I am an unapologetically voracious reader, but that wasn’t always the case. When I first started writing seriously I eschewed all forms of creativity other than my own. Nuts to all that read your genre, read widely nonsense.
Why? Something about not wanting to be influenced by other people’s work, or some such malarkey. And for a while, it worked, I mean, I got words on the page, but nowhere with agents and publishers.
What the heck? Yeah, to say I was irritated would be a serious understatement. But what did all those other books have that mine didn’t? And so, after a considerable dry spell, I picked up the science fiction book du jour, The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin.
Yeah, it was pretty eye-opening. Why? Whelp, I had been writing based on the books I’d grown up with and a hefty infusion of classics I’d loved along the way. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s great for learning story structure, but style?
Not so much.
See, the thing is, people’s taste in book style changes in much the same way fashion does. Case in point, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an amazing sci-fi classic. It’s also not something most people are rushing to put in their Amazon carts. Ice Planet Barbarians? Ruby Dixon can’t write them fast enough.
And so began my reluctant sojourn into reading frequently and reading currently. Nope, I wasn’t a fan at first. After all, I wanted to be working on my stuff. But I pretty quickly understood the merits of following that tidbit of advice. Spoiler, I also learned that the advice to read your genre and to read widely was also correct.
Huh? Read your genre, read widely? Yeah, it confused me too. Like, if I’m reading SFF, what the heck could my writing possibly gain from reading a mystery or romance? More than you would think, and I’ll prove it. Check out some of the titles I’ve read this summer, and the insights I gained from them:
Read your Genre
Praying for Rain, by B.B. Easton (2020)
This is the first book in an apocalyptic science fiction trilogy, and I devoured all of it. The premise is that the entire world dreams that on April 23rd, the world will end and chaos ensues. Praying for Rain begins three days before the big day. The pacing of this book is excellent and features a dual point of view, some great character development, and all the fab tropes that make this genre so addictive. The first book is free on Kindle and is one of the few series I’ve shelled out cash to finish.
Epicentre, by Chris Andrews (2020)
Epicentre is a fantasy and another series starter. In it, a mermaid has some serious issues with the fact that she has to kill to stay alive. I found the world building in this excellent, and the stakes steadily rise throughout, giving the reader a real incentive to turn the page. There’s also some plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and let me tell you, they’re a doozy. Throw in how to shock your reader to my lessons learned.
Dogs of War, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2017)
In this science fiction novel, a cybernetic bio-form security team is forced to determine between right and wrong during a mission gone sideways. Their choice has far-reaching repercussions. Again, the world building was excellent, but what I loved most about this book was the character development. The internal vs. external stressors on the main characters is masterful, and definitely something to aspire to. There’s a second book that follows this one, which I haven’t yet picked up, but it’s definitely on the list.
Bayou Moon, by Ilona Andrews (2010)
Yep, not exactly current, but I love me some Ilona Andrews, which is written by a husband and wife team. This is the second book in The Edge, a paranormal romance series. Everything about their books resonates with me. They’ve got the tropes, wicked plots, super-strong heroines and dialog that hits the mark every time. If you want to see how a long-running series keeps a reader’s attention, check them out because there’s several under their belt.
The Billionaire’s Wake-up-call Girl, by Annika Martin (2020)
Why yes, this is a contemporary romantic comedy. It’s not anywhere near SFF, but let me tell you, the comedic timing is fantastic, and I love the ridiculousness of the situations. Books like this make me reassess the bizarreness of the mundane and how to translate that into prose. My urban fantasy writing says thank you. There are several of these books all revolving around a circle of friends, and the ones I’ve read do not disappoint.
Bad Boss, by Lana Sky (2023)
This is a good example of why I read contemporary romance with an alpha-hole trope. What I like about these books is that the dual POV gives me insight into the push and pull between characters and how each rationalizes their actions. Well, yeah and they’re steamy, but it’s for research, people! Seriously, if I want to um…inject…some heat into my own book, there’s no better way to learn than reading what’s out there. And let me tell you, these are not your mother’s Harlequins.
The Last House on Needless Street, Catriona Ward (2021)
This is straight up horror, and so frickin’ good! It’s a multiple POV novel with rising tension and a mystery behind it all that’s a powerhouse of a driving force. If you want to know how to weave a complex story, this is absolutely the book to check out. It’s a study in drip-feeding your readers information to keep them hooked.
Now it’s Your Turn
Not sure where to start with your own reading? I’d recommend checking out Goodreads. You can easily search by genres, reviews, or new releases. It’s definitely the rabbit hole of books with some cool features. One of which lets you view your read list by publication date, and another that gives you similar reads to choose from. Let me know how you do, and if there’s something that wows you, let me know, ‘cause you know I’m gonna want to add it to my own TBR pile.
AK Nevermore writes science fiction and urban fantasy with spice. She enjoys operating heavy machinery, freebases coffee, and gives up sarcasm for Lent every year. Unable to ignore the voices in her head, and unwilling to become medicated, she writes about dark worlds, perversely irreverent and profound, and always entertaining. Her debut novel, Flame & Shadow comes out November 2023.