Ruth E. Walker
In marketing a new book, there’s always groundwork to do well in advance of publication. Having early readers can help create word-of-mouth interest in upcoming titles. I had the great fortune of receiving an advance peek at Frances Peck‘s debut novel The Broken Places, coming from NeWest Press in April 2022.
Frances was a special guest at our recent retreat, arriving via Zoom from her Vancouver home for a Q&A session, followed by a short reading from the book. Frances surprised us by admitting it was her first time reading from her own novel to an audience. You wouldn’t have known it.
Frances’ reading was terrific and the writers at the retreat also enjoyed the opportunity to glean some insights from Frances into the process of getting published.
Networking is what Frances said made a difference for her and it is something we at Writescape encourage writers to do. You just never know who you might be seated next to.
Sneaking a peek
I didn’t want to wait to read the ARC (advanced reader copy) so the NeWest publicist sent me the book in final manuscript form, held together by a big black binding clip. This version was getting ready for a last fine-tooth comb proofreading before layout to print. Frances said I was welcome to make note of anything that needed attention, typos and so on. But I think she was more interested in my response to her book overall.
I wasn’t far into The Broken Places when I lost all interest in looking for typos. I was hooked by the preface.
The Broken Places is a rare treat. In lesser hands, it would be a great beach read or diversion for a long airport layover. But this multiple POV novel combines high-tension narrative with true literary craft, delivering characters readers will love to love, hate, pity and grieve.
Leaving the editor behind
As an editor, I am attuned to kick-out moments – those “oh dear” bits where the author shows up and the story gets lost. This is not the case in The Broken Places. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that didn’t allow me to easily put it away and move on to other tasks. Sleep was low on the priority list when I had to read just one more chapter before turning out the lights. I shifted deadlines to let more of the characters show me their strengths and failings. And yes, all the characters have failings. Secrets. Longings. And regrets. There is laughter. And there are tears.
Set against the backdrop of a devastating earthquake that rocks Vancouver, the west coast and the islands, the story of how this diverse group of people react to their new reality is beautifully delivered.
The novel is intense, the situations extreme and yet so many moments of masterful writing and sensory engagement are on offer for readers.
Delivering satisfaction can be bittersweet
The author holds her novel’s cards close to her chest, revealing layer by layer the motivations, fears and desires of her characters, doling out tidbits and clues that culminate in an explosive and heartbreaking climax. Yet the novel ends with hope. Not a sweet-sugary treat, but a hope grounded firmly in believable characters and situations that resonate.
In our lives, we all undergo change. Some of it subtle and slow. Some of it dramatic and sudden. This is a novel about all kinds of alterations – upheavals and shocks and the gradual groundswell of near imperceptible difference. It is the result of all those changes that matters. And that’s abundantly clear in The Broken Places.
A last word: typo!
A last word about typos. I actually did find one, almost at the end of the novel. The last couple of chapters of a book you don’t ever want to end are the hardest to finish. I put it down a few times, actually went about my business until I couldn’t stand it any more. That mildly distracted state is maybe why I noticed “wallking” in one sentence. It kicked me out for a few seconds. But then I dove back in and rode the pages to the very end where I reluctantly put the book away. I wish all books held that kind of pleasure.