BOOK & BLOG
February 10, 2007
Books of the Week: THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS by Nancy Pickard, MURDER OF A REAL BAD BOY by Denise Swanson
I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friend Nancy Pickard while I was in Chicago for LOVE IS MURDER. Nancy has always been a great writer, and her 2006 book, THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, has been nominated for many, many awards. I bought it there, despite my resolution not to take home any hardbacks, and Im really glad I did. The opening few chapters are a mesmerizing setup for the modern-day uncovering of a gruesome murder.
VIRGIN has several themes, but the most important one may be the lengths to which people will go to keep the peace in a small town where everyone must get along with everyone else. Keeping the peace is wonderful, but where is the line between keeping the peace and letting crime go unpunished?
I also read Denise Swansons MURDER OF A REAL BAD BOY. Denise has a lighter touch, but pretty much the same theme: long-ago small town crimes being brought to the surface by a petty blackmailer, in this case a James Dean lookalike who pretends to be a capable contractor who actually snoops around his clients homes to find a basis for blackmail.
Of interest to those who have followed Denises Scumble River series from its beginning is the development of Skyes relationship with Wally the hunky police chief, since shes dumped Simon the funeral director over a huge Pride and Prejudice type misunderstanding. Ive always been fond of Skye, since shes a great gal full-figured, smart, well-intentioned, ethical, and nosy.
These are two very different treatments of the same theme, and both great reads. Just depends on what youre in the mood for. I enjoyed them both.
I finally sent AN ICE COLD GRAVE (my friend Toni calls it A NICE COLD GRAVE) in to my editor. For various reasons, this book sat on my desk -- that is, in my computer -- for about a month too long. There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is that when I wrote the first Harper Connelly (GRAVE SIGHT) I established it as a road series. I imagined that would give me infinite variety. Instead, it established a pattern that I found very hard to keep new and fresh.
My struggles with AICG made me very unhappy. Its happened before, and itll happen again. Maybe its the result of my not outlining. Maybe its the inevitable sag in the middle, since I always have trouble with the middle of the book, any book. Maybe I rely on building up a lot of velocity during the beginning of the book to carry me through to the end, and sometimes that just doesnt happen. As my daughter says, Whatever! By the time I send a book to my editor and my agent, I am usually really tired of it, excited about it, and worried, all at the same time. When my editor returns the manuscript with her notes, and I have to re-write bits and figure out how to correct mistakes in the logic of the book, I am heartily sick of the work.
Then, in a few weeks, Ill get the first pass pages, the typeset manuscript. And Ill have to read it through again for mistakes, this time typographical ones. And Ill get even sicker of the book.
By that time in the books life, I cant imagine why anyone would want to read it, much less buy it. I cant imagine why anyone thinks I can write. Im a big fraud, and theyre going to find me out this time, I think. It takes me until the actual book appears on the shelves for me to feel okay about it again.
Panic plays a large part in the middle stages of the book production. No matter how often my long-suffering agent says, You know, you feel like this every single time, I cant stop going through the same pattern.
Im not the only one. Other writers do this. I always assume everyone else has better sense than I do, and its always a sort of pleasant surprise to find they dont.
This year Im going to try to slow down a little in my work schedule. Maybe I can defeat the Book Blues if I take a little more time to stop and smell the literary roses?
© 2009 Charlaine Harris