Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Reading

Reading Goals

I used to be an avid reader. Literally any book had a chance of catching my attention. I checked out books from the library, bought books, borrowed books from friends, picked them up at flea markets and from FREE BOOKS bins and boxes. Recently, though? Especially the past several years? I haven’t been as avid for books. I don’t know what changed in my psyche, but I now spend more time reading my own work than I do reading others’ writing. This is something I don’t like.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for books, I do want to read more. This is more a conscious decision than anything else. I’m in a place where I have to be conscious of my reading habits, since they aren’t natural to me any more.

So this is what I’ve done:

Right now, I’ve got a number of books I haven’t finished readin. My goal this year is to finish reading at least some of those books. There are eleven books I need to finish reading, but I’ve set my reading goal on FM to twelve. One book a month is doable, even for me.

My sister got me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas this past year. I’ve already added some new books onto it, and I’ll be taking it with me wherever I go. These, I’ll start reading after I finish a few of those incomplete novels. Also, I’ve set up an Amazon Allowance of five dollars a month to use for getting more books. In addition, I’ve created a Goodreads account since it sort of “comes with” the Kindle, and I’ll be reviewing books I’ve read there. For those I’ve purchased at Amazon, I’ll be reviewing them there too—basically copy-pasting my review.

I also own a Nook, and it’s got a number of those books I’ve not finished reading on it. This year, I’m going to read those books, and review them on Barnes and Noble’s site, as well as on Goodreads.

Also, I’ve signed up for a Wattpad account. In part, this is to post some of my own writing, but it’s just as much to expand my reading. Since there was a smartphone app, I downloaded it to my phone. I’ll start reading the books I’ve selected on Wattpad after I’ve finished those I need to finish reading.

Lastly, there are a number of print books I need to read. They’ve been sitting on my bookshelves for years in some cases. I haven’t read them in part because my hands cramp and grow tired with holding print books these days. So I can read them, I must set them on a table or my desk—something that holds the book for me. Doing this requires me to bow my head over the book, which in turn causes a tension pull headache, where a muscle at the back of my skull tightens until I have difficulty moving my head. As a result, I don’t often read print books. I think I’ll be looking for them as ebooks and purchase them as I have the funds.

In this way, I’ll never be without a book at hand. So far, it’s worked this year. I’ve read more of others’ books than I did by this time last year.

Reading Habits

All writers who want to grow and improve in their skill should read. Many of the writers I know do, and those are the ones whose skill improves. I also read. But, with me, it fluctuates.

I go through cycles with my reading. While I enjoy doing it, my interests change. Not necessarily in what I read genre-wise, because I read widely, but in what I read project-wise.

Most of the time, especially when I’ve been in writing downswings this year, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading a variety of books written by other authors. Right now, I’ve got one I’m reading for edit notes for one of my friends in progress; there’s a fantasy book I’m rereading for pleasure; I’m also reading a book about the Bible (its origin and history); and I’m reading a steampunk fantasy that I checked out from the library. However, for the past week, or so, I haven’t touched any of these projects much (and I really must read a number of chapters o the book I’m going through for edit notes).

Recently—just the past week or so—I’ve been reading my own projects. This is in part because I’m really wanting to read something I’ve got in prework stages. Most of the reason why I’m going through all my own projects, though, is because I’m wanting a break from all the “extroverted” reading I’ve been doing.

I go through periods like this every so often. It’s a method which allows my creative mind to stew on things for my own projects, but it’s mostly a reaction to being too extroverted in my reading habits. This is something that developed as I recovered from being wrongly-medicated under the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia. I used to be almost-all extroverted in my reading, going through literally six to eight books a month, depending upon length. This was before the Navy and my breakdown. I checked out tons of books from the local library system, bought even more books, and, when I wasn’t writing, read to my heart’s content.

These days, my heart is content with quite a bit less such reading. I finish maybe two to three books by other people a month, frequently rereading things for various reasons—not just for pleasure, in other words. Often I’ll reread something to study how an author handled a particular scene or technical issue in their work to try and emulate in my own writing; most often, I’m looking for how an author handled character emotions.

