So, one of the funniest things EVER happened to me this morning.
But first--some preamble. I recently took out the latest Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton out of the library. It's called Skin Trade. Now, Dear Readers, I have said before on this blog that I can no longer bear Hamilton's books--they're just so badly written. But the first few books were actually pretty good; I'm not entirely clear what happened. Perhaps good old Laurell got so popular that no one could bother to edit her any more? It's a shame--there are other massively popular writers who have still managed to maintain a standard of good writing despite their popularity (i.e. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling). And there are others who were just crap to start with (Dan Brown, John Grisham, I'm looking at YOU). It's kind of disheartening when someone who once knew how to tell a decent story goes down the toilet and becomes a kind of silly, overindulged wanker. You know, after a while I was just reading Hamilton's books for the sex, and not long after that, even the sex got kind of boring. I know Laurell thinks she's all transgressive and edgy, but...not really, hon. Sorry.
Anyhoodle...I was checking Hamilton's website to see if it was as heinous as always (seriously, she had some really tacky and cheap web design going on), but happily (or sadly, since I can no longer laugh at it), it's been changed and actually looks like a professional website now, instead of being an over-the-top sparklefest designed by a goth-obsessed epileptic teenager. So. They had Chapter ! from Skin Trade available for download. So I chortled with glee, and thought, "Ooooh, let's see how bad this is!" and read the first paragraph. Anita Blake gets sent a head in a box by mail! Awesome. I'm actually not kidding. I thought--hey, that's a GREAT place to start a story. So I got the book out of the library, thinking maybe this one would be more interesting than all the crap that Laurell has published lately.
Well, Dear Readers, not so. Not so. Other than the fun line about the head in a box, Skin Trade is just as overblown and badly written as the last 10 books in the series. Ah well. And, so far, there hasn't even been any hot sex to liven things up. And I'm on page 167! How ever will I cope??
I was just going to return the book to the library, but here's the interesting thing--it's actually a very good exercise in editing. Perhaps I've just been reading with a more critical eye lately because ChiZine Publications (http://chizinepub.com
) has opened up to unsolicited manuscripts as of last month, or maybe I'm just jaundiced from the get-go. Regardless. I think these books are actually valuable teaching tools. And it's really showing me what I personally should avoid in my own novel.
For example--massive (and I mean MASSIVE) amounts of expository dialogue that just goes on for-fucking-EVER, and then repeats itself at least once or twice, some pages later. It's like Hamilton thinks her readers are going to forget what happens from one chapter to the next. So she needs to repeat everything several times to make sure you get it. So you end up reading the book with this constant sense of deja vu rolling along in your head, which is a strange sensation.
And god knows, Laurell is not a believer in the "show, don't tell" doctrine of good writing. Laurell doesn't show ANYTHING when it involves character interaction or development. She just tells you outright. Or the characters tell each other stuff outright. There's no nuance, no depth. There's a lot of "Here is how I feel this second and you must remember that I feel this way because in book 10, I had this happen to me, as you might remember, because you were there." A LOT of Ron-and-Don-ing. It's kind of embarrassing, really--not doing that kind of crap is Writing 101.
Also, I gotta wonder if Hamilton herself just wasn't told that she was pretty often enough when she was younger or something. Because, MAN, does Anita Blake get told she's pretty. Like, a LOT. But always in some kind of faintly derogatory context. Like a cop telling her, "You're pretty. You're a girl. You're petite. Get used to being treated differently." I mean, okay, that shit happens. Women get treated differently, especially by some men in traditional "guy jobs." But Hamilton REALLY generalizes about gender differences and attitudes in a way that seems out of place in these books. Given that this world, and police forces everywhere in this world, have been dealing with supernatural and preternatural phenomena for some time, but their prejudices have remained exactly the same? There's no growth? For better OR worse? Also, we're like...14? 15? books into this series now, and Anita Blake is...exactly the same. She keeps saying that she's changed, but really...not so much. Her circumstances have changed, and she's physically changed, and she has more lovers now, and blah, blah, blah, but in fact, there's no growth there either. Maybe you want to keep your series character familiar to her audiences and somewhat stable in that sense, but experience changes people in real life, so if you want your characters to have some verisimilitude, they need to change with those experiences. And Hamilton just doesn't accomplish that in any realistic way.
At some point in the reading, I also wondered whether her manuscripts made her editors so tired, they just literally COULDN'T edit them any more. I mean, I was doing a mental slash job on all the silly dialogue and bad descriptions and idiotic language ("I gave him my eyes..."), and god knows, it made ME tired.
Which brings me (fucking finally!) to what made me laugh. I was waiting at the bus stop this morning and reading Skin Trade, like I said. Then, suddenly, a big blob of bird shit fell on the page! Totally missed my head and fell right on page 78! God, that was funny. Especially because most of the birds have flown south for the winter now. So...what are the odds?? Anyway, it was like the universe was saying, "Wow, that Laurell K. Hamilton book is shit. Literally."
I had a smile on my face the whole way to the office.