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Review from The Perfect Write©, January 9, 2012, by Robert L. Bacon


With all of the miserable pricing hoopla out of the way, this is a special Newsletter because I'm going to introduce subscribers to THE COMMON GARDEN, a book my line editor, Martha Moffett, has brought back from the literary graveyard, and to a new independent publisher, Shelfstealers, that will be kicking off its book list February 16.  But first for Martha.  

Each of you who have used me to comprehensively edit your material has been the benefactor of Martha's sharp eyes.  I use her because she was at Grolier for several years as head of proofreading for The New Book of Knowledge.  Later she was a senior copyeditor with American Heritage Dictionary.  On top of this, she edited for major magazines such as Ladies' Home Journal and GQ, and she's had several of her own novels published by major imprints, such as THE COMMON GARDEN by Berkley in 1977.  

I met Martha when she attended one of my creative writing workshops series that was sponsored by The Palm Beach County Library System.  I was impressed with her dedication to writing as much as her personal writing, and when the series ended I approached her about line-editing my clients' material after I edited it and was delighted when she accepted my offer.  As things developed, I read some of her published material, and was particularly impressed with a novella of hers, DEAD ROCK SINGER, in Best American Mystery Stories 2000.  And I was delighted when she told me she was trying to reacquire the rights to one of her books that had long since died on the Berkley vine.  She did have the rights to THE COMMON GARDEN returned to her, and now she's found a publisher who loves her style and flair for exposing the unusual in what appears to be quite common on the outside.  Here's an image of the terrific cover design:

I've posted the opening chapter to THE COMMON GARDEN [in] my Critique Blog for Newsletter subscribers to enjoy and experience.  I used the word "experience" because that's what Martha's writing is.  And her work is also wonderful to use for illustrative purposes because her characterizations fully express what the word "dimension" means in writing.  Now before I go any further, THE COMMON GARDEN is a story of suspense--but also erotica.  So if any Newsletter subscriber is offended by erotica, it would be best to avoid the opening chapter, although I can assure everyone it's mild by today's standards.  Still, I respect the rights of others when something could be objectionable, and this is why I'm providing this information as to the content.  Now let me tell you specifically what I found so intriguing about the opening chapter.  

One of the protagonists is Robin, a young woman who finds herself thrust into the heart of New York City from a small Midwestern town.  In the opening chapter of approximately 3000 words, the reader learns that Robin can be narcissistic, vulnerable, childish, naive, unyielding, inconsiderate, unrealistic, unsure, helpless, and very sexy.  We also learn she adores her husband and thinks she has a wonderful sex life, but she knows something is missing yet has no idea what it is--or the slightest clue about how to find it.  The reader might ask, "Does she really care?" only to learn out that, yeah, she cares.  A lot!  

How many opening chapters do any of us read from which we learn this much about a character?  I read book after book that doesn't show me even one of these traits fully developed by the end of the novel.  Yet in Martha's opening chapter I have a virtual smorgasbord to pick from, and now I've got an entire story to hone in on who this character really is--and what matters is that I really want to know.  To provide perhaps the best example of Robin's complexity, she calls her husband out of an important conference for no reason except that she'd like to hear herself talk to him.  Then she thinks she's locked in the phone booth and demands that he come to where she is in another part of the city and extricate her.   

He does get her out by telling her to push the door in the middle or hold up a note that says she's Gloria Steinem and someone will push the door open to get to her.  What makes the scene work so well for me is that, at its conclusion, Robin thinks nothing of her silly demands or her selfish behavior or how naive she must've seemed.  It's all about Robin. Yet she depicts a certain vulnerability that's not facetious and cannot be ignored.  And all of rest of her negative characteristics are overwhelmed by this.  This particular scene takes place within the opening two pages of the story, and if a budding writer is interested in how to set the hook via a characterization, I don't know of better material to study.  Some of you might remember when I cited the opening to Larry McMurtry's DEAD MAN'S WALK, which begins with a 200-pound prostitute nicknamed "The Great Western" walking down the street naked and carrying a huge snapping turtle by the tail.  Openings such as these are what sell books.  But I suggest studying THE COMMON GARDEN for the dimension of its characters first, as demonstrating proficiency with this element can get a writer a long way toward finding an agent, a publisher--and a readership.  

A COMMON GARDEN can be purchased on Amazon via this link, and I get a dollar from every sale (just kidding, I don't get anything but Martha's good wishes).  To finish with Ms. Moffett's segment of my Newsletter, I thought subscribers might be interested in how she came about writing this novel, which was her first, back in the mid-seventies.  So here are her words:  

When I lived in Manhattan, as a young wife, mother and copy editor, I wanted very much to be a writer, but I had two problems: I had no story to tell, and I had no time to write.  At the time I was copy chief at The Ladies' Home Journal, riding my bike through the park to work.  One of my freelance jobs was copyediting the list for Maurice Girodias, publisher of erotic books at Olympia Press.  I noticed that these books had no plots. They all jumped from simple to complex, and that growing complexity almost fooled readers into thinking they were following a story.  "I can do that," I thought.  

Then I saw that if I gave up my bicycle and rode the subway, I would have 40 minutes twice a day to write.  This worked so well that when I really got into the book, I concentrated so hard that neighbors told me they spoke to me or tapped me on the shoulder, and I was oblivious.  It was working!  

The book was published by Berkley in 1977 as a novel of suspense.  It had a brief life as a paperback, and that was it.  Until last summer, when Joseph Cowles read it on the recommendation of a friend and decided it was an artifact of the '70s and deserved another printing.  He designed a beautiful cover for it, and there it was--newborn.  I'm happy to see it in print again.  

And it's my hope that Newsletter subscribers will be happy to read it for the first time.  If you didn't click the earlier link the opening chapter of THE COMMON GARDEN, you can do so by clicking this link now.


©Copyright 2012 by Martha Moffett - All Rights Reserved