When pitching books to agents, publishers, and movie producers, writers need to know their markets, their genres, and good points of comparison for their work. It gives people too busy to read a book in a timely manner something to latch onto, to set the tone, and to figure out how to sell it to the people who they hope will acquire it. (For a great blog post on this topic by literary agent, Jenny Bent, click here.)
Several weeks ago, my publicist told me about Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (hereafter to be known as TPBODD.) It was just released last month, and started at #2 on the NYTimes Bestseller list. Like my novel, Receive Me Falling, it takes place in two time periods and involves a woman in the present day researching the past to solve a mystery. (Other books in this style are Byatt’s Possession, Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Mosse’s Sepulchre, and Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue, to name a few.)
I was eager to dive into TPBODD. I was delighted when my husband surprised me with it the day before we left for our vacation, and I started it that night.
TPBODD is set in Salem where a modern day graduate student works to complete her thesis, while preparing a family house to sell. It’s a witchy mystery full of satisfying, dusty explorations of an old house, a quest for an original, previously undiscovered alchemy source, and just enough magic to border on the believable without overwhelming the reader.
Now, I have to digress to a confession. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might notice that all of my book reviews are glowing recommendations of books I’ve read. You might think to yourself, “How does she find such outstanding books, one after another?” The truth is, I only review about half of the books I read because I refuse to write bad reviews of books. I’m not out to deflate authors. I know how hard it is to write a novel, and I have no interest in pointing out flaws in other people’s work when I certainly have not yet achieved perfection, myself.
When I started TPBODD I was a little nervous. In all honesty, the first forty or so pages of the book were…difficult. I found myself wondering (after so many adverbs, the amount of telling vs. showing, and its s l o w pacing) how it got by an agent and a publisher. Once the protagonist got to the old house, however, the story started moving and I enjoyed it very much. It had the perfect blend of mystery, friendship, love, and magic.
The next book I read in the style of my own novel was The Memorist by M J Rose. I’d seen it on several book blogs and popular media sources, and had the good fortune to win it at a Baltimore Writer’s Meeting. The Memorist is also a literary mystery that takes place in multiple time periods and places. It has the pacing of The Davinci Code with the literary finesse of The Kite Runner. In The Memorist, a woman in the present day, and many of her acquaintances, search for Beethoven’s secret flute and the melody carved on it that promises to free people assaulted by past life memories. The plot is complicated and there are many characters and storylines, but it all comes together in a very satisfying conclusion. The Memorist also includes references to many classical music pieces that help to make up its “soundtrack,” and provide sensory layers to the book.
I’m always searching for these multi-layered, multi-timed books. If you have any recommendations, I’d be glad to hear them.