by K.M. Zahrt
On September 5, 2013, I made an offer on Twitter @KMZahrt that I would buy and review on Michiganders Post a work from the next independent author that followed my account. David Haywood Young took the bait. Young’s book Shiver on the Sky was published on Amazon.com on September 25, 2012.
Young self-defines Shiver on the Sky as a “Supernatural Mystery,” so let me preface my remarks with a confession: I don’t normally read genre fiction. My personal reading preferences mostly consist of literary fiction and essays on various topics (both literary and non) with a sprinkling of biography and history in there somewhere. That is not to say, I would add, that there isn’t value in genre fiction, nor that I don’t ever read and enjoy it every once and a while. I often attribute my personal interest in reading to its roots in genre fiction. I remember, clear as day, sitting at my desk in high school, in between classes and in study hall, with my face buried deep into Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series. Since then, I have had my face buried in one book or another. My experience is not unique. Genre fiction has often been used as a way to open literature up for many readers. A great example of this is David Foster Wallace’s use of “lightweight” books to teach literature at Illinois State University. Among the books he taught was Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.
Genre writing of any kind — even the genre of literary fiction — is an interesting proposition for an author because genres have conventions. Readers expect the author to deliver a specific experience. In that context, Young delivers. Plot compelled forward by a mystery. Check. Identifiable characters and a handful of unidentifiable (as much as possible) plot twists. Check check.
Young’s writing is polished, but not overly refined. For self-published works, the omission of typographical and grammatical errors is mission #1. I found neither to be a problem. The dialog was cumbersome at times, and descriptions were often cliche, but I would be comfortable putting Young’s prose up against the prose of some of the most popular genre fiction writers of our day in a blind contest. Bring it on E.L. James or Dan Brown.
To Young’s credit, any shortcomings in this regard never hindered readability to the point where the reader couldn’t move forward quickly, which is critical for genre fiction. Genre fiction readers are not usually the kind who want to labor through a challenging text for some abstract notion of self-fulfillment or intellectual reward. Genre fiction readers are more likely to be reading a chapter or two in between weekend or vacation activities, during the commercial breaks of their favorite reality series while they unwind on work-a-day evenings, or while they’re on the can.
Young’s book represents an interesting issue in book publishing today. Without the age of e-books and self-publishing, many genre fiction readers, who go through books by the dozen, would not have access to these new titles. If the large publishing houses had it their way, they would make sure only their books made it to the market, leaving avid genre fiction readers unsatisfied. There are plenty of mystery lovers out there that would get their fill from reading books like Shiver on the Sky, and for the price point, they may not be able to do better.