Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Power of Books

I'm rereading Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, mostly because John Charles told me to. Mr. Charles, along with Kristin Ramsdell (both former RWA Librarians of the Year) and Leah Hultenschmidt of Sourcebooks, touted the sheer audacity of Flowers from the Storm's plot.

In case you've not read it, it takes the "commoner falls for the duke" Regency romance and turns it into a Möbius strip: the duke has had a cerebral hemorrhage and is suffering from what we now know to be speech aphasia -- back then he was considered an idiot, lunatic, or violent monster -- and the commoner is a Quaker woman who believes it is God's will that she help him.  He needs her and wants her, she loves him but recognizes how impossible any "real world" relationship would be.  Mostly, it's the claustrophobia of their lives that stays with you.

If you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, you might like Flowers from the Storm.  Or you can play that recommendation in reverse, if you prefer.

Open Book by Original Bliss

That RWA workshop, cunningly entitled "Reading Your Way to Creating a Great Novel," allowed the three presenters to recommend books like Flowers from the Storm for specific reasons that writers need to think about.  Thus P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster stories were recommended for voice, and well, I forget the specific reasons cited for the other books, which included These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Eight by Katherine Neville.  Basically, the message was: You can write a great book because look, these people have done it!

They're right -- books like Flowers from the Storm do inspire me to work harder at my writing, even as I'm awed by their originality.

The question that lingers in my mind is how I'm supposed to know if I've managed to write an original and compelling book - - or just a self-indulgent load of claptrap.  Several of the books highlighted in the workshop could have been disastrous in the wrong hands.  And I think it's safe to say that editors and agents have had their fill of queries that begin, "This is a unique story, unlike anything you've seen before."  (Redundancy intended.)

The answer, as inadequate as it's ever been, is that we all still just need to tell the stories we feel need telling while continuing to improve our technique.  Reading a great book is humbling, but paradoxically elevating -- someone managed to write something great so why not us?


  1. I was at RWA in NYC also. LOve your blog posts.

  2. Hmm? Do you have an link to follow you? I don't see it.

  3. Em-Musing -- Thanks for the compliment. As for the FOLLOW button, I have one now! :-) (And say hi to Connie for me -- she was my buddy at the leadership retreat; without her I would have been WAY crankier last week.)


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