Woman and books

Choosy Readers: How Much is Too Much in Books?

Did anyone else like writing book reports in grade school? I did. But only for books of my choosing.

Perhaps having Dune forced upon me is why I’ve never been much of a traditional science fiction aficionada—and why I get defensive when folks assume my Other Worldly novels are sci-fi simply because they involve aliens.

When it came to Dune, giant sand worms weren’t really my thing—if that’s what they were. I never found out, because I didn’t finish it. And I never went back to try again.

One challenge faced as a writer is wanting people in my life to read my novels when they, like me, might have definitive ideas about what they do or don’t want to read.

I read both nonfiction and fiction in a variety of genres, but I’ve never been comfortable with horror (science fiction or otherwise). And futuristic fiction feels too disengaged from reality. I’m not a Mad Max kind of gal.

And yet, some might think vampire stories automatically fall into the horror genre, but Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels (which the HBO series True Blood was based upon) were more like fantasy romance and feisty feminist lit for me. I love those books, so it’s fortunate I didn’t turn my nose up and say, “I don’t do vampires” before reading them.

I’ve never been drawn in by historical fiction, as in elaborate time period pieces, save for a few romances when I enjoyed the genre, decades ago. From historical romances, I learned tidbits about faraway people, places and events. And how sexist the world is and has apparently always been—though it took me too long to realize it.

Ironically, there was one highly futuristic romance I scarfed up like candy back in the day; now it makes me cringe to think of it. Not due to the futuristic setting, but because its concept of male-female relationships was straight out of the Middle Ages.

I used to devour books involving men with specialized military training. Now I can’t get past gratuitous gun violence and torturing of females. Not to mention arrogance and clueless sexism oozing from pages of many male-authored tomes (and magazine articles they author on writing).

Other authors make me laugh while addressing environmental issues of social consciousness. I can’t get enough of the brilliance of Carl Hiaasen, even after many years, and so many delightful books.

When it comes to appealing to a diverse group of readers, how much is too much when mixing and matching fictional genres?

Some folks I know don’t do fantasy, or heaven forbid, “chick lit.” Some don’t want politics, legalese or social consciousness evoked. And then there’s romance, which I wasn’t even sure I was ready to write. As it turns out, my protagonist Rowan Layne’s romantic life is not traditional either.

Some might think spaceships and flying to the moon is all very fine and cool, but none of that other non-science fiction stuff. Except my books pretty much have all that other stuff.

Should I endeavor to explain, or simply concede there are those who will never read this series because it’s supposedly about aliens?

Which brings up another challenge when writing a novel series. Fictional characters don’t age the way readers do.

I have a favorite series I began reading 20 years ago, now nearing 30 novels. Do I enjoy each new installment as much as I used to? Reluctantly, no. Because while I’ve aged and changed, the protagonist in these books remains in her early thirties and I’m now roughly the same age as her mother. So I’m a tad tired of her not getting on with her life.

Is the author perhaps weary of penning the same characters and situations? Something to ponder as I draft Being Alien, fourth book of my Other Worldly series, in which I’m gradually aging my protagonist Rowan Layne, and having her evolve as she learns new things about herself and the universe in which she resides.

Rowan’s reality may involve aliens, but it’s not so different from the world any given reader exists in. Which means it includes sexism (calling it out) and sexy romance, fantasy and science, pseudo-science and political science. And let’s face it, some of it isn’t even fiction.

Are readers willing to evolve beyond a singular mindset when it comes to book choices? It’s a constant conundrum, so I write what I enjoy reading, with my own twist.

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