Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Every Good Book is a Mystery--Even When It's Not @msheatherwebb
LUCY BURDETTE: Is there anything more special than a debut novel? Not much! So when I met Heather Webb at the Big Book Club event in Old Saybrook, CT, last fall and heard she had a debut novel coming out in December, I asked her to join us. And she's brought some wonderful thoughts about the mystery of fiction. Welcom Heather!
HEATHER WEBB: I write historical fiction. WAIT! Mystery readers, don’t run off just yet. Sure, I enjoy sparkling details of different eras—the frothy petticoats of a princess, a lamb bone used for buffing marble, steam cars cranked by hand—though these little gems may make historicals magical, they don’t make them INTRIGUING. A story’s intrigue boils down to the one thing the Reds and Red-loves can’t get enough of—mystery.
In a historical (or any novel, really):
IT ALL BEGINS WITH A QUESTION
My recently released novel BECOMING JOSEPHINE is about a young woman from Martinique whose world is turned upside down when her sister dies of fever. Distraught, she visits an island shaman for a glimpse into her future. The wrinkled voodoo woman gives her cryptic advice and voila! We have our first mystery. Will our heroine “be married in a distant land”? Will she “become more than queen” as the shaman predicts? Readers will turn pages to find out.
BUT ONE CENTRAL QUESTION ISN’T ENOUGH
Layering many, smaller mysteries in the story enriches a novel. For example, we already want to know if Josephine will become more than queen in some distant land. But once she’s there and meets her new husband, we want to know—will her new husband love her? Will she be accepted into Parisian society? Then the Revolution comes along and the big question becomes: will Josephine survive the violence? And how does she meet Napoleon anyway? Readers will turn pages to find out.
And those are just the questions pertaining to the protagonist. A good book weaves together loads of other questions, or mysteries, so that:
MANY STORIES CONVERGE
Each multi-dimensional character brings their own story to the table; where they’re from, their backstory—how he/she came to be the way they are. When Napoleon shows up on the scene, he’s a filthy, intense little man with poor manners. Still, the way he seems to know what others are thinking, his brilliant strategist mind, and his passion make him a compelling character. This leaves us wondering about his origin. How does his past shape his personality? His actions? Will his actions thwart his goals? Readers will turn pages to find out.
A FEW WONDERFUL MYSTERIES THAT AREN’T MYSTERIES
For good measure, I thought I’d share a few books I adore that are mysteries that aren’t mysteries. Say that five times fast.
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: Will Katniss survive? Will she choose Peeta or Gale? Will the revolt against the Capital be successful? (And there are so many more)
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: What are Diana’s powers? Will she fall for Matthew? What is her witchy family’s past? Will she survive the attack from her enemies?
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: How did Andi lose her brother? What will she uncover in that old diary from the French Revolution? Will she fall in love? Will she ever forgive herself?
So yeah, I write historicals. But I chock them so full of questions, small mysteries and larger ones, that I can safely say, mystery readers might like them. After all, any genre, any GOOD book is a mystery.
What are some of your favorite novels that aren’t mysteries? How did their intrigue keep you turning pages?
Heather Webb is a freelance editor and contributor to popular writing blogs Writer Unboxed, Romance University, and The Debutante Ball. Her debut historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE released to acclaim from Kirkus Reviews and the New York Journal of Books December 31, 2013 from Plume/Penguin. When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb) or via her blog. Stop on by!