Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Three Weeks in December"

Audrey Schulman has published four novels including The Cage, Swimming with Jonah, A House Named Brazil and, most recently, Three Weeks in December.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
With Three Weeks in December, I had three main aims.

1. I wanted to write a gripping story set in Africa. So in the foreword of the book I promise many violent deaths involving a major predator. I don’t even wait for page one.

2. I wanted the story to be so accurate and vivid the reader would trust me absolutely and feel as though s/he were there. So I visited Africa and read over 70 books. I read everything from novels to very dense history books. I wove what I learned seamlessly into the plot so there were no huge information dumps, but just fascinating tidbits all the way along, mostly conveyed through descriptions using all five senses.

(As a side note, I’ve never understood why more writers don’t use the oh-so-powerful sense of smell. A smell can summon emotion so quickly and, since it is underused in fiction, a succinct description of a familiar aroma can surprise a reader, yanking the imagination viscerally into the story.)

3. I wanted the protagonists to not be the normal characters put in adventure stories. No Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone. So I created two very untraditional main characters.

The main character I’m describing on page 69 is called Max. She has Asperger’s (a form of autism) and trusts her sense of smell more than her other senses. She is my hero and I make her tough in a highly unconventional way even Bruce Willis couldn’t match.

She has just arrived in Rwanda. I am describing a country most people haven’t experienced, through a perspective most have a hard time imagining.

First I describe the highway and traffic:
Here, it was startling how many people and belongings could fit on a moped. On the back of one were strapped two young goats, swaddled tightly as babies, eyes narrowed into the wind. Tied on another was an industrial-sized sink, a child peeking forlornly out of it.

Everyone wove from lane to lane, with little regard for the direction of traffic, unless the oncoming vehicle was bigger.
Then Max sits back, closes her eyes and starts smelling the many smells of Rwanda:
…wood smoke, rotting meat, cow manure, human feces and something that kept reminding her of cough drops until she opened her eyes to identify a passing tree as eucalyptus.
I am starting to pull the reader into her body, using her perceptions to make the reader feel everything she feels, so in spite of all the differences between the reader and Max, by the end of the book, as the plot tightens and the dangers build all around, the reader cares for her deeply.

The glowing reviews of my novel say I achieved all three of my aims very very well.
Learn more about the book and author at Audrey Schulman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue