I don't devour stories like I used to. I remember, way back in my young man days, getting a copy of Robert Jordan's latest installment of WoT (can't recall if it was Book 369 or 373) on a Friday and finally going to sleep Sunday having read the entire bazillion-page book cover to cover, almost literally. Now I savor books a bit more...if I like them. If I don't, of course, I don't read them.
What brought this up is that this morning I realized I had gotten to the final scene of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. With some sadness, I laid the book down and stood, unwilling to just plunge through the last several pages and close out the plot arc. Tomorrow morning I'll probably finish it, or the next, but I've enjoyed the book so much that I'll actually feel sad when it's done. The same thing happened with The Eye of the Needle; it was a compelling story. In neither story did I much like the central character; it's a German spy in one, and a really rather ignorant and somewhat barbaric girl in the other. But in both cases I understood them; the authors successfully brought a (less than likeable) character to life for me.
Contrast that to another award-winning novel, Articles of War by Arvin. I bought it before I bought the EotN, and eagerly popped it into my CD drive on the way to work the day after it arrived. Halfway there, I popped it right back out. I went on to listen to a couple of other books, and then tried it again...in part, because I felt sort of guilty for admitting to not liking an award-winning book, and in part because I had nothing else to listen to other than the satellite and FM radio stations. This time I forced myself to make it all the way through the first CD, but just couldn't bear to pull the next CD out of the case, much less pop it into the player. I know it's bad when I start looking at the readout that shows what track is playing on the CD, wondering what cool sounds I'm missing on the 80's channel.
What made this one so tough? For me, it boils down to the main character. I've read reviews telling what wonderful and insightful challenges the guy goes through in the book, and that sounds great. But I can't get past the first part. The guy is flat. He's boring. Maybe he's that way on purpose, but something that's bad on purpose is still bad. He's called Heck because he doesn't curse. And...that's all I remember about him. I can tell you where Die Nadel grew up and what sport he won an award in, but I have no idea about Heck. I can give you all sorts of details about Yeine's background, but Heck's is absent for me. It's not like Heck's background was unwritten; I just didn't get much give-a-damn out of reading it.
Given that, I really owe the folks who've read the draft of Part I for me an even greater volume of thanks than I realized at first. Most of what I've been hearing is that my characters are flat, at least at first. And they're right. That means my friends have been doing what I haven't been able to do: reading past the boring part to get to the more interesting stuff. While I'm glad for their strength, the realization of what I've done makes me want to dive in and fix it that much more.
Eventually, I promise, I'll have the type of book that I would put down, just a little past where I am in the writing currently, unwilling to just plunge through the last several pages and close out the plot arc. Till tomorrow, anyway, or maybe the next day.
Word Count: 75,000