I am a picky reader. I’m always looking for books that satisfy my particular wants in a read, and sometimes, it’s just more fun to try to produce one than to wade through a lot of generic prose that doesn’t work for me.
I am not drawn to books that are all one tone, especially sad or guilty or wrong or dark or depressed. Or all one pace. (Well, except for Alexander McCall-Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency books, which are quite hilarious at their languid pace.) But usually, I want a variety of feelings and paces in a book.
I want adventure—not just people sitting around talking. Physical adventure. Trips to strange locations. Indiana Jones and that giant rolling rock. Miss Polly on the railroad track.
I want buckets of humor and a pervasive light-hearted tone, with darker things rolling through the story just enough to make the reading ride a satisfying one.
I usually want a female protagonist, a smart, can-do, somewhat earthy, imperfect female—with a brain. Maybe a tall one or a heavy one or a black one or a Chinese. Maybe an older one or a younger one or one with an interesting occupation. Variety is the spice of reading, but I will no longer abide 300 pages in the head of any character who is “too dumb to live.”
I want some mystery. In fact, I’m a bit tired of murder, but give me some kind of mystery to keep me turning pages.
I want some romance. Not highly telegraphed romance, but surprise romance, the kind where I didn’t totally see it coming from page one.
I also want interesting information dispersed throughout the book. (For example, all that info about bees in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Or Dick Francis books that each center on a different profession.)
I want characters with mixed emotions and complicated lives and odd quirks, who may or may not be predictable. Don’t give me stereotypical characters unless you write them fabulous dialogue and place them in an unusual setting. (Janet Evanovich continues to keep me laughing after twenty-one books with the same crew—it’s gotta be the dialogue.)
Did I say dialogue? Oh, yes. I want awesome, hilarious, uproarious dialogue. Sharp and real. I loooooove great dialogue.
And I want a real, palpable setting, one that’s so real it becomes a character in its own right. It can have a fictitious name, but I want to smell it and feel it and taste it and hear it, as well as see it. And I want a real time frame with real technology and brand names from this time frame to enrich the story.
So I write. I write about situations I have known as met by characters who I only partly know. I throw in characters I’ve never met and see what happens. I have a vague idea what I’m going to write about, and then I keep it light, adding highs and lows and lots of adventure. Once I start the book, the characters often chime in and tell me what comes next. I let them. Sometimes, they lead me into rich territory. Sometimes, their insights need editing. But that’s my adventure of sitting at the keyboard. That’s the magic of writing for me.