The reason we're doing this at a literary conference bar is because I've been building up a head of steam about some things I've been seeing (and seeing, and seeing) in books. I've been trying to read more - not mysteries, because that's hard for me to do while writing - and I've had a difficult time getting a really satisfying read lately. Here are a few things I just don't want to see in print anymore:
1. Quaint little towns in Maine. Kaitlyn Dunnett gets a pass for Moosetookalook in her Liss McCrimmon mysteries because I like them and they're fun. The rest of you, stop it. Here's the thing: those beautiful coastal tourist towns aren't quaint, they're glossy and expensive. The real tiny quaint towns in Maine have at least one meth dealer and a gun and taxidermy shop just down the road from the Reny's. The artisanal chocolatier running a shoppe called "The Blueberry Bon-Bon" who falls in love or solves a mystery in your book? She's actually from New York City, loves Maine because she summered there every year, and is bankrolled by her father. Only the summer tourists buy from her, which is why she'll go out of business in two years. The locals will continue to buy their Hershey's from the Hanneford.
2. SF books where the young hero's goal is to become the best and toughest Space Marine ever. (The terminology for Space Marine varies, but you know what I mean.) Here and now, in our culture, around .04 percent of the population is active duty military. Out of those, eighty percent have non-combat jobs. Where are the exciting tales of Space Personnel Officers? Space HVAC specialists? Space cooks? Or closer to my own genre, the tales of Space Cops? (Actually that sounds like a Mel Brooks movie.
I want to read an SF novel where the young hero runs away to become an opera singer. That would be interesting.
3. Regency romances where everyone is titled. I realize this encompasses ninety-five percent of the genre, but has anyone ever stopped to add up all those dukes and earls and marquesses? If you read enough of these stories (and I confess, I love a good Regency romance) you're left with the impression that the British population between 1800 and 1820 consisted of 80,000 aristocrats, 700 veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, and 25 farmers. When I consider the ur-Regency, Pride and Prejudice, has exactly one titled character, I have to wonder why modern versions snub their noses at anyone lower than a viscount. (This gives me a chance to plug one of my favorites, author Susanna Fraser, who writes period romances featuring, among others, a common sergeant, a black British soldier, and a gens du couleur heroine.)
4. Flashbacks that take up a whole section of the book. This was super popular back in the eighties, remember? You'd open with a scene in which the supermodel heroine was faced with the absolute ruination of her family's jewelry store empire, and then the tale would flash back to her great-grandmother in Tsarist Russia, and we wouldn't see the heroine again for 300 pages.
I'm fine with the framing device, "Let me tell you a story.." and I'm fine with telling the story out of order (David Ellis did this brilliantly in The Company of Liars, where the entire story is told from end to beginning.) But it makes me crazy when the momentum of the story stops cold while we wander back in time to find out about the heroine's mother's ill-fated college romance. If it's so important that we have to know all the details, integrate it into the story. If not, we can probably do with a simple, "Elise's mother had fallen into an affair with a professor at Radcliffe. It all ended badly."
5. Dialogue with no quotation marks. I'm looking at you, Anita Shreve, and the whole cohort of affected literary practitioners behind you. It's a pointless contrivance that's done, essentially, to signal that the author isn't one of those sorts - the kind who put plot into their books. I don't care if you use "English" or <
6. YA Dystopias. Especially ones that make NO sense. Dividing everyone in society into "Factions" based on their personalities? How does that actually work? What advantage does the Authoritarian Government have in match-making future mates based on unspecified standards? I mean, they may be trying to improve the herd, but even super fast evolution takes thousands and thousands of years.
No one's allowed to love? How about loving their jobs? Or the Authoritarian Government? Do you really think you're going to get innovation or high productivity from a population that's like...Meh?
7. Women's Fiction where the heroine is the family doormat. I really enjoy novels about women's relationships: mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. But there's a disturbing trend where the protagonist lets herself get railroaded by everyone. Yes, I understand that we're socialized to not make waves. And I understand families are complicated. I'm simply not interested in reading about a character who had a boiled noodle for a spine until the last chapter of the book. (Bonus negative points if she develops a backbone because she's been empowered by some guy.)
How about you, dear Readers? What are your literary pet peeves?