Evolving Reader

In October I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn for the book club I’m a part of with two good friends. I wrote a post in relation to it for Anxiety Ink and referenced Mary Higgins Clark, who I read quite heavily in my early teens. I haven’t read a book by Clark in years, even though I remember all of the stories I did read with fondness. That fact coupled with my mid-reading feelings about Dark Places (mainly that I just don’t read books like this anymore) got me thinking about how I’ve evolved as a reader.

I’ve always been an enjoyer of stories, but I didn’t get into reading like a maniac until I was around 12. A lot of disruptive things had happened in my life and I was in the midst of a few transitions. This lead to the realization that there is a solace and safety to be found in books. I started reading voraciously and haven’t stopped since.

From around that time there are titles that stand out for me, stories that I know quite intimately because I so connected with them when I read them. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay Saga and In the Garden Trilogy, as well as slew of her Eve Dallas titles. I also read every Clark book I could get my hands on.

I immersed myself in Revolutionary France with Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. Trilogy. I read Anita Shreve’s All He Ever Wanted and was so angry I had to step away from such books for a while. I was horrified by When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase. I read a lot of John Grisham. Then somehow delved into the world of fantasy with The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth, The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart (which I discussed in detail here).

I can’t remember books I’ve read more recently with the kind of detail I can recall about those mentioned above.

I suppose I’d refer to all of these books as my foundation books. I have a fondness for all of them, and return to their authors every now and then, but in some cases I’ve changed as a reader. My tastes have altered and I expect different things from the titles I pick up now. Obviously 25 year old me does not want the same things as 13 year old me.

I’m going to create a few diagrams below to show the kind of reader I was and the various paths I was lead down, much to my reading pleasure. Perhaps if you’re looking to change up your reading and aren’t sure where to start these will help you out. I’m only going to do a few genres and a few titles because otherwise this will turn into the post that never ends.

Romance
I am an enormous romance buff. I can spend hours in the romance section of any bookstore. I’ve read nearly every subcategory and I’ve figured out what I do and don’t like. While Mary Higgins Clark is always found in the mystery section, a number of her books contain a romance element. I suppose I’d have to list her as my first exposure, as well as some truly entertaining Harlequin titles I got my hands on early in my reading life.

Romantic Suspense
This subgenre ties with Paranormal Romance for my favourite subgenre. I’ve read widely within it and have pretty high standards. For the record, I will read anything by Linda Howard.

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Paranormal Romance
I’ve read so many paranormal titles that I would consider myself an expert. I have become increasingly picky when it comes to pararom because I feel like I’ve seen it all and some authors are simply better at writing it than others. I don’t care for soft romantic suspense either. I like dark stories where the door stays open, if you catch my drift.

         

Horror
I would not consider myself a King fan, though Cell is one of the best horror stories I’ve read. One of my best friends is a huge fan so I’d have to count him, through her influence, as my horror foundation.

   

Urban Fantasy
I adore urban fantasy and there are so many fabulous women writing in the genre!

     

Fantasy
My fantasy tastes are all over the place. I’ve listed high fantasy with what I suppose you could call regular fantasy and medieval here. I’ve removed all the urban titles at least.

           

Fiction
This genre is far too wide to tackle in full, so I’ve charted with titles I mentioned earlier.

     

YA
I dislike that YA lit is hodgepodged all together. I sometimes wish it was organized into different genres like adult lit, but I think that time will come soon. When I was a young adult there weren’t nearly as many titles available to me as there are to kids now. I love it. But as you can see, my younger years weren’t well organized.

           

I have glossed over a lot of titles and genres. I have to revisit this idea with a little more research behind me.

I’d love to hear about your gateway titles and the paths they’ve lead you down! While I have more to-read titles than I will ever admit, I love to hear a good recommendation.

The Influence of Negative Relationships, It’s Everywhere

I’m opening up today’s post with a quote from a powerful book I adore:

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” –Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet In Heaven

I don’t think it’s only parental relationships that damage a person, but I suppose childhood wounds are the worst because we’re still forming into a whole person and if the foundation is cracked the end result is not quite as strong as it should be.

I admit, I’m in a lousy mood as I write this. I don’t want to get deeply personal here, but for the past few months family relationships, and all their ridiculous intricacies, have been weighing heavily on my mind for reasons I am not yet comfortable sharing.

But, from a general standpoint, I think it is safe to say that as a race, humans are much more influenced by the bad in our lives than by the good. For instance:

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” –Chuck Palahniuk, Diary.

It is frightening the degree to which I identify with this quote.

Anyway, thinking about relationships in general, both good and bad, I couldn’t help but turn to my writing. I write about a lot of different relationships, but there’s always a rough one centre stage. I have a fascination with trying to figure out how people coexist, how we come to live together when some of us who are so different are thrust together and expected to get along.

