Post #144: So, What’s Your Book About?

ebooks, New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

With my debut novel set to come out on July 22nd, it’s time to start telling you a little bit about it. I thought I’d start with the back cover blurb/teaser that I recently wrote. Have you ever tried to write one of these? I don’t recommend it. It’s really hard. When you write an entire book and then you sit down to try to summarize that book in a compelling way that piques someone’s interest, but in a way that doesn’t oversell or tell them too much, but also somewhat fits the tone and feel of the book inside, but without seeming too casual or annoying, it feels like someone has just asked you to juggle some flaming unicycles.

And yet, I’m proud of this blurb, and of the way it introduces my main character, Rainey Cobb, the girl on the cover. Readers, after all, will experience the blurb in conjunction with the cover art, and I wanted the teaser to establish Rainey as a person and bring her world and dilemmas to life in harmony with the cover. I love this character so much, and I hope readers love her too.

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself—and her vagabond, show-biz life—through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose… and always wonder who she could have been.

Does that make you want to buy the book? Damn, I hope so. Pre-order links coming SOON!

Post #143: Cover Reveal

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

Friends, I’m so glad you’re here to see this. You’re looking at the cover of my debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, which comes out on paperback, e-book, and audiobook on July22nd on Deep Hearts YA. I’m revealing the cover on social media later this week, but you’ve been with me from the beginning, so I wanted you to be the very first ones to see it.

I love it so much, and I hope you do too. It so perfectly captures the essence of this book, and my main character, Rainey Cobb, who I can’t wait for you to meet soon.

I plan to do a deep dive into the story behind the cover art and my amazing cover designer, Chloe White, in the days and weeks to come. But for now, I’m beyond thrilled to able to put it in front of your eyes.

Thank you for being here and supporting me. This is just the beginning of so much awesomeness to come. Stay tuned.

By the way, if you’d like to keep up with me on a more frequent basis, I have a new Instagram account for my writing life: @benjaminroeschwrites

Give me a follow!

Post #142: Control-F

The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I’ve been furiously editing my debut novel for publication this summer, and let me tell you, it’s a journey. Fraught with peaks and valleys, confirmations and surprises, tears and (near) laughter.

It’s also a supreme brain challenge, applying the editing skills you know you have to the words that you created, trying to erase the proximal distance between your analytical and creative brains so you can edit with clear-eyed clarity and polish your scenes and sentences to a spit shine.

I long ago developed a stomach for editing. They say to “kill your darlings” when you edit. No problem. What weapon shall I use? The machete? The butter knife? The rocket launcher? I’ve got them all and I’m not afraid to use them. Years ago, I wrote a very long (still unpublished) novel about a tennis player, and after a long walk during which I came to the conclusion that one of my sub-plots was totally not working, I sat back down at my desk and casually cut 200 pages from an 800 page manuscript.

Trimming excess fat, re-working scenes, saying goodbye to fluff. I can do that. It’s the blind spots that are starting to keep me up at night. The stuff I can’t see. The revelations that no amount of walks will unearth. Because I can only edit out the crap that I can identify as such. And before you bring it up, I’m not trying to do this alone. My publisher’s developmental editor has been through the manuscript, as have writing colleagues who know their stuff. Other eyes are deeply involved. But there are things that none of us can see with our bare eyes. I’m sure of it. And that knowledge is starting to make me a little crazy.

Luckily, our good friends who make word processing programs have invented tools to help uncover some of the crap you, and other knowledgeable, well-intentioned people can’t always find. I’m starting to believe that Control-F was invented for just such moments.

If you’re unfamiliar, which you probably aren’t, but just in case, Control-F is a word processing tool that allows you to search and find a word or phrase within a document without having to scroll through pages and pages trying to remember where it is. If you’ve never used it, I invite you to open up a document this very moment and try it out. Pick a word. A phrase. An image. Something you know is in there and type it into the Control-F box and watch your document magically race to that very spot. It’s truly amazing. It’s an especially helpful tool for those of us who write book length works where it can be very difficult to find what you’re looking for, no matter how well you think you know your book.

The other day, I was reading my book for the four hundredth time and I thought to myself, “man, is it me or is the word ‘like’ is in here a lot?” My book is 1st person YA, so on some level, it makes sense there would be an extra like or two, but still, I was feeling that from dialogue to similes, ‘like’ was everywhere. So, I typed “like” into the Control-F box. Then held my breath.

