This week I’m pleased to have J.B. Reynolds over on my Scribbles Page to do a Top Ten list about his new novel Taking the Plunge. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know J.B. over the last several years and I’m happy to call him one my friends.
I’d been dreaming about writing a novel for more than twenty years and decided it was time to stop dreaming and start doing. I wanted to finally be able to say, “I’ve written a novel.” It’s not the novel I would have thought I would write twenty years ago, or even three years ago (when I started getting serious about my writing), but that leads me to inspiration number two…
The characters came from a story I’d already written. The main characters had already appeared in my short story, What Friends Are For. In that story, (spoiler alert), a woman confesses to her acquaintance that her husband has been cheating on her. The acquaintance’s advice is to make a pile of his belongings in her back yard and set fire to it. I thought, what would happen if she followed through with that advice? I’d begun writing an entirely different novel but I set that aside when the story for Taking the Plunge grew wholly and organically out of that question.
Location, location, location. Taking the Plunge is set in the mountains of Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand in the early 2000s. While I grew up in and now live at the opposite end of the country, I too lived in Central Otago in the early 2000s. The landscape there is beautiful, but also wild and unforgiving. I figured that for my first novel, with so much to learn in the writing process anyway, it would be much simpler to set it in a place that I had first-hand experience of. While it’s been many years since I’ve been back to Central Otago, the landscape is so imposing that it stamps itself on your soul, and my memories of it are still vivid.
Small Towns. The heroine of Taking the Plunge, Kate Hensley, lives in Cromwell. Cromwell is a forty-five minute drive from the alpine resort town of Queenstown, and is kind of like a lesser known and much less interesting little cousin. I like the idea that in small towns, everybody knows your business whether you like it or not, and that there’s only one of two degrees of separation between any two people. Because the services available are so minimal, you can’t afford to be picky about using them. You can’t hide in a small town. Whether you’re rich or poor, everybody shops in the same supermarket; everybody’s kids go to the same school. Small towns are great melting pots for characterization.
Gossip. I write in the novel that gossip is as good as firewood for keeping people warm on cold winter nights. Since the entertainment options are so limited in small towns, gossip becomes a primary form of entertainment. Small towns are fueled by gossip. I find this idea fascinating – that in a small town you can go about your life, minding your own business, doing what you do, and yet down the street you can be sure that your neighbors are gleefully discussing your business over a nice, hot cup of tea.
Snowboarding. The climate in Northland, where I currently live, is subtropical. There was a dusting of snow on the very top of Mt Tutamoe on a particularly icy winter’s day a couple of years ago but apart from that, it doesn’t snow. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve been to the mountains. However, I did quite a bit of snowboarding in my teens and twenties, in NZ and Canada and Washington State, and there really are few things in life that compare to the hysterical joy of a fresh powder run, whether you’re skiing or snowboarding. The snowboarding elements in Taking the Plunge are not just a plot device, but an attempt to capture a little of that joy on the page, in lieu of actually being there. My kids have never seen the snow, and so next winter my goal is to take a family snow holiday and hopefully experience that joy in real life again.
Jane Austen. I used the StoryGrid method, by Shaun Coyne, to outline the novel. If you’re a writer and haven’t heard of it, it’s well worth checking out. I found it immensely helpful. The StoryGrid method is based around genre, and the conventions and obligatory scenes of specific genres. While outlining Taking the Plunge I read an annotated StoryGrid version of Pride and Prejudice, where Jane Austen’s take on the conventions and obligatory scenes of ‘the love story’ are explained. I don’t want to compare Taking the Plunge to a masterwork like Pride and Prejudice, but it was certainly an inspiration.
Sir Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is probably my favorite writer. I love his stories because they are so wise, yet the wisdom is dispensed in such a fun way that it doesn’t even seem like wisdom. Again, I don’t want to compare my writing to a master craftsman like Sir Terry, but I think whatever I might write in whichever genre, from now into the future, his writing will serve as the aspiration.
Smiles. I like books that make me smile (I say smile rather than laugh because laughing is a social behavior but reading isn’t, so getting someone to laugh while reading is an incredibly difficult thing to do). There’s tragedy in Taking the Plunge, but there’s comedy too, and that’s the aspect that’s most important to me. If I can elicit a laugh from readers of Taking the Plunge then that would be my absolute greatest reward, but eliciting a few smiles would be almost as good.
Stephanie Plum. I’ve read three or four of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels now and I think she’s a great character, feisty and funny but vulnerable too. I’m not sure Kate Hensley is quite is likable as Stephanie (at least not currently) but once I’d outlined Taking the Plunge I realized Kate’s story was bigger than one book. I doubt it’s as big as the twenty-something novels featuring Stephanie Plum, but I’ve now outlined two sequels, and depending on how the writing for those goes, there could be room for more.
Wow. Thank you so much J.B. Reynolds for stopping by. Congratulations on your new book Taking the Plunge. If you want to learn more about J.B. check out his details below. If you have a question for J.B. leave it in the comments and I’ll have him swing by and respond. As always don’t forget to share and like this post. Until next time have a great week.
J.B. Reynolds lives in rural Northland, New Zealand, where he raises children and chickens. He writes humorous fiction in which tragedy meets comedy and character reigns supreme. His first short story was published while he was a university student, and in between that and a return to serious writing in 2016 he has worked as a graphic designer, landscaper, ski and snowboard technician, film critic, librarian, apple picker, and baker of muffins and teacakes. Taking the Plunge is his first novel.
Nowadays, when not writing, he’s a husband, father, and high school teacher (not necessarily in that order). He enjoys sailing, cycling, and playing music, really loud, when his wife and kids aren’t at home. He has a big garden where he likes to get his fingernails dirty, and he loves to eat the things that grow in it.
Sometimes all you need is a leap of faith...
When her husband's recent infidelities are exposed, Kate Hensley does what any sensible woman would; she kicks him out of the house and pursues a younger man. Could her snowboarding instructor, Evan Randall — blue-eyed, blonde, and gorgeous — be the solution to her problems?
If only love lust were that simple.
Gossip travels fast in the high-country, and while Kate’s new BFF supports her romantic endeavours, it seems no one else does. With opposition to her amorous adventure mounting, Kate learns that Newton’s third law applies to love as it does to motion, and she must decide whether the price of being true to herself is one she’s prepared to pay...
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