Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson

I wrote this review a while ago, but since it seemed more critical and speculating than most of the ones I write, I left it as a draft. But hearing my sister struggle to get through the book as well, I realized I wasn't the only one sensing that this book was a lot different from Dee's previous novels. So here are my thoughts - what did you think of Dee Henderson's return to writing?

I got Dee Henderson's latest in the mail (thanks to Bethany House for providing the ARC) and thanks to some sleeplessness due to allergies, devoured it within 24 hours. I came away enjoying Dee's writing, as usual (I do own all of her books), but I was somewhat dissatisfied with the actual story.

Spoilers below!

The phrase that echoed in my mind while reading the book was: self-indulgent. I'll explain more about that in a bit. Also, this is based on an advance, uncorrected copy - I don't know what changes were made in the final published version.

This is Dee's first book in 5 years, due to neck trauma. (Side note: why didn't she tell her readers that was why she wasn't writing? Yes, perhaps she wanted some measure of privacy, but when people buy hundreds of thousands of your books, you should at least give them the courtesy of a brief explanation as to why you suddenly disappear in the middle of two series of novels.) After that long of an absence, I suppose it's natural to prefer to just write what you want to. But Dee crafted something that seems equal parts intrigue, memoir, want ad, and fantasy.

The intrigue was classic Dee. Murders, puzzle pieces, law enforcement procedure - most of her books have this. The suspense element that usually appears was missing. Neither of her two main characters were in harm's way during the current events of the story; both were far enough into their careers that they mostly called shots and figured out thorny problems.

I read an interview that mentioned that Dee had a lot in common with Ann, the heroine of Full Disclosure. And the more of the book I read, the more I realized that Ann IS Dee - fictionalized, of course, with an added career as a cop and some past trauma to serve the storyline. And that's where the self-indulgent part comes in.

The O'Malleys appear in this book, only they're not the O'Malleys. They're Ann's friends who asked her to write their stories, so she changed their last names and some details, and published The O'Malley series. "Ann" also wrote other books, including one focusing on Paul's (the hero of Full Disclosure) brother and his wife (that would be True Honor) and Paul's cousin, Luke Falcon (True Courage, later published as Kidnapped). And yes, they use the real titles of the novels. Ann also shares a bunch of other details with Dee - engineering background, age, love of big dogs, etc.

This fiction-within-fiction lends a sort of Inception quality to Dee's work as a whole, but also kind of destroys the fictive dream within the O'Malley series. The best stories feel real as you're reading them. For one book to claim the others really didn't happen as they were written forces you to choose one world as false. And Full Disclosure isn't a good enough story for me to prefer to live in that world rather than the world of the O'Malleys.

Paul Falcon seems a little too perfect - great job, well-off, awesome family, and a willingness to bend over backward just to get Ann to let him into her life. She tells him she can't handle being a mother, so if he wants kids, he should find someone else. Once they start talking about marriage, she tells him that for this to work, he needs to give her 4 hours of alone time every day, and a week when she can disappear every month, just so she can function as an extreme introvert. Knowing that Dee Henderson is single, the way Paul is written almost seems like she's saying, here's what it will take to win my heart. Be this guy.

As a single, introverted writer myself, I have wondered if I would have trouble adjusting to married life. But throwing down a gauntlet like that makes Ann seem out of touch and selfish. Especially since Paul doesn't get the option to put any of his own requirements on the table. Yes, Ann does quit her job as the MHI to get married, but it's her own choice because she doesn't think she can add marriage to her life without taking something out.

In some ways, Ann is similar to Sara from Danger in the Shadows - writer, nightmares from past trauma, wary of letting a guy into her life, and not wanting to have kids. But in Sara's case, the last two items tie in strongly with her past and a very real threat. Adam's high-profile life could lead a dangerous man right to her, and her childhood kidnapping makes her afraid to have children she could one day lose in the same way. Ann, on the other hand, is extremely private and just doesn't want kids.

But Paul slowly breaks down her barriers and caters to her whims, and she reluctantly lets him in. There's not really much emotion to their love story - it's full of fascination and respect, building trust and working together. They get married several months before the story ends, so it's atypical in that respect as well.

Knowing Your Story and Yourself

One of the worst mistakes I made in my writing career was following someone else's timetable.

