Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Big Books

I love big books.

I'm not talking huge, bible sized books. I'm not talking end-of-the-world thrillers (though I do like some of those too).

I'm talking books where the characters go to hell and back. When their emotions are so torn up, their lives are actually in danger, and you feel like anything can happen. I want books to be an event from an author.

Every year a writer has to put out a book. That's once a year for about a week, I get to enjoy what one of my favorite writers put down on paper. What he or she does to the characters he created. I love when characters lives get messed up.

And I even love it in series.

I don't often enjoy books where the author thinks he or she needs to go easy on the characters because they've been through a lot. I don't care, I want to see them go through the wringer. I don't want a small book. (Though some authors have succeeded at the break book. Laura Lippman's ANOTHER THING TO FALL--for one.) I want to feel the book as I read it. I want to be turning the pages.

When your series character needs a break, go write a standalone and let some time pass in the series. I think Lehane did a good job of this when he decided if the Kenzie Gennaro series went any further his two characters would become psychotics. So he put them away. He wrote MYSTIC RIVER, and that was an event. He wrote SHUTTER ISLAND... and that was an event. And then he wrote The GIVEN DAY and THAT was an event. And now, apparently, he's thinking about bringing his two detectives back. I hope they go through hell again. It's only fitting.

When I sit down to write, I want to tell the biggest book possible. In my two Jackson Donne novels, Donne went through hell. I actually got a fan letter after the second one asking me... "What's next for Jackson... cancer?"

I did a book group and they said the two books were gut wrenching.

That's what I want to do. I want to push the characters further. I want to torture them.

Give me action.

Give me high emotional stakes.

Let the characters fall from huge heights.

But then I want the characters to get back up. Because that's the most exciting moment for me. When a hero gets beat up... and then finally... gets back up. And wins.

That's an event.

What kind of books do you like? Do you like small books? Why? And vice versa. What appeals to you about high stakes novels?


Dana King said...

I like to see the characters' reactions to what they have to go through. It may be a relatively minor thing on the surface, but is exacerbated by something else that is going on. How frustrated do they get? Will they do something they'll regret, or something they didn't think they were capable of? I like watchign them learn about themselves.

Eric said...

I love small books. I love the way a simple story, an allegory even, can leave you breathless like you've just experienced every human emotion in just a hundred pages. I love the way something simple and understated can say something grand and infinite.

Big books can of course do this too. But I am always so amazed that some small books can. Every time I read The Old Man and the Sea, for example, it blows my mind that something so simple can contain so much.

Steve Weddle said...

My reading habits are similar to what you mention for the writer.

I wouldn't be able to read DFW's INFINITE JEST followed by WTV's FATHERS AND CROWS.

I like to vary the reading, maybe taking in that big, winter-read book and following it with something lighter, or at least quicker and shorter.

Though few things are as exciting as waiting for the next novel in a series, planning a trip to the bookstore for the pub date of the character's story you're waiting for. Speaking of, when's the third Jackson Donne book coming out? That guy who writes CABLE says this is the one where you kill Donne.