Ten things I like about A Sane Woman
1. It has proved to be a strong foundation. I started it around 1990 and wrote most of it in the 1990s, and everything I've written since has been in the same world with the same characters, but I've never wished I'd done something differently or thought that I'd painted myself into a corner. Hey, once he wrote Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had to go back and change some things in The Hobbit. I've never wanted to do that (referring to ASW, not to The Hobbit, of course 🙂 ).
2. I like the way it starts in chaos, showing the reader a series of characters without immediately revealing who they are or how they are related to each other (but, I think, in such a way as to draw the reader in). One of the many lessons I've tried to learn from Robert Altman.
3. Parts of it are really funny. (Well, I always laugh when I read them).
4. I like the reverse chronology. First two chapters in the "present," next few chapters three weeks before, next three chapters twenty years before that, then coming back to the present. I tried to make it clear what was happening by using chapter titles like "Three Weeks Earlier" and "Twenty Years Earlier," since the point was not to confuse the reader but just to reveal the mystery and the solution in the proper order. (I also called the last chapter "The Solution," in case some readers might be nervous that the mystery would never be solved.)
5. The book owes a big debt to Sherlock Holmes, and I acknowledge it (the first thing the detective says, after all, is, "The game's afoot!").
6. I think it does a real good job of "show, don't tell." There is almost no exposition, and certainly no info dumps. Everything is revealed through action and dialogue, and the backstory that the characters do tell each other may or may not be true.
I saw this blog post recently, and it has some good rules for writers, some of which I think I followed.
7. Write the book you want to read. I did that. I still like to read it.
8. Use your hands. I do this (mostly I write with a fountain pen on paper), but this is also why I really like the cover. How many books these days have a cover which was drawn by hand, with a pen and ink on paper? Almost all covers these days are made on computers.
9. Creativity is subtraction. When I laid it out on paper, I found out the word count for the first time. Just a bit over 45,000 words, not even technically a novel. I consider that a good thing, as padding it up to 50,000 would have been easy, but I left out all that unnecessary exposition.
(I do have to mention that the blog post I just linked to is awfully long for a post that praises the value of concision.)
10. Oh, and one more Robert Altman lesson: don't over-resolve. Some questions are answered by the end of the book, but some are not. One character is still a complete mystery.