I'm not talking about deadlines - of course every working writer needs to do what he/she can to meet deadlines if at all possible. This is more about process than time.

A while back, I signed up for a two-year novel-writing course. It took you from idea, to worldbuilding, to plotting, through writing and editing. As mostly a SOTP writer, it was the most pre-planning I'd ever done for a novel. But this was my first major foray into fantasy writing, and I loved the guided help as I set up my storyworld.

Soon, though, I knew it was time to start writing. I was ready to go. Scenes were starting to write themselves in my mind. But everyone in the forums said no. Writing wasn't supposed to start for about a dozen more weeks. Hold off, they said, and my story would be that much stronger.

Stupidly, I listened.

I continued with the planning exercises, but instead of being helpful and insightful, they seemed meaningless and out-of-touch. As the weeks slowly slogged by, my passion to start writing my story faded every day. Eventually, I set the class and the story aside. The magic was gone.

I can only imagine what my story would have been like if I'd ignored instructions and started writing when I knew I was ready to. Sure, it might have been choppy. Sure, I might have needed to add and edit some things once they came up in the course material. Sure, I might have gotten some backlash for not staying with the group. But the magic would have still been there.

I did eventually pick up the story again, but the passion never returned in full force. This time, it was hampered by a dozen ways of "how to write a novel" drilled into my head by well-meaning blogs and books. The words slowly ground to a halt, and years later, the story still sits, unfinished.

I know myself better now. I'm more content with being a rebel. I know that I'll never be able to turn off the internal editor completely, so I'll edit my work as I write. I'll ignore how many drafts others say I need to do, and not see my story as half-baked after my light revisions. I'll shell out the money for a good editor who can help make my story the best it can be instead of wallowing in cosmetic changes. I'll mash together the genres I want to mash together, write the length that feels right for the story, and view both traditional publishing and self-publishing as equally viable options.

And so I'm going back to that 2-year course. I'm building another world. And this time, when I'm ready to write, I'LL WRITE.

And magic will follow.

Off-the-Rack Advice Won't Fit Every Writer

I have to laugh at some of the writing advice I read online. It might be great for some people, but I know it doesn't work for me. Two pieces of advice in particular have cropped up multiple times in the past few weeks, and they're starting to irk me now. Why do these people think that their advice automatically applies to every writer? Am I so atypical, so in the minority, that my opinion doesn't count?

Piece of advice #1: Clearing your desk before you start working (some say every day, others only for a new project).

I'm a messy person by nature. Nothing kills my creativity faster than a perfectly clean room or an empty desk. I know, because occasionally I've tried working on ideas or prose in these environments, and my page and mind stay as blank as my desk. I don't know - perhaps if I always cleared an area to work before I began, I might eventually get used to it. But it just seems so . . . sterile.

It's not real. Life is messy, and writers will always have things pressing in on them while they're writing (unless they're rich enough to go away for a few weeks and do nothing but write in a remote cabin). I think it's better to get used to clutter and noise, and find your writing sweet spot amid all that, then to have to waste precious time preparing your location. But I do know some people who are as bothered by clutter as I am by emptiness, so if that is you, clean away!

Update: Just came across this article about noise firing up creativity. If it works for sound, perhaps visual noise accomplishes the same thing?

Piece of advice #2: If you want to boost your creativity, stop or severely limit your TV watching.

I created a TV blog, so you can guess part of the reason why I think that advice is hogwash. But all TV is not created equal. I don't mindlessly turn on the TV to see what's on. I don't let it play in the background while I do other tasks or try to write. I don't watch reality TV or talk shows or competition shows or even the news. I stick with live-action scripted shows pretty much exclusively, and I watch them for the story and the characters. I only watch "my" shows, and I drop the shows with poor storytelling.

I know you can learn more about writing novels from reading novels than you can from watching TV shows. Mastering things like POV and internal monologue are important, and you can't learn those from TV or movies. But dialogue, plot arcs, setting, and characterization can all be boosted by watching great TV.

There has to be balance, of course. For many years, I read hundreds of novels and watched next to no TV, so I'm content with the ratio being inverted for the time being. But if you find your TV watching to be negatively affecting your writing, by all means, cut back (or find better shows to watch!).

Rant over! Back to your regularly scheduled programing. :)