When I checked out the novel from the library, I didn't suspect the writer had broken many of the rules. All I knew was that I was prepared to devour it.
Even spine out, the title caught my attention. Murder Rides the Super Chief (details changed) promised to press three of my hot-buttons: a historical cozy on a cross-country train trip.
My interest in the genre got me through the opening chapter. But I kept wondering when the story would actually begin. And why was the author describing in meticulous detail virtually every facet of life in California in the winter of 1952?
Things didn't get any better when the protagonist boarded the train. Starting with the locomotive, the author took me to the back of the train. Page after page of description of the furnishings and features of each car.
Finally I learned why she was traveling from California to Chicago just before Christmas: She was an employee of the railroad assigned to work on the train. (Why didn't the author think to include that in chapter one?)
It turns out, she was the train's hostess. And readers had the privilege of watching over her shoulder as she welcomed every passenger and informed them on which car they would be riding. Every passenger. Not just the obligatory colorful characters, but also the ordinary ones.
I jumped off the train.
If I'd ever wondered why writing teachers say that fiction is life with the dull parts removed, I'd seen the alternative. Likewise, I got resounding reinforcement for beginning in the middle of action. And why dumping the contents of your research and offering lengthy passages of backstory can make even the most eager reader close the book.
Are you tempted to break one of the basic rules of contemporary fiction? I hope you have good reason – and that you know what you're doing.