An Ode to Susan Elizabeth Phillips

July 6th. 2010

I met Susan Elizabeth Phillips at a writer’s conference one year and told her the first book of hers that I read (Fancy Pants) was one of the most entertaining novels I’d ever read and still today it would rank high in my top twenty. The other nineteen books would also be largely made up of SEP novels. The woman knows how to craft memorable characters thrown into unforgettable situations. And though sometimes her characters seem awfully familiar from book to book, she’s still a magician with dialogue and development. Through Kindle, I downloaded two novels I’d never read of hers and devoured them this weekend. Who knew SEP had tried her hand at historical romance? Every agent I’ve heard discuss this issue say never stray from what works (what sells) –that is don’t crossover genres. Just Imagine (a dumb title and I’d even tell her that) breaks that trend. It is set in post Civil War South Carolina and New York and a little bit in Texas. Though a reader might be inclined to think this is SEP’s version of Gone With The Wind, I wouldn’t. Too much of what is organic to all SEP novels is right there on those humid, pre-Industrial age pages; a scrappy heroine too stubborn for her own good and a larger than life hero who can’t resist getting involved. Maybe that does sound a bit GWTW. Since hours after finishing Just Imagine I started reading Honey Moon, I saw up close how SEP never strays from the female character arc that has made her stories bestsellers. Though this female character, Honey Jane Moon, was one of the most scarred I’d ever read in one of her stories. Actually everyone in the story was scarred and flawed and just inches away from self-destruction. This story was a twist on the SEP formula, and it was a good one. I can see where her later novels are more breezy and blingy, these earlier books are grittier and pack more of an emotional wallop. One year, maybe I’ll try to read her novels in published sequential order so I can trace the footsteps of one of America’s favorite romance writers, but it won’t be any time soon. I’m too invested in looking at my manuscripts and getting them polished. In the mean time, I’ll think about those memorable scenes of character development and pray that I write something with the same deftness as my much-admired Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

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