About ten years ago, I read a book that made quite a big splash in the world of Christian romance. It still comes up in conversation occasionally; it deeply resonated with some women.
I guess you could say that it resonated with me, but not exactly in the same way. I mean, those other women felt validated and even healed of past wounds. I, um… well, I wrote a parody of it.
Hackney’s Novel Shop
The bell tinkled as an author pushed open the front door and walked into the shop. The proprietor looked up and smiled. “May I help you?”
The author didn’t answer immediately. First-timers were always a little overwhelmed by the shop. Finally, her eyes stopped on the large, friendly-looking sign above the check-out station:
Your One-Stop Shop for People, Plots, and Places
B. Hackney, proprietor
“Can I help you find something?” B. Hackney prompted gently.
As if shaking off a daze, the author said, “Um, yes. I’m writing a novel.”
Hackney nodded, still patient.
“And I need… well, pretty much everything. A friend recommended me, said you could set me up.”
“My pleasure!” Hackney exclaimed. “May I ask who I have the honor of serving today?”
She blushed slightly. “I write under my pen name, Faith Tritely. You’ve never heard of me.” With a lift of her chin, she added, “Yet.”
“Delighted to meet an up-and-comer, Ms. Tritely. If you’ll follow me, let’s start with the setting. That dictates the rest of your choices, you understand. Can’t have a Southern belle in an ancient Persian palace, for instance.”
Faith’s eyes lit up. Hackney shook his head firmly. “No, no, I don’t at all encourage mixing-and-matching. Very rarely works. Best to stick with the package. Trust me, all our settings have been great successes.” He moved quickly across the floor to a large, ornate door. It was painted green, with gold lettering that said, Settings and Backdrops. Opening it, he ushered Faith inside.
It was an expansive room, with floor-to-ceiling rolls of tapestries. Faith looked at the nearest tapestry: it was a green-and-gold forest scene, with a large castle just visible through the trees. A crowd of colorfully-dressed people made their way down a winding road to a village market in the distance, past a row of thatch-roof cottages.
“That’s our Medieval setting,” Hackney said. “Very, very popular.” Indeed, there were a few threadbare places visible here and there, especially around the castle, the tourney, and the romantic moonlit bower. “Is your novel a medieval one?”
“No,” she said, regretfully turning her eyes away. “No, it’s a California mining town, circa. 1850.”
“Ah! A popular choice as well.” Hackney pulled down a roll and gave it a firm jerk. The tapestry spun off and settled on the floor, where Faith studied it with a pleased smile. It was all there: the dusty air, the muddy streets, the ramshackle houses. Horses plodded along with fully-outfitted cowboys on their backs (most of the cowboys wearing red bandanas and brown hats). Along the bare dirt Main Street were four wooden buildings: the Bank, the General Store, the Jail, and the Saloon and Brothel.
“I’m going to need a church in mine.”
“Certainly! That’s an add-in for only $1.49.” He fished in a plastic bucket and pulled out a white clapboard church with a steeple. “And a school too?” he added, holding up a red schoolhouse.
“No, just the church. Thanks. This is exactly what I need.”
“Great!” said Hackney. “I’ll have them wrap this up for you. Let’s move on… Characters, would you say?”
They stepped through the green door, and Hackney led the way to another door, this one painted yellow and marked, Characters, Main and Supporting.
This room was smaller, but brightly lit. Several round racks were hung with full-size cardboard people. Faith read the signs posted above each rack: Heroines. Heroes. Best Friends. Master Villains. Minor Villains and Thugs. Assorted. One rack proclaimed, Clearance! The rack was full of soft, plump, lacy Victorian heroines and hard-edged misogynistic action heroes.
She looked through the Heroine rack, taking her time with the decision. She finally narrowed it down to the tall, slender, red-haired one with flashing green eyes, or the tall, slender, golden-haired one with the alabaster complexion. “Just so hard to decide!” she said. “But I think I’ll go with this one.” She lifted off the blond heroine. Hackney smiled and set it aside.
