Friday, December 5, 2008
Origins: Nora Roberts's Northern Lights
I confess that--for much of my adult life--I was a book snob. There were certain categories of books that I had stopped reading because I had decided that they weren't, well, serious. Romance novels were in that category. I'd read tons of Phyllis Whitney as a teenager (Spindrift is just the best title, ever.) and teen romantic adventures like "Debby Does Broadway" (yes, it's a real book, and it has nary a sex scene in it). But I left those books behind when I discovered horror novels and a really fascinating drug reference guide that--forever whatever reason, surely innocuous--sat on my parents' bookshelf.
Nora Roberts's novel Northern Lights was a transformative read for me. I was skeptical when my Grand Rapids Press editor sent it to me on a whim. Roberts is one of the best-known, bestselling writers in the world, but her reputation isn't exactly literary. Northern Lights is a murder mystery with a love story between two broken, lonely people at its heart. The scene, a small Alaska town, gives it a unique spin.
I fear this sounds incredibly condescending, but I was thoroughly surprised by the cohesion of the story and the very high quality of the writing. I don't know why--Roberts had already written an enormous number of books by then (2004). Her prose was clear and concise, her characters engaging and complete, the story extremely compelling. Most of all, I found the novel very entertaining.
Before I was through reading, my attitude toward my own work underwent a huge change. I think it could be called a paradigm shift. It wasn't that I wanted to write romantic suspense novels, but that I knew I wanted to write something more tactile, more fun than what I'd so far produced. I had long had some kind of Platonic ideal of what my novels should be like: they would have beautiful language and express, in delicate ways, Big Thoughts. Now, I'm not out to change the world, or offer profound thoughts, or influence opinions. I want to give a reader a few hours of satisfying entertainment. I feel a huge sense of freedom. If a reader closes one of my novels with a sense that they've read a tale well told, I'm more than happy.
Not long after I reviewed Northern Lights, I reviewed Luanne Rice's novel, Summer of Roses, and again experienced a sense that I was in the hands of a writer whose work was going to be important to my development as a writer. Like Nora Roberts, Luanne is a writer who is underrated by those who would eschew novels of family drama and troubled relationships for more (ostensibly) highbrow fare. Now, I'm a huge fan of her work. I can't recommend Rice and Roberts highly enough as role models for anyone who wants to learn how to create characters who live on the page and are engaged in realistic interpersonal relationships. (If you're thinking you want to write the next Waiting for Godot--maybe they're not for you!)
Has there been anyone in your life whose work or example caused you to have a paradigm shift?
Oh, and if you blog, or are a writer who is considering starting a blog, check out Tia Nevitt's Wednesday piece. Tia's a real pro--listen to her!
MONDAY: Sweet treats and surprises for all the little buckaroos! (And a paperback copy of ISABELLA MOON to the first commenter who can tell me what song/band the sweet treats line comes from. No fair Googling!!!!