How exciting a book launch is — even in these challenging times! It’s been thrilling to see the praise that Only the Women Are Burning, a new novel published by Apprentice House, is sparking. This is doubly true since the book is by Nancy Burke, a wonderful friend and gifted author (http://www.nancyburkestories.com/).
Nancy’s also a long-time member of my critique group and I read chapters of her novel as it was taking shape over many revisions. Part mystery, part science fiction, part domestic drama, Only the Women Are Burning reads like a thriller with a feminist twist. I’ve been amazed at how artfully Nancy weaves together the strands of her fast-paced novel to create a big story — one that is both thought-provoking and empowering. Here are some of the craft techniques she’s used that we can all benefit from:
Stage-setting opening: While her book takes place in a fictional New Jersey suburb, Nancy starts her story in Bangalore, India with a tragic incident that has a lasting impact on the story’s heroine, Cassandra, and echoes throughout the novel. Tying these two vastly different settings together instantly gives the story a global feel.
Setting high stakes: The story’s setting may be familiar, but from its first pages, Only the Women are Burning stakes a claim to universal themes of life and death, justice and injustice, being heard and being voiceless. This lets the reader know that there are powerful forces at play.
Asking big questions: With its intense focus on the linked fates of a handful of women, the story poses complex and thorny questions: Do women have to sacrifice their sense of self in choosing between career and family? Can a woman reclaim a lost part of her identity? How can women find their voices in a society that often devalues them?
Mining mythology: By weaving elements of potent myths into her story, Nancy creates the feeling that her story is rooted in time and truth. She uses the mystery and allure associated with everything from the phoenix rising from its ashes to the name of her protagonist — Cassandra, a legendary prophetess in Greek mythology — to broaden her novel’s reach.
Creating a story that captures big themes is challenging and complex, but enormously satisfying for both author and reader. Bravo, Nancy — write on!