“Now to heroes,” he said.
This choice was easier: “I’d know him if I saw him on the street!” she exclaimed, thumbing through the choices. “And here he is, exactly.”
“Ah, the tall, broad-shouldered, hard-bodied working man, with blue eyes and dark hair,” Hackney noted, and propped the hero next to the heroine.
“Now for the villain,” Faith said.
“We have several popular Master Villains in stock,” said Hackney. “Here’s the rude and shrewd one… No? Here’s the violently angry one… Not that one? How about this one, the polished and polite, sinister one? Yes, definitely a good choice. You’ll see that he comes with three free phrases: ‘My dear, you look lovely; Oh, my, what a temper you have!’ and ‘I do hate to have to make things messy!’”
“And today we have a special. Buy one Master Villian and get a Minor Villain half-price.”
The offer was too good to resist. She chose the dumb, dirty, and violent Minor Villain.
For the next hour, Faith browsed the other racks. She finished with an impressive collection of supporting characters, including a Villain-Who-Reforms, an entire set of The Benevolent Family (“they take in my heroine when no one else will,”) a Loyal Friend, a Wise Friend, and a “Uses Heroine For Greedy Schemes” Villain.
“Excellent, excellent!” said Hackney. “I’ll have these wrapped up for you. Before we move on, please look through this bin of Motivations. Our customers often find helpful tidbits there.”
She ordered the Deeply Hurt and Iron Will cards for the Heroine, and the Sensitivity and Understanding cards for the Hero. Hackney smiled, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Do you have any pre-packaged scenes for my particular setting?”
“Oh, do we!” Hackney replied happily, and led the way to a large shelf along the back of the main room. “Let’s see, 1850s mining town… Here you go. This entire section contains applicable scenes. You’ll see that your Motivation cards have a colored dot on them. The scenes are color-coded to reinforce the Motivations.”
It was a happy half-hour as she sifted through scenes to include in her novel. She chose a Childbirth scene, complete with flustered husband, serene wife, and pots of hot water. For the Hero and Heroine, she chose a Playful Run Through the Field (useful for breaking down the Iron Will, according to the scene’s specifications). She found several brothel scenes, and chose one with world-weary harlots exchanging hard-edged dialogue during their off-hours.
“Just one more thing for now,” said the author. “My novel is a romance…”
“Say no more!” Hackney led the way to a pink-painted door marked Romance and Erotica. This room looked much like the Settings room, but was quite stuffy. The far back of the store was obscured by an opaque fug. “Light romance or…”
“Light,” Faith said quickly.
Hackney walked up to a roll marked “Western” and pulled off a length of bright red. It steamed slightly in his hands.
“Um, it’s a Christian romance…”
“Right. We’ve got those.” Hackney re-wound the red and turned to another roll. He pulled off a shorter length of pink, which was merely warm to the touch. “How many do you need?”
“Well, none of them too long, but a lot of them throughout.”
“Great! I’ll have those wrapped up for you. Now, if this is a Christian romance, you’ll want to look through our Morals box and see if there’s anything that will help you. Self-Sacrificing Love is a very popular, as is Knowing God By Falling In Love.”
At last, laden down with packages, Faith watched a clerk ring up her purchases. The price pleased her. “This is so much more economical. I heard that J.K. Rowling had a lot of her stuff customized, and it was over the top expensive.”
“Yes. I always recommend going with the pre-fab, at least when you’re starting out,” Hackney agreed.
As he escorted her to the door, he said, “If you need anything else, please come back! We’ve got a new shipment of Crisis and Catharsis Scenes coming in next week. Great for resolving relationship problems quickly.”
“Yes, thank you!”
“And remember,” Hackney added, “we have a special buyers’ program for sequels.”
Faith Tritely’s eyes glowed. “I’ll be back,” she promised.