Give your reader HOPE. Your reader will love you

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Patty Maher

I'm on page 143 of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and I'm so depressed that I had to write this post. One reason being, just a few minutes ago I was terrified to the point of crying that my book will turn out as depressing as this one and people will want to put it down (suicide is a hard topic). Another reason being, I think depressing books are a good way to remind us of all the things that suck in life, so we'll be motivated to change them for the better, yet the only way to do it is to give us, readers, hope. I keep circling back in my head to The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowing, her non-Harry-Potter endeavor that many frowned upon and that I loved. Contrary to Gone Girl, which received such praise and I seem to not care much about. My first thought, of course, is, what is wrong with me? My second thought is, wait a second, maybe there is something to learn here. As grim as life has been painted in The Casual Vacancy, it's also full of desperate love. I have yet to find love in Gone Girl. I think this is the key to a curious pattern.

Love. All stories are about love. The rest is simply layers. I think I've said this in some other blog post and am repeating myself, but I don't care. The more I read, the clearer I see it. It's all we really care about as human beings, all we want to live for, for love. Unfortunately, in real life it's not always pink fluffy unicorns and lovely smiling baby koalas. In real life, to borrow from Monty Python, it's more like dead parrots and dead crabs. Pick one. Either way, it's dead. Where do we turn to survive it? Love. What if there is none? Humor. Until we can get some love, we will laugh about our pains, to make them pass. One very clear lesson I learned when listening to Chuck Palahniuk on his book tour was, make your reader laugh, cry, and feel sick (or, afraid to the point of being sick). Why do we cry? Because it's how we show our pain or happiness. Why do we laugh? Because it's how we show our joy and how we live through pain. Why do we feel disgusted or afraid? Etc, etc, etc. It's how we bond, by expressing our emotions, and that's why if a reader doesn't cry over your book, or laugh, or feels disgusted or terrified, there will be no bonding. But one of these is not enough, more and more I see all three at work, and that's the key difference between The Casual Vacancy and Gone Girl. The first one made me cry YUCK! in disgust, made me laugh and made me cry. Te latter one so far is only YUCK! with a few smiles and a chuckle, and no crying.

There is a reason fairy tales stood the time. We all grew up on those stories, and they are still a standard for any book, any novel you pick, they even teach them at those novel writing seminars. You know the ones I'm talking about, the knight goes out on his white beautiful horse and slays the dragon. Oh, and he snatches away a beautiful maiden to be his bride. Basic story "plots" in literature, in other words. Why do we love them so much as kids? Why do we still gravitate towards these types of stories? Because they have happy endings. We all want it to end on a good note, since real life rarely gives us gifts of happy endings. This doesn't necessarily mean there can't be books without happy endings, there are a ton of those, and really great ones, The Great Gatsby comes to mind, for example. Why do we read those? Because they still have a promise of great big love, even if it all ends badly. It's what makes us say AWWWWW... and go dab at the corners of our eyes with a tissue when nobody is looking. For example, if you've read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, you'll know the agony of rooting for the main character, wanting her to survive, not knowing until the last moment if she will or not. MAJOR SPOILER! She faces a bear at the end and wins. Oh, how would we've been pissed as readers if she didn't! Absence of this is precisely why I'm struggling with Gone Girl. There is love, but not much of it, and I want more. I want at least something to hook my inner slobbery romantic on, then I would love to sail through the disgusting parts, no problem. (I haven't finished the book, so perhaps I'll find it still.)

It's not about facts and puzzles, it's about emotions. The other night I watched Memento, in an effort to steer my mind away from Gone Girl, and saw a similar paradox in the movie. It was a very interesting puzzle to solve, and its one of those flicks you want to watch again when done to pick up clues, but I didn't care for the characters. Same with Gone Girl, I'm interested in the whole treasure hunt concept and the clue finding and all that great stuff, but I don't care much for the characters, and that's why it feels like it's easy to put the book down. In fact, today when I picked it up, I couldn't remember what happened last time I read, and had to reread a few pages back to reorient myself. Now, I feel horrible about trashing this book here in such fashion. PLEASE, don't listen to me, read it, and judge for yourself. Like I said in a previous blog post, there is not such thing as a perfect book for everyone. I'm merely using it to illustrate the point, and who would I be to have a solid opinion since I haven't even written a single one yet? But as a reader I want to feel the book I'm reading, and I'm sharing my doubt here with you inhopes that this can help us all be better writers. Helps us write better books. Helps us change this world, one book at a time.

Call me a dreamer, call me crazy, tear me apart. Tell me what you think. Have you had similar experiences with reading books? Yes? No? Care to share titles and blurbs in the comments? I'd be most curious to learn. Meanwhile, I'm off to reading Monty Python, for some good old much needed laughter.

