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A Writer’s “Defining Moment” Book

What is a “defining moment” book? Well, for me, it is a book that made me think, made me move, made me change something in how I wrote. Most of the stories and books I wrote pre-defining moment book were relationship based, delving on the lives and loves of my characters. If I had to pick a genre, I would say it was women’s fiction with a heavy romantic element.

That all changed for me when I read Mary Higgins Clark’s All Around the Town.

I was taking a novel writing class as an elective and for the class, we had to select a book we would read and analyze. While we did that, we would write the first three chapters of our own novel in the same genre as the book we selected. I had always loved mystery, thriller, and suspense fiction, but never thought I would or could write it. There’s so much to think about when writing a mystery and making sure the puzzle(s) fit just seemed too daunting. So, as a challenge, I picked AATT, one of the few books from Clark that I hadn’t read.

I loved it. Still do. Once I year, I still read it.

There were many things I gleaned from the book. I think the thing I liked so much about All Around the Town is that as a reader you had sympathy for the main character and for those characters close to her, but Clark did not write in this syrupy,I'm going to make you feel sympathy by laying the sympathy on thick way. Her writing in that story, at times, is pretty straight forward. I was just rereading it a few weeks ago, and I thought, Man, this could be considered emotionless writing if I didn't know better, because in that book, it's not how much sympathy a writer can create in words but how the actions (or inactions) of the character evoke the emotions and the sympathy. And Clark's also quite good at being pretty concise, getting in where she needs to, and moving out the scene. She doesn't linger around, adding words for fluff, and she doesn't add that one more adjective that makes the reader cringe and go, "Yeah, overkill." She's also good at layering. The story, in the big sense, is about a young girl who is kidnapped and suffered unimaginable abuse for years and is finally returned one day. We see this girl, older, trying to live as stable of life as she can, despite the fact that the kidnappers still exist, and one of them still loves/wants the girl, and with the girl starting to talk about her past, the kidnappers want her silenced indefinitely. With that storyline, we have many layers, from the girl's (main character) story to her parents' story after she's kidnapped and when she comes home, to her older sister's story of trying to be protector now that she's back, to the kidnappers' stories, to the doctors that try to help/save the girl. And none of it is confusing, and all of it comes together to tell one great story. And as a mystery/suspense novel, that layering is also key in how well Clark embeds intrigants throughout the story that payoff for the reader the more he or she delves into the story. With each page turned, the breath of the reader catches as he/she waits, knowing something is going to happen and being enthralled that Clark is making them hold out—just a little bit longer.

After that novel writing class, I had a renewed love and respect for the mystery/suspense field, and I had the first three chapters of what would end up being—many, many years later—my debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell. I just finished the second book in the series, Into the Web, and feel like this is a genre I can make a home in for a while.

Has there been a “defining moment” book in your life as a writer?
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. 500,000 first printing on that title - gotta love it. She is an inspiration and great example of perseverance. I read she was rejected 40 times before she had a short story accepted in a magazine.

  2. I know she's an extremely successful writer and all that, but I read this particular book and thought it was terrible. I was hoping to learn how to craft mysteries from the master writers. Clark is off my list entirely.

    Defining moment book for me was Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land." As a teenager, it completely changed my way of thinking and made me an avid science fiction fan.

  3. I think reading The Hobbit in 9th grade was the moment I fell in love with the fantasy genre. Years later I started writing fantasy.
    I love reading mysteries but I've never tried to write one.

  4. An inspiring story, Shon! I only hope young people will continue to read and perhaps also be inspired. I think I was inspired by Nancy Drew and Zane Grey in elementary school.

  5. I agree with you, Heidi. I hope young people will continue to read, too. And be inspired to DO--whatever that is, doesn't have to necessarily be WRITING. Reading does so much more than produce writers--as we all know.

  6. I also learned from reading Mary Higgins. I've read a number of her books (not all yet) and I keep trying to figure out her secret. What is the magic that gets her books into readers' hand year after year.

    I think part of it is the tone - readers relate to the characters and the moods. I haven't yet had the Eureka moment when I say I've captured the magic that Higgins has, but in a way her work tells me what to aim for.

  7. Mary Higgins Clark is a bit of an enigma. She's not my favorite especially in recent years - and Heinlein definitely not. It's probably my age, but I mostly just think of him as a dirty old man. I guess if I had to pick an author I would emulate, it would be Mary Stewart in her Merlin Trilogy. I don't often read books more than once, but this threesome I read every few years, just to savor the flow of words, the character development, the sense of place, the conflicts. I discover something new each read.

  8. Love Mary Higgins Clark.

    I've probably had a few defining moment books, since I read analytically very often. But a good one was Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy which showed me that a character (the Fool) can be made multi-dimensional purely by what another character (Fitz, the narrator) thinks and observes of him. The Fool is a complete enigma and yet so real I felt like I could reach out and touch him.

    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil


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