By Laura S. Wharton, Author of The Pirate’s Bastard and Leaving Lukens
I struggle with internet connection at my rural home. Some days, I can get online easily. Other days, I feel like I’m standing on a hill far, far away from civilization trying to decide whether sending smoke signals would be better than using a mega horn to get my message across. Some days, I have a connection before it’s dropped … never to be made again while I’m sitting in front of the computer, trying my level best to get messages out.
We’ve switched cables, computers, internet providers … everything imaginable except our location. Still, the lack of connection goes on (or off, depending on your point of view), and with the current economic conditions, we certainly won’t be able to move anytime soon to get better, or more constant, connections. So what’s a writer to do, besides having another cup of tea, hoping that “eventually” the connection will come back? Short of packing up my laptop and going to a wifi hotspot, not much.
Since I have a good deal of down time waiting for internet connection, this issue naturally leads me to think about connections writers make with readers in stories. My father says he’s watched books transform from “who-done-it” to “where-done-it” stories – focusing so much on place, on description of flora fauna, or surroundings, or what the victim wore on the night of the murder. He points out that if all the adjectives were taken out of current books, there might be four words left to tell the story. I suppose that’s okay, as long as those remaining four words actually do the job of 70,000 plus words and connect with the reader for a memorable experience. But which four words would work? It depends on the kind of connection a writer wants with a reader.
I’m guilty of putting a great deal of emphasis on a story’s place. In The Pirate’s Bastard, the tale is set in colonial coastal North Carolina. A tale of history, piracy, blackmail, and ships, what resonates most with reviewers is the lush emerald green marsh grass from which the lead character Edward Marshall takes his name when he comes to the new world, escaping his past and his pirate father’s deeds. Readers also comment on the way I’ve described the grounds and waters near the grand mansion that Orton Plantation was going to be, where Edward served as an agent for the wealthy land owner.
In Leaving Lukens, I set out to write an adventure story filled with a little romance. According to my editor, it’s a romance filled with lots of action. I could connect with readers on the romance level, or the action level. The place connection could be strong, too, since the story is set in the small North Carolina village of Lukens on the opposite shore from Oriental and features New Bern prominently. But what about the history angle? That might be the greatest connection with readers. It’s honestly my favorite part of the story. The impact of World War II was felt hard along our coast: German U-boats sank many American tankers filled with goods bound for England in the lend-lease program. Oil, debris, and even sailors’ bodies littered our otherwise pristine beaches. The black stench of war hung in the coastal air for days after a sinking, according to eyewitness accounts. Pleasure boat-building companies stepped up their production capabilities to supply minesweepers and other ships for the war effort. And little towns like New Bern swelled with military men, or vanished from existence thanks to the “last straw” effect of a war like no other.
My characters experience all this (and so much more) in Leaving Lukens. I wonder how the story will connect with readers and reviewers when the book comes out this fall? Assuming I get a connection today, I’ll upload this blog posting, and look forward to the feedback readers might offer.
Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the upcoming novel, Leaving Lukens. Learn more about her and her work at http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com, http://www.LauraWharton.blogspot.com, or connect with her at http://www.twitter.com/LauraSWharton