Sweet Jesus.

# of uses of the word “like” in my 70,000 word manuscript? 597. That’s less than 1% but still! The word was literally everywhere I looked. After my initial shock and terror subsided, I found myself incredibly grateful, wishing I could buy the creators of Control-F a drink or six. They’d helped me notice what was staring me in the face but I still couldn’t see.

I edited those pesky uses of “like” down to less than 400, and genuinely think I improved the manuscript in a very short amount of time.

Then, fearing I had a similar problem, I did Control-F for the word “just” and did the same thing.

As I was reading, I’d also noticed a proliferation of metaphors and similes involving birds in there so I did Control-F for “bird” and trimmed. Similarly, I’d noticed the same thing with puzzle-themed metaphors. Took care of that. Who’s next?

My teenage protagonist’s parents feature prominently, so there are approximately a billion instances of “mom” and “dad” in the book, but those words are either capitalized or not depending on the situation. Had I deployed the correct usage every time? I think you know what happened next.

I guess my point is that editing a manuscript takes you to some strange places, comes in a variety of forms, and that technology can occasionally be a useful friend along the way.

Thanks, Control-F.

Love, your pal Benjamin

Post #141: In Light of Recent Events

Book Reviews, New Writing, The Writing Craft, writing news

One of the best things about being friends with other writers is celebrating their successes, and I’m so here to celebrate. My good friend Amy Klinger recently published her debut novel In Light of Recent Events, and it’s such a likable, lovable book. I can’t wait for you to read it. Here’s what it’s about (from the back cover):

In the 1990s American workplace, survival of the fittest is sometimes less about clawing your way to the top than developing good camouflage. And Audrey Rohmer is doing her very best to blend in as an undistinguished middle manager. Uninspired by her job and uneasy about her father’s new marriage, Audrey coasts through the work week leaning on her “partner in apathy” – an admin assistant named Pooter – to keep her relationship with the married head of her department from becoming water cooler gossip.

But when an old family friend-turned-Hollywood-superstar crashes on her doorstep in the midst of a publicity crisis, Audrey’s under-the-radar status quo gets upended, and the writing may literally be on the bathroom wall that secrets will find a way out.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like the kind of book you really want to read? It is.

Amy’s prose is airy, witty, and packed with observations so crystalline they make you want to read them again and again.

Did I mention this book is funny? Like, laugh out loud funny. Amy also is fantastic at set pieces and situational comedy making for some fantastically awkward moments.

Perhaps my favorite thing is the way Amy is willing to gently upend our expectations, making this book more surprising than you expect it will be.

It’s also quietly a book about grieving and loss, about the very blurry line drawn in our lives between childhood and adulthood, and about how hard it is to be a good person, even when it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world.

This book has a huge heart and it will make you giggle. What’s not to love?

Friends, put this one on your to-read list. You can pre-oder it here and help support local bookstores.

Then register HERE for Amy’s virtual book launch on March 22nd at 7pm EST. I’ll be playing MC and helping facilitate some Q & A with the author.

Post #139: Ambitious Attainability

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I love some good goal setting just as much as the next guy. After all, setting goals + achieving goals = happier self. And who doesn’t want to be happier? But I’ve also developed a bit of an algorithm for my own goals, whether they be for my writing life or just my life in general.

I believe in setting goals that are ambitious, but still attainable. Ambitious so that I’m properly motivated and know that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Attainable so that I have something to celebrate because celebrating feels good and is a really important part of the process. Most goal setting happens privately, and when it’s just you and you, small victories really matter. In the age of social media, it feels like everything is for public consumption, but deep down, most of us still know that we have to make ourselves happy first.

Now, I know that the notion of attainability sort of flies in the face of all the “yay-me!” feelings that are supposed to accompany goal setting in the greeting-card sense of the phrase. We’re always telling ourselves to “dream big” and “be our best selves.” To “reach for the stars” and be “the person we were always born to be.” But you show me a person who spends a little too much time dreaming big and reaching for the stars and I’ll show you a person who regularly doesn’t meet his goals and doesn’t get to celebrate success as often as he’d like.

