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Well, not exactly.

But sort of.

I finished the Steiner book I was reading a couple of days ago, and that left me in one of those places where I had nothing to read.

Well, I had things to read, but I didn’t have anything I knew I wanted to read, and I didn’t know what I was up for, so…you get it.

Okay, some of you don’t.  Some of you never have problems finding something you want to read, and can’t imagine being that picky.  And I’m usually the same, but there are other times.

And this was one of those other times.

So what I ended up doing was finding a book I couldn’t walk past, which is normally a good thing.

It’s just that this time, the book I couldn’t walk past was called Rich, Radiant Slaughter.

And that, of course, is a book by me.

I’ve got to put in an explanation here.  Some writers read their own books as soon as they come out.  Some writers read their own books on and off over time.

I do neither.  I have, over the years, read bits and pieces of particular books, because I’m fond of them or because the writing of them stays with me. 

This includes the scene where Liz Toliver finally blows off Maris Coleman in Somebody Else’s Music and the scene where Mark finally wakes up from his caffeine-induced coma in The Headmaster’s Wife. 

I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that this has to do with passages that I found difficult to write and then thought I did well, and specific scenes where I think I may have hinted at things I didn’t go on with that I now think I can use.

I don’t really know what determines what I read after I write it.  I do know that I can’t read books right after they’re published, because I’ve just spent far too much time over far too long a period and the very idea of them makes me a little bit nauseated.

Rich, Radiant Slaughter is the fourth book in the short series I wrote before I became Jane Haddam for good, a not-very-briskly-selling collection of five books about a former romance writer named Patience Campbell McKenna and the murders she gets herself involved in.

The first one was called Sweet, Savage Death and it got my first–and last–decent review in the New York Times. Of course, that was in the days of the old Newgate Callendar mystery reviews. 

But that’s another story for another time, and an absolutely perfect example of why I am never going to be a blockbuster anything.

Maybe I’ll write my memoirs one day and have at it.

But let’s get back to Rich, Radiant Slaughter for a bit. 

First, a couple of general background notes.

I’ve never before read any of the books in this series at all–since the books first came out in the eighties, in both hardcover and paperback, I have never sat down and read through them.  Not even once.

I’ve never even done the dip and recheck thing, except on the first of them, and then I only did it to make sure my jokes had managed to get through the copyeditor.

I had an absolutely terrifying copyeditor on Sweet, Savage Death.  Here I was, with my first book, meant to be a humorous sort of quasi-cozy thing, like Charlotte MacLeod’s. 

Charlotte MacLeod was my big influence in those days, the writer I most wanted to be writing like.  If you like like and humorous mysteries, you might try her Rest Ye Merry and The Family Vault. 

I think it’s indicative of something that, coming out of seven straight years of graduate school, the books that seemed like a revelation to me, that I wanted to try to write something just like, were these. 

I think it must be some kind of proof positive that too much immersion in Serious Literature gives rise to something like diabetic sweets cravings.

Whatever.  They’re good books, among the best of the subgenre.  Have at it.

There’s something else, though, too. 

Even before I started reading Rich, Radiant Slaughter a couple of days ago, and even though I’d never reread either it or any other of the novels in the series before, I knew it wasn’t the best one in the list.

The best of those first five is definitely the last, Once and Always Murder.  Don’t ask me how I know.  I do know.

But as to Rich, Radiant Slaughter:

1) My writing, as writing, was a lot better back then than I remember it being.   I mean, a lot better.

I had the distinct impression of my work at that period as being choppy and thin.  I thought I tended to throw everything out there just sort f bald, with very little background or psychological understanding. 

That wasn’t the case, but a few other things were wrong, and they were biggies.

2) One of them was that I responded to working in first person–the books were all told from the point of view of Patience McKenna herself–by overcompensating for the natural difficulties of the form.

I told much too much about everybody’s background as far as Pay knew it, filled in details ad infinitum when they would have been better left to be teased out rationally here and there, trusted the reader to know absolutely nothing about anything and to be able to put together absolutely nothing from hints.

This included descriptions, which is a teeth-biting mistake to make.  I described both people and places in far too much detail, and so belaboredly individualistically that I pretty much cut off any reader’s need to imagine anything.

This means that the early chapters of the book are long for reasons they shouldn’t be, and contain huge blocks of type that are difficult to read when you don’t know what’s in them.

And that’s coming from somebody who is used to reading huge blocks of type.

It’s also very hard to hold onto all the details, or even to enough of them to distinguish each of the characters you need to remember to get anywhere with the story.

And that’s made worse by the fact that

3) I seem to have managed to get Series Disease by only the fourth book in a series.

I don’t even know how that’s possible.

In case you’re wondering, Series Disease is the tendency of series books to pick up stray continuing characters with really long, complicated backstories and convoluted relationships to the series main stars the longer a series goes on.

When you get a series as long as the Gregor Demarkian one, you know you’re going to have a lot of that.  Twenty five books will do that to you.

With Rich, Radiant Slaughter, however, the lives of my series characters were already so complicated it took up ten or more pages just to state the facts of them. 

Huge hunks of the book consist of nothing but explaining these relationships–not moving the peripheral stories along, but just sort of listing them.  And that caused another problem.