Even in my current WIP, RA2, my protagonist is grappling with a relationship she doesn’t know how to deal with. The man/woman relationship is in its baby stages, but she can see it coming, and she’s in denial. And she’s in denial because her childhood wounds are gapping.

Looking at my writing as a whole, though, I don’t write easy relationships –and not just because they’re boring in the world of writing. Placing my work under a microscope, I notice that the emotional wounds my characters carry tend to come from the largely negative relationships of their childhoods.

Abandoned Nursing Home by Lee Russell via Flickr

Abandoned Nursing Home by Lee Russell via Flickr

I make a habit of this likely because writing is my main source of catharsis, whether I’m working on fiction or not. I guess I really do write what I know as I try to understand the world around me between the smudges, cracks and scars.

Don’t fret, my childhood wasn’t an overly bad one. There were a lot of ups and downs, some severe downs, but as an adult looking back and comparing myself to others, I see that in many respects I was lucky. There are just a few relationships that weren’t easy. And still aren’t.

Obviously, no one’s life is easy, but some days are easier to handle than others when the childhood factor comes into play.

I guess this is where we circle back and I throw in that old adage about how we can’t have the good without the bad. One of my goals is to focus more on that good. Today is not a great example of that. However, I’ll keep writing, keep working on my problems, and hopefully get back on even footing.

Influences: A Brief Background of What You’ll Find in My Writing

Writers get asked about their influences a lot. Readers and fellow writers want to know what helped make a certain creation come to life. Usually, answers include a compiled list of favourite and respected authors. Sometimes a notable book that offered inspiration years ago.

I’ve never been good at giving a list. I have too many favourite books. Too many favourite authors. And I read too widely for the list to make sense to anyone not privy to my mind (count yourself lucky). Besides, books I’ve read don’t actively enter my own stories. I’m not a meta writer. I’m sure if I delved deep enough I’d locate pieces of books that have stuck with me and influenced me over the course of my life. But that seems like a lot of work.

I’m more the type of artist that compiles inspiration for a piece. For instance, I have a high fantasy novel in the works sparked by a book I read called Sex with Kings. I’m now assembling a list of research books -fiction and non-fiction- which I hope will lend a hand as I create and populate my world. That’s how I get inspired, it’s a constant process as I start weaving the bits together.

The fabled muse is obviously not what I want to talk about today. As far as influences across the board go, I’d have to say my core principles are what stand out on the page. That’s what I’m going to label the following list as anyway. I can’t possibly give a detailed description of each and every principal I hold dear. So I’ll stick to the items that I actively try to transcribe in all of my work.

Women are human beings. This is a d’uh one. Yet funny enough it still needs to be said in this world we find ourselves a part of. I actively identify as a feminist and I do my damnedest to make that obvious in my writing. Gender relations are extremely important to me, as is the representation of women. Women want more out of life than a Stepford existence. They’re complex, multifaceted, and interesting. People learn from the media around them and I want to leave behind me positive examples of how men and women interact; and a real picture of the struggle women have had to face across feminism’s lifetime.

Consent. People think consent is a new concept. It’s not. It actually ties into the principal above. You see, in a world that doesn’t treat women like they’re human, consent becomes a moot point. That infuriates me. Consent is relevant. Consent is important. Consent is non-negotiable. Again, when it comes to gender relations and any kind of intimate or sexual relations, I intend to put consent front and centre.

History is full of ugly truths that must be faced. This one kind of explains itself. As someone with exclusively white, European ancestry, some days looking in the mirror can suck. A lot of the world’s bad history *cough imperialism cough colonialism cough* can easily be laid at the feet of Caucasian individuals. Not all of it, of course, but quite a bit in recent years. As awful as history can be, I acknowledge it. I want to learn from it and prevent horrific events from occurring again in any way that I can. Sweeping hard-to-digest truths under the rug is not the way to this. You have to meet the negative face to face.

Diversity matters. This is a new one for me because it never occurred to me -living my white, privileged existence- that there were kids and adults out there who were denied dreams and futures because of the colour of their skin. Still. Yes, I realize it’s impossible to be that naive, especially when you’re well aware of racism but there it is. My revelation came when I was researching for my honours project and came across a piece by an African-Canadian in which he stated he’d never before had a teacher ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He didn’t know he had options before one asked him. That, and reading items connected with Twitter’s hashtag #wndb that have forced the world to see that the majority of kids out there aren’t seeing themselves in major media and when/if they do their faces get erased, has forced me to open my eyes. I want to be part of the solution, not a problem.

That’s the short of it, these are four topics you will find time and again in my writing.

 

*Image source.