My heroes do not wear chain mail.
They are not, in most cases, even that physically fit. They are not always beautiful, socially well-adjusted, or friendly.
They are writers, authors, and poets, and while most of them have since shuffled off this mortal coil, there are a handful of living writers that I admire. Writers, to me, are like movie stars to some people. For me, I value imagination above all things, and there’s nothing more that I admire than having my eyes opened to a new world.
I’m not picky by nature, nor am I a critic. And that’s where this post gets difficult. Where, for quite a large contingent of individuals, the internet is a sounding board for their scathing reviews and puerile commentaries on everything from cheese straws to Cheney, I don’t view it as such. I don’t post reviews, I keep them to myself, save them for later, make mental notes. At least, that’s usually the routine.
Except, lately, I’ve had a problem.
I’ve been disappointed.
It started with Greg Keyes, a writer who I’ve often bubbled endlessly about, and cite as a major influence in my latest novel endeavor (both as a steampunk writer, and as an adherent to the multi-POV narrative). I was so excited to be able to finish his most recent series with The Born Queen, and literally couldn’t wait to get my eyes all over it (that’s… a better description, I think). And I blasted through it, absorbing, absorbing, reading, reading, waiting… waiting… I finished, and felt as if I’d missed something. It just didn’t resonate right. The characters had changed drastically since the first book, so much so that in some cases (like Stephen, my favorite) the semblance was nearly unrecognizable. It was as if the magic had just faded.
This feeling of disappointment also happened with Diana Gabaldon, whose books I blasted through until The Fiery Cross, which, cool name aside (and the fact that it takes place in my home state, albeit in the 18th century) I just couldn’t get through. She’d made some choices with her characters and plot that brought the narrative down to absolutely… boring.
That’s not even to mention Stephen King’s Dark Tower series finale. That deserves its own post altogether.
The worst, for me, is the most recent. I gave Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys to my husband two years ago and had been waiting, hoarding it since then. I knew, if all else failed, I’d have it. And… at first, it was fine. It was comfortable. I kept saying to myself, as I read, “It’s just so good to read Neil Gaiman’s book. I love Neil Gaiman. I love the simple style, love the ease of language, the playfulness.” But then my inner monologue started to switch. I said, “The two main female love interests are Rosie and Daisy? Really? That’s their names?” and then, “Gosh, Fat Charlie reminds me so much of Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere. Normal guy with normal job and normal apartment has Something Strange and Wonderful Happens… and Rosie’s an awful lot like Jessica, just not quite as selfish,” and then, “Well, surely something Exciting and Unpredictable is going to happen. Oh… no, I guess not. No, he ends up with her after all and… yeah, I guess…”
I don’t believe that every writer is perfect, nor capable of always hitting it out of the ballpark with no exceptions. Some of the greatest writers only had one or two good books, or one series, and that was it, that was all they ever did. As Tolkien famously said, “It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.”
I don’t like the feeling of disappointment, and I’m not sure what it says about me as a writer or as a reader. Heck, I get the same feeling reading my own chapters (you could have done that better, really!). And I don’t fault the authors. They’re writing their stories as best they can in the moment that they’re in. They’re human beings wielding a great power, the power of storytelling.
And sometimes, it doesn’t work right. Sometimes, the story your telling isn’t right to tell, or right for the person you’re sharing it with, or right at all.
I suppose the greatest of heroes are the imperfect ones because they’re so much closer to who we are.