This is going to be a reflective thought piece. I’ve finally gotten back into reading for pleasure after spending almost a decade in graduate school where the overwhelming majority of my reading was dry, plodding academic non-fiction. Currently, I’m reading Shawna Barnett’s Windfall, which is a pirate fantasy. And as I’ve read through the story’s development, it got me thinking about one classic piece of writing advice: write the book you want to read. That led to a melancholy thought about my own writing and my inability to have the cake after baking it.
Writing the Book I Want to Read
Liam’s Doom is a book I wanted to read. I wanted an openly and unabashedly queer urban fantasy adventure with a female protagonist who didn’t feel the need to repress her emotions and femininity in her professional life. I wanted an urban fantasy series that had romance, camp, humor, drama, and dealt with darker issues – both on the micro scale (mental illness, suicidal ideation, trauma survivor issues, etc.) and on the macro scale (racism, bigotry, homophobia, climate change, white supremacy, etc.). I wanted a book series where the author clearly did their research when drawing on the lore of other cultures and times. And so often, I found books and series that either fell flat or that approached the goal but fell short in one or more meaningful ways. Or I found books that were highly problematic.
The First Read
Now, I think of the books I’ve loved throughout my life, and especially the books I’ve read multiple times. The first read was, and is, a magical moment. It’s like opening a present. The box is pretty, and you know something you’ll love is inside. Every character is fresh and new. The plot has twists and turns that surprise, shock, and, at times, terrify the reader. When written well, everything fees fitting upon reflection, but the book surprises the reader in the moment of reading.
And now that “the book I want to read” has been written (by me), I can read the book I want, but I cannot have that moment of surprise, of joy, of sorrow, or of suspense. I am denied the joy of the first read, because I know every beat. I know every twist. I know every turn. After all, I wrote them. I put each obstacle, each ally, each victory, and each defeat in the protagonist’s path. Can I read my book? Yes, I’ve read it over a hundred times before it was released to the general public. I can read the book I’ve always wanted to read, but I cannot experience the joy of the First Read. What was it that Marlowe tells us Mephistopheles said to Faustus about hell being a recognition that one who tasted heaven is denied the bliss of its presence (3.76-79)? I have the book I want to read, but in writing it, I have denied myself the bliss of reading it as a reader.
Where does one go? Well, I must admit that the pleasure of writing, the joys of setting words onto page, and the joys of crafting a story are wonderful and fulfilling. I love to write, and I will continue to tell stories as long as people continue to read them. That said, I write this to implore readers to reach out to authors whose books have touched them, whose books they’ve enjoyed, whose books have moved them. Reach out, tell the writers. Leave reviews, certainly, please! But please tell us when you enjoyed our work. Tell us the moments that gave you joy. Tell us what characters you loved, you hated, and you loved to hate. Send us art based on our work in all forms. That’s the closest we can come to experiencing the joy of the first read of our own work.
These are my thoughts. Of the books you’ve read more than once, which one had the most exciting first read? What good first read memories do you have?
My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.
Also, you can find the first chapter of my serialized prequel novel Blood/Lust on my website. New chapters go live at noon each Sunday!