15 lessons a fantasy author learned from reading horror

This is not a review of “The Rats” by James Herbert and it contains a lot of spoilers. But if you’re ever in a horror novel these lessons might save your life.

At the behest of my friend and critique partner, Anna Kaling, who is also a talented romance author, I recently read “The Rats” by James Herbert.

It was partly my fault. I did agree to read a book from her favourite genre, horror, and in exchange she read a fantasy novel I chose. Check out how that turned out.

Don’t ask me why a romance author prefers to read horror, but I’ve read some of Anna’s books, and you can barely tell that the author gets her jollies from reading about people being eaten alive by giant rats.

Yes, this post is going to be one huge spoiler for “The Rats”, but it’s really old so if you haven’t read it yet you were probably never going to.

Also, saying that people get eaten alive by giant rats in a horror book called “The Rats” can hardly be classed as a spoiler. Come on.

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What’s your beta reading philosophy?

I’ve beta read a lot lately. Here’s how I beta read, and what writers I beta read for do that makes me love them or never want to talk to them again.

I’ve done enough beta reading recently that I think I should have a beta reading philosophy.

My life philosophies tend not to be complicated. For example “I like cats and dragons” covers the important bases, and my husband tells me it’s a perfectly adequate philosophy.

There might be more to my beta reading philosophy, because otherwise this won’t be a very long post.

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A depressing book and a jelly bean book

Just when I believed all books were out to depress me, along came a beautiful jelly bean book that restored my faith in the ridiculous.

I’ve been perpetually overwhelmed recently, which I expect relates to my inability to say no to pretty much anything. Except seafood. I’m quite happy to say no to seafood.

This has had several consequences. First, my brain has decided 4am is the appropriate time to wake up on the weekend. I’ve spoken sternly to it, but it insists. Hence I get to read for an hour or two in bed before I get up on Saturdays. I also get to spend the whole day exhausted.

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Why I don’t want to meet the author

Authors used to live in unreachable places… like this.

The world of writing has changed since I started reading.

Writers used to be mystical beings who existed in some alternative reality of glamour and pixie dust, reachable only with low probability via a handwritten letter sent to the writer’s agent. Goat sacrifices followed as you waited and prayed for a response, and, if the pagan gods were pleased with your grovelling, some months later you received a scrawled missive from your literary hero. You framed it and treasured it for life. (Note this is all based on hearsay. I never wrote to my idols because, as I might have mentioned, I’m rather shy.)

Today, this world has been overturned. The winding forest trails that used to be the only way to reach an author have been replaced with four-lane highways. Many authors lounge in open-air coffee shops on the roadside, where any fan with a social media account can attempt to strike up a conversation with them.

Highway to the author
Meet the author, this way.

So readers meet the authors of the books they love, and authors make life-long fans. What’s wrong with that, you might ask?

Nothing at all. Unless you’re like me.

The wonder of a book is that it transports you to another world. The physical world vanishes and you live through the trials and triumphs of the characters.

You’re not reading a book, you’re living a life. And so anything that reminds you that you are in fact reading a book is a grease stain on the reading experience.

This is why I don’t like chapter titles. Life isn’t split into chapters. When I arrive at the office, a heading doesn’t flash up saying, “Chapter 3: In which Alecia types and sometimes drinks tea”. When I get home, I’m not bowled over by the text “Chapter 5: In which His Royal Fluffiness laments the emptiness of his food bowl”.

Chapter titles are like flashing neon signs that say “You’re reading a book!”

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with meeting authors. Hold your unicorns, I’m getting there.

Have you ever tried to read with someone peering over your shoulder? Every minute you get, “What’s happening now? What do you think of it? Is it good?”

Now imagine it’s the author asking. When they say “What do you think of it?” this is no idle question. It’s like a parent asking what you think of his new baby. No matter how much or how little you care, you know he cares a great deal. This is his baby and he wants you to love it.

Talk about pressure.

I don’t want to feel obliged to enjoy something as I read it, or guilty if I don’t. I don’t want someone looking over my shoulder as I read. Did you see that clever sentence? Wasn’t it marvelous?

Go away and let me read in peace!

But it’s not just the author’s psychic peeping over my shoulder. It’s the fact he exists at all.

The author’s existence is a reminder that this is just a book, and it lived in someone else’s mind before it lived in mine.

I don’t want to know what the author’s face looks like. I don’t want to know that she prefers cats over dogs, grew up on the West Coast (of NZ or the US, take your pick), and her favourite tea is Earl Grey. The more I know about her, the more I’m aware she exists as I read her book. Did you like that plot twist? Clever, wasn’t it?

I don’t want to think about how the story I’m reading grew from late nights, industrial-strength coffee, and profuse swearing.

I prefer to think of stories as forming wild in drops of dew.

Dewdrop on a blade of grass
A story is born wild in a drop of dew.

They grow untouched by human hands into their perfectly shaped final forms, then are set free to carry delight and wonder across the world.

 

Don’t forget you can join one of my mailing lists for frequent or less frequent reminders to read my new posts, all 100% dolphin friendly. Plus you’ll be the first to hear when I release new stories. (It happens sometimes, I swear it.)

Dew on grass

Five reasons I stopped reading

Library

Today is book-hunting day! That wasn’t a thing until today, but now it is.

Book-hunting day means I go to Amazon and search for fantasy books with key words like “chosen one” or “elemental magic” (just, because). When a book entices me, I’ll start reading the preview until I either decide it sucks (ahem, I mean, decide it’s not for me) or buy it.

Of course, I’ll give you a commentary as I go. It’s mean to make fun of people in public, so I won’t name names and I’ll disguise some of the details. (I’ll use * to indicate the detail has been changed.)

Shall we head into the jungle?

Continue reading “Five reasons I stopped reading”