The Little Picture or the Big One? What’s Your Pleasure?

After knee surgery in the spring, I began taking walks each morning. Little by little I’ve increased the distance and speed that I walk, most of it up or down hills, until I’ve gotten back to what’s always been my regular route. But this past weekend I must have exercised with too much resolve, because the knee began to hurt again, and this morning I realized my walk needed to be shorter. A lot shorter.

The knee will improve. It was just a reminder that these things take time. But the shortened walk itself made me realize that suddenly, since I was moving slower and with more care, I noticed everything. There are three kinds of day lilies in front of the Women’s Club, the colors as bright and iridescent as lollipops. A yellow swallowtail was at home in one, and why wouldn’t he be? The flower was designed by nature to attract him.

Then there was the bat sculpture just down the hill from our cottage. Bats are a blessing here. They eat the mosquitoes and are nearly worshipped for their contribution. The sculpture is a reminder and a thank you. Why hadn’t I noticed it this season?

And the rain garden at the foot of the hill? What a terrific idea. Since runoff pollutes Lake Chautauqua, the institution (an odd title for such an interesting place) is planting these gardens to reduce runoff. Now the water flows into the ground. Plus the rain gardens are lovely. I hadn’t really noticed that before.

I slowed down, and suddenly there was an entire world to take notice of.

Of course, novelist that I am, I immediately realized how much this insight applies to books. Some move quickly. They don’t linger over scenery. They don’t take time to meditate on lessons learned. They move to the next event, the next big plot point, the next spurt of character growth. Everything in between is dealt with quickly or left to the reader’s imagination.

Some, of course, move slowly. They paint luxurious pictures. They detail feelings, carefully chart character’s changing insights. No thought goes unexplored. The canvas is smaller. The entire novel might detail one event. And yet if they’re well done, the reader isn’t bored. She is immersed in that life, and when she emerges, she may even be surprised to find a different world.

I love both kinds of walks. And with reservations, I love both kinds of books. I want a story to move fast enough and cover enough ground that I feel I’ve been somewhere. On the other hand, I don’t want it to move so swiftly that I don’t learn to love the characters and root for them. I don’t want the story to zip at lightning speed so I don’t care what happens, or I’m confused by the course of events. I want anticipation to build slowly enough that when it peaks, I’m right there in the palm of the author’s hand.

Readers differ. For some readers my novels move too fast. Others–more often–find my books move too slowly. All these years later I’m perfectly comfortable with that. In the immortal words of Ricky Nelson, “You can’t please everyone, so you have to please yourself.”

So which kind of reader are you? Do you want a plot to zoom by like a teenager on a skateboard? Or do you want to amble along a winding path, admiring the flowers and butterflies and thinking about life and everything it means?

Let us know.


  1. Pam Reed on July 17, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I love to amble – but like a little bit of mystery to it too. The Ministry is Murder series is just my cup of tea!

  2. Ruth Ann McKay on July 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

    I love a little romance with a little mystery. Sci Fiction is also a love of mine. I usually avoid vulger language and explicit sex and will stop reading when I encounter it. Your books are refreshingly free of that so I know I’m safe when I pick up any of them. And I know I’ll be entertained! 🙂

  3. Lynn Ross on July 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I, too, love to amble with a bit of excitement to keep it moving. I want to really experience the setting of the story – feel as if I’ve been there and known the people. Yours are perfect. I also like romances with a paranormal slant, but no vampires.

  4. Shanna on July 17, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    When I am done with a book, I want to be sadden by the fact that I will not be visiting them anymore. They have to be so real to me I could reach out and touch them. I love books that wrap me so completely in another world.

  5. Linda Drewes on July 18, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I prefer to take a slow walk with the author and learn the characters one by one. I find your books do just that!
    I also enjoy learning the history of the people and places
    that you visit in each of your novels. I always feel a bit
    sad to have to say goodbye to my new “friends” when a series is over.

  6. Wanda on July 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I have not read one of your books that I did not like. Just started reading the Ministry is Murder series and enjoyed “Let There Be Suspects.” It was the earliest one my library had. I have three more in the pile to read.

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