Let’s get specific. At the top of this page, you’ll see a picture. Now, I’m not in this picture, but what you’re looking at is me celebrating successfully meeting a goal in about the least sexy way possible: by writing numbers on a page, and then writing more numbers beneath those numbers, and then more numbers beneath those. That’s my daily word count for last week.

I was off for a week over the holiday, and I knew I wanted to make some progress on my novel-in-progress, which I’d been struggling to make traction with as of late. But when you’ve got children dominating your life and schedule, Christmas to plan, not to mention food to eat and classic films to watch, days full of free time–the thing we all want more of–can whisk by in surprisingly brisk fashion.

I needed a goal. So, I set one. I decided that during break I would try to write 1,000 words a day. Now, I tend to write fast, and so 1,000 words doesn’t feel like an overly-huge haul, but I also knew that I’d be more likely to reach my daily goal if I set it for an attainable quantity. If I’m properly focused, I can usually write 1,000 story words in 2-3 hours. However, to reach this goal, I knew I’d have to wake up early and get my pages in before the family was up and the day swept me away so that I could properly focus. I’d have to skip morning time chatting with my wife and reading the Beatles biography I’ve been working my way through. I’d have to sacrifice. And sacrifice takes ambition. As does consistency, which was part of my goal. 1,000 words a day, every day. No excuses.

And that un-sexy photo at the top of the page? It’s proof. It’s my reward for a job well done. The first two days waking up at 6:30 when I wanted to sleep in kind of sucked. But with each passing day, I wrote down my current word count before getting to work, and as the numbers grew, I felt successful knowing I’d not only reached the prior day’s goal, I was proving to myself that I could reach today’s as well. And tomorrow’s. With each day, getting up early and getting my pages in felt just a little bit easier, and a little more satisfying.

It’s easy to get romantic about writing, especially fiction. But the dirty little secret is that writing, almost more than anything, is about showing up. And then showing up again. And again. You could write for twelve hours straight and bang out 7,500 words in a marathon Kerouac-style session, but you’re more likely to do it in small chunks. A little bit each day adds up to a lot.

This year, let’s practice ambitious attainability. Let me know how it goes. Very un-sexy pictures of celebration highly encouraged.

Post #138: You Know it When You Hear It

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, writing news

Since my publisher, Deep Hearts YA, does not do much with audiobooks just yet, one of the tasks I’ve given myself in anticipation of my debut novel coming out next year is independently producing an audiobook of my book to accompany the paperback and e-book release. Why? Mostly because I love audiobooks. Secondly, because it sounded like fun. I know, I know. My version of fun isn’t exactly normal. But I’ve hosted my own podcast, know a little bit about recording and editing quality audio. How hard could it be?

The truth is that before I even got going, I confronted a serious problem. Who would narrate it? Initially, I had planned to narrate it myself. I have a background in acting and teaching and podcasting, which means I trusted myself to deliver a solid performance, and hey, I’m on a budget here. But when I mentioned this plan to my wife, she scrunched up her face in that way she does, the one that lets me know I’m a complete idiot.

You see, I’m a middle aged guy, and my protagonist is, well, not. In fact, my protagonist is a 15-year old girl. My wife gently explained that audiences would probably warm more to the story if the voice narrating the story was closer to that of its main character. She also pointed out that this was especially important given that the novel is in 1st person. But…But…But…

I had some serious Buts because this flew in the face of my plan, and my budget, and my selfish desire to read it myself. And, after all, how the hell do you find someone great to narrate an audiobook?

While I have some additional feelings on the topic of whether a narrator’s gender needs to always match up with that of a main character, my wife was right on this one. She usually is.

So, I thought about it: who do I know that could do this? I sent some emails to local theater organizations. I asked friends. I thought some more. I sent some more emails. Not surprisingly, not much came of this. So, I did what any sensible person would do. I quietly panicked.

And then I discovered ACX, which, as many people know is Amazon’s giant portal for authors and narrators to produce and publish audiobooks. It’s a place where narrators can post samples of themselves and where authors can discover the perfect narrator. I filtered for “YA” and “female” and no fewer that a billion or so narrators and their samples came up. I began clicking and listening. Clicking and listening. Some were fine. Some were not so fine. Some were excellent. Some were professional. Some were decidedly not professional. Some were clearly recorded on a quality microphone. Some seemed accidentally recorded by a phone’s voice memo function. I just kept listening, not quite sure what I was looking for, but hoping that I would know it when I heard it.

