Yep, I’m a reader, too, and I’d like to address that today. Some people forget that authors are usually still fellow readers. Sometimes people think that, magically/instantaneously, an author suddenly stops reading books the moment they set pen to page, or fingers to keyboard—and for me, definitely the latter, you really, really don’t want to have to try to read my handwriting. But we are still readers.
I do, however, think I know where the myth came from that authors aren’t fellow readers. If we’re writing full time (as I do; this is my only means of support and it is not a guaranteed paycheque, so I am constantly having to work on & sell new projects to publishers)…then we often do not have time for leisure reading. This is one of the suckiest parts of the job. (That, and I dislike writing summaries, blecch.)
There are several reasons why I don’t have a lot of free time for leisure writing. For one, I personally feel like I shouldn’t read anything that is going to influence my original ideas. I know my original stories are pretty darn original, and I try to keep them that way. But however careful or inventive or whatever I or other authors might be, this is not as laughable an idea as you’d think.
For instance, a recent query came up on a website as to whether or not my use of “boot chevrons” as a term in my military SF story was something some military out there actually uses, or if it was a tip of the hat to Heinlein, who used it in his novel STARSHIP TROOPERS, and whether or not Heinlein invented it or borrowed it from somewhere. (Consensus: He seemed to have coined it himself as a term, though something vaguely similar to the definition he used has been used in militaries before.) (Confession: Yes, it was a tip of the hat to him, the same as I’ve tipped my had in many subtle ways to many of my other favorite authors. I did, however, take and reshape the underlying definition of what the phrase meant to suit my own needs—sort of like “space marines” being reshaped by successive authors to mean different variations.)
As a result, I have a copy of the first Honor Harrington novel, ON BASILISK STATION, sitting on one of my many bookshelves in my office…utterly unread. It has been sitting on my bookshelves for several years, now. Why? Because I knew if I read it, I would be influenced by it. As it is, I’ve already had my Theirs Not to Reason Why series compared to the Honor Harrington novels. By ignoring it (*whimper*) all this time, I have been able to say with a clear conscience that “Nope, never read that series; any similarities you see are simply a coincidence.”
…To say I am looking forward to finishing DAMNATION, fourth book in the military SF series, so that I can finally read ON BASILISK STATION With a clear conscience is an understatement.
Oddly enough, this also goes for most romance novels. Even though Romance as a genre is a huuuuuge category with lots of sub-genres, I have been writing a large number of romance novels…so I haven’t made a lot of time to read romance. I don’t think it would be quite as influential on my writings, which such a distinct sub-genre as military science fiction would be on my military SF works…but I just haven’t a lot of time for leisure reading.
In fact, most of my reading is research reading. I’ve been studying military tactical manuals (the kind where you have to have a military or retired military I.D. to get a hold of them, as loaned to me by a Vietnam veteran friend of mine), and lots and lots of science articles. Mostly via Science News. Oh, and, um, *blush* Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Institute books, lately. *cough* While brushing my teeth. It’s important to spend two full minutes brushing your teeth, you know!
But I do occasionally squeeze in a bit of leisure reading. Sometimes I will sit down and actually read one of my own novels…and not just for research/refreshing the memory purposes, but for actual fun. *le gasp!* Remember, I got into this whole writing gig because nobody was writing the kinds of stories which I myself wanted to read, so I realized I’d have to write them myself…and then I’d get to read them, yay!
Usually…well, infrequently overall, since I read a new book like once every month or less nowadays…but usually when I read a new leisure book, it’s been something in a genre I’m not currently writing. Such as fantasy (some of Mercedes Lackey’s newest Valdemar books, always a favorite world for me to read), or a science fiction detective novel (K.B. Spangler’s DIGITAL DIVIDE, an ebook I highly recommend), or a parody SF novel (John Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS, which was both a poke at the tropes of scifi and a fine stand-alone novel at the same time).
But I don’t have a lot of time to read simply for fun, because I try to slip actual facts into my stories—how to make cheese, for instance—as well as try to write an entertaining story…and because I want to bring you original works. Nothing will ever be created in an influence-free vacuum, however…so if you spot something that looks like a tip of a hat to another novel or story or even a television show…well, it just might very well be me going “here’s a little squee from something I liked!”
In the case of my latest release, THE TOWER (Guardians of Destiny book 1, Berkley Sensations fantasy romance trade paperback)…it’s a big graceful bow—not just a tip of the hat—to the many, many years I’ve spent playing various role-playing games. It’s also the start of a really cool, far-spanning fantasy story that will take eight books to play out…and it’s a very charming (and steamy) love-story, all at the same time. Like so many of the things I write, it’s a story with lots of layers and secret in-jokes for my fellow readers, and cool things to learn and ponder and reread later and realize, “Oh, yeah! This bit in book 6 was totally foreshadowed in book 1, and I didn’t even know it at the time, awesome!! Omg—this part here is referenced in book 4—what else did she secretly stuff in here??”
Because I promise you, I am a fellow reader, and that’s exactly the sort of book I want to read. Thank you for letting me share those sorts of stories with you. I hope you like reading them, too!