The Problem with Books from The Write Way Café

Published on January 24 2017

I’m lucky: five or six absolutely wonderful books with humor, exciting language, an original way of telling a story, have recently made their way onto my reader. But there have been others too, well-written, almost interesting. Almost interesting? Yes, a certain amount of research has gone into them, and I can’t complain about the writing. It’s just that, for me, there’s something missing. It took me a while to work out what — but now I know: sincerity.

No, we aren’t all alike, and no, we don’t all like the same books, thank goodness. But I do think one of the reasons many of us read, is to have a peek into someone else’s life. A story doesn’t have to be autobiographical, but there have to be elements that show the author is writing about something he or she feels absolutely passionate about, or about a personal experience. And, for me, that experience can’t be a few glossy impressions gathered during a visit to a tourist destination. It has to come from a real emotion, even one as tiny as feeling alone and desolate one afternoon, or having a terrible crush on someone unavailable, or a failure of some sort. Those experiences make us human, and sharing them brings us closer to each other. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

I’ve recently been reviewing books for an English site. One was written by a young man drifting around England on his broken down bicycle. Everything he owned was tied onto the back, and he spent the nights either camping or dropping in on friends along the way. His one great passion is music, and he earns his way by busking, playing his guitar and singing his own compositions under bridges or on busy street corners. He wrote about how frightening it can be sleeping rough but how beautiful to wake up with the birds, rabbits, and deer. Yes, his grammar is shaky and words are misused, but the book is personal, and sincere, and touching. And fascinating. Haven’t you always wanted to have a peek into that sort of life? I have.

The next book was a story written by a man but from a woman’s point of view. The heroine wanted to be a writer for the BBC, and she tried, then flopped, tried and flopped, tried and flopped again before having a bit of success… then flopping once more. Not only that, her love life was disastrous. But the book is so warm and funny, I roared with laughter all the way through. The author had also once been a writer for the BBC, and you knew this was his own experience. And it worked. It was wonderful.

Another book arrived: a romance between a seamstress and powerful Scottish laird in the nineteenth century. There was even an element of suspense and danger thrown in. Well written, the grammar was fine, there were no misused words. The seamstress got her man; the laird got his seamstress; the villain got his comeuppance. It was happily ever after. And I was happy it ended. I could forget it. It had nothing personal in it. It was a pure invention — and not very deep invention. It was written to sell, but not to open a conversation or to share. I was pretty certain the author, living in American suburbia, had been on a vacation to Scotland and seen a few castles. That was it.

Am I making my point? Two first books made my life richer; the third wasted my time. Do you need that personal element too? Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear how you feel about this.

Okay, I can hear your question: how much personal experience did I put into my romance, The Turkish Affair?

Many years ago, like Anne, the heroine of The Turkish Affair, I was living in central Turkey and working as a translator. Sometimes, I’d head out for other parts of the country. Once, the bus I was traveling on pulled off the main road, down a rutted lane, and into an archaeological site — we were to deliver a package of some sort. While we waited, I stared idly out of the bus window and caught sight of a man ambling in the direction of a tumble of pillars and ruins. He was lean, supple, and the bright sun caught the golden blaze of his hair — he was a very romantic figure. Who was he? An archaeologist? I never found out. With a puff of noxious smoke, the bus sprang to life, turned, roared back toward the main road. Where was that site? I did go that way again, but never found it. But the blond man’s image has remained with me all these years; he was slated to become my hero, archaeologist Renaud Townsend.

Another time, I was living with a Turkish archaeologist. We had been at a friend’s house — another archaeologist — and were enjoying ourselves. Time flew, and before we knew it, it was too late to go home: back in those days, there was a curfew, and you would be arrested if caught out in the street. Therefore, we had to spend the night at the friend’s house. Around an hour later, there was a knock on the door. It was the police: some antique coins had been found in the baggage of tourists leaving the country — it’s highly illegal to smuggle antiques — and the two archaeologists were ordered to drive down to the coast, verify the worth of the coins. I accompanied them, and the way both men summed up the situation and helped the tourists (who would have had a terrible time of it, and probably would have gone to jail without trial) is told in The Turkish Affair.

Another time, I got myself into a dangerous situation on a road out in the backcountry. I shouldn’t have gone walking on my own out there — it was a very stupid thing to do. I was lucky to be rescued by a very brave and rebellious young woman, Leyla, and I couldn’t resist putting her, her unpleasant mother, the whole incident, into The Turkish Affair.

In fact, I always put experiences from my own life into all my books, no matter what the genre. But I think I must be very fortunate: I’ve had quite an original wandering life and many adventures.


Danger at the ancient Hittite site of Karakuyu

A top notch Washington journalist before a liaison with the wrong man implicated her in scandal, Anne Pierson has been hiding in backwoods Turkey and working as a translator. She’s determined to keep her past a secret, to avoid personal relationships. But after meeting Renaud Townsend, her discrete little world is turned upside down.

Archaeologist Renaud Townsend is troubled by Anne Pierson’s refusal to talk about her past, but instinct tells him he can rely on her. Or is it only desire speaking? A lusty love affair for the duration of the summer dig is a very appealing idea.

When Anne’s bad reputation links her to stolen artifacts and murder, the budding romance with Renaud comes to a halt. If they learn to trust one another, her name can be cleared. But is there still enough intensity to give love a second chance?

Written by Jill Culiner

Published on #Tips for writers

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