Books of the Week:
- Irresistible Force, D. D. Ayres
- Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger
- Private Demons, Judy Oppenheimer
- The Girl Who Had Everything, Rae Foley
Irresistible Force is the first of a three-part series about police dogs and the men and women who train and deploy them. Loyal trained dogs? Hunky (and good-natured) cop handlers? What more could you ask for? If you said, “Character development,” you’ve got that, too. Shay Appleton, has been misunderstood and tormented her whole life, and has managed to build a career for herself anyway. Unfortunately, her last boyfriend was a rotten apple, and he just won’t leave Shay alone. But Shay, a volunteer at a dog shelter, adopts a dog that a very beautiful woman has just brought in. Shay doesn’t know it, but the dog is a trained K-9 corps dog belonging to Officer James Cannon. I enjoyed this book a lot, and you will, too. It’ll be on the shelves in SEPTEMBER.
William Kent Krueger is a long-time friendly acquaintance of mine, I’m proud to say. He’s also a writer who’s grown in stature every year. He’s an award nominee multiple times, and he’s won a lot, or so it seems to me. Ordinary Grace deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it. Two minister’s sons in small-town America grow up over a summer when a series of deaths rouses prejudice and suspicion in the people. Their beloved sister, older and talented, has her own sad part to play in the unfolding of events. This is a wonderful book, elegiac in tone, about people and events long past that resonate for the rest of the lives of the characters involved.
Private Demons is a biography of one of my favorite American writers, Shirley Jackson, by Judy Oppenheimer. It’s certainly not a dry-facts recitation of the events of Jackson’s life, but a warts-and-all recounting of Jackson’s intense life, her marriage with Stanley Hyman, her four children, and her untimely death when Jackson was only in her forties. I was a little baffled by Oppenheimer’s frequent references to Jackson’s study of magic, since she does not ever spell out how Jackson used her knowledge. Was she a practitioner? Did she think of herself as a witch? It’s hard to figure out. But the conflicts Shirley had with her family are spelled out loud and clear, and also the tremendous love she had for her children.
After a discussion Facebook among a few friends, I decided I’d like to reread Rae Foley, who wrote romantic suspense in the sixties and seventies. I was surprised by The Girl Who Had Everything, because some of its themes and references are decidedly modern. On the other hand, the man with whom the heroine falls in love has no problem letting her know when he thinks she’s stepped over a line between being assertive and being shrewish. On the OTHER other hand, he doesn’t mind her being assertive. If you like slightly dated romantic suspense, a la Mary Stewart, you should get some Rae Foley books from AbeBooks or some similar used-book purveyer. They are good reading.
I’m at that point in the book I’m currently writing; the point where I can see the end approaching. I’m not exactly charging at this glorious moment full steam, because I don’t know the ground I have to cover before I get there. It’s part of the peril of writing. There are so many options open to me, it’s like being in a really fascinating store, one where you have so many garments to try on that it’s only a question of what really suits you best. (Not that I’ve ever discovered a store like that, but I can dream.)
I don’t think of myself as being good with choices, but after all, what is being a writer but making dozens of choices every working day? Is this character a blond or a brunette? Does this woman have good intentions or bad, or both? What background shall I give a character to explain the character’s behavior? How bad a mistake can a protagonist make and still engage the sympathy of the reader? The success or failure of a book can depend on the choices the writer makes.
So how do I decide?
There’s not one clear-cut answer. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, “The one on the right”? Sometimes you have to mentally test-drive different answers to find the most rewarding one. And you have to be aware of what tone you’re setting. Do you want the funniest result? The most dramatic? Should another character arrive on the scene to contribute? If so, which one? At the end of the scene, should your protagonist get in the car and go to the post office? Lie bleeding on her living room floor? Make passionate love with the postman?
This difficult process definitely bolsters the case for outlining. That way, at least you get some of your decisions made ahead of time. But you still have to make them. I have tried outlining, but it felt unnatural to me. (At this point, for every book, I think I should have tried it again.)
Every fork in the road, every choice made, every decision chosen. Well, it’s daunting, but that’s the job. To paraphrase the government officials in “The Hunger Games”: May the choices be always in your favor.