I first fell in love with her writing with Jenny and the Jaws of Life, an amazing book of short stories. If I’m not mistaken, this is Willett’s first novel, and it’s a good one.
The premise for the story is a writing class, one of those adult-extension classes where you imagine a bunch of losers gathering together to praise each other’s meager scratchings. Only the teacher of this group (Amy) is actually good, and is actually a published writer. And the group of supposed losers show themselves to be individually interesting (everyone has 1000 stories inside), a cohesive group that makes great progress. Throw in a murder mystery and voila, you got your Writing Class.
One of the class members makes threatening phone calls, tapes other class members and plays them back to Amy over the phone, mails mimicked poetry, causes the deaths of 2 group members (one falling off a cliff, one poisoned), plus near death of Amy.
Interspersed with the storyline, any aspiring writer can pick up tips from the fictional teacher– the idea that we suspend our disbelief that the author has actually done all the things she portrays in her fiction, which enables the writer to just let go and write, without worrying that too much of her is being exposed. Other tips– lists of ideas and characters. Writing exercises where you assume the other gender, or make up ten names and write thumbnail sketches of each name, or write an opening paragraph for a short story or novel on the spot. Amy shows us how to “show, not tell”.