And then I heard H’s voice. Everything about her delivery and timbre, her ability to sound vulnerable and real, felt like it would fit perfectly with Rainey, my main character.

From there, things clicked together with a kind of serendipity that is truly unusual. I reached out to H, told her about my project, sent her some sample pages, and asked if she was interested in doing an audition. She was.

A few weeks later, she sent her audition through, and I got goosebumps when I listened to it again and again while walking around my neighborhood with a goofy smile on my face.

I’m happy to report this story has a happy ending, and that I’ve found my narrator. You’re going to love her.

Post #137: Book Title Bingo

The Writing Craft, Writing Advice

For me, choosing a book title is one of the hardest parts of the writing process. And by hardest, I mean it makes me want to jump out my office window into oncoming traffic. The problem, generally, isn’t generating ideas. Usually, the ideas are the easy part. It’s deciding which are the good ideas. And which is the best title. Because, truly, how do you know? And what the hell does “best” mean anyway?

Should a title be short and catchy? Long and poetic? Metaphorical? Stunningly direct? Common and memorable? Abstract and unforgettable? A little bit of everything.

You see where I’m going with this. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that shorter is better. And I don’t necessarily disagree. After all, you want to have a book title that’s easy to grasp, remember, share, and explain. And yet, from where I’m sitting right this very moment, long titles abound. Here’s a selection of longer titles I can see on my bookshelves just from my desk chair:

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day
  • Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Of course, I can see plenty of, and probably more, pithy and short titles as well. To boot:

  • Pleasantview
  • Blindness
  • Dubliners
  • Deep
  • Autumn
  • Naked

Shit

I’m preoccupied by book titles right now because I’m trying to settle on the title for my forthcoming debut novel, which comes out summer, 2022 on Deep Hearts YA. To avoid confusion, I’m not going to share the working title here, but suffice to say, it’s on the long side. I’ve changed it many times, but keep going back to the original. Because I like it. And because it fits nicely with the book’s feel, content, and audience. But I can’t shake the nagging, and likely ill-founded, fear that’s it’s too long. Or something.

Ultimately, it probably matters less than I think it does. I doubt I would like The Great Gatsby or Beloved any less if they were called something else. Over time, we reimagine titles. We wrap them around the book as we imagine it to be. As we want it to be. If we love a book, chances are the title feels just right to us. If we hate a book, then it’s probably the opposite.

For the moment, I’ll keep making lists and checking them a thousand times. When the title is set, or when I likely give up and stick with my original title, I promise you’ll be the first to know.

Uncategorized

Post #136: Wanna Hear Some Good News?

If you’re reading this, then thanks for sticking around. I know it’s been a while. Perhaps you thought I would never post again. Perhaps you never noticed I stopped posting in the first place. Perhaps you’ve missed me terribly. Any of those reactions are fine. I love you just the way you are.

I’m posting something new because I have some news to share. Some good news, which doesn’t come around too often.

A novel I wrote is being published. Next year. As in, summer 2022. I know that’s far away.

Why share this news? Because I’m excited, and I thought you might be too. The truth is that I’m doing holy-shit back flips on the regular, but I’m trying to play it cool so I don’t embarrass myself or freak you out.

Over the next year, I’ll be editing my book for publication, collaborating with a friend on cover design, overhauling this website to be more professional, producing an audio book, and designing and attending my own book launch boot camp.

I plan to post occasional updates here to document the process. Because it’s not everyday you publish your first book and I want to soak up every minute.

I hope you’ll stick around. So much more to come.

Post #129: The Seeker

Shaking My Head

For the first time I’ve been reading Irving Stone’s biographical novel Lust for Life, about the life and artistic pursuits, and general unwavering obsessions and fanaticism, of the great Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, whose work is so known and admired it’s almost a cliché. Van Gogh was an artist who suffered a great deal, more even than I’d ever realized, even though many of his worst wounds were self-inflicted. He eschewed paying work and jobs that would monetarily support his efforts, instead relying solely upon the charity of his brother, Theo, and others, which was barely enough to live on. Better to live in poverty with moth-eaten clothes, a writhing hungry belly, and early wrinkles upon his battered face than to compromise even an inch. In short, Van Gogh was single-minded and epically stubborn, and once he dedicated his life to producing drawings and paintings, he was unshakeable in that pursuit. It should also be said that it’s pretty likely that Van Gogh suffered from some undiagnosed mental illness and that were he alive now, he’d be popping Prozac like Tic Tacs.

