What am I writing? ‘The Woman in the Library’ told me

What am I writing? ‘The Woman in the Library’ told me

Regular readers of these posts will recall that I have been writing mystery novels — or, if you prefer, detective stories –– for much of the time ( eight years ) I’ve written this blog.

Imagine my amazement, then, when I was reading Sulari Gentill’s amazing mystery “The Woman in the Library” (copyright 2022, Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks) and discovered that it wasn’t really mystery or detection that I was writing at all!

It’s hard for me to tell much about the tale — partly because I don’t want to spoil it, and partly because this episode in Chapter Eleven so impressed me that I’m writing about it before I finish the book. But suffice to say for this excerpt that a group of new friends, bound together by the events of Chapter One (which I did say I wouldn’t spoil), includes the narrator of the story, who is a writer. One of her neighbors turns out to be a writer, too.

Neighbors Leo and Winfred (Freddie) are getting to know one another, and they’re talking about their manuscripts. Each wants to know how the other writes, and also what they are writing. “I ask him about his novel,” Freddie reports, then adds:

“I fancy that Leo writes historical fiction, and for some reason I’m convinced his era is the Roman Empire. I have no reason to suppose this… it’s just a fancy.

“Romance,” he says. “I write romance.”

My surprise clearly needs no words because he continues to explain. “My agent will tell you it’s a story about passionate friendships and reluctant relationships in modern America, but really it’s a romance.”

“Oh… set today?” I’m still thinking gladiators.

“Modern America, remember.”

“Have you… have you always written romance?”

“Yes, and what’s more, so have you. The mystery writers, the historical novelists, the political thriller writers, the science fiction writers… everybody but the people who write instruction manuals is writing romance. We dress our stories up with murders, and discussions about morality and society, but really we just care about relationships.”

“You can’t be serious. You’re saying Stephen King writes romances?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Leo sits back in the sofa. “The killer clown is entertaining, and all that, but what we’re really interested in is whether the fat kid gets the pretty girl.”

There are many other wonderful moments in “The Woman in the Library,” I can say with just over 100 pages left to read, knowing that some I haven’t read yet will equal what I’ve read already for that power — and for the laugh-out-loud joy of another scene. But the diagnosis here — I’m a romance writer! — has put “The Woman in the Library” on my Sustaining Books list already, along with making it a very strong candidate for my favorite new book of 2022.

There’s a wonderful puzzle left to solve, but after I become “the woman in the library” myself and have to take this copy back, I will be a different writer for having read it.

I don’t exactly endorse things, but this is one of my favorite kind of Sustaining Books.

Filed under:
Sustaining Books, Writing


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Margaret H. Laing

I moved to Chicago from the south suburbs in 1986. I have diverse interests, but I love writing about what I’m interested in. Whether it’s a personal interest or part of my career, the correct words to get the idea across are important to me. I love words and languages — French and Scottish words enrich my American English. My career has included years as a journalist and years working in museums, and the two phases were united by telling stories. I’m serious about words and stories. So here I am, ready to tell stories about words and their languages.

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