But lately I’ve been reading more for pleasure. More books that are new to me, in genres outside of my current favorites. I’m rediscovering a love for mysteries, for one. The book about the Bible is one I’ve had for years and read way back when I first became Catholic; I’ve forgotten most of what it had to say, though, so I wanted to refresh my memory because if I stay with the Episcopal church, I plan on getting the version of the Bible it uses and reading through it so I’m familiar with the reasoning they’ve put into the Bible. I need to finish the steampunk mystery I checked out from the library before, I think, the 28th, because that’s when it must go back—I don’t have any more renewals on it.

Generally, I step away from my computer, tuck myself on my sofa, and read with my legs stretched out on the seat, pillows propping my knees and the book/device I’m reading from on my lap. I do this because I spend way too much time at my computer each day, and it’s a nice break. I put my headphones on, situate, if I wish, my home and cell phones nearby—a rarity for me because I generally ignore them when I’m reading (or actively putting words down)—and get lost in whatever book I’m reading.

I have learned not to put my own completed books on my ereader, though. If given an opportunity, I will read those instead of new books, so I don’t add them any more, not even for edit passes. This is another reason why I physically move away from the computer. Sometimes I read, usually from my ereader, while sitting at my desk, but not often. Generally, me at my desk is for online social time, writing, or reading my own works—mostly writing and socializing, to be honest.

One thing I never do is read in my bed here at home. It interferes with my sleep. I may do it if I’m stuck at the hospital overnight, but I’m usually so exhausted by whatever I’ve undergone there (typically some sort of surgical procedure), reading doesn’t affect me too much. But at home, my bedroom is mainly for sleeping, and I do little besides sleep at night, nap during the day, and spend a few odd moments dressing/undressing before/after bed and showers there. My bedroom is a sanctuary from the stresses of the real world, including reading, which, while not usually stressful, is definitely something I don’t want to associate with my bedroom.

Reading

I don’t read as widely as I used to. Most of the time, I’m focused on my writing, and it takes Herculean efforts of will and determination to force myself to abandon my computer for someone else’s writing. And, recently, I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy reading.

It’s relaxing. Not to the point of putting me to sleep, and I’ve read some books that would put other people to sleep in an instant. No, while relaxing my body, reading invigorates my mind. Sometimes this is a good thing, because I see the words I’m reading form pictures, like a movie, in my mind. I can sometimes hear the voices of the characters in my mind’s ear. It’s passive, so I’m not putting forth the effort necessary for my writing, but I get the same pleasure from it because it requires many of the same mental faculties writing does.

Sometimes this is a bad thing. Rarely, I’ll come across a book I think is so bad I can’t finish it because it inspires me to write better than the book I’m reading. Occasionally, I come across books I can’t finish because I simply lose interest; in one book I recall, the most interesting character was a side character who didn’t have a pov, but who I wanted to follow instead of the actual MCs; I’d purchased this book and the second in the trilogy (the only ones available at the time; the third hadn’t been printed yet) based on the back cover synopsis and my reading of the first few pages of the first novel; it had an interesting concept and I thought it would be much more fascinating than it ultimately proved to be; as I recall, I made it through two thirds of the book before finally giving up on it because it wasn’t telling a story that gripped my attention. With much more frequency, I discover books that send me right back to my own writing because they inspire me to write a story just as good as the one I’m reading, and my progress through these is understandably slower. Even more often than that are the reads I find that grip my attention but aren’t particularly inspiring of either detestation or an urge to write just as well; these I can generally get all the way through in a reasonable amount of time.

The annoying (in a good way) books are those which alternately entertain me and inspire me to write just as well. They drive me batty because I can never predict just what I’ll feel upon reading the first few lines of a page after picking them up any given time. I may be drawn in, immersed, and read a few or more chapters quite happily without thought of my own writing. Or, I may read the first line, think of something similar in one of my own stories, and set the book down to look at my own writing.

Mostly, though, I find reading relaxing.

I have a (very) limited amount of print books in my home these days. When I moved to a smaller apartment—the living room here is a little less than half the size of my last place’s living room—I got rid of one of my bookshelves and a lot of the print books I’d had lying around. These included books both read and unread. I culled my hardcovers and trade paperbacks to fit on one tall shelving unit, have reduced my paperbacks to one shelf of a three-foot-high bookshelf, and had to use the other tall bookshelf and the other three-foot bookshelf for my writing binders and DVD movies respectively. I don’t just get a movie streaming service like Netflix because I don’t watch movies or TV enough to warrant that monthly fee, and I rarely go out to see new movies these days ’cause I don’t see ads or commercials because my TV wouldn’t pick up even the local TV channels even if it was hooked up. TV and movies don’t interest me like writing and reading do.

But even so, I’ve been making mostly ebook purchases recently. If I feel like trying a new author or series of books that happen to be traditionally published, I go to the library (now that I live two blocks away) to check them out. Otherwise, I pay attention to what my friends—both online and local to me—are saying about the books they’re reading. Most of my reading for the past several years, in fact, has been ebooks. I’ve rarely touched a print book that wasn’t some sort of nonfiction I’d purchased specifically for research purposes for my own stories. Otherwise, if it’s an ebook, it’s generally cheap enough I’m willing to risk my money on trying something new by an unknown author, and I’m usually well-rewarded.

This recent writing downswing—since Bryce’s death—I’ve been reading much more. I’m finding a kind of solace in my reading that I’m unable to attain sitting at my computer trying to get my creative mind to work. They say in order for creativity to come, it must find you working, but no matter how much I try to work on my writing, I can’t find the desire most of the time, so I read. I have a pretty big TBR pile on my Nook, too, and I replaced it just yesterday because of several issues with my old Nook 1st Edition that I’d bought years ago; it was a tough ereader and survived many drops, but there were just too many issues with it and it was time to replace it. It says something that I hiked myself up to my local B&N to buy my new GlowLight—and not just the fact that I had $75.00 worth of B&N gift cards to cover most of the purchase price of the new Nook itself.

I needed a new ereader right now because there are several books I want to finish on that thing! LOL

Backstory Infodump

I’ve just spent the last ten or so minutes ranting about this topic on Twitter. Considering how many tweets I’ve made of it, I decided it might be easier and more convenient for me if I wrote a blog post about it, so here goes. Warning: This is one of my hot buttons, so I’m a little militant about it.

I read a certain Author’s books. Author is generally a good writer. Her characterization is logical, story events flow from one to another in a sensible fashion without getting far fetched, and she sticks to the worldbuilding rules which belong to the books set in this particular world without deviation. These are the reasons why I love the books and continue to buy any set in this particular world, though I’ve largely given up on her other books—those not set in this particular world. I appreciate the fact she continues to write in this world and hope she goes on to write many, many more books set in it.

What I find issue with is the Backstory Infodump she begins latter books of a series with. Her series’ first books generally start right off without a lot of Indodumping or Backstory which isn’t somehow directly tied into the current events happening in the opening chapter. In other words, all the knowledge and information the Reader gets is all that the point of view provides at the opening of the book.

I like this. This is Throwing The Reader Into The Story. I try to do this myself. I feel I can’t be the only Reader who appreciates reading a book which begins with an event which hooks them. I don’t mind a little confusion at the beginning, because I have faith I’ll still enjoy the book, even if I don’t get an explanation of things from the beginning of the book until near the end. Even if I don’t get any explanation at all, I still enjoy the book. But, usually, I do find explanations, if not related at some point when it becomes pertinent to do so, then through context.

I try to give information as it relates to current events. This prevents Reader confusion as well as enables me to provide it without performing any kind of Infodump. I especially do my best to avoid writing (or leaving in my writing, if I put it in) Backstory Infodumps. I avoid this with Worldbuilding Infodumps as well. I just do not see a reason why I need to dump a series of paragraphs explaining such things all at once, when, with a little time and attention and effort, I can find places to include such things in a more reasonable manner. I figure, if my eyes glaze over when I’m reading over my own Infodumps, then Readers’ eyes will too, and, worse, they may be induced to stop reading. And, if they are induced to stop reading my book, they may not pick it up again.

I want Readers to be entertained enough to continue reading. I’d very much like them to be so hooked by what they’re reading they can’t put the book down, but any kind of Infodumping ruins that effect.

And that’s what I do with this Author’s books. I read a paragraph or two, maybe a page. Put the book down and do something more interesting. Eventually, I realize I’m bored, so I pick up the book again, because reading the Backstory Infodump at the beginning is more “entertaining” than staring at nothing. I get maybe a few more paragraphs, then put the book down again, because I’m too bored by what I’m reading. Yes, I know I could skip or skim over this, but then I might miss any new information the Author may have included. Not only that, I feel, a little, as if my intelligence is being insulted.

