Friday, August 15, 2008

What's in a good novel?

My writing friend, Maureen, looked at the chart I had made. I'd spent a lot of time creating a tree and time line to record my characters, their story lines and their connections to one another. I did it because I was so terrified that I wouldn't remember all the details that I had to weave together to a finished tapestry when I concluded the writing of the novel.

"That's very nice," Maureen said. "Now put it away and just write a good story."

Well. Um. That was quite an anti-climax, and she must have realized that she'd burst my momentary creative bubble. On arriving at home, she had posted an email to me to encourage me to just write a good story.

Last year a writing friend from Texas, Bo Drury, took a challenge at one of our writing lists, Jay's Writer's World. She wrote the first draft of a novel, 50,000 words, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2007. In March she asked if there was anyone willing to read the novel and critique it. I was buried up to my eyeballs in classes at Kent State University but I said, "If you don't mind that I can't get to it until the semester is over, send it on to me. I'll read it."

She sent it to me. I started to read and edit immediately, but I didn't get very far. It wasn't because the story wasn't good. It was because of the demands on me. Now, with the new semester only about 10 days away, I sat down yesterday to finish it.

"Was this the first draft of your novel, Bo?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered.

I love the novel and who can help but love the main characters, Harry and Doris. I won't go into the story because it's a work in progress, and it does need more work, but Bo Drury has a writing voice that I am so impressed with. If she can write this well in a rough first draft, I can hardly wait to see what it's like when she finishes her revisions! And I've encouraged her to do so. What a read! Her descriptions take you right to the place. Her characters are believeable and this reader really cares about them and what happens.

At the same time I've been reading Bo's WIP (work in progress) I've been reading something I got in my gift bag at the Malice Domestic conference that was held in Alexandria, Va., at the end of April, Chili con Corpses by J.B. Stanley. Have you read it? Do you like Mexican cuisine? Do you like an entertaining read? A good story? Stanley has managed to do what Maureen advised me, "Just write a good story."

Chili con Corpses takes place in an Appalachian town in Virginia. (I didn't know Ohio and Virginia both claim the cardinal as their state birds.) The Supper Club, aka The Flab Five, is on duty to solve the mystery of the dead twin. All the while there are romantic moments as well. Librarian James Henry, a divorced man, doesn't see his relationship with Lucy going anywhere. But there's someone else who is interested if he can ever get over Lucy, who happens to be preparing to test for becoming a sheriff's deputy.

James lives with his widowed father. Don't think that men can't play matchmaker. Arriving on the scene is local chef instructor Milla who impacts not just their culinary skills, but becomes involved in their lives, as well.

But who would want to kill a beautiful, young woman with a successful veterinary career? And why? The Flab Five leave no stone unturned in finding the truth. Sgt. McClellan wants everyone from the murder scene to be brought together in one place to figure out exactly what happened to Parker Willis.

If you can feel good after reading a murder mystery, this is one you can enjoy. Stanley even includes some Mexican recipes throughout the novel. So, do I put this book on my bookshelf or do I put it with my cookbooks?

(c) 2008 Cathy Brownfield

1 comment:

Joyce Anthony said...

I love seeing other's thoughts on books, Cathy--thank you!!!