4) The book feels to me, reading it at this late date, as if it has no shape at all.

The first fifth of it concentrates far too much on those backstories and the present infinitessimal part of the movement in them.  The murder and the investigation feel like side issues until, all of a sudden, they’re not. 

The murder and its investigation go along tangled up in that peripheral story stuff, and then at the end they’re only partially fairly-clued. 

What’s more, there’s a first rate clue and a first rate murder method that I don’t put to any real use at all, and I don’t even explain the murder method–the necessity for it, why do it that way and not another–at the end of the novel.

5) There are whole swatches of parts of what should be the central plot–not only the murder but what led up to it–that just sort of get stated as existing rather than being played out on the page.

Okay, I sound like I hate the thing, but I didn’t.

It was actually a pleasant little book to read.  I’m not sure I would have noticed all these flaws as flaws if I hadn’t been reading to analyze and dissect in the first place.  The books must have had something to them, since there are still people out there who are devoted to them, and write to ask if I won’t be doing any more sometime soon.

I do think, though, that I will take away with me the idea that it might not be a good idea for me to write in the first person.  I haven’t done it in a long time, and I know a lot more as a writer than I used to, but I don’t seem to handle it well.

I also think that I never do know what I look like–there’s an author picture of me on the flap of this thing taken the year I married Bill, and I had no idea I looked like–well, ahem.

If you’re going to look like that, you should know you do, so you can enjoy it.

I also note that this was the book I wrote when I was pregnant with Matt.

Which may explain a lot, if not everything.

But I’ve started Martha Grimes’s The Man With A Load of Mischief, which I haven’t read since back then either.

And what can I say?

She did that better then than I did, and probably still does.

Written by janeh

January 5th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'MeMeMeMeMeMeMeMeMe'

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  1. Hmmm. I started with ONCE AND ALWAYS MURDER, in the Ft Myer Post Library. I agree it’s the best, but the average is pretty high. I will say that of the five, RRS is the one that “sticks” least well. That happens. Sometimes it’s the book’s fault. Sometimes it’s mine. (And it took me YEARS to track them all down in those Pre-Internet days, and more years to get them all in hard covers. Not everything was better in the old days, and the used book business is proof.)

    But the only time I ever OD’d on description in a detective novel was the first Philo Vance, which gets down to the skull shape and monocle prescription of the Great Detective. Generally, I assume the author has her reasons. If I’m being serious about the mystery, I’m taking notes, and sometimes leaving a bookmark back at the descriptions. You have to already know how a mystery will turn out to realize the description is superfluous–and then it still serves as camouflage.

    As for the copyediting on SWEET, SAVAGE DEATH, she may have cost you a bit of explanation by mistake. I still don’t understand what Myra was trying to do and always figured a paragraph had fallen out during editing, probably in Chapter 24. Or maybe it’s a cultural thing.

    But they’re good reads. You might do things differently today, but there’s nothing wrong with how you did these.


    5 Jan 11 at 5:03 pm

  2. Sometimes when I go back and read something I’d written years ago, whether it’s an old file on the computer or I run across a Usenet post from 2003, I find I’ve lost the *experience* of writing it. I can’t remember what I was thinking, or the things I left out, as I can when the writing is more recent.

    I like this, because it lets me evaluate the stuff as if I wasn’t the author. I can be less critical, and at the same time, less enthralled with the deathless prose of it all. If that makes sense.

    Does that make sense? Does that happen to you?


    5 Jan 11 at 7:39 pm

  3. “But that’s another story for another time, and an absolutely perfect example of why I am never going to be a blockbuster anything.

    Maybe I’ll write my memoirs one day and have at it.”

    Oh, you’re such a tease! Get on with it. :-)


    6 Jan 11 at 5:25 am

  4. I wasn’t as persevering or as fortunate as Robert, and was only able to track down a couple of those early books, and that only through the local library. I don’t remember details at this point of time, but I liked them. I think I did it backwards – read and liked some early Haddam, discovered she had published some books I liked under another name, tracked down and read what I could and then returned to the Haddam ones. I was also a great fan of Charlotte MacLeod, and I think I read most if not all of her books.

    I haven’t written fiction (well, not if you don’t count stuff I had to write in school, and that tended more towards essays on ‘What I Did in my Summer Vacation’ and answers to questions about novels studies in class), but I have done university papers, reports etc., and like Lymaree I find I can judge (and sometimes fix) my own work much better if I let it age a bit. This, alas, is not something that works well with university papers and other work with short-term deadlines. I can read OTHER people’s work and find errors and think of ways to ‘improve’ it (I’m a terrible copy typist, although I’m not a bad typist), but I can’t even find spelling and grammatical errors in my own unless it’s been sitting for a while, the longer the better. I think it’s because I tend to read what I know is supposed to be there rather than what really is. At least, that was implied by one of the commonest criticisms of my advisor for my MEd thesis, who constantly pointed out that I was forgetting my referents, I think the term was; I’d start out with ‘It’ or something and blithely sail on without making it clear how I reached the following conclusions or what the following criticisms were based on. I knew what they were, but I tended not to actually write them out, and not to spot they were missing because I could see them in my mind.


    6 Jan 11 at 5:51 am

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