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Writing a Book Review – The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Today I wanted to share a behind the scenes look at the process of writing the review, which first appeared at The Historical Novel Review.  I’m still learning the process of writing book reviews well so this post is more about the process, rather than the product.Last week I posted a review of Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola, a lovely blend of literary fiction, a touch of romance, and a historical setting, and a bit of an homage to L. Frank Baum.  Lovely work.

Attempt #1:

RR_The Swan Gondola_Pt1I originally started my review wanting to focus on Ferret Skerritt as the hot air balloonist since it was such a great Sam Raini visual, crash-landing and all that.  At the time of the writing, I was still reading the book so while I knew that the book begins with a bit of action, then back-tracks, I wasn’t sure what events led up to the balloon flight.

What you’re seeing there is several attempts at an opening sentence from different angles.  Openers are the hardest bit for me as a book reviewer. IMO, they set the tone for the entire review and the whole show is held up until I get it down just right.  To use another analogy, the opening sentence is like the flood gates. Once it’s been opened, the flood is unleashed upon the page.

And for a writer, that’s a great thing.

So, after a dozen attempts or so and not quite getting where I wanted to with the opener, I tried a different approach.



Attempt #2:

RR_The Swan Gondola_Pt2The second time around, I decided to focus on the overall setting of the book – The Omaha World’s Fair – instead of the circumstances of the book that Ferret finds himself. It became pretty clear to me that this wasn’t a history lesson so I had to drop all the talk about “the Columbian Exposition” and the “Trans-Mississippi Exposition” and that was after doing a lot of homework learning about the purpose of the exposition and how it helped Omaha distinguish itself from its more prosperous cousin, Chicago. God I love Wikipedia.

I ended up keeping some of the more colorful trivia facts I discovered – Buffalo Bill, President McKinley’s visit — and tried to set it up with the variety of people Ferret meets on the midway and how he fits right in.

From there, it just sort of flowed and I was able to keep the bit with the Sisters Egan’s farmhouse and add a bit in about their love affair.  For the final run-through, it was a matter of putting everything together and tightening the lines to fit the word count requirements for the review.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the way the review turned out and I had no idea that it was going to be an Editors Choice review for HNR which was absolutely awesome and I hope that other readers will enjoy this book as much as I did.  Many GoodReads readers are classifying this as “literary fiction” although it seems like a blend of mystery, romance and the literary tradition. It’s certainly having me re-think “stuffy literary fiction” as something I might enjoy reading more often.

Let me know what you think.


This entry was posted in: Writing


Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at LaurenJoanMiller.com.

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