A few months ago, I published a post on my personal blog in which I revealed a secret. The secret was: I’m not a very good reader. No, I don’t mean I’m unable to read, like words don’t make sense to me or something, I mean I’m bad at finding time to do it. Which sucks, because I love reading. And because reading a lot is one of the basic rules of writing. How will you know whose work you’re ripping off if you haven’t read it?
I’m like everyone else. I have 24 hours in any given day, and a lot of things to fit into that time. Full-time job, family, writing, promotion, getting to the gym, producing shows with my wife, etc., etc., etc. (It seems like it’s all the little etcs at the end that take up the most time). Invariably, reading is relegated to whatever number of minutes I can squeeze out at the end of the day once I’m in bed with my Kobo in hand. Unfortunately, the number of minutes tends to be few, and it’s not unusual for me to be dozing with the eReader battery draining on my chest and a real danger of an electrical fire because I’ve drooled on it. And it doesn’t matter what book I’m reading. I’m currently reading Steven Montano’s excellent Blood Skies (what? You don’t have it? Did you know you can get it free? Go do it now…I’ll wait for you), and loving it, but I am reading at the pace of a lame snail.
It hasn’t always been this way.
I’ve read a few, so here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of my readings thus far.
– I remember beginning with the Bobsey Twins. Those of you who are younger probably don’t know what I’m talking about; the two sets of twin brothers and sisters aren’t exactly in vogue anymore. Think Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but for younger readers (in fact, I believe all those series were written by the same group of writers). I loved the adventure in those books and tried to graduate to the Hardy Boys when I was a little older. I didn’t make it past the first page of the first book, the writing was so bad.
– The first book I recall having a noticeable emotional effect on me was Susan Cooper’s Dawn of Fear. Ms. Cooper is better known for her series, The Dark is Rising, but this novel of childhood friends in London during World War II was the first book, but certainly not the last, to make me cry.
– As is the case with many people my age, Stephen King was big for me. The first book I read of his was Cujo, which I believe I got just after it came out, but it was his earlier novel, ‘Salems Lot, that sold me. It was the first book to scare the bejesus out of me; I wouldn’t go near a window for weeks. The I read The Shining, which ruined me on hotels. I still count The Stand and It as two of my favourite novels ever. I know Mr. King goes through stages of coolness amongst readers (I believe he’s on an upswing right now due to the Dark Tower series), but I’ll always count him as a major influence. If you doubt the power of his writing, pick up his excellent nonfiction book On Writing. If you are a writer, read the entire thing. If you are a reader, skip to the back section where he relates what happened when he was hit by a van while walking along the side of a road. You will cry.
– In grade 8 or 9, I was assigned to read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and do a book report. I didn’t want to do it. Who wanted to read a boring book about some girl and her lawyer father. Not me. But I wasn’t the kind of kid to not do his homework, so the night before I was to have the book read, I started it. A few hours later, I was done and couldn’t believe how quickly I read it or how much I enjoyed it. I still can’t believe she never wrote another novel.
– I’m a fantasy writer, so you can count many of the usual suspects amongst my influences: J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin (I’ve considered changing my name to Bruce R.R. Blake, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it), Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard.
– In the urban fantasy subgenre, I’d have to say Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey have been my two biggest influences. Gaiman’s American Gods is one of those books that I wish I wrote ( do you think anyone would notice if I changed a few names and locales and re-published it as Canadian Gods? Probably). I love Mr. Carey’s Felix Castor series. When it came out, the concept was original, his style is very noir, and his plots are intricate and detailed. You can’t read his books without being able to picture London.
Most of my reading these days is of independent authors. I, like many of you reading this, look forward to discovering new talent, supporting people like myself who give their blood, sweat and tears to making a quality novel. There have been many times in my life that I’ve bought a book with a great cover and an intriguing description, published by a high quality publishing house, only to be disappointed.
It’s time to give the little guys a chance.