Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No Minimum


Just got my hands on Nevada Barr's novel Hunting Season ( Berkley Books, mm ed. 2003, ISBN: 0-425-18878-7, 339 pp.) one of the series featuring National Park Ranger and widow, Anna Pigeon.

My grateful thanks to someone here (Robyn?) who recommended Anna Pigeon as a kick-ass heroine.

Since my series also centers around a mature heroine with a non-traditional occupation, reading this novel was both pleasure and education.

Both Barr and Linda L. Richards (The Madeline Carter series) ignore the minimalist dictum, and I am almost convinced that indeed I made a mistake to ruthless pare to the bone both description and observation during edit of my WsIP.

Barr on internal observation. A backstory description. Anna identifying her husband in the morgue:
Without life inside, the human body looked like the awkward and asymetrical compliation of parts it was. At the time she'd known seeing the face in death would eclipse a thousand memory pictures of him in life.

Barr on an incidental character:
Startled, Anna smiled at her benefactress and received a nod in return, a minute dipping of a fabulous crimson hat with a prow like a pirate ship, sequins glittering like plunder. On a white woman it would have looked absurd. Atop this substantial black woman it was grand and subtly defiant.

Barr on setting and season:
Anna drove with the window rolled down, breathing in the essence of autumn: an exhalation of a forest readying itself for sleep, a smell so redolent with nostalgia a pleasant ache warmed her bones and she was nagged with a sense of a loss she could not remember.

Barr on description:
A plump brown hand bearing a squirrels weight in gold and semi-precious stones patted her knee reassuringly.

Seems even in murder mysteries, descriptive, nuanced prose has a proper place.
QED.
I am definitely going to revise and re-insert all those passages I took out because I thought bare was best.

28 comments:

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah, description. Yet another area riddled with conflicting advice in the writer's world. Put it in! No, take it out! Too much, too little... ack! :-)

These are wonderful examples, Bernita. I especially like the one with the hat. I, knowing I can't pull off large froufy hats, will stick with my pink baseball cap with the skull and crossbones on it. Very girly, it is. *G*

Bernita said...

I loved it too, Sonya.
She extends it a little later.
The kindly Christian in the crimson cap weighed anchor and was sailing ( wince at the "was") out with the tide of people leaving the church.

Sela Carsen said...

Balance! I haven't read a Nevada Barr book in ages -- need to find one again! I like Anna Pigeon and her basic, gut-level humanity.

spyscribbler said...

Oh wow! That's wonderful! I'm adding her to my list of 2008 reads. Thanks!

Bernita, don't delete your description! Your way with description and making words pretty is your strength, not something to delete! See, now, that's why I cringe seeing that saying tossed around, "Kill your darlings."

I've been really trying to improve my description. I'm too bare-bones. I'll write a decent description, and then suddenly I lose the voice and all description disappears. *sigh*

More practice, more practice, more practice ...

Bernita said...

Yup, Sela.
Anna Pigeon is a fully developed character.Tough and smart enough to compensate for her weaknesses.

Thank you, Spy.
Barr blends insight within her descriptions.Likely it is this layered effect that makes it work.
It's not just pretty prose.

JLB said...

Editing is such a challenge! In the end, I think that some good advice I've heard from others holds true: we, as the authors, must ultimately stand by what parts of our writing we hold most dear.

Like you, I'm often trying to cut away what appears to be an excess in description... some of it is warrented, but other times I feel as though once I've cut something out, there's just a clunky, glaring void where something critical belongs.

I'm glad to hear that the works of these authors has encouraged to you stay confident with your voice!

Rick said...

The pare-to-the-bone convention has been with us for most of a century now, ever since Papa H. and the first hardboiled writers. Time for something different, maybe?

Of course you/we have to convince the market, AKA agents and editors, but perhaps they're open to a change, too.

Bernita said...

Think there's a tipping point, JLB, while subtle is good, one may expect to much of the reader in a fill-in-the-blanks style.

It might well still hold true for the hard-boiled mystery genre, Rick; but, obviously, both the agents and editors of both these writers preferred the expanded style.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

My TBR pile is still 11 books tall! It would never see the light of day, but it sounds good.

I think you should kep two copies...pain, I know...but it depends on whether you can find the same kind of publisher and agent that that particular author has.

Some like bare bones, some like the more substantial literary approach. I pray you get dealt the hand that you are looking for...:-)

Robyn said...

It wasn't me. But this is going in my TBR pile.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie.
That's a good idea, new files.

Steve G said...

Bernita, good for you. I believe the only right course is the one in your heart and the one the editor provides when they are preparing the book for publication.

Rick said...

I'm sure it still holds true in hardboiled; terseness is integral to the voice (though even there there might be exceptions). Another dame, another stiff; our narrator has seen it all before.

But that's hardboiled, and there's no particular reason why its rules should be imposed on other genres.

Bernita said...

I'm grateful to whoever.
She has written about 11 of these, I think, Robyn.
She does the slow-moving romance thingy for much the same reasons I do, too - which makes her novels valuable for me on another level.

Bernita said...

That's very true, Rick.
Beware the one-size-fits-all method of critique.

I'm in the middle of what may be such an exception - James Lee Burke's "Jolie Blon's Bounce."
A blurb describes Burke as "the poet of the mystery novel."

Bernita said...

Thank you, Steve.
I don't think heart and form are incompatible.
Think I might be wise to get my grubby little paws on the first novels in these successful series. Sometimes the "rules" are relaxed after the first novel makes the grade.

Erik Ivan James said...

Applause, like a thunder, reverberates throughout this blog!

Erik Ivan James said...
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Erik Ivan James said...
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Erik Ivan James said...
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Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik!
I take it you approve?

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I like this writer’s way with words and will have to add Barr’s work to my ever-growing TBR list.

I think you nailed it, Bernita, when you said: “That's very true, Rick. Beware the one-size-fits-all method of critique.”

Bernita said...

Thank you, Daisy.
Think you might find Anna interesting.

reyna said...
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spyscribbler said...

But, Bernita! I don't think prose is pretty if it doesn't have meaning and insight! It has to have substance and soul, a way about it that makes the words become vivid and alive and colorful!

"Just pretty prose" wouldn't make it past my nanosecond attention span, LOL. Seriously. I can be Ms. Skim-City, especially when it comes to description.

(Btw, started Hunting Season. You're so right!)

Bernita said...

Exactly, Spy.

Sam said...

Oh, I love love love Nevada Barr's stories! She's hard to find, but as soon as I see one I grab it. Great characters and intelligent, interesting storylines. Love her mysteries!

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