Fear in Writing: Quiet Books by Elizabeth Spann Craig, guest blogger

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quiet Books by Elizabeth Spann Craig, guest blogger

Southern City Mysteries welcomes guest blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig today.  Craig is the National Bestselling author of several books, including her latest, Delicious and Suspicious, published under the name Riley Adams.  Today she blogs about getting hooked on a book, no matter the pace.
Quiet Books
My daughter has been reading “The Secret Garden” this summer.

It’s a great book, but it’s not exactly a fast-paced read in a lot of ways. Lots of description of moors, birds, etc.

But even my son enjoyed the book when he was in elementary school.

Aside from a fairly dramatic beginning of the book with a household struck dead by cholera (and the frantic escape of the people who deserted the house to avoid it), the book is pretty quiet.

I was really excited that the book was such a good fit for my daughter. But I also starting thinking about quiet books, like this one. What keeps readers hooked?

For the Secret Garden, I think the key is in the title. Secrets. Secrets that were kept from the protagonist and the reader were the biggest reasons that my daughter was interested in the book.

The secrets worked to lead the reader on. Why is there a locked, overgrown garden at Mistlewaite Manor? What’s making the noises that Mary hears at night sometimes…and why won’t anyone talk about it?

There’s also some character transformation going on—Mary and Colin both change dramatically during the course of the book…and in a good way. It’s fascinating to see the children grow from unlikable characters into characters we want to spend more time with. Plus, the characters started out with some degree of depth to begin with—they were complex people, if unlikable ones.

The author also broached big questions for the reader: Will Colin ever be able to live a normal, or long life? Will he ever get out of his wheelchair? Even small questions that are broached—will Dickon come back over? When? Will Lord Craven let Mary have her garden?— kept my daughter turning the pages to see what happened next.

Have you written a quiet book? How do you hook the reader and keep them engaged?

Elizabeth Spann Craig (Riley Adams)

*p.s. I liked Delicious and Suspicious so much I bought it as a gift for a friend!  Check it out, and come back this week for...
Literary Movement Series continues...
Tuesday: The Lost Generation
Wednesday: Writers in Jail (promise this time!)
Thursday: Modernism
Friday: guest blogger, author Stephen Tremp


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me today, Michele! And...I'm so glad you enjoyed my book!

  2. I am embarrassed to admit that I've only seen the movie, I've never read the book. My daughter did, I believe, but I was sucked in by the film and never went back to read the book. I watch the movie on dvd a couple of times a year. I'm going to have to find our copy and get busy reading - quietly.

  3. Elizabeth - Thanks for reminding me of The Secret Garden. It is a wonderful book. As far as quiet books go, yes, secrets can certainly "hook" the reader. Character transformation certainly can, too. I think character interactions add to the interest in a quiet book, too. I know in quiet books that I've read, I've gotten hooked by getting involved in the way the characters interact with each other, and the different relationships they develop. Fascinating post!

  4. I am re-reading the secret garden this summer. It is kind of a comfortable book. I think the title does lure the reader in, then you wonder what will happen to those characters you've come to love. Then you are hooked to read the entire sweet book.

  5. I loved the Secret Garden and I like lots of quiet books. Not sure why - there is suspense in them usually - but not life & death suspense or car chase suspense. Just likeable characters or compelling characters that suck you in and drag you along for the ride. I'm taking Woolfe's 'Mrs. Dalloway' to read on the train. It is slim and definitely not like any other novel yet it has facinated people for a long long time. I wonder why? Woolfe would say rhythm. We fall under the spell of the book's voice and its rhythm.

  6. I hate to admit I've never read The Secret Garden, but my interest is peaked now. I would say that knowing there are secrets and unanswered questions would hold the reader's interest. Quiet books are good.

    Michele, thanks for hosting Elizabeth. Enjoyable post.


  7. Elizabeth- Welcome anytime.

    Lisa- As with most novels-to-movies, the book is better!

    Margot- I think characterization (always important) is even more important in the quiet books. When there isn't much action, one must be able to lose themself in the setting or the people.

    Journaling- And it leaves us all wanting such a place!

    Jan- Woolfe deserves a blog all of her own, and a college, and a retreat locale, and a...Rhythm. The beat of good literature. I like that.

    Mason- It really is one of those reads that you never forget. Now over to read your guest blogger!

  8. I haven't read The Secret Garden or seen the movie. There are other ways to pull in the reader besides some catastrophe or a murder. Our hearts can race over small dilemmas as well as huge tragedies. What will happen? Will they find what they are looking for? Will the door open? Even small things can get us to turn the page and keep reading. Great post, Elizabeth. You make me want to go find The Secret Garden and read it.


  9. One of my daughters read The Secret Garden countless times. I confess I never did. I agree there's a place for a book that isn't in your face action all the time. I guess that's why I like traditional mysteries. They're more puzzles than action.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  10. I like quiet books (sometimes, anyway). I think a good, engaging character will draw me in, more than any whiz-bang car chase amidst exploding oil tankers.

