To paraphrase a certain TV advert, I don’t usually re-read books, but when I do, they’re Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books. She is my go-to author when I need a comfort read, or just a book I know will take me away to that other, better, place where hard drives never fail (don’t ask).
So when computer problems kept me from my WIP this week, I picked up my tablet and found a book that offered comfort, a book I read back in the Dark Ages when hard drives weren’t even measured in gigabytes and football players were still heroes. (Okay, they probably beat their wives in the nineties, too, but not in a SEP book.)
SEP, as Susan is known to the millions of “Seppies”, her fanatic fan base, was actually one of the first romance authors I read, after reading dozens of rave reviews. She’s one of the few authors whose books are auto-buys for me, and one of the few whose books I re-read regularly.
As I was re-reading It Had To Be You this week, the first in her Stars football series, I found myself analyzing the book in a way I hadn’t when I first read it, maybe because when I first read it I didn’t have a half-finished manuscript waiting on my, uh, failed hard drive. Of course we writers examine an author’s techniques as we read; it’s the curse of being a writer. But usually a good book causes us to dispense with the close examination after a few chapters. We get so lost in the words we forget to wonder how and why they were strung together in just such a way.
But re-reading a book doesn’t always have that effect, particularly if it’s one we’ve read many times. As I anticipated the plot unfolding in IHTBY, I found myself asking, “Why did Susan do it this way?” Why did she mention this minor character early on in the book? Armed with knowledge of how that character would play a role in the subplot that was coming up later, I could see how she’d planted the seed earlier. I’d love to know if she knew in advance how that character would affect the plot, or if she inserted it later.
This gives me some ideas for my own burgeoning subplot. SEP’s books usually contain a well-developed subplot, which is one reason I’ve enjoyed them—they’re “larger” books than much of what is out there, not just in terms of word count but in terms of story—or stories, as it were. I’ve never been able to pull off a fully developed subplot, but I’m trying to in my current work-in-progress.
I’m also questioning character development as I read, and how it’s intertwined with conflict. Just when I’m thinking, ahh, now that the heroine’s issues are resolved, bring on the HEA!, the hero does something that ratchets up those issues even further. In some books, this is called the Big Misunderstanding, but here, it misses being that because we see just why the hero’s own issues are playing into that conflict. This isn’t just a misunderstanding, it’s also an honest clash of two different character types. Both these characters will have to change, learn, and grow before that HEA can happen, and as I read, I’m seeing evidence of that growth.
When I first read this book, all I wanted to do was turn the page (a real page, back in the Dark Ages, remember) and I didn’t—nor should I—pay much attention to plot and character development. I did linger long enough to enjoy a clever turn of phrase—here’s an example, a description that applies to the Southern-born hero, Dan Calebow: “His voice shot through the quiet of the bar like a Confederate cannon over a smoldering battlefield.”
That simile, dear readers, is why I re-read Susan E. Phillips’ books, because I just might have missed one of those perfectly crafted images.
When my computer is up and running again, I’m going to go back to my WIP and see if I’ve planted the plot seeds the way SEP did in It Had To Be You, see if I’m showing my characters’ growth, see if I can’t find a better, more original description for their actions.
I joked once that when I’m writing, I ask myself “What would Susan do?” when trying to get out of a tricky plot situation. (The answer often is, toss in a cute furry mammal.) Studying the choices she makes, seeing how she ratchets up the tension, bit by bit, scene by scene, I feel more confident about sending my own characters into the fray of a complicated plot. Even though I don’t write about football—I don’t even watch it—I can call the plays that end up in a touchdown drive, or, in this case, a Happily Ever After.
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Kathryn Barrett lives in northern Virginia with her husband and her Irish rescue dog, Sparky. She’s been writing since her second grade teacher sent her to the back of the classroom with a stack of story-starters on index cards. Her first novel, Temptation, winner of the Holt Medallion and Golden Quill Best First Book awards, features an unlikely romance between an Amish carpenter and a Hollywood actress. Her current release, Redemption, is about an A-list actor and an uptight department store executive. Kathryn hates to put her characters through the wringer, and would rather just give them cute furry mammals to play with, but they have a habit of getting into trouble when she’s not around.
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Claire learned long ago the difference between white lies and dark ones. White lies saved your skin; dark lies could damage your soul.
Recently appointed an executive of a Philadelphia department store, Claire Porter doesn’t want a man in her life. She still bears scars from her past, including the Hollywood scandal that resulted in the birth of her son, but she’s the last to admit she needs a hero.
Matt Grayson is perfectly cast for the role. As a kid, he staged rescue operations with GI Joe and Barbie. Now he plays a hero on the big screen, but when he encounters Claire, ten years after their disastrous affair, he realizes she’s no longer the naive girl who fell into his arms. She not only forbids him to use her store as a location for the film he’s directing, but also refuses to cooperate with the emotional rescue he plans.
As layers of secrets are exposed, Claire and Matt grow closer, and finally face their personal—and public—redemption.
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Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Kathryn-Barrett/e/B00BHSWH00/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Simon and Schuster: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Redemption/Kathryn-Barrett/9781623421366