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Wherein I worry

Reader expectations are one of those minefields that, frankly, terrify me.

As an author, I have no say about my covers (well, beyond the usual pleading, begging, and generally undignified behaviour that I will spare you all), and none on the cover blurb; I have no say about what goes on the spine, and in the end, no say about where the book is actually shelved in the stores.

But as a reader, I know roughly what I want to read on any given day (the exception to this is Terry Pratchett, who I can read in any mood, at any time, and in any sleep-deprived state) and I tend to pick up a book according to that amorphous desire. And boy, if I pick up what I think is a Robin McKinley novel, and I end up with a Horror novel or a Military SF novel, I'm likely to be peeved beyond reason at the book I did get. Even when the book itself, as written, is entirely blameless.

Nothing new here.

But… wait, I'll get to the relevant part.

I write under two names (well, or three, if you count the Sagara West amalgamation): Michelle West (largely for DAW) and Michelle Sagara (for Luna); my first four novels, written as Michelle Sagara, have been reprinted by BenBella books under the name "Michelle Sagara West".

The West novels are all interconnected; they all take place in the same world, and are actually all on the same time-line. I am not the master of incluing, and my guess is that it's pretty hard to read any of those books without reading the ones that preceded them. They are all multiple viewpoint books, and while I would now structure the first 2 novels of the SUN SWORD series differently, the disparate plot threads and character arcs take some time to come together. Where time in this case means thousands of pages. Literally.

I try to end each novel with the closure of the novel's sub-arc, and with some sense of the emotional resonance relevant to that novel – but the story isn't done. I know where it's going; I know what the end-point for all of the characters I've introduced is, although some of those endings are based on characters that I haven't introduced yet. And one or two have changed since 1994, because of characters that have been introduced subsequently (this isn't really a spoiler – but or people who've read these books, an example: I knew where Kallandras was going to end up at the conclusion of the End of Days sequence, and now … it's not as clear.)

The Sagara Luna novels are my first attempt to do something different. I wanted to write novels that would a) stand alone and b) work in concert – much the way a Buffy season does. I also wanted to write something that had a much more accessible tone, something contemporary in feel, even with all the strangeness of the world around it. They're fun books to write. But they're actually harder, in some ways, for me. The language, the metaphors, the tone of the West novels – those are my writing voice. That's the voice I write in when I'm not really parsing words qua words; when I'm deep into story, and it's the story that's driving everything, hell bent on arrival. The Sagara tone is completely different, and I often find I'm stripping out metaphor or a turn of phrase that doesn't work with a contemporary feel when I do my first pass line-edits.

I thought of the first Sagara book as my attempt to write a Tanya Huff novel, with the clear understanding that I'm not Tanya Huff. I would like to be one tenth as witty or clever. I'm digressing.

People have read the Luna novels, and this makes me happy. People have even liked them, and have written to tell me so, and this makes me unreasonably happy. It's good to know that something you've tried actually works.

But … I'm not at all certain that the readers who liked the Luna books will actually like the West novels – and that's where reasonable reader expectation comes in. They are very different. But they are both written by me. I would have bet against it, but some people clearly do like both – and I'm completely uncertain about what to say when someone in the store asks me whether or not they should read the West novels if they like the Luna ones – or vice versa.

It doesn't do me any good – it doesn't do my career any good – to give people a novel that they don't actually want (it in fact helps no one's career to do this, in my experience). I've so far only had one person say "If you can write something good, why are you writing something boring?" in reference to the difference between the two. (Obviously I consider neither boring, because anything that bored me would never get finished; it's hard enough to finish something that's almost an obsession).

So the bookstore girl behind the writer wants to know how to navigate that minefield without denigrating either identity.

Comments

estara
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
Hmm, I also enjoy both current series, but while I am buying the Sundered series I have a much harder time getting into them (I enjoy hope in my romance and since I'm basically rooting for the devil to get the angel the second and third book - which I have browsed into - are for reading when I am more composed about those two. Oh, what IS nice is that I have no idea whether you'll get them together at the end or not).

I found you via the Hunter books and then went into Sunsword because of that (and because of the gorgeous Jodi Lee covers). Near the end of Sunsword I realised that the two are connected (I'm slow that way, I just throw myself into the world and see if I can swim, I don't analyse while I'm reading), which encreased my enjoyment. Actually I do read even your big series one at a time when they appear. I shall reread them when I have all of them (provided you finish them in my lifetime ^^, I can see places you can go with them but you've surprised me often enough, so who knows what'll happen).

The Cast in Courtlight have the advantage of one viewpoint which focusses your style more and - as you said - recurring characters (if I can take up the Nora Roberts view, they'd be your J.D.Robb series) and since I love the character it works well for me. I don't see them as YA though, the dark background made the heroine grow up very fast. I'm looking forward whom she is going to end up with, or even if she will. I'm hoping for an eventual good ending after however many adventures you'll have her go through.

I thank you for not being Terry Goodkind who threw his main characters in the Sword of Truth series into the ever more harrowing torture scenarios until I couldn't take it anymore. With you the adventure stays fresh.

Hmm so this is an analysis from my viewpoint but no real help for your question I guess. Sorry o.o;
msagara
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC)
I thank you for not being Terry Goodkind who threw his main characters in the Sword of Truth series into the ever more harrowing torture scenarios until I couldn't take it anymore. With you the adventure stays fresh.

I think it's hard to write about characters when their story is finished on some level. I've had one or two people ask me (very, very politely) not to give up on the West characters because I was bored with them -- and I am honestly never bored by them. Because in the long arc, most of their stories aren't finished. Where they are now, how they get to the end of those arcs -- those are still compelling for me because I want to tell those stories, and I haven't finished.

But I think it would be very, very hard to return to characters whose story is finished, for me.

People do read for character, and often, for very specific characters -- but I sometimes wonder (because, working in a bookstore, I've heard this about Goodkind several times) if the emotional story he was telling was finished earlier in regards to the two, and he felt he had to continue with them regardless. I honestly don't know; I don't know the author in question. I do know other authors who grind their teeth in frustration at being shackled to older works.
estara
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
From Wikipedia:

"The Sword of Truth series is considered an epic fantasy series by both readers and critics alike. The awards it has been nominated for or won are all fantasy-related, and as the series contains all the standard fantasy elements such as dragons, magic, set in a more or less medieval level of technology, and fictional countries, it has been marketed as a fantasy series. Despite being placed in the genre by others, Goodkind perceives himself as more of a novelist than a fantasy author.[8][9] Goodkind believes that using the fantasy genre allows him to better tell his stories and better convey the human themes and emotions which he desires to share with the reader. Regardless of the genre of his novels, Goodkind states his main goal in writing is to inspire.[10]"

Maybe by treating fantasy as a disguise which he has to fit his vision into, instead of the tool or correct outfit for his story Goodkind has never seen that he has repeated the same Campbell hero story again and again, with no real growth (admittedly I stopped reading in the middle of the fourth book, so I can't completely qualify as knowledgeable).

Basically, with him the tropes hit me over the head with a hammer again and again (I really liked the first book by the way, even though the torture made me queasy). You don't write down to your readers or spell everything out again and again, on the other hand you're not so elevated or incoherent that one can't at some point understand what you mean, so it stays intriguing.

Nifty ^^. Keep writing, I'll certainly buy and try each new book. Should I ever stop liking them, I can tell you they'll go on to a new good home (I never throw books away, I don't sell them on ebay any longer either, I have a few friends who get books parcels once or twice a year).