2017 was a great year for novels with storylines involving writers. Four were on my reading list, and should probably be on yours if for no other reason than they are about writing.
Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk is a luscious time-jump tale with a writing desk in the middle. Tenley Roth has one bestseller, but is completely blocked when it comes to writing her second. Her estranged mother calls her to Florida where she comes across an old desk full of secrets, including those of Birdie Shehorn. Birdie lived during the Gilded Age, the daughter of Old Money. This is a useful—and entertaining—look at what it takes to really live a writing life amid obstacles.
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck turned out to be one of my favorite novels of 2017 thanks to author Bethany Turner’s rollicking voice and story, as well as her slanting look at sexual tension in Christian romance. Sarah, too, had bestsellers—written before coming to faith and chock full of scandalous material. I enjoyed discovering how Sarah dealt with her previous books as she entered her new life. I would have given this book a starred review in Publishers Weekly if someone else hadn’t already done so.
I always love a good John Grisham story, and Camino Island was no different. It’s quite different from his legal thrillers, but I’m not arguing with a tale about a heist from Princeton’s library vaults of priceless F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts. Enter Mercer Mann, novelist with severe writer’s block, who is asked to help find the manuscripts that may be hidden in a bookshop on Camino Island.
Lastly, Lady Jane Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, another novel of two plots and multiple mysteries this time sent in Victorian England. Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, leaving her with the task of finishing his wildly popular serial novel written under the pen name Nathaniel Droll. Aurelie must go live with her father’s snobbish family, and there uncovers mystery upon mystery surrounding her long-lost mother. She must keep her identity as Droll secret even as she writes about her family.
Joanna Politano visited Grand Rapids in 2017 and I was able to meet her and talk about her novel and writing life. She’s the mother of two young children, Elena and Levi, and lives with her husband Vince in Michigan City, Indiana.
Tell us a little about your writing journey and your debut novel Lady Jane Disappears.
The novel evolved as I wrote it over nine months or a year. It started out as a fun thing I did during my daughter’s nap time, then became a more formal project. I had decided to set aside my publishing goals to raise a family but God said no. He said, “It’s noble but not what I want you to do.”
I went to a writers conference where I met my agent Tamela Hancock Murray. She signed me and I finished the book several months later. We got interest very quickly.
What surprised you as you wrote Lady Jane Disappears?
It surprised me that the book became more of a mystery novel than I thought. For fun I put in every element that I like in a story. As I edited the book, the mystery became more of the story. In fact, what happened to Aurelie’s mother surprised me. I didn’t know if she would pop up, didn’t know who was the villain. My first readers had me rewrite the ending because it was boring.
What do you like most about writing?
I enjoy the connection with my spiritual life, how art integrates with my walk with God. God and I unfold the novel as a process together. I also love connecting with readers who are kindred spirits and who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I love to to sit down and play with words, to change sentences around, all the twists and turns of writing.
What is your best advice to new writers?
My advice is to not care so much about what people think of your writing. I also think writing to any kind of fad isn’t going to get you very far, and thinking too highly of yourself is only going to hinder you. There is a lot to be said for learning the craft, and I’m not trying to cop out on that, but you have to be true to your story.
Get feedback, enter contests, and really listen to the people trying to help you. It’s easy to think your writing is really good and others just don’t get it. But if three or four people are telling you something, you need to listen.
What authors do you like to read?
I like to read anything well written. I grew up reading the Brontes and Dickens; now there are so many good novels out there, especially in CBA. I like Bethany Turner for contemporary, Lynn Austin for historical, as well as Jodi Hedlund, Kristy Cambron, Laura Frantz, Rosanna White, and Susie Finkbeiner.
Visit Joanna Politano at www.jdpstories.com, on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
My goodness, Ann! Your comments about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck completely made my day. Thank you! I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed it. And I love that you got some time to visit with Joanna, who is without doubt one of my favorite bookish people! (And Joanna…thanks for the shout-out, my friend!)