  11. Great post. Quiet books are a harder sell right now. For me, it depends on my mood - I have enjoyed a ton of quiet books over the years - some of them amongst my favourites. :)

  12. Oh boy! I've never written a quiet book before but now I feel challenged. Now, I really might have to do it.


  13. If my science fiction - adventure book is 'quiet,' then I'm in big trouble!
    I've never read The Secret Garden, but the movie was good.

  14. Lisa--I think you'll love it...especially since you're a fan of the movie.

    Margot--I like seeing how relationships develop and pan out, too! Good point.

    Journaling Woman--And the secondary characters are so richly-drawn, too..even Martha and Dickon's mom (who I think we just hear about and don't ever meet).

    Jan--"Mrs.Dalloway" is on my to-read list! I'll have to pick it up...thanks for the tip!

    Mason--The author holds just enough back from the reader to keep us interested, instead of frustrated.

    Helen--Small things can provide a good hook sometimes. Hope you'll think about picking up "Secret Garden" the next time you're at the library...it's a nice read.

    Terry--Sometimes I like to read something that I can just think through and take in slowly. I like the puzzle aspects of mysteries, too.

    Alan--I'm not one for car chases, either. :)

    Jemi--That's a good point--sometimes I'm looking for something faster paced.

    Clarissa--Mysteries usually aren't too quiet, are they? :) Well, I guess cozies are quieter than most, though.

  15. Alex--No, SF/Fantasy isn't usually that quiet! And mysteries...well, we have those dead bodies. I'm thinking that both genres have quiet *aspects*, but not for the whole book.

    Although 2001, Space Odyssey was fairly quiet, in terms of pace. If I'm remembering right, anyway! It's been a while.

  16. Sounds like a lot of you have some reading to do! ;)

  17. Dave from facebook eidermoon@aol.comAugust 9, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    The word `secret` in a title is an immediate curiosity arouser. I have to check the book out, no matter what genre it falls into. Recently, THE LITTLE STRANGER, Sarah Waters did this for me. Usually the first paragraph of a book decides me. In this case, it was the synopsis, family `secret` house `secret` it had them all. Another, again recently read book, ATONEMENT contradicts what I have just said, about opening paragraphs. The opener of this one did nothing for me. It was the title first, that sold it, and the brief synopsis. I guess for me the secret was in the word ATONEMENT and what it held.

  18. Quiet books seem to be more character driven than action books and thrillers, so to me the growth and development of the main characters must be interesting enough to keep me wanting to read to the last page.

  19. I love quiet books. I enjoy more of a sense of place than many books give. I grew up reading lots of classics and historical fiction, and sometimes when I revisit favorites, I wonder if they'd be published today. Thanks for bringing up the topic!

  20. Michele,

    Nice post.

    I like your site. Look forward to visiting and thanks for visiting my blog.

  21. I love your point about hinting at tension within the title.

    I love quiet books. :-)

    Great post.

    - Corra

  22. Dave--"Atonement"--definitely quiet! I enjoyed it, but I was in the mood to read something like that. I've read an article lately about the success of one-word titles, too...that it seems to whet people's curiosity at the very beginning.

    Jane--You're so right--the characters become even more important if the plot is slower paced.

    Kathleen--I wonder that, too, and it makes me a little sad. But there are still really successful quiet books being published...but I think they're fewer and farther between.

    Dru--Thanks for dropping by, Dru!

    Corra--I think you're probably quiet books' biggest fan! :)

    Thanks so much again, Michele!

  23. Very enjoyable post with lots to think about. Wow, I haven't thought about the Secret Garden in a long time - maybe time for a re-read. Thanks!

  24. Great question and discussion.

    I think it is about the characters and being able to really connect with them. We'll follow them anywhere if we really care enough about the characters.

  25. Nancy--Thanks for coming by!

    Cassandra--The characters make all the difference, don't they?

  26. Michelle, thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

    My Danish WIP is probably a quiet book so I have had to work on it a lot to make it interesting enough. But now my elder daughter (who studies literature at the university) thinks the main character is engaging, a character she wants to learn more about. I hope I will be able to sell it, but actually her praise means very much to me no matter what publishers say.

  27. I don't know if I'd be capable of writing a quiet book. It might be nice to give it a try.


  28. I am writing a "quiet book" and the editor at a recent conference made that seem bad. Perhaps, she's looking for action. What I'm learning from you and the comments is that the book is interesting if you care about the characters and make what's happening to them important. Secrets, and the need to find the answer, keep readers reading.

  29. The Secret Garden was my favourite book as a child (and I still consider it a favourite, even though I guess there are other books I have enjoyed as much as an adult). I'm not sure I can pinpoint what I loved about it, though. The secret, definitely. The character development, absolutely. The setting - a big, old house, huge gardens that I picture as vividly as were they real, and lots of grumpy people who eventually learn to get along.

    I never really thought of it as a "quiet book", though, but now that you mention it, there really isn't all that much action. But I love it anyway!

  30. I don't read too many quiet books. I prefer action something, anything, to challenge my mind. I like action, but not gratuitous violence just for the sake of killing people. Murders have to make sense and actually push the plot along.

    Stephen Tremp