Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Novel Start Seminar: How to Disappear Completely

I think I mentioned before I dropped off the face of the earth that I wanted to think through what makes a good beginning for a novel. And as a case in point, I thought Myke Bartlett's How to Disappear Completely: The Terrible Business of Salmon and Dusk was almost a textbook in hooking the reader and not letting up until the very end.

Now, How to Disappear is a podcast novel, which makes it almost a separate genre -- not quite as different as a film or a complete audio drama, but still an experience of the ear more than the eye. And what Bartlett brings to the genre is considerable -- a British accent, a flair for voices, the perfect music for bumpers and transitions. So it's fun to listen to. But bad audio can ruin a good story more easily than good audio can save a bad story, and How to Disappear is a good story.

Briefly, it's a sort of urban fantasy/noir detective with romance. And it's about parallel worlds -- an arena that has appealed to me ever since I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz as a kid.

So how does Bartlett create a world so engaging that I can't stop listening to the story? That I record on CD and then "read" three times in a row, twice for entertainment and once for technique? The answer is the magic of the basics: characters you care about what happens to in situations that make you wonder how it will all turn out. A flair for detail and surprising situations. It doesn't hurt that his detectives are time travelers and that they seem to wander a territory like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

By the way, when I went looking for the website, I learned that the next in the Kilbey Salmon series, My Chalk Outline, has begun.