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READ. You'll crack formula to success

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Joel Robison

So I'm sitting here in this amazing afterglow from reading Stephen King's SONG OF SUSANNAH, Book 6 of The Dark Tower series, thinking how can I communicate this feeling to the world, to explain how reading makes me a better writer. Not in the way of reading and learning from it, but in a way of connecting with the mind of another writer, seeing how he does it, and realizing that I can do the same. We all can do. Except at the very beginning we don't know it, don't believe in it, and so sometimes never dare to finish it, because we think there must be some success formula and because we don't know it yet, so we think our stuff is pure shit. We give up, and that's that. But the ecstasy from having understood, from having come close to understanding another writer's process, is indescribable. It's a feeling. There is no formula. If there was one, everyone would study it in school and then crank out best-sellers, like, 10 a pop, and scoop up millions of dollars. Yet we all know it doesn't work that way. Then how does it work? I'm not sure I know the answer, but the more I read, the more I get this feeling that perhaps I have caught it by the tail. Here is what I think.

We read about what's missing from our lives. There are books that we only read when we are missing something specifically, like hot BDSM sex (in case of 50 Shades of Grey), or a hot ideal boyfriend (in case of Twilight), or a magical quest against Death and all things school (Harry Potter). You get the idea. Notice, though, how different these books are. For example, if you happen to have hot BDSM sex, or you happen to have a hot ideal boyfriend in real life, you probably won't pick up Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey, simply because you have enough of it for real and don't need to fantasize about it. Hence, it explains the demographic of people who rave about the series. Also, at certain times in our lives, we go through different phases, and we might be needing a book badly when 5 years from now it wouldn't fit out life at all. Case in point, reading Twilight made me start thinking about divorce and prompted me start thinking about writing Siren Suicides. I'm not kidding, I was totally into it, swooning over every page. That was 8 years ago. Yeah, now laugh all you want. Notice, also, how Harry Potter is completely different. We're all afraid of death at any age, and we all remember school pains, at any age, so the demographic is much larger. See the pattern?

We read books that speak our language. Like everyone else, and curious because it's so hot right now, I picked up a copy of Warm Bodies and read it, partly because I really liked Isaac's blog and his writing style, partly because I liked the story premise and wanted to be done with the book before the movie came out. And, I loved the book in places, but in other places, I was mad at it and wanted to put it down. Not because there is anything wrong with it, no, it's an awesome story, beautiful, with great sense of humor and zombie poetry-like prose. But it didn't speak to me, it was not my language of life. Mine is much darker, much twistier, simply because of my background and my personal history, which is not pretty (oh, well, it made me who I am). The book felt lightweight to me, yet it also puzzled me why I didn't like it as much as others did. It outright bothered me, especially because I really wanted to meet and connect with Isaac (he's here in Seattle too), and I think with my 3 star review I outright puzzled him as to why I wanted to meet. But I wanted to talk about exactly this, about the language and how it differs. The reason why you as a writer need to read as much as you can is because you will see where you fit. You need to trust yourself and be yourself, then you will find readers whose language you speak. But if you don't, if you try to fit a genre or a style, you're doomed.

We read books because we know the author. This is my pet peeve, of course, because I'm such a social media freak. And I'm a social media freak because the publishing game has changed. The writer no longer has to rely on the publishing houses to market the book, the writer can connect directly with readers, and I LOVE doing it. I mean, if not for folks with whom I connected, my Draft 5 wouldn't have gotten better (I had 50 Beta Readers dish in on Draft 4!). Anyway, I'm straying from the topic here... My point is, we read books by authors whom we feel we know, like old friends. Why? Because we're social animals and it's how we're wired. We can't be alone, we love to connect, but in order for us to connect, we have to know the other party. And how, pray tell, would we do that? Well, by reading a book. But why would we pick up a book? Because a friend told us. But how would a friend tell us? Because a friend somehow stumbled upon this book and something made her or him pick it up. Here is the deal, that SOMETHING will only be there if you as a writer know who you are and are not afraid to write from your heart. Because then you're apt to finding that one reader who loves it. From the hands of that one reader, 10 more friend will find out, and so on, and so on. This is how I read Warm Bodies, because I knew enough about the author that I felt like I wanted to finish it. And how do you know who you are as a writer? Well, we've come full circle.

READ. Read a lot. That's all there is to it.

I feel like perhaps I failed to communicate what it is I wanted to communicate. Mainly because I have this deep feeling that threatens to burst me from inside out yet I can't quite grasp it. I'm trying. I swear I'll blog more as I understand this better. For now, I can tell you this, every time I read a book, I have a little epiphany. And every time I apply that little epiphany to my writing, it makes me feel like my writing isn't actually complete and utter shit. It feels like it has a chance.

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