The other night, I stayed up until 1:00 A.M. to finish a book I’d been reading for about two weeks. It was a long book, 820 pages, but gripping. Bedtime rolled around, and I looked to see how many pages were left to the end. There were thirty-ish of them, I don’t remember the number precisely, but I lied to myself and said I can finish tonight and still get to bed at a reasonable time. So I finished reading the novel.
Immediately, I regretted it. I was done with the book. (Fortunately it is part of series that quite obviously is not finished. However, it was published in 2009, and I’m sure the author is going to need some time to write the next door-stopper.) I was sad. Sad!
The characters I had come to love and their fascinating story was over, at least for a while. I had been enjoying it so much! It had become an eagerly anticipated part of my evening routine. I hated to see it end.
So how did this author grab my attention and hang onto with a death grip?
First, with her characters. I love the main characters in this series. It started out with just two, but now includes a whole extended family and friends. Earlier in the series I sometimes got annoyed when the story shifted to secondary characters, but now I love so many of them and am still fascinated with those I may merely like or tolerate. How did she manage this? The characters in this series are passionate. There are things and relationships they either greatly value or greatly desire. They are very human. They can be admirable, inspiring, frustrating, even offensive, but not a one of them is all just one quality.
In addition, the depth of historical detail really makes her world come alive, and she takes you to such interesting places—a colonial printer’s shop, an American fort on the brink of falling to the British, a ship pursued and boarded by a British man-of-war, Edinburgh, the Scottish highlands, the homes of French aristocrats, Philadelphia at the time of the American revolution, British army camps and American army camps, and the heart of a family whose patriarch is dying. It is fascinating.
Lastly, she leaves me hungry. As an author I am often tempted to “spill all the beans” in a novel. Picture book authors are encouraged to leave spaces in their stories for the illustrators to do their work. But even novels can benefit from this “hole-y” philosophy. The author of this novel leaves things hanging. It’s not just a matter of cliff-hanger chapter endings (which I also firmly believe in). It probably helps that she has subplots and subplots and subplots. However, it is the way she manages them that keeps me wanting more. She may stay with one plotline for a series of chapters before jumping to a different set of characters and their struggles, and often when one subplot is winding down, she’ll leave it before playing out the full resolution. When she comes back to those characters, it’s clear the past issues have been resolved off-stage and the story is moving on. She even ended the novel without resolving all the plot threads.
I can imagine her working feverishly until her editor says, “Just give me the novel. I don’t care if you’re done. We need to publish this book.”
This leaves me, the reader, in a very precarious position. What if this author drops dead before the series is complete? The thought is deeply disturbing. Can I move on without knowing how the lives of these people I have come to love have played out? (Note the author has convinced me they are people, not characters.)
Dear author, please take care of yourself. Eat your vegetables, take your vitamins, and exercise (only not so much it cuts into your writing time). I and many others eagerly await that next book. Thank you for doing what you do so well.