First, I don't really care about what's "popular." I have no intention of chasing that dragon. A history of books or music shows that following a trend tends to make your work forgettable. Frankly speaking, if you're not writing from the heart, something you *want* to write, then all you're doing is following a trend.
The best advice I heard - and what clarified my writing - was something David Mamet said once: "If you're not bleeding, you're not writing." It literally changed my outlook, and my writing has improved ever since.
if it isn't coming from the heart, then I'm not doing it. I already have a pretty good paying job in software that mercilessly requires following trends. I have no intention of being a writer to be a writer. I already am a writer in some respects, just in a different form.
And for what it's worth, I have been professionally published in the past, but it was writing stuff about software. That's actually where this "bug" originated.
I'll look into the "how-to" books.
I'm not a sci-fi guy. I deal with technology every day, and that isn't an escape for me. Going backwards, however, is. Maybe I'm just an incurable romantic?
As for reading, I'll give you a little (read: lot) of background. I was discussing this with my wife, who is a good sounding board on some subjects. She's a voracious reader, and is doing a second-draft read-through on one of my books. The results from her are promising, but I want to get a larger amount of feed back.
First, I'm autistic. I have what's called Asperger's Syndrome. I won't go into details, but suffice to say there are two hallmarks of my specific condition. The first is the whole social interaction thing, which leads to not having a lot of friends and acquaintances. The second has to do with the ability to communicate. Reading, in school, was troublesome, as was writing. One of those switches flipped on, the other didn't.
Verbal communications with me are painful on both sides of the conversation. Writing, however, bypasses those shortcomings.
My first exposure to literature not forced upon me by the public school system was when my D&D friends were all into Lord of the Rings. So, I read them. In fact, I forced myself to read them. The result were conversations about things and events that happened in the book, that I never somehow seemed to find. The fact was: the words from the page just never made it into my brain. It's a long story as to why, but let's just leave it at that.
And when I say friends, realize that I use the term loosely. Never had a lot of friends, and still don't. I won't go into details as to why.
The change came when I read - ironically - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe (OK...so it's sci fi). Not only did I burn through that book, I polished off the entire trilogy. That would be the first, and last time I actually read anything outside of what high school demanded (and the stray comic book) for most of my late youth. I can still remember the scene where the whale is falling from the sky, and the bits about the Improbability Drive. The books had that kind of impact. Couldn't tell you the exact reason why, however.
Things didn't change until around the time I got married. I remember reading Steven King's Carrie front to back in about two days. But anything else by King? Nada. Didn't resonate. Done after three chapters. Wasn't want I wanted to read. That's pretty much my M. O. when it comes to most fiction. If it isn't grabbing me, I'm done after three chapters. There was this one time where I picked up Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, and literally FORCED myself to complete the book. I did. I never went back again. Not that King isn't a good writer, he just doesn't pull me in.
I have King's It sitting on a shelf. I've started that book six times now, ands the results are still the same.
And that's the way it goes with most stuff. I tried Jordan's Wheel of Time: nope. Brook's Shannara: nope. Cussler, Barker, Koontz: nope, nope, and nope. I really like Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, but that's not really written in a modern style, and the rest of his stuff just wasn't interesting to me. And there are a plethora (would you say I have a "plethora" of balloons?") of NYT Bestseller fantasy authors that I tried, and just put away. Not what I wanted to read, not what I liked, didn't catch my fancy - you name it. I tried Eragon once, and put that thing away after four chapters. The repetitive cadence of each sentence, over and over, coupled with themes and tropes so obvious I could see them a mile off was just plain annoying.
All of these guys are great writers in their own right. They've sold far more books than I ever have. Just that nothing resonated.
The only people who hooked me were Poe (maybe the only bright side of high school English classes), Lovecraft, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. Then and the classics like the Iliad, Beowulf, and the others. I'm sure there are a couple of others in there, but you get the gist. Likewise, I'm a big fan of the Bible in a literary sense. This is aside from the Scriptural impact the book has. There are lots of themes, interwoven oracles, symbolism, and so on. In fact, three books that I am working on are based in a line or two in Revelations.
C. S. Lewis probably grabbed me the most, especially his Screwtape Letters, but not in his specific writing style. It was the intellectual and rational flavor he wove into his works. I'm going down the same road, albeit without a Lion, Ice Queen, and Narnia.
Tolkien took hold as I got older, for some unexplained reason. I blew through LofR, The Hobbit, Simarillion, and some of Christopher Tolkien's commentaries on his father's writings. However, Children of Hurin was one of those that I got three chapters in, and put away.
I've come to conclude I have a singular, or narrow, interest in fiction. Likewise, I'm kinda done reading what other people have written, and have a strong impulse to write; it's actually more like an "drive." One of the books I wrote I put down over twelve years ago. My attachment to the overall story, and the character itself just wouldn't die. So, I've picked it back up again. Now I have all this written work that needs to be gone over, and I'm standing here at a crossroads, wondering what direction I should go, or if I should just go back and toss it into the scrap bin.
So, I hope that clarifies things a tad.
I have lots of examples of what I don't like. I'm done listening to the voices of other people, I'm actively working on developing my own. I think I'm there. I just need help moving forward.
Hence my original post.
Thanks in advance for any advice.
(BTW, excuse any typos you may discover on this long-winded post. The text here is small, rendered with light gray on white background, and I've needed a new prescription for eyeglasses going on two years now...)