Why I shall be avoiding every author’s swansong from now on.

Reading-wise this hasn’t been a very good year for me. Even though my To-Be-Read List is considerably lighter than it was six months ago, 3 books especially, stand out for having proved big disappointments.

One was legitimately awful while the other two were not bad, but only proved dissatisfying because my expectations of them were so high. I think the disappointments were harder to take considering that all those three books were written by some of my favourite authors. (I had made my choices based on this fact)

One of them being Bram Stoker. As creator of one of the most famous horror novels ever, I thought it worth my while to give another one of his books my attention.

When I say that Lair Of The White Worm was ‘legitimately awful’, I say it with confidence only because I know I’m not being critical. While reading it, I came across far too many WTF moments. Apart from the errors and numerous inconsistencies, some of the scenes, imagery and subplots were so crazy and surreal that the story started to take on farcical proportions. I was left scratching my head as I read of supernatural kite-flying and weird hypnotic mind battles. Not what I expected from the author of Dracula. Even literary scholars have commented negatively on it, so I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about this novel.

However, I will admit, the same cannot be said for the OTHER two books that I read. Both works were critically acclaimed and one of them was highly recommended by people, whose opinions I rate very highly. Therefore I will not mention those two books and conclude that my disappointment with them stem from my own personal tastes rather than any flaws in the works themselves.

However, a strange coincidence revealed itself to me later on.

I’ll point out that all three books are very different in terms of genre, writing style and storylines etc. but they all happened to have one major thing in common: they were the last books these three authors had written before their deaths.  (Mindblown? No? Oh alright…)

On further investigation, I found out some pretty interesting information.

  •  The one unmentionable novel was not yet finished when the author suddenly passed away. The last few chapters were completed by another writer.
  • It is said that Bram Stoker died of syphilis in 1912. By the time he had finished Lair Of The White Worm in 1911, the disease had already reached the advanced stages. Mentally, Syphilis can be characterized by symptoms such as confusion, dementia, delirium and severe depression.

Well this certainly explains all the craziness in the novel!

In view of this new information, my sympathetic side was quick to pardon Mr. Stoker for this literary disaster. But this got me thinking. Should the background knowledge we have about an author affect the way we view their works? Should we allow sympathy to affect our judgement and objectivity? I know of people who refuse to even look at the book sleeve with the author’s bio when they purchase books, choosing to let the work stand on its own.

I’m the opposite however. I like reading up on the backgrounds and interests of the various writers whose works I read. It’s natural curiosity on my part to do so. But what do you think? If you read a book you thought was really bad but realised that the author was seriously ill when he/she wrote it, would you still be critical of it? Or do you think this information would help you to understand the story better?

Also have you ever thought about your WIP and wondered what would become of it if you ever passed away prematurely? A terribly morbid thought I know, but I mean, our stories are like our babies in a way. I assume you would not want it to be forgotten? Would you wish for someone to complete it and attempt to get it published?

And as for my reading luck, as sympathetic as I am towards authors and their personal sufferings, I am now dying to read a novel I know I will enjoy and these three books have now made me very superstitious. As a result I have since struck Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood of my TBR list. No more literary swansongs for me, thank you very much.

NM 🙂

DAY 18 – Book you most embarrassed to say you like

There is this long-standing debate amongst writers: can creativity be taught? Can you really study to become a good writer?

Many writers go for creative writing courses and the most famous authors in the world have at least a Bachelors Degree in English, so maybe there’s some significance in this fact? Then again, Stephanie Meyer has an English Degree and she can’t write for doggie poo. (Oh come on, I’m not being mean, we all know it’s true, even Stephen King said so.)

I, being the stubborn mule that I am, refuse to take any creative writing courses. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to syntax and grammar, you can never learn too much. Relevant courses relating to these will be beneficial to anyone wanting to improve their use of language. I’m talking here about actual creativity and the concept and development of ideas in the writing of that book.
My pride (or is it ego?) tells me I know what I’m doing and because I always believe I know what’s best for me, this same pride has me refusing to get any help. Or has it? And this is where I shot myself in the foot without even realizing it.
Just because you don’t physically attend a seminar on how to write a novel that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other educational sources/tools that can teach you to.

And this is where my cheeks go crimson, as I reveal hesitantly, the two books that are currently helping me on my journey.

Writing A Novel by Nigel Watts in the Teach yourself series is a bit more sophisticated than the “For Dummies” range.

I really, really like this book. I bought it when I first dabbled with the idea of writing a book but didn’t take it too seriously. But years later it has found its place on my bedside table. Even though my current work in progress is a collection of short stories, I do have a novel I started (well sort of), and after the Collection is complete I plan to get cracking with it. And when that happens I can see this book being like a Bible to me.
Despite its title, certain tips are quite general and can apply to any piece of writing and he always makes references and comparisons to short stories which really helps me in particular. There are exercises designed to get those creative juices flowing but also to aid in the writing of your book with regards to characterization, plot developments and dialogue etc.

So as much as it kills me to say I have this book in my possession, never mind actually liking it, it is a great source of comfort to me. NB. My ego is currently munching on a big fat slice of humble pie as you read this.

Another similar book I like is Write That Book Already! by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark.

The title however is a bit misleading. Reading the cover, you assume it is a motivational piece to get you writing and overcoming dreaded writers’ block. But most of the book is actually dedicated to the aftermath of the completion of your work. Information on submitting manuscripts, dealing with agents, the marketing world and book tours are all dealt with here (Btw this is the book that gave me the idea to start a blog, and hoorah! Here we are!).
I must admit that Write That Book Already! also gave me a reality shock. If you have a fairytale view of what it takes to get published, this book will shatter all those idealistic impressions. It is humorous but brutally honest at the same time. If after reading it, you are still not deterred, then you know you are on the right path!

So now you know what arrogant, know-it-all Nisha is using to help her on her journey. Just don’t tell anyone, will you…?

NM 🙂