On blurbs and hamburgers

by M.J. Hearle

Okay, I’ve put this off long enough.

I can’t continue doling out these whimsical anecdotes from my childhood forever. This blog is supposed to be about writing and somehow I’ve managed to get five articles in without discussing my novel, Winter’s Shadow, in any depth. An egregious oversight if ever there was one as this blog wouldn’t exist without it.

You see, Welcome Reader, I probably wouldn’t be writing online if I didn’t have a book to promote. Not because I have any snobbery towards the medium (I write about monsters and lovestruck teenagers for chrissakes – not exactly high art) but because I didn’t get the bug that seems to have infected the rest of the world. You know the one – it compels you to share every single thought that pops into your brain through social media.

Yep, I like my secrets. I don’t really think everyone needs to know what I had for lunch or if I enjoyed last nights episode of Jersey Shore (sorry, I’m being a little facetious. I’ve never watched Jersey Shore, though understand it’s a terrifying drama starring a creature known as ‘The Snookie’. Like The X-Files only with more fake tan.) Still, I’ve enjoyed this whole blogging thing so far. Even if sometimes I feel a bit like a crazy person having a conversation with someone who isn’t there.

So, let’s talk about Winter’s Shadow. First of all, if you haven’t already, please click on the ‘Winter’s Shadow’ tab and read the wonderfully evocative blurb (cooked up by my genius editors at Pan Macmillan). Don’t worry, I’ll wait here until you get back before I continue. Finished? Great. So, now you have some idea on what the book’s about – there’s a girl named Winter Adams who has a crush on this mysterious Blake Duchamp fellow. There’s a vague hint of the supernatural but all in all the blurb keeps things purposefully vague. The threat hanging over the two lovers isn’t clearly identified and Blake’s otherworldly nature isn’t explained. If the blurb had gone into anymore detail I would have tried to edit it back. The reason for this is two fold. One: as I stated before I like my secrets and am not by nature an over-sharer, and two: a chief pleasure of Winter’s Shadow is its sense of discovery. The reader uncovers the mystery along with the heroine and I don’t want to ruin any of the story’s surprises.

I will mention this – there are no vampires, sparkling or otherwise, no shirtless werewolves, no fairies, no angels, or half-angels or three-quarter angels or any of the other supernatural denizens that currently clutter the YA Paranormal Romance section of your local bookstore. There are positively no ‘Snookies’.

I’ve created something new.

So why not trumpet this fact in the blurb? If YA readers are experiencing a general fatigue with vampires and werewolves and angels why not advertise the fact that my book offers something different? The answer to this is easy, if a little cynical:

People don’t want something different. They want the the same. The familiar. There’s a reason McDonald’s is successful, and it’s not because of the food. When you order a Big Mac you know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s not to say people don’t enjoy being surprised by something new – in fact they love it. They just don’t know they love it.

When I started writing Winter’s Shadow I was well aware of the genre conventions – alienated teen protagonist, handsome mysterious stranger, romance that has to overcome certain obstacles both internal and external – and part of the fun was playing with those conventions and inverting them in some cases. I started from a familiar place – anybody who has picked up a YA paranormal romance before will feel right at home in the beginning of Winter’s Shadow – but as the narrative builds I start to add the more esoteric elements. Glimpses of other worlds, terrifying creatures, I even touch on metaphysics and theology (because we all know how much kids today love discussing the nature of the soul).

Before you roll your eyes too much (C’mon Hearle – you wrote a Twilight knock-off, don’t get too big for britches), at its heart Winter’s Shadow is a relatively straightforward story. It’s about a girl who falls in love with a boy who isn’t human, and the dark forces that threaten their love. However, if you think I’m serving you a hamburger you might be surprised by what ends up on your plate. I’d wager it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before but I suggest you try it anyway. Who knows, you may just love it?