A 12 year old reader in search of a book noticed a book called Brimstone in the Garden (known as The Greenwood Shady in Britain). The author was not familiar to her, but the title intrigued, so she pulled it out and read:
“The River Starr begins its course as an insignificant trifle in Berkshire.”
Not exactly a grabber, but books sometimes started slow back in the day, and readers were okay with that. Like that opening line, the story started as a trickle but achieved excellent flow. Nowadays, readers are a lot tougher on slow starts. I’m glad I stuck with it, though. Otherwise I would never have “met” Cousin Clarry.
“Cousin Clarry arrived, looking larger than ever. She was of average height, but her great bulk made her appear almost as broad as she was long. She wore a voluminous tweed cloak, which Elinor remembered having seen on Aunt Winifred twenty years ago. Her hat was of the kind known as a straw boater, and was affixed by a piece of black elastic to the back of her collar.”
There’s more, much more to learn about Cousin Clarry and the denizens of Deepwood. They felt real to me then and yeah, they still do. Somewhere Aunt Clarry still lives.
I’ve reread the book many times (it is one of my comfort reads) and learned some important things about being a writer from the sheer craft displayed in this book.
First, characters matter. I know that’s a duh, oh-so-obvious point, but I have many times studied the seemingly effortless way Cadell brought her characters to life, looking for clues to how she managed it. Many of those techniques shouldn’t work with todays’ readers…and yet…when Cadell used telling, instead of showing, I never noticed until I went back to study her work. She made telling fun. She made showing fun.
The lady could write.
I always had the feeling that she chuckled while she typed. For my own writing, if I’m not getting a kick out of a characters—even my bad guys—then they get kicked to the curb. Why would the reader enjoy something I’m not?
The other thing I learned from her—and this goes against current marketing wisdom—was to follow my Muse to the stories. Cadell wrote what is loosely called “women’s fiction,” but her books wander widely between “simple” romances, gentle mysteries, and stuff I don’t think there is a genre label for them. One of her books is a journal, another told from a child’s point of view that is not a middle grade book.
As a reader, I followed where she led because I loved her writing. I loved the way she used words. I loved her characters and her quirky plots. I was willing to go where her Muse took her and be grateful for the ride.
The lady could tell a story.
I wanted to be “a lady who can tell a story,” but in my way, not hers.
As an author, I’ve tried to be true to her standard and true to myself. My books wander the genres like the T-Rex did in Jurrasic Park when the power went off. And though I try not to chomp things, I keep the stakes high. My goal is to deliver to the reader an adventure that only I could write.
Maybe, just maybe, some new writer fifty years from now (ouch!) will be inspired to become an author because of something I wrote. Hey, I’m an author. I can dream.
Pauline Baird Jones had a tough time with reality from the get-go. After “schooling” from four, yes FOUR brothers, she knew that some people needed love and others needed shooting. Pauline figured she could do both. Romantic suspense was the logical starting point, but there were more worlds to explore, more rules to break and minds to bend. She grabbed her pocket watch and time travel device and dove through the wormhole into the world of science fiction and even some Steampunk.
Now she wanders among the genres, trying a little of this and a lot of that, rampaging through her characters’ lives like Godzilla because she does love her peril (when it’s not happening to her). Never fear, she gives her characters happy endings. Well, the good characters. The bad ones get justice.
Pauline released her 13th novel, Relatively Risky, in 2013. She’s not superstitious about it, well, maybe a little. She’ll be glad when #14 is officially out. But the whole loving/killing thing that needs to be done? Doing it fictionally is just better for everyone. And particularly for Pauline, who hates the thought of getting strip searched and jailed.