Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Changing Tastes

What I'm reading: Second Thoughts, by Bobbie O'Keefe

First -- thanks to Susan for taking us to India yesterday. It was a wonderful trip.

While Susan was handling comments here at Terry's Place, hubby and I played at the 'unemployed/retired' game. Technically, he's got a title, and he hasn't put in for Social Security, so he considers himself unemployed, not retired. However, his plans to drive to the coast to do some acoustical research were put on hold by a bad weather forecast, and so we went to the movies.

On a Tuesday. At 11:20 am (early bird discount). Along with one other person in the theater. But it was a romp, and he laughed enough to deem it acceptable, even if it was too heavy on the romance, not heavy enough on the comedy. (Let's remember this is the guy who put all the Pink Panther movies in our Netflix Queue--his idea of comedy.)

And now … onto the subject of today's post, which really does have a connection -- a loose one, but a connection -- to the movie: Publishing and our changing tastes.

Keep Reading...


A newly re-discovered high school friend recently sent me a book he thought I might enjoy. Being a 'read anything from cereal boxes on up' kind of person, I gave it a shot.

After the cover, which had a vintage feel, I noticed the yellowed pages and tiny type. A quick check of the copyright showed the book was published in 1965. Another thing that jumped out at me was the 'density' of the writing. Almost the entire book was narrative. Lots of introspection. Lots of back story. All the things that agents and editors say are absolute no-no's today. Readers want white space. Short paragraphs. Short chapters. Lots of dialogue. Keep things moving.

I recall an editor who requested a full manuscript from me, who told me to check my pacing. She was kind enough to discuss it on the phone, but one of the things she said was that she could look at the pages and get a feel for the pacing. Not too much narrative, not too much dialogue. This without actually reading the words.

Times have changed. The writing style was definitely something we would consider 'literary' fiction today, although it's a romance. No doubt about it, from the man and woman embracing with a winter castle scene in the background, to the HEA, to the obvious cover tagline, "A spellbinding blend of mystery and romance…"

Today, I have my doubts that it would sell. And yes, I enjoyed the book, and I'm glad he sent it to me, because if I'd seen it in the bookstore, I probably would have dismissed it as having too much eyestrain potential.

Are today's books better than their 1965 counterparts? Or just different? Would an agent look at a manuscript where a page might contain only two or three paragraphs? Would a good story get dismissed simply because it didn't "look right" on the page? Would it ever make it past the editorial assistant (point driven home in the movie, where the assistant says, "In all the years I've worked for you, I've read hundreds of manuscripts, and this is the first one I've asked you to read."

If this book were to be reissued again (it's been reprinted many times), would the editor take the chapters which are subdivided into sections headed with Roman numerals, and make each section a chapter? Would she break the long paragraphs into shorter ones? Would she use a larger font, with more spaces between the lines?

Is it the words, or what they look like on the page that matters? And should it?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

As my eyes get older (much faster than I am as a whole) I do appreciate the extra white space of today's offerings. And, it may be valid - I'm also a painter and it is a canon that white or much less dense areas are needed to allow the eye to have a resting place from which to grasp more of the detail or focal point.

I think this is an example of different rather than wrong. For me, wrong is the very common switching of I and me, or the reliance on spell checkers now that most places no longer have copy editors.

Elena (who likes the Pink Panther too)

Katie Reus said...

I don't think the stuff today is necessarily better, but just different. Although as a rule, I will say that romance today is a lot better than romance from the 80's. That being said, reading is all subjective so what one person prefers, another won't, regardless of when it was published.

Personally I like some white space and hope that an editor today would break the paragraphs into shorter ones :)

Terry Odell said...

Elena, Katie -- I'm definitely a 'non rule' kind of person, and totally agree there's no 'right' or 'wrong' (although unfortunately, agents or editors might be less forgiving)

Maryann Miller said...

It really depends on what I am reading whether I am looking for lots of white space and a fast pace. For commercial fiction that I read just for entertainment, I want the fast pace and a quick read. When I pick up a book from Anne Tyler, Joe Lansdale, Dennis Lehane or Attica Locke, I expect a more literary style. I read those types of books to immerse myself in beautiful prose.