Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.
A classic from my old blog. Back by popular demand. Enjoy.
I vowed to read a romance novel, you made suggestions and debated the worthiness of various novels in the comments. And then you voted.
So I journeyed in the Epic Black Car to a local store of books, where you hand them pieces of paper decorated with dead presidents and walk out the door with 3.6 metric tons of books.
Sometimes, I rent a U-Haul.
My favorite bookstore of all time is Powell’s in Portland, as it is giant and independent and impressively badass. However: Portland is far, far away from my secret lair. I went to Borders, which has apparently decided to lump all books into four categories: Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Literature, which means “everything else.”
I couldn’t find the winning book in Romance, but this book did not exactly come out last month, so maybe they didn’t have it in stock. No. They did.
It wasn’t in Mystery/Thriller or in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, though apparently people are writing a helluva lot of novels about Star Wars and video games that really should not have a bunch of novels written about them. Halo novels – seriously? No.
The winning novel was in Literature, near stuff by Hemingway and Heller.
The cover was surprisingly normal and boring and literary. You wouldn’t know it was a romance novel. It could be anything.
I expected something typical of the genre, and I wanted it to be crazy and outrageous. I wanted Fabio with a sword and a beautiful woman.
The back cover copy puffed up the author for a bit, then set up the story: combat nurse from WWII is on a second honeymoon with her husband when she touches a mysterious boulder and GOES BACK IN TIME.
Then she has to choose: try to get back to hubby in 1940-whatever or stick around 1740-whatever with Captain Kilt in the middle of a war and spies and treachery.
This isn’t a bad setup. I raise my glass of bourbon to war and spies and treachery. Go go go.
Chapter One starts off foreshadowing things in the first sentence, saying this little village is the last place you’d expect for a disappearance.
The housekeeper at the inn is nosy and tends to sweep the floor outside the room where the heroine (Claire) and her husband, Frank, are staying.
Frank is an archeologist who’s traveled all around the world who’s now starting a job at Oxford. He is Indiana Jones: smart, but adventerous. OK. Cool.
The heroine is a combat nurse who saw a lot of action. OK. Also cool. She does tend to talk about her curly hair a bit much. I could do without that.
The rest of this chapter, they’re hiking around the countryside and meeting villagers, who do speak in dialect. “Kenna have a whiskey, lass?” Think of a village full of Scotties but no Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock and you’ll get the picture.
If I didn’t know from the back cover that the disappearing involved the heroine touching a rock and doing Back to the Future without the use of a DeLorean, then this could easily be the first chapter of a cozy, and it could be that the vicar is the one who does the disappearing — only the heroine finds him later behind the pub, strangled by his own bagpipes, and then Miss Marples shows up.
But this is not a cozy.
There’s a lot of foreshadowing about Frank’s ancestors being important back in the day, and of the circle of stones that are sort of like stone henge, but not, being important. She visits them once, then goes back and witnesses a mysterious dance by villagers there.
Verdict so far: It’s fine. A bit talky and slow — this novel clocks in at 830 pages — but the writing does the job and there’s plenty of setups for the payoffs to come.
I have not thrown the novel across the room. This is always a good sign.
The author raises questions that haven’t been answered yet, and there’s enough layering and interweaving already to lay the foundation for a lot of stuff. Let’s see if she can pull it off.
The third time she hikes to the stones, she touches one. Bam. Back to the Future.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.