Despite some early encouragement, many of those who’d originally supported Vincent’s art, eventually turned against him and tried to talk him out of this pursuit.  This included his cousin by marriage Anton Mauve, who was one of many who disputed Van Gogh’s claim even to be an artist and tried vehemently to dissuade him from pursuing his craft. Now, before we wholly demonize this un-supportive enclave, it should be said that Van Gogh was a bit of a leech. He borrowed money he never paid back. He was socially awkward, frequently inappropriate, and ignorant to the sorts of daily social norms that lubricate the vast majority of our interactions, which are constantly suffused with the suppression of true feelings in exchange for being liked and getting along. Van Gogh possessed no such filter. He showed up at people’s houses. He said weird, creepy things that would have found him the odd man out at every party he attended. It’s likely that he would have been very difficult to be around and remain friends with. So while I found myself angry at Mauve and others, there’s context to their frustration with Vincent and their eventual rejection of him.

I’m only about halfway through the book, but I was struck by the following exchange, in which Van Gogh bumps into Mauve weeks after they’ve had a terrible quarrel that has driven a perhaps irreversible wedge into their relationship. Van Gogh tries to apologize to Mauve and invites him to visit his studio to assess his most recent work, even though Mauve (who regularly loaned Van Gogh money and initially supported his work) has grown frequently, even cruelly, dismissive of Vincent’s efforts. After assuring Vincent he will do no such thing, Mauve asks:

“Do you call yourself an artist?”

“Yes.”

“How absurd. You never sold a picture in your life.”

(Here is where my ears perked up and my nervous system began to murmur. I have been writing constantly for nearly twenty years and have made little to no money from my writing in that entire time. I’ve often felt embarrassed over that fact, even though I know the same is true of so many writers, many far more talented than I. It’s Van Gogh’s response to Mauve that has continued to resonate and whisper. He says…)

“Is that what being an artist means–selling? I thought it meant one who was always seeking without absolutely finding. I thought it means the contrary from ‘I know it, I have found it.’ When I say I am an artist, I only mean ‘I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.'”

I’m not personally sure what an artist is, and in spite of being one most of my life, I’ve spent little to no time thinking about what it means, let alone having such a clear understanding in my mind as Van Gogh expresses here and elsewhere. Is that bad? I always feel a little awkward when someone calls me, or I call myself, an artist. The word has never seemed to properly indicate what I do, what I feel, why I sit and write. But this idea of seeking, or striving, even in the absence of monetary, or other brands of external reward? That felt just about right.

 

Post #128: Some Thoughts on Ann Patchett

The Writing Craft, Writing Advice

9780062049810_custom-7ad2bd2af04c0ac867ab2c601a045a0fd85fd7b2-s99-c85            In Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel State of Wonder, she demonstrates how a writer can, and should, manipulate time to inform a reader’s experience and focus her attention. In a rudimentary sense, time = importance. By skipping briskly through time, for instance, a reader subconsciously infers that the story’s most urgent action is not currently happening, but coming, perhaps concealed just around the next corner/chapter. Conversely, such as in a long scene in the first chapter of State of Wonder, Patchett slows the story clock down to a crawl in order to draw the reader’s attention to the story weight the moment carries. In part, she does this in unsurprising ways, using description, conflict, and dialogue. What is surprising, though, and worthy of a closer examination, is how Patchett also uses repetition to quietly deepen our sense of who the characters are and how they will behave later in the story.

