THE HALLMARKS OF GREAT WRITING
A Sound Premise and Compelling Themes
Last week, I discussed the need to identify your story’s themes in order to construct a sound premise that will convince both an editor to publish your book and a reader to buy it. Please join me in welcoming Brad Windhauser as the first guest blogger in this series on literary themes and premise.
Brad is originally from Southern California and now lives in Center City, Philadelphia. He has an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. In addition to being one of five regular contributors to 5Writers.com, Brad is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Temple University. His academic essay “The Power of Confession: the Closets of Dorian Gray” appeared in In-between: Essays & Studies in Literary Criticism (2005). A handful of his short stories have been published, most recently in The Baltimore Review (2008). Regret, his first novel, was published in 2007 by Star Publishing.
You can follow his work on 5Writers Blog, where, as one of its founding authors, he is a regular contributor. You can also read his new blog project where he, as a gay author, is chronicling his journey reading the Bible for the first time: The Bible Project. Brad is currently writing a novel: This Too Shall Pass. As a resident in a gentrifying neighborhood, this novel grew out of his concern for what constitutes a community and the types of tests that bring out the best and worst in the people who reside there.
Brad’s work-in-progress novel
This Too Shall Pass is set in a gentrifying South Philadelphia neighborhood. The story is about an accident involving a white driver and a black bicyclist. Carol Jones, the mother of the injured bicyclist, is drawn back to the neighborhood she had abandoned years ago for a posh suburban life. Ms. Rose, a neighborhood old head who works at a Laundromat, must decide the extent to which she can stand behind the white driver, who is a loyal customer of hers. Michael, the white driver and recent home owner in the neighborhood, must find a way to embrace his community and overcome his guilt over the accident, all under the cloud of betrayal by his ex-boyfriend. The journey these three undertake brings them in contact with several other key neighborhood residents.
The premise of Brad’s novel
The dictionary defines gentrification as, “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”
Brad lives in such a neighborhood, the one in which his novel is set. As one of the people seen as responsible for this change, he felt the eyes of the people who weren’t so happy about it. They saw people like him as the reason they were losing their community (displacement). He saw his presence as helping turn a community in crisis around (renewal and rebuilding). Since the two sides don’t often coexist well, he wondered what would happen if an accident involving a white driver and a black bicyclist brought this tension to a head.
And so the story begins: When an accident involving a white driver and a black bicyclist tests the social tension created by gentrification, three individuals are drawn together and are challenged to confront their identities and stakes in a volatile community looking for any excuse to fight for what’s already been lost and against what threatens to reshape their neighborhood.
The themes that drive Brad’s story
The novel deals mostly with the theme of gentrification; however, the story also explores the sub-themes of community, recovery/rehabilitation, family, race, class, immigration, and change.
Remember, effective book publicity relies on strong promotional messages, which are extracted from the themes contained in your writing that, collectively, make up the premise of the story.
Promotional opportunities for Brad’s book
The dominant theme of gentrification is one with which several readers will identify even if their position on the issue varies. With many communities across the country experiencing these transitions, a useful promotional tie-in would be to arrange readings/discussion groups at a local coffee-house. Since the book is designed to be a conversation starter, after a reading, we could discuss plot points and see if they highlight certain issues of that particular community. The major benefit of this type of promotional tie-in is that it would hopefully get people to continue talking about the book long after the gathering.
Join me as I discuss the need for compelling themes and a sound premise with published and newbie authors over the next few months. If you want to participate as a guest blogger in this series, please do not hesitate to contact me for details. You can also participate by leaving a comment for Brad below.