When I began the revision of my novel for its third and, I hoped, final draft, I knew I had to find a different, more unusual approach. While working on a lecture, I had recently reread Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which has a most unusual and unexpected narrator, “Death.” Though my book, That Smudge of Smoke, is very different, and I wouldn’t begin to compare my work to his amazing and complex novel, I wondered if I could try something similar—create an unexpected narrator to add another dimension to the telling of my story.
But what voice would I use as a plausible narrator? After some thought, I realized, the diary, of course! My POV character, Piper Sinclair, had already named her diary Dorie and established it as her closest friend—the only one she could talk to with absolute honesty—and talk to her, Piper does, as she describes her life, including her very personal thoughts, hopes and fears, aboard a Chesapeake Bay steamboat throughout the 1929 portion of the story. Dorie is also the vital link and tangible object that connects the two characters (Piper and Garrett) and their two time periods (1929 and 2015).
Lest you think this turns my very realistic, historical novel into a fantasy, I assure you it does not. Dorie does not come alive as a magical character who interacts with Piper or, later, Garrett. She communicates only with the reader through her thoughts and memories. However, I do realize this unusual narrator will require readers to suspend their disbelief, and I think I have been successful in establishing a sympathetic and believable narrative voice for Dorie. In fact, this was the voice I most enjoyed creating.
Friend and fellow writer, Kathleen Thompson, has this to say after her recent reading of That Smudge of Smoke:
“This novel may be a perfect example of the way British writer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, felt about the transformative power of the imagination. Coleridge suggested that ‘if an author could infuse a human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a story with implausible elements, the reader would willingly suspend judgment concerning the plausibility of the narrative. Hemingway’s skillful hand has accomplished plausibility for the diary and its point of view by the addition of many basic truths: the setting, historical knowledge of the steamboats, scientific knowledge of the moon and its phases, and facts regarding various waterfowl observed from the steamboat. We, as readers, must indeed suspend our disbelief for this story to work. The concrete details provided in the book help us do just that.”
And so, dear reader, please keep an open mind and be prepared to suspend your disbelief as you pick up That Smudge of Smoke, meet an intelligent and caring diary narrator, and immerse yourself in the lives of both Piper and Garrett, as well as an important and significant part of American history—that of the steamboat era on the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries.
Leave a comment if you would like to be entered in a drawing to win a free, autographed copy of That Smudge of Smoke.