I am completely capable of keeping up with a story where I lack information. Lack of the information actually keeps me interested, because I want to find out what that information is. If it’s Backstory Infodump in the second or later book in a series, I’ve read the other book(s) again, so I do know what happened before. I don’t need the Backstory all at once. Even if I haven’t read the previous books, I still probably don’t need the Backstory Infodump all up front, because I’m content with what’s happening in the new book. It sometimes satisfies me perfectly well just to know this particular character has a history and I’m not particularly interested in being bludgeoned with it when I pick up the latter books in the series.

If this Author’s books weren’t so good in other ways, I would never have picked up another series of hers. I have her to thank for inspiring me to write better relations of Backstory. It doesn’t take much. Just a little time, attention, and effort, and those are all things I’m quite willing to expend on my writing.

I know I may offend some Readers with the way I begin latter books in series I write. But I also trust my Readers to follow along until they reach the bits of Backstory I’ve included in the books. I think, if I’m capable of keeping up with a book when I don’t have all the information, my Readers will be too.

Suspension of Disbelief

I’m sure, if you read any kind of fiction, especially Science Fiction or Fantasy, you’ve likely heard the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in relation to how well you’re able to get into and follow along with the books and stories you read.

Suspension of disbelief is also important for writing fiction, particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m going to go on about Fantasy in particular, because that is the genre I know best, both from a reader’s perspective as well as a writer’s.

As a reader, I have a much easier time suspending disbelief in magic, shapeshifting, and pretty much whatever I’ve come across in most Fantasy books. There are few Fantasy books/stories I’ve started reading which I’ve given up on due to the fact I simply could not invest any faith in the worldbuilding or magical system of the world. If I have given up on fantasy books—any kind, whether they be Urban Fantasy or High Fantasy, or Epic Fantasy—it’s because something else about the book caused me to do so. I can’t recall a single instance where I came across a magical system or bit of worldbuilding in another’s book which caused me to say, “I just can’t believe that, so I can’t finish this book because of it.”

It’s much easier for me to suspend my disbelief when I’m reading another’s story.

When I’m writing stories of my own? Not so easy.

In one project I’d like to get back to but haven’t had a chance to really work on in a few months, which I haven’t even listed here on the site, I have plans for one of the Main Characters to create little spies out of wooden dolls. These dolls aren’t very big, and they’re jointed, and he dresses them, names them, and sends them on spying missions to gain information he needs about the place he lives and the people who are around him. When I originally wrote the scenes depicting these little magical mannikins, I had a great deal of difficulty believing they moved on their own because they were supposed to be inanimate objects—I could not convince myself the magic my character had used to make these dolls functional was “real” in the context of the world, so every so often when writing about the dolls, I froze and tried to figure out how they were moving without muscles. How they were communicating by thought-image without brains.

I can sometimes be a bit too literal.

I’m the same way with shapeshifters. Necia Phoenix, one of my writer-friends, has a world with shapeshifting dragons (check out her site; she’s got a list of snippets with these dragons, and they’re worth the effort). While, when reading, I can believe that these dragons do shapeshift into human form, I have difficulty keeping the belief when I consider whether or not I may want to add shapeshifters of any kind to my own writing. In fact, my first published story, Soul of Insurgence, makes a statement about shapeshifting on my world of Chraest—it’s not possible. Only substitution is possible. A Mage may capture an animal and place it somewhere to fool mundane people into thinking either he’s changed his own shape or that he’s changed someone else’s shape. In truth, however, on Chraest, changing one’s form from human to animal is impossible. The magic doesn’t work that way.

Now, on Chraest, if one has Healing Gifts, one may alter the human shape of their own body. Make themselves thinner or fatter, keep a youthful-looking appearance if they so wish, darken or lighten their skin, grow more body hair (up to and including like fur) or less of it (until they’re completely hairless from scalp to toes). That’s the way the magic works. But shifting to an animal’s shape? Impossible. I can believe in changing one’s own body to suit desires or self-image. I can’t believe in crushing a human’s body mass into an animal the size of a house cat (or something the mass of a traditional dragon into the size of a human).

I’m probably not the only writer with this hangup. It hasn’t stopped me from trying to do things which I know magic can do on my worlds. I’m not sure I’ll ever use shapeshifters, but I do intend to use the mannikins in the story I mentioned above. This character’s efforts at gaining information are too important to the plot, and he can’t go into the areas his magical dolls can—at least not without causing a great deal of suspicion or being caught snooping.

I’ll just feel my writing muscles stretching further. Which is a very, very good thing.

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