Getting into... and out of a book with Connie Berry

HALLIE EPHRON: Connie Berry is an author after my own heart. Raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history,  art, and travel, she brings that and an affinity for all things British to her Kate Hamilton mysteries featuring an antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes.

Her third series novel, THE ART OF BETRAYAL, is just out and garnering great reviews. KIRKUS called it "A delight for lovers of antiques and complicated mysteries with a touch of romance." LIBRARY JOURNAL gave it a starred review. Woo hoo!

We're thrilled to have Connie here today asking: What makes readers stick it out, from PAGE ONE to THE END?

CONNIE BERRY: Have you ever had trouble getting into a book? You’re not alone.

Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads often include comments like: “I’m 20% of the way in and struggling—is it worth finishing?” or “Terrific, once you get past the first fifty pages.”

Today’s readers are impatient. If a book takes too long to capture their interest, they might just put it down. Take J. R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. A masterpiece of modern fantasy. Hard to get into. Last summer I tried reading it. I really tried. One day I might try again.

A good book with a slow start can feel like a ride at Disney World—thrilling as long as you don’t mind the wait in line. Unlike readers of the past, who were willing to take their time getting to know the characters and becoming familiar with the story world, modern readers expect to be dropped into the middle of the action. Beginning a story too early is considered a serious flaw.

Believe me, I know. Before my debut novel was published, I got a manuscript review at one of the writers’ conferences. My reviewer was Neil Nyren. Gulp. He read my first chapter, which began in my protagonist’s normal world, her antique shop in Ohio. It was all set-up until six chapters later when Kate arrived on the fictional Scottish Isle of Glenroth and the story really began. Nyren’s advice? “Just get her to the damn island.”

Nimble pacing is what today’s reader expect—especially in a cozy mystery where a body is expected to turn up in the first chapter if not on the first page. Starting a book in medias res, however, can create problems of its own. There’s so much the reader has to quickly figure out—setting, time frame, essential backstory, rules of the fictional world, POV character—not to mention remembering all those names.

Wait, wait—who are these people?

Diving into a new book requires focus and a good memory. Am I the only one who jots down character names on a Post-it? Like driving into an unfamiliar city with no GPS, the reader initially feels lost. It takes time to figure out the lay of the land, to make friends with the inhabitants, to feel at home.

It's hard getting into a new book. It can be even harder getting out of one.

One comment authors love goes something like this: “I was so sad when the book ended. Can’t wait for the next one!” I feel that way about lots of books. When the fictional world becomes real to me and when the characters capture my heart, I don’t want the story to end. That hollow feeling at the end of a book has been called a “book hangover.” Like breaking up with a boyfriend, you’re not ready to fall in love again. Sometimes, when a book series ends, readers get angry.

Not everyone has forgiven J. K. Rowling for ending Harry Potter. I’m still upset with Caroline Graham for ending the Midsomer series in 2004 to focus on plays and screenplays.

Did you know authors feel exactly the same way about their own books?

Last Monday, after a three-month-long writing marathon, I completed the draft of my fourth Kate Hamilton mystery and sent it off to my editor. The book actually took eleven months to write, but the final three months were intense.

What do I do now? My head tells me to begin plotting out a new book. My heart is stuck in the old one.

It takes time for me to feel comfortable in a new book. Especially when I’m still mourning the previous one. I want to linger in that old manuscript—polishing, revising, tweaking, enjoying the company of old friends—when what I need to be doing is settling down and making myself at home in the next book.

Like life, reading books and writing them requires a series of hellos and goodbyes. Letting go of something so you can take hold of something new.

Do you find it hard to get into a book? Have you ever started one and put it down? Which book or series are you still mourning?

HALLIE: Such a great question. I start many more books than I finish, I am sorry to say. I so admire a reader who takes a chance and sticks with a book that doesn't immediately catch their fancy. And I do wish there'd been more books featuring the girl with the dragon tattoo?

What about you?
One randomly selected commenter will win a signed copy of The Art of Betrayal!

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