Friday, October 23, 2009

9 Pages

Every once in awhile, I get the girls to sleep before midnight. Occasionally these nights coincide with the amazing Blair working a grave. So with the house all to myself, I of course catch up on some laundry and make sure the sink is empty of dirty dishes.


I read YA novels.

I'm not sure if YA fiction (usually fantasy) can be classified as guilty pleasure, but throw in a half-a-pint of Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake... ? There's a reason I wait till I'm alone for these moments.

It's no secret that I enjoy reading very much, and I have read a host of very high-quality authors. J. K. Rowling (twice) and Neil Gaiman to name a few. However it seems as of late I've been much more critical, or perhaps discerning, with the books I've picked up I recently finished Uglies by Scott Westerfield. Meh. It was okay. It ended as a cliffhanger. Boo. I was mildly annoyed to have been robbed of anything resembling an ending, especially since I had really no desire at all to seek out the second book. Not worth my time.
Last night I started reading the first Septimus Heap book on strong recommendations from my sister and parents.
Is 9 pages into a book to early to decide that it's garbage?
I of course sincerely apologize to my family for tearing into a book that they all enjoyed so much, and I know exactly what their argument would be: "It's a great story, you can't get into the plot of the story in just 9 pages!" To that I respond with this. It really wouldn't matter if the author is the greatest storyteller in the world. If the writing is terrible, I can't focus on anything else. And the writing in this book is terrible. I could point out numerous examples, instead I will explain the triumph and also subsequent fear I experienced upon this realization.

First of all, it comforts me to know that all the time, headache, and money spent on an English degree did not completely go to waste. I can decide if a book is any good all by myself now. Good for me. Gold star. I believe what Todd Petersen told me in class is true. Sometimes you can learn more about being a writer by reading a terrible book, than reading a good one. A clever metaphor here and there and a somewhat interesting plot does not excuse for poor sentence construction and indifferent grammar. The really good books are the ones where the writing is so expertly crafted, so that you don't notice it at all and are therefore allowed the freedom to be completely wrapped up in the characters and the story. Of course solid writing isn't everything. Michael Chabon is an incredible writer, but I found Summerland to be completely lacking in the sense of wonder that should exist in a fantastical YA novel. So obviously, some kind of balance must be found.

Now I understand the who the target audience of this book is. But that in my mind is no excuse. Just because the subject matter of a book is intended for younger audiences does not mean that intelligent crafting of the plot, writing style, or description of characters and setting can be ignored or just breezed over. Over the years there have been numerous books that not only successfully engage the minds and imaginations of children but are pretty tolerable, and in some cases even more meaningful when combined with the wisdom and experience of age. Take for example: Peter Pan, The Tale of Desperaux, The Graveyard Book, The Secret Garden, the entire Harry Potter series, Winnie the Pooh (the original of course), The Chronicles of Narnia, Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Ok. Rant complete.

Here's where I become terrified.

What if someone wants to put me down after 9 pages?

Like 90% of the population, I (foolishly) imagine myself to be a writer, and aspire to complete a novel someday. My biggest concern has always been that I don't have a good enough grasp on what it takes to create a decent plot. And now i'm realizing that if I can't write well in the first place, no one is going to even give my unstable plot ideas a chance.

So my conclusion to all of this? No, i don't have one. I guess i'm not tossing out my dream just yet. I mean, if Septimus Heap books can be published and considered bestsellers despite deplorable writing (and don't even get me started on Meyer...) I still have a shot.


Maybe this all just means I need more education. :)


  1. See, these are my feelings exactly when it comes to the Twilight books. People tend to excuse bad writing by saying you have to look past that to find the good in the book. Why do I, have to make an adjustment for them. To me, an author is providing me a service, like any other industry. At a restaurant, if I find a bug or a hair in my food, I'd rather not have anyone tell me "Oh, just look past that and eat it all because behind it, it's really tasty." There are many books, just like Rae pointed out, that are considered classics that I can't get past page one. I don't feel bad about it. No matter what you are doing or your profession, do your best to perfect it or be prepared to be passed on in place of something better, most likely one of your competitors. And to the consumers of the world, we all need to be a bit more picky and selective. This is the only way things become improved upon. If we settle, we perpetuate the cycle.
    I personally have an issue with the LDS people (which I am) who like Stephanie Meyer that either do so because they feel some sort of religious connection to her, or feel or make others feel as though they are not truly "mormon" if they don't like her writing. Believe me, I have heard these statements before. Aren't we the same people who believe that "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, (that) we (should) seek after these things." Pease let us seek excellence.
    [Now stepping down from my soapbox]
    Blair Einfeldt - Out!

  2. "Pease let us seek excellence."

    Classic. That alone may put a smile on my face the rest of the day. Thanks Blair.

    I hope we're still friends.


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