Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why ... or Maybe One Good Reason Why Writers' Should Read Best-Selling Books

Surprise. I read serious books as well as genre fiction.

What can be more serious than teen suicide? Yeah, I realize Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher has been on the New York Times List a long time, but I just got around to reading it. 

Why hadn't I read the book before now? Well ... YA fiction has the distressing habit of appearing in trade paperback. The cheapskate in me balks at paying $10-12.00 for a book. Then, I found it used! Voila. You get my opinion on this impressive book. 

When Hannah Baker moved to a new town, several missteps landed her with a reputation she didn't deserve. "Kids-Being-Kids" circumstances kept her life taking turns for the worse, until Hannah feels she has no choice but to commit suicide. Asher creates suspenseful novel using the premise that Hannah tape records her J'accuse to force her tormentors follow her journey by threantening to publically reveal them. The main character, a nice boy who makes mistakes, is also forced to listen to the tapes in sequence.

So what can pip-squeak writer learn from reading Thirteen Reasons Why besides that some writer's make a huge splash with their first book? [*sigh*]

Well, for one thing, a story can succeed in spite of flat craft skills.His characters all to often flirt with becoming caricatures, even with two view points describing people and events. Don't look for three dimensional characters here. The people described in Hannah's tape play their role and disappear. Even Clay, who is the narrator, and the most sympathetic character, doesn't escape his role of the "nice" boy, though he does gain insight from the tapes and grows. We assume the other kids in the book continue to wallow in their mud holes.

Another, thing. It's possible to create suspense even when the reader knows the ending -- Hannah kills herself. I think that's Asher's best achievement with this book. He manages to keep millions of readers turning the pages even though the storyline circles the same actions-reactions repeatedly.

Asher also uses a neat technique to distinguish the intertwining points of view -- italics for Hannah and regular typeface for Clay. The normal convention is to put changes in points of view in separate chapters or instar separate sections within a chapter. Asher writes them concurrently -- Hannah describes how she was wronged and Clay reacts ... over ... and ... over... again.

This last point is one reason why you should buy this book. Study it. Mark it up. Note the good craft points and the weaker craft points. Why? The bottom line is that Asher told a story that has enthralled millions. He did lots of stuff right even if the book drags in lots of places.

Rating? I give it 4**** stars. Hey, I finished it, and I plan to read it again ... soon. And, wondering why I didn't turn cutesie and give thirteen reasons why writers should read the book? -- I'm lazy.
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It's rather embarrassing, but I'm still trying to get my website straightened out. One of the problems: I always seem to hit snags where the site just doesn't respond -- in spite of the trouble-shooting by the host's customer service.  This last problem happens no matter which email provider I used, Firefox, Chrome, or Explorer, the website wouldn't download properly so I could change pages. Called the people three times over about a week, and it still didn't work.

Grump. Grump. Was busy and didn't have a two hour block to call customer service...yet again, and didn't get back to the site for two or three days more. It miraculously worked. 

Net result. The Ignoble Nobel Prize Winner is now listed on my author website. Even got my free short story page updated so all four stories have their Smashwords and Nook links displayed. Still have a six item list of corrections that still need to be done ... with the help of customer service but ... would you guess, no time.

One marketing note, I'd like to make.

I get most of my sales from Barnes & Noble. I think the free stories are the reason why. So, I am wondering: What are your experiences? Where do you buy most of your books? I buy print even though I have a Kindle.

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