The burn of a good book is hard to beat. I’ll obsess about an engrossing story throughout the day: even while lathering up in the shower, retrieving the mail, or getting ready for work. If the book is part of a series, especially a trilogy, then it’s even better. The whole saga has a perfect beginning, middle, and end, and the plot has gobs of character development. A writer can only go so deep in three hundred pages, but in nine hundred . . . well . . . let the games begin.
Characters make a book worth reading, with all their flaws, hang-ups, and sympathetic qualities. They need to stumble, make the wrong decisions, and screw up. I live vicariously through their trials and tribulations to make my own seem benign.
My current obsession sits with the trilogy of Greg Iles, his Penn Cage series of Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood. I’m on the final leg of this painful journey of racial hate and passion for justice. The subject matter isn’t funny or ooey gooey. In fact, it’s tense, tortuous . . . and timely. I hated every minute of reading this series, because it’s uncomfortable and so wrong. Greg Iles had the courage of Hercules and Sinbad combined to write these books. They paint a picture of divisive Southern life, where bitter truth splatters the glass of a fictional frame.
These books pushed me to my emotional limit. They made me want to shout in anger. They made want to turn away. They made me think too hard. But there I was, Gorilla-glued to this story with the possibility of a bombshell resolution to the Kennedy assassination. Yes, Greg Iles did his research into an area that no one else dared to go: the Golden Eagles, an elite layer of the Klu Klux Klan. Beyond the Book Depository and the frame-by-frame slow-mo of the Zupruder film, a darker, more hateful motive sits below the tabloid dirt. The amazing underbelly of this trilogy is that the incidents in these books are rooted in true events. A real journalist’s research and notes provided the inspiration for this story. He was murdered before he could publish his findings.
This series might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I dove in because I like being yanked out of my comfort zone. Greg Iles’s writing style is so different from mine. My writer's tool bag is filled with humor, poignant sibling relationships, and a little romantic spice. The secret weapons of my personal style are quick dialogue and Murphy’s Law. Greg uses the shock of circumstances and shifting points of view to keep readers on edge. But don’t count this blog article to be a review of Iles’s books. It’s about what makes a book engrossing.
Readers can spot a phony in fiction. And it doesn't matter if the story is dramatic, funny, romantic, fantastical, or historical. All good stories all have something in common: the writer’s own experiences are buried in the dialogue and scene description. And when they do, readers are Velcroed into the emotion behind the words.
Writers sometimes consider their books a form of therapy. I know that I do. The pain and joy my characters feel bubbles up from my own experiences of love, family, the ridiculous, loss . . . and betrayal. It’s all there. My mantra is “fix it in fiction”. Characters can say and do everything that I wish I could in real life. Hence, my readers connect and send me notes about how real my characters seem.
When I wrote Stitches (my very first book) and The Executrix (my fourth book), my intention was to make each one a standalone story. Only through the urging from reader comments did each become the first of a trilogy series. What they didn't know, but intuitively felt, was that they were based on genuine people infused with my past and wishes for the future. It was easy for me to expand a standalone story into three books. They reflected the saga of what was happening in my life—in real time.
My own complicated beginning, dramatic middle, and satisfying end. Thankfully, fictional books can be a lot messier and much more interesting than reality.
After I release the final book of The Dushane Sisters Trilogy, Indigo Legacy, in the coming
months, I’ll start a new book, possibly a standalone to become a trilogy, or an even longer series. It will be completely new, with a setting in Montana. I might weave in a bit of rootin' tootin' shootin' with a couple of itchy, scratchy Baby Boomers: a clairvoyant woman and a prideful sheriff. And guess what? I'm married to a man with pride, own a home in Montana, and I've even learned how to shoot a gun to protect myself from fuzzy mountain predators. There you have it. My money shall sit where my mouth is.
And like the surf of life, all the former jagged rocks of truth will tumble and roll to polish new characters, smooth and set in stone. I hope they’ll be the kind that catch your eye on and get tossed in a bowl on the coffee table.
|Photo: Loma Smith Photography|
Check out all of Courtney's books at:
courtney-pierce.com and windtreepress.com. Both print and E-books are available through most major online retailers, including Amazon.com
New York Times best-selling author Karen Karbo says, "Courtney Pierce spins a madcap tale of family grudges, sisterly love, unexpected romance, mysterious mobsters and dog love. Reading Indigo Lake is like drinking champagne with a chaser of Mountain Dew. Pure Delight."