mindless of readers courts disaster. Revision is the process of making the end product the best it can be. No professional, whether that is writer, worker, or producer of any other article, is happy with a less than perfect product. If they accept second best they cannot be considered a professional, no matter what field they work in. Therefore when a writer revises their work, that is the polish that is required to bring the book to market. And, as readers are an author’s customers, then it is necessary for the author to be mindful of them.

North-Martino
I think to write salable fiction, or fiction that readers buy directly, you have to be mindful of the effect your words will have on others. I think you effect readers primarily through writing good enjoyable fiction and not necessary through pandering to a mainstream or niche audience. You will naturally acquire readers who will like what you’re doing. Then you have to decide if you want to expand that base by making your fiction safer (I’m talking about removing gore and expletives) or if you’re comfortable having a smaller group of readers who like the more dangerous you.


5) Considering the flip side: Could one be over-mindful or mindful in a wrong way?

Bennett
Oh yes. Pay too much attention and you start patronizing or lecturing. You’re not writing for your reader – you are telling a story, recounting the life, love, what-have-you of a character who is probably as real to you as any of your friends. I’ve lived with some of my characters longer than I’ve lived with my husband, and we recently celebrated our silver wedding (yes, I am that old). The words are there to tell their story – not for you as the author to climb up onto your literary soapbox and  preach your world-view. It shows, really it does, no matter how you try to hide it. And while there is always a little bit of myself in every one of my characters, I do try not to let that influence their own actions and opinions.

But consider the opposite scenario: trying to please everybody. One beta reader says he didn’t like X, so you change it. The next reader doesn’t like Y, so you take that out. And pretty soon you have a bland and insipid piece of prose with all the life and soul sucked out of it, cast aside in the vampiric process of editing. Everybody’s opinion is different and what one person hates, the next person may well adore. Use your feedback as a guideline, but learn to trust your own inner-critic for what really works and what needs cutting.


Holt
When your concern for your audience leads you to avoid risky paths in exchange for roads that have been trod a too regularly and too heavily, then you’re going about this the wrong way.


Jones
Absolutely. If any writer thinks of every single reaction, of every reader then the book would never come out. As an example, my books are crime thrillers. If I am thinking about those readers who may read romantic suspense, then this will shape my writing. If I am thinking about people who read hard edged thrillers, then this will shape my writing. No writer can appeal to every reader. The trick is to write for your ideal reader and keep them in mind.

Laws
Very much so, I think Amazon reviews have brought this very much to the fore. Some buyers have religious or political agendas and use customer reviews to punish authors who offend them or to bang their own drum. That’s up to them of course, but I’ve seen authors discussing on facebook changing their book because one reviewer doesn’t like ‘profanity’ or sex in novels. That is very much a wrong way to be mindful of readers. I might, like you Reb, bring down the curse-count a bit but to increase the impact rather than to placate readers who have a problem with it.  I’m not going to censor myself. However if I hear a few people have misunderstood something I wanted to say, I might consider editing that. But you can’t change books endlessly to please any random reader. That way lies madness and loss of integrity.

Longmuir
I have argued all the way through this chat that an author should be mindful of their readers. However, writing is a creative process therefore the author should also be true to themselves. An author should listen to what readers want from their books, but if the request is the opposite of what the writer is aiming for, and is out of sync with what other readers expect, then it is perfectly in order not to comply. For example, if a reader wanted me to write a chick lit mystery, when my usual style is dark crime, then I would feel no necessity to be mindful of their request. But, on the whole, readers need an author’s respect, and the author should try to live up to the expectations of their readers.

North-Martino
Certainly! I think trying to write for the market can be the worst way to go about crafting fiction. Write what you want, what speaks to you, and you’ll find the readers who resonate with that material. I also think that if you’re too mindful of your readers you might bleed the spark, the magic, out of your fiction. If you try to please everyone…


6) Party time! What question should I have asked that you would love to answer?

Bennett
Question: What about the F-bomb?
Answer: Do I swear in fiction? Of course I do. I write dark and gritty crime and my bad guys are simply not going to make do with a few bland exclamations. My current series is a spin-off from my first trilogy, written because I was fascinated by one of my bad boys and I wanted to get inside his head and find out what makes him tick. He turned out to be a hugely complex character – but he swears. A lot. Mostly the F bomb, although my editor (and I blame him entirely) made me use the C bomb once. For effect, he said – the scene needed it. And he was right, although it’s not a word I’m comfortable with. But as I said before, it’s not about me and my world-view is it? It’s all about them – the characters and the voices in my head.

