Friday, November 19, 2010


By Russel D McLean

You know, I didn’t like author X’s last book.”

“Was it a bad book?” I asked, surprised, because I loved author X and had adored their last book.

“Nah,” my friend said. “Not that. Just… it wasn’t a book I thought they were going to write.”

“They surprised you?”


“And you didn’t like that?”


Stuart MacBride has returned to the world of blogging over here. Its been a long leave of absence, and he’s been sorely missed (at least by me, and I’m sure by many thousands more readers with taste and a beautifully black sense of humour). But he’s talking about risks upon his return.

Like the risk he’s taking writing a standalone.

The risk he already took writing – cue deep intake of shocked breath – a science fiction novel!

A risk?


I don’t know if I’m an odd breed as a reader, but I hate being able to second guess a writer. The best authors in my mind are the ones who continue to surprise me. The ones who have always gained my respect are the ones who take risks. Not the ones who do it right every time – I think its terribly unfair to expect authors to hit it out the park every time, when we expect actors, directors and even musicians to have a couple duds and wrong moves over the course of a career* - but the ones who try and stretch themselves and by extension their audience.

See, I don’t want to get bored.

I read to be surprised. Provoked. Excited. Intrigued.

How can that happen if an author does the same schtick book in and book out?

Two of my favourite writers of the moment are George Pelecanos and Don Winslow. Both authors keep shifting gears if not every book then every two or three. You can’t predict entirely what they’ll do next and even when you think you have a handle on what they’re doing, they pull something out of the box to surprise you.

Don Winslow is a very special case in point. Shifting gears near every novel, giving you books as diverse as Power of the Dog and Death and Life of Bobby Z**, books which take you on unexpected journeys, to themes and ideas you hadn’t considered before.

Hell, it doesn’t have to be so mind altering. MacBride’s change of genre was a wonderful move, something that rocked his audience a little because – just like the first time they read him – they didn’t know what to expect. I don’t understand why that unnerves some readers. To me, it’s a way of keeping the relationship between author and reader alive. Sure, we like to think we know what we’re getting, but really we love it when we’re surprised.

As a reader, I want to be taken places I’d never have considered. I don’t want to re-visit old ground. I want to be surprised, amazed and uncertain.

I want my books to be unpredictable. I want my authors unafraid to experiment and stretch and have fun.

And I’m sure they want to be able to do the same.

*Go on, make yer cheap jokes here
**A prime example of a book that didn’t work for this reader, but which I appreciated because he was trying to stretch himself as a writer.


Dana King said...

I don't mind writers doing something different; I mind when it doesn't work as well.

Michael Koryta comes to mind. I like his Lincoln Perry PI novels a lot, read them all. His standalones don't appeal to me. Not because parry and the usual; cast are missing, but because I don't think the stories hold up as well. He seems to be writing the standalones for more of a mass audience, with movies in mind. (I don't know if that's the case; they just read that way to me.)

This may make me the outlier, or not. Just about everyone writes some things better than others. I don't turn my nose up at a book just because the writer tried something new. (Full confession: I used to, but that was my loss.)

Charlieopera said...

As a reader, I want to be taken places I’d never have considered.

McDonald's? The Staten Island Ferry? How about Greenwich and Chambers Street?

Good on'ya. I just read an interview with MacBride by Len Wanner ... very interesting dude. I look forward to reading him.