Tag: Back Blurb

How I Chose a Timely Book

One of my Christmas gift books was a repeat so I had the pleasure of returning it to the bookstore and browsing the shelves for a replacement. I settled on The Company We Keep, by Frances Itani.

Of course, the cover was the first thing I noticed, uncluttered with a picture of a small table and a single chair with a parrot on the back. I picked it up and read the back blurb. The story is set in Canada. I find a book extra enjoyable when the references are one’s I am familiar with. A book set in the UK may refer to the High Street. One taking place in the US may refer to Applebee’s. I know the High Street is the main shopping avenue of a town or village. I know Applebee’s is a restaurant chain , but I haven’t experienced those places the way I have Tim Horton’s or Loblaw’s.

The subject of the story also intrigued me. A group of strangers meet in response to a notice on a bulletin board (the physical kind not on facebook) to talk about grief. Since I’m missing casual connections just now, I thought a story about strangers getting to know one another would be entertaining. The topic of grief seems apropos as well since our whole world is grieving. Perhaps we haven’t lost a loved one, but we’ve all lost the life we used to know.

Finally, Ms Itani has won several literary awards, that sealed the deal for me. I carried the book to the cashier.

I was not disappointed.  Each of these strangers has a unique story of loss, a spouse (good or bad), a parent, a friend . . . Yet grief doesn’t figure much in their discussions. Having lost the person closest to them, they mostly, want to talk and they want someone to listen. The stories aren’t so much about grieving as they are about living. There are also secrets. The lost relationships had a public face and a private face. It’s that private aspect of the lost relative that colours the way the bereaved live the rest of their lives. As a bonus, the woman who placed the notice is a word aficionado. Her thoughts are sprinkled with the etymology of the words she uses. A quirk that enlivens her character and amuses me as the reader.

As the group gathers, they begin to think of themselves as a company. A place where judgement is withheld and trust is formed. Shameful secrets are exposed and forgiven. Hurtful relationships are explored without censure. Sympathy is free and abundant. Help with practical things like moving furniture is readily offered.

A book with grief at its core  sounds sad, but it is not. It is hopeful. The characters clear out the troubles from their old lives then prepare to live again. They turn to a clean page for the last chapters of their lives.

I wonder if we can look a 2020 that way. The year that was mostly a void in our lives can be viewed as a resetting point. When society opens up, when we’re ready to hold hands with our friends and high-five a stranger can we take the lessons of isolation into a hopeful future? Having cast off so many activities, can we re-engage in a thoughtful way? Do all those clubs nurture us or are some a waste of time? Are all our previous relationships healthy or were some toxic?

We’re not out of the woods yet. Billions of people still need to be vaccinated. We may need to get a booster shot every year. We may need to keep our groups small for a while longer. But light glimmers on the horizon. As we prepare to pick up the dropped threads of life we might like to consider “the company we keep.”

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Blurb

 

My apologies to anyone who received repeated posts on E. Pauline Johnson. This website has been the victim of some malicious hacker.  The nasties were too deep to clean, so we had to rebuild the whole site.  My techie assures me it now safe.  Why are there so many evil-doers in the world and what benefit do they gain from turning innocent people’s lives upside down, not to mention the cost!  Okay, enough rant.  On to writing business.

 

Recently I attended a workshop on writing the back cover blurb to your story. The instructor was the fabulous Shelley Adina Sneft Bates – she writes under all those names –and the worksheet looked straightforward.

To begin she told us to write a “shout line.” That’s the line that goes at the top of your back blurb, maybe on your website or advertising copy.  It’s a single sentence that intrigues the reader and suggests something about the story.

I’m no good at summarizing a whole book into one line, but my attempt, “You’ll need a rifle,” said the preacher, Received applause and a big thumbs up.  I felt pretty good.

The first paragraph of the blurb on a romance novel is supposed to talk about the heroine, the second paragraph introduces the hero and the third paragraph provides the setting and the conflict and a hook. All in about 200 words.

At this point I moved from star pupil to bottom of the class. My effort had the group asking all kinds of questions that had nothing to do with my story, so my blurb must have been misleading.  Also, my story contains a love triangle, so I didn’t want to introduce only one hero on the back blurb, that would be a spoiler.  I want to reader to wonder “whom will she chose?”  I felt pretty dumb.

Was the problem my ability to write a back blurb, or was it the story itself? I have plenty of angst over my writing without any help from “my friends.”

The drive home over a mountain road in a torrential rainstorm cleared my head! While trying not to hydroplane or cross the invisible lane markings or have a panic attack, I mentally worked on my back blurb.  By the time I got home, I was much happier with it.  Not only that, I’m happier with my story.

So, two lessons learned. One is an old lesson I seem to need repeated at frequent intervals.  Namely, I cannot wedge my story into someone else’s pattern.  Those charts and headings and “musts” paralyze my brain, and I feel imprisoned by the boxes.  I know this, I just forget when confronted by a shiny new template.

Second lesson learned, the exercise of writing a back cover blurb even before the book is finished serves as a tool to clarify the plot and the story question. With those two points clearly in mind the writing and editing process is faster and more effective.

Oh, third lesson: read the weather forecast before committing to driving that road!

 

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