Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spring For Susannah - A Novel Review & Writers Workshop

"Marta says she is thinking of the book of Ruth," Ivar began, pausing for his wife's words. "Like Ruth, Susannah has traveled far to marry a man she did not know. Like Ruth, may you find great joy in your new family." (page 69)

Jesse Mason welcomes his mail-order bride Susannah to his home in the Dakota Territory. Married by proxy by his brother, The Reverend back in Michigan the couple meet for the first time when Susannah arrives by train. Jesse, a Christian man is immediately pleased by his bride. Her prayer request is answered when he smiles. Jesse has a full set of good teeth. While Susannah does carry on an inner dialogue with God, she also acknowledges that she feels He has let her down in the past and is to blame for her current predicament. She also arrives with a suitcase full of several secrets and huge inferior complex. While both have inner demons to content with Susannah is particularly fragile. But she is prepared to keep her part of the deal, be a good wife, and obey her husband. Jesse is patiently hoping for more....

First time author Catherine Richmond has crafted a enjoyable story for the Christian reader, I suspect however, this novel will also appeal to readers beyond this market, readers who enjoy historical "prairie" romances. The Christian themes that run through the story has been seamlessly integrated and are appropriate. A nice read by a promising new author.

Writers Workshop - The author has chosen to open the story of Jesse and his mail-order wife minutes before they meet for the first time. She is considered a spinster, and he is a farmer. As the story unfolds the author has a double burden, first to show the push and pull of the couple as they get to know one another, and second to reveal the backstory of these two very different people. Revealing this much backstory without slowing the pace of the novel can be tricky.

Catherine Richmond has done a good job of dropping past events of Susannah's life into the story to show (explain) who she is and why. Ms. Richmond has used backstory to her advantage. While both are mature, Jesse is portrayed as a more open character. He readily admits to a past that includes serving in a brutal war and using (abusing) alcohol . Because he is immediately pleased by his new wife, and because we, the reader know Jesse has conquered his past we trust that he will be able to help her. There are many reasons for Susannah's hesitancy and bit by bit they are revealed to Jesse and the reader.

Creating an in-depth biography for the lead characters is a good idea (especially for beginning writers). The trick is not to ramble on about this happened and that happened. Be careful to use this information to reveal character motivation. A light touch is the goal.

"The trick," according to Larry Brooks, "is to show just enough backstory that the reader can intuit where the character is coming from, rather than spelling it out." Story Engineering (pg. 89).

A copy of this book was provided by Thomas Nelson for review. My expressed opinions are my own.


Cathy said...

Thank you so much for your kind review of Spring for Susannah. I'm sorry I missed it when you first posted it. To tell the truth, Susannah was so ashamed of her past and her feelings about how her life, I had a difficult time getting any backstory out of her! Jesse on the other hand, would not stop talking!

Patricia said...

Cathy, thank you for the insight into creating your novel. I've recomended this one to several readers ... and all share my enthusiasm. Any news on the next one?