The scene opens in a suburban neighborhood where Marina Singh, the novel’s protagonist, along with her boss and (secret) lover, the aptly named Mr. Fox (think perhaps he’s devious?), have arrived at the home of Karen Eckman to deliver the awful news that Karen’s husband, Anders, is dead. And not only dead, but dead through suspicious circumstances in a remote section of the Amazon. Though the scene is quite early in the novel, for the seven pages Marina and Mr. Fox are in the Eckman’s household, time slows to a crawl. As they drive up, we get a long description of the Eckman’s neighborhood, as well as Marina’s internal wonderings about the finances involved in living there and how different her own life as a single woman is from her married colleague, a father of two. Then, after Karen Eckman opens the door and sees her husband’s colleagues standing there, clearly unnerved when she says “now this is a surprise,” Patchett withholds the reveal, building tension. We meet the family dog Pickles, who becomes a metaphor for the dead husband by scene’s end, and are treated to long descriptions of both the house itself, as well as the weather outside (it’s winter). We also glimpse a jungle gym through the window, a reminder that not only has Karen lost a husband, but two boys have lost a father. They just don’t know it yet.

When Karen asks if they’d like coffee, “Marina turned to put the question to Mr. Fox and found that he was standing directly behind her.” Meaning, of course, that Mr. Fox wants Marina to do the talking. At first we don’t make too much of this. But later down the page, Patchett repeats this character detail. “She {Marina} glanced back at Mr. Fox again…but Mr. Fox had turned towards the refrigerator now.” The repetition of the notion that Mr. Fox, who is not only the dead Anders’s boss, but the replacement male in this scene, shrinking back, thereby making Marina do the tougher, braver work, does two things. It tells us that Mr. Fox is perhaps cowardly, or at least deferential to a fault. It also tells us that Marina is, or will have to be, strong. It’s this latter character detail that Patchett gets the most use out of, for as State of Wonder progresses, Marina will over and over again have to dip into reservoirs of strength, bravery, and resilience she didn’t even know were there. Often, too, she has to do because Mr. Fox is (symbolically) hiding behind her.

Patchett continues to mine this tension through repetition as the scene develops. When Karen finally stops rambling and tending to the dog and says, “this isn’t good news, right?” Marina thinks to herself, “this was the moment for Mr. Fox to tell the story, to explain it in a way that Marina herself did not fully understand, but nothing came…Mr. Fox had his back to the two women.” A page, though perhaps only moments, later, Marina thinks “surely it was Mr. Fox’s part to give Karen the letter {in which she and Mr. Fox had learned of Anders’s death}…but then with a fresh wave of grief, Marina remembered that the letter was in her pocket.” Patchett is shrewd here. The main character is thinking one thing, that she’s doing what Mr. Fox should be doing, but Patchett’s goal is to both transfer power and responsibility, but also to prove Marina as a strong person who will rise to an occasion, demonstrated through this letter, an object Patchett uses to great effect here by placing it in Marina’s path.

Once Karen Eckman has absorbed the horrible news and read the aforementioned letter, again we are reminded of Mr. Fox’s lack of ability to engage in this most urgent moment. “The two of them were alone in this,” Marina thinks regarding she and Karen. The reason? “Mr. Fox had been driven from the room by the sound, the keening of Karen Eckman’s despair.” The repetition has built towards his very removal, enforcing the twin notions of female strength/companionship and absent men, which will both play central roles in State of Wonder.

Towards the end of the scene, after Marina has left Karen briefly to try to figure out what to do, who to call to support her and how to tell the Eckman boys, she returns to the kitchen to find Mr. Fox has finally stepped in and is “petting Karen’s head with a slow and rhythmical assurance” trying to put her at ease. He’s too late, though. The damage is done. And as Marina and Mr. Fox are driving away from the house, Marina thinks about how “she certainly blamed him {Mr. Fox} for leaving her alone to tell Karen.” She then wonders a heavier, more damning thing: “Did she blame him for sending Anders to his death in Brazil?”

By the time you’ve read State of Wonder in its entirety, this long, held moment early in the novel only grows in importance. Patchett slows down time and uses a range of craft elements, repetition most dynamically, to build character and introduce conflicts that will surface through the book, making this early moment a microcosm of who these characters are and how they will respond to difficult situations. Finally, it’s worth noting that Patchett’s use of repetition also achieves a great sense of contrast, for the focusing on Mr. Fox, important as it seems about him as a character, actually reveals even more about Marina, the novel’s heroine and most sympathetic and deeply developed character. In fact, the closer you look at this scene, the more you’ll wonder: how does Patchett do so many things so well at the same time? Writers of all stripes would be wise to study Patchett’s use of slowed time and repetition and try to borrow a bit of her craft mojo in their own work.