Friday, December 5, 2008

A visit with author Patrick Taylor

We love Patrick Taylor, and this video shows why. We've just published his second book, An Irish Country Village, in Select Editions volume 300.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Never-ending stories

I just read a book I didn’t like. Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning this, since it happens more often than not, but this was an unusual case. The thing is, it was a good book. It was well-written, with an interesting plot and a great setting. Our first reader had even recommended it for inclusion in a future Select Editions volume. But as far as I was concerned it had one big insurmountable problem.

It didn’t end.

There were some really important plot elements in the book revolving around whether or not the heroine would get romantically involved with the guy who was obviously right for her, and also what exactly was the story behind the heroine’s mother’s mysterious disappearance. There were other plot elements too, and they were all resolved, but when you turned the last page of the manuscript, the heroine still hadn’t gotten together with Mr. Right, and we still knew nothing about what had happened to the mother. The resolution of these issues, apparently, might be in the next book in the series. Or maybe not. The publisher, in any case, is promising a long series revolving around this heroine.

Now, I’m not necessarily against long books or connected books. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings, for instance, which is a trilogy, where nothing is resolved until you get to the end of volume three. I understand this, and I am on-board with it. And I have enjoyed series books where the same characters come back to entertain us more than once, so I am on-board with series novels in general, provided each installment stands on its own. What I am not on-board with is mysteries that don’t solve their mystery, or romances that don’t get romantic. To fully appreciate the book that started this discussion, I would have to read not only that book but, at the very least, the next book in the series, and maybe even beyond that. This isn’t finding a book you like or an author you like and reading as it suits you. It’s finding a book or an author you like and being forced to read as it suits the author or the publisher. I think that’s asking an awful lot of a reader. It’s practically a lifetime commitment. And I think it’s also a little bit of a cheat.

I’ve talked about series novels in the past that are problematic, especially those that demand that you already know everything there is to know about the characters before you read the latest installment, which means that you have to start at the beginning of the series or you’re totally confused. Good authors who write about series characters—for instance, Michael Connelly or Lee Child, to name just two—don’t do this. They provide you with everything you need to know about the book you are reading within that book. Sure, if you’re a fan and know some of the previous books, you might get a little more out of it, but if you start reading any one of their books, you are never lost for a second. That’s because they’re the good ones. And the idea of letting the absolutely major plot elements hang until some other future book? I doubt if it would ever cross their minds.

I guess publishers nowadays are hoping to build repeat authors that readers will want to revisit when the next book comes out. I can understand that. But I wish they wouldn’t limit their audiences when they do it. I love repeat authors, but I love repeat authors whose each and every book is satisfying on its own. If I want a soap opera that never ends, I’ll watch a soap opera on television. When I read a book I want a beginning, a middle and an end. Call me a conservative. Call me old-fashioned. But when I turn that last page, I want to feel nourished. Sure, I might get hungry again later, but I don’t want to end a meal still hungry. That simply does not do the job for me.