Holt
Question: When have you felt mistreated by an author?
Answer: None in recent memory stand out quite as strongly as Marisha Pessl's Night Film, which has the kind of premise that suggests an excellent beach read. (And if the term "beach read" is often said with a sneer, then understand that I do not consider the term demeaning; an excellent beach read is a truly wonderful and rare thing, and is generally preferable to whatever "literary" fiction is being paraded about as the "serious literature" of the moment). Pessl spends the majority of Night Film's pages establishing a web of conspiracy and mystery with a supernatural air. Rather than deliver on that foundation, though, Pessl cruelly and disastrously tosses it all aside in the book's final stretch, making no satisfactory substitution for it. Even worse, the finale attempts to posit that the book is ultimately somewhat smarter than all that genre hokum, when, in reality, the book shows itself to be intellectually bankrupt. That said, I do not assign Pessl any malicious intent, but just grotesque miscalculation.

Jones
Question: Do you think it is important for writers to connect with readers either in real life, or through social media?
Answer: In the past this would not have been the case. However, now I think it is essential. There is a different expectation of what writers should do, and how they should be, in today’s information driven world. Readers are fascinated by authors and want to know more about them. The days of writers living in glorious isolation are long gone.

Laws
Question: What about sales and marketing?
Answer: I know a lot of authors are very concerned about sales and rankingsm etc. So it might be interesting to ask, about numbers of readers – do we write to reach one person, a small number of discerning readers, or as many readers as possible – we may want to reach as many as possible, but does that dictate how or what we write? For me, I’ve had to learn to ‘market’ my work just so people know it’s there, and I do like recognition for my work as much as the next person, but I don’t do the sensible thing which will bring me more sales – I find that I write what I feel needs to be said. There’s nothing wrong with writing saleable books – I’ve had experience of best sellers but it was by accident – and though part of me would love to be feted and have royalties pouring in, I find I’ll follow a crime novel that was taken up by WH Smiths like The Operator, by writing poetry about lobotomies instead of the ‘next’ book which readers have asked eagerly about.

Longmuir
Question: What do you consider the most important aspect of being a writer?
Answer: People write stories for many reasons. Some do it for therapy, some do it for fame and fortune, some do it because it’s an itch they have to scratch. Few writers achieve the fame and fortune they desire, therefore if there is no other reason for writing , they are doomed to disappointment. In my case, it’s the itch I have to scratch. I’m a writing junkie, I go into withdrawals if anything keeps me away from the keyboard too long. Then there is the satisfaction that comes through supplying readers with what they want. But , of course, that has followed many months of anguish during the writing process. However, it only takes one email from a satisfied reader, to brighten my day.

A writer is in a privileged position, instead of working in an office, behind a shop counter, or on an assembly line, they are working at something they have a passion for, creating stories out of words. I don’t know any writer who does not have that passion, but if it is lacking the outcome will probably be less than satisfactory.

North-Martino
Question:  Do you have any new fiction available?
Answer: I’m glad you asked. My short horror/SF story, “Sat Down Inside Her”, appears in Wicked Tales: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers Volume 3 and is out now, both in physical form and as an e-book. The anthology includes an introduction by horror luminary Chet Williamson, along with stories from the region’s most prolific authors, including New York Times Bestselling author Christopher Golden, and the dearly departed “other horror writer from Maine” international bestselling author Rick Hautala.
               
                                                                      *****

Learn more about our lineup by visiting their links below:

Debbie Bennett
www.debbiebennett.co.uk
www.authorselectric.co.uk

Ryan Holt
https://seenthatmovietoo.wordpress.com/

Wendy Jones
http://mybook.to/KillersCountdown
http://www.wendyhjones.com

Valerie Laws
amazon u.k,: http://tinyurl.com/qzaoc34
amazon u.s.: http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Laws/e/B001K7R0QE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
www.valerielaws.com

Chris Longmuir
http://www.chrislongmuir.co.uk/
http://chrislongmuir.blogspot.co.uk/

David North-Martino
amazon u.s.: http://amzn.to/1Ir7PWP
amazon u.k.: http://tinyurl.com/onsbr4c
https://www.facebook.com/dnorthmartino

2 comments:

  1. Crime writers are never civil so I won't say anything :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Valerie Laws here, as my alter ego Lydia Bennet (from my comedy Pride and Prejudice retelling, 'Lydia Bennet's Blog'). It's great to hear others' opinions about these questions, and especially to find out what questions we all thought to ask at the end. Thank you Reb for making your table so round!

    ReplyDelete

Your comments are welcome. Just keep them civil, please.