Six Ways to Write a Love Letter
Jackson Pearce’s Six Ways to Write a Love Letter is what I imagine would result if a writer sent the first-draft of a Taylor Swift fanfic to a publisher who published it without any editing whatsoever. The writing is all over the place.
When pop star Vivi Swan’s drummer breaks his arm skateboarding, Remy Young is tapped to fill in for the first six weeks of her national tour. Remy played studio drums on Vivi’s recent album, so he knows all of the songs and can hit the ground running. Along with a decent paycheck, he figures the gig might help him move into the production side of the music industry. A drummer’s gotta do what a drummer’s gotta do.
After their second show, when Vivi’s rabid fans linger a little too long and a little too close so that Vivi and her crew must make a chaotic exit from the arena, Remy and Vivi find themselves alone together on the same tour bus. They chat about their creative processes and bond over HGTV. Vivi mentions that she’s been working on a new song and Remy mentions that he wants to produce songs, and thus begins a songwriting collaboration between the two.
What follows is a Notting Hill-esque romance wherein Remy and Vivi only have a connection while in private because Vivi’s obsession with her public image dominates everything. Oh, and she is also, ostensibly, dating another famous person so there’s that. Eventually, however, the cat is released from the bag and Vivi’s ice-cold reaction and treatment of a guy she supposedly loves turns the book from a romance into a genuine wall-banger. Not that I hadn’t seen this particular crash-and-burn coming from a mile away, given that we learn in the VERY FIRST CHAPTER that Remy’s friend, Celeste, is a celebrity gossip blogger.
Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way. Is Vivi Swan (VS) really Taylor Swift (TS)? I’ll compare facts: VS started in the country music business at fifteen then moved on to become a pop star with a good-girl image. TS signed her first recording contract at fourteen, had a bunch of country hits, then moved on to become the world’s biggest good-girl pop star. VS plays the acoustic guitar. TS plays the acoustic guitar. VS is blond, tall and leggy, with perpetually red lips. TS is blond, tall and leggy, with perpetually red lips. VS bakes cookies for her fans. TS bakes cookies for her fans. VS is famous for writing breakup songs. TS is famous for writing breakup songs…I think we have a match.
Book Taylor Vivi is rather unlikeable. She treats her band as disposable laborers because she fears if she gets too close to them, things would get complicated being as she’s so famous. There might be expectations and other icky stuff. She definitely leans into the perks of celebrity, and while I understand her paranoia, her distrust of everyone does little to endear her.
For his part, Remy is… yeah, just kind of there. Other than the fact that he was raised in a super-religious household, we really don’t find out much about him. He’s perfectly content to let Vivi dictate the course of their relationship, thankful just to be in her magnificent presence. I never once forgot that Vivi was the boss and Remy was, for all purposes, the employee. This made for a very unbalanced love story that I honestly never cared much about.
Far more interesting to me than the Vivi/Remy story is the one about how Remy and his brother Val escaped a fundamental religious upbringing to break into the music business, find fame and success only to become a One Hit Wonder band, with Val falling victim to drug abuse along the way. That’s an interesting premise worth reading.
If, that is, I could get past the silly mistakes, inconsistencies and plot contrivances that jerked me so far out of the story so often that getting through the entire book became an Olympic event.
Stupid things like not paying attention to time passing. Vivi and her crew get trapped after a show by swarming fans and hovering paparazzi. They don’t manage to get on their tour buses until nearly 2:00 a.m. A bit later, Vivi wants to watch House Hunters International which, she states, comes on after eleven. Wait, what? She and Remy watch four episodes until Vivi falls asleep, only for Remy to note after two more episodes that it’s 2:30 a.m. I just… what? And it gets better. The buses pull into a gas station and Vivi dolls herself up so that any fans she might encounter won’t see her looking a mess. At 2:30 a.m. (or, by Shire reckoning, 5:30ish a.m.) in the middle of nowhere?
Another time, Vivi is in New York City while Remy is in Phoenix. They are collaborating on her new song via phone. She claims that it’s 1:00 a.m. Remy states it’s an early 8:00 p.m where he is. NYC and Phoenix have a three hour time difference between them, not five. This is simple Google stuff. Where was Pearce’s copy editor? Remy goes on to fall asleep after midnight (3 a.m. NYC time) while listening to Vivi work on her song. Then, suddenly, it’s 7 a.m. in Phoenix and there Vivi is, standing in front of him. What kind of time travel is necessary for a girl to get from NYC to Phoenix in that kind of time? This complete disregard for the physics of time is done simply to make the plot work.
And then there are the inconsistencies, such as this gem:
It was during the dress rehearsal that Remy noticed a guy he didn’t recognize…This guy, however, was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. He had a beanie on and the sort of scraggly five o’clock shadow that made Remy certain he was someone from the industry–a musician, maybe an actor.”
Three paragraphs later…
It was Noel Reid–the wink triggered his name and the memory of Celeste saying Noel and Vivi were an item. Remy knew his face, of course–much like Vivi’s face, you couldn’t not recognize Noel Reid given the sheer volume of tabloids he appeared on.”
What?! Remy doesn’t recognize a guy so famous that you couldn’t not recognize him?
I could go on and on with stuff like this. My ebook is littered with notes of frustration. A good story can overcome sloppy writing, but sloppy writing that constantly takes you out of a story that hasn’t even engaged you cannot be ignored.
To be fair, I think the bones of a decent story are buried deep in the pages of Six Ways to Write a Love Letter. The behind-the-scenes details of the music industry are interesting, and the premise of two people falling in love while on tour is incredibly romantic. I think if Vivi Swan could be less of a stand-in for Taylor Swift and more likable overall, if Remy could have more backbone and personal agency, and if two or three editors could remove a huge hunk of nonsense phrases and correct silly mistakes that require actual time travel, then we might be cooking with gas. Until then, I’m just not feeling it.