Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Author’s Voice

Today we’re going to chat about “voice”. Not just any voice, but an author’s voice. It took me, literally, years to understand what my own personal author’s voice was, and this in spite of everyone telling me I write just like I talk. So I’m a slow learner. Blame it on my mother, who’s dead and won’t mind.

But really, when my very first book, ONE BRIGHT MORNING, was published in 1995 (it will soon be available as an audiobook), Meredith Brucker, the fabulous teacher who taught a “How to Get Published” class at San Marino High School in 1993, asked me to read from my book at the South Pasadena Public Library. Oh, and as an aside, you’ll notice the name of the class was “How to Get Published”, not “How to Write”. I honestly don’t think you can teach people how to write books. You can give them all the tools, and if they have two brain cells to rub together, they’ll learn to use them well, but you can’t teach them to make 400 or 500 manuscript pages interesting enough for an editor to read.

Anyhow, to get back to the South Pasadena Public Library. I read the first line from my novel, of which I was very, very proud (not because it was so great, but because Meredith’s advice had worked, and I’d got the blasted thing published), and the audience laughed. I looked up, startled. That line wasn’t supposed to be funny. After all, I, a migraine-headache sufferer for decades, had decided to plop a young widowed woman with a little baby alone in a cabin in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico (well, it was the New Mexico Territory at the time, and there wasn’t a Lincoln National Forest, but never mind that), give her a I-can’t-even-stand-up-much-less-open-my-eyes-and-do-anything migraine, and then gift her with a gunshot stranger to tend. There is absolutely nothing funny about that scenario, especially when you add in the gunshot stranger's two Mescalero Apache friends, who scared poor Maggie Bright to death when they suddenly popped up in her kitchen. But everyone laughed. I, on the other hand, was not amused.

And then someone told me she’d read the book and asked me why I’d included in the book a couple of fellows named Ferrett and Pelch as hirelings for the villainous Prometheus Mulrooney. I said I’d added them for comic relief. She said the book didn’t need comic relief because it was funny already. Huh? That book had taken my heart and my soul, dammit! It was emotional. It was romantic. It was gripping. It wasn’t funny. To prove it, here’s the lovely cover Melissa Alvarez just made up for the audio edition of ONE BRIGHT MORNING:

Evidently people disagreed with me. Well, nuts to them. At any rate, I let my writerly juices flow some more, and my second opus, TEXAS LONESOME, was published in January of the next year. Okay, that book was funny. But that’s only because it contained dachshunds, and there’s just something laughable about an animal that’s two dogs long and half a dog high, you know?

Then I submitted a book to Berkley’s “Homespun” line, the requirements for which were that the books be set in the Old West, radiate family values, and contain at least one child. So I sent ‘em a manuscript in which a woman steals a baby, runs to her alcoholic foster-brother in (ta-da!) New Mexico Territory, after also stealing a whole bunch of money. They bought it, and called it SWEET CHARITY. Which might possibly make one wonder about Berkley’s notion of family values, but that’s not the point. The point is someone said she read the book and laughed her way through it. Wait a Minute! Darn it all, that book wasn’t funny! It was emotionally gripping and full of angst and anguish. Wasn’t it? Well . . . I dunno. Maybe it wasn’t.

Anyhow, along about the fifth or sixth year of what I cynically call my writing career (I wouldn’t be cynical if I could make a living at it), I gave up and realized that, yeah, I do write like I talk. And ever since I was a kid, people have laughed at the things I said. Not at me, mind you, but at the things I said. And there, I do believe, we have the crux of the issue. I grew up among difficult people. It’s the truth. Therefore, in order to deflect attention from my own flaws, I made ‘em laugh so they couldn’t get at me. The rest of the time I tried to remain locked in my room as much as possible.

I wonder if other authors know how their own personal “voices” evolved. Wouldn’t surprise me, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if other people who write “funny” are outraged and depressed a whole lot of the time, as I am. But enough of that. And just for the heck of it, here's the audiobook cover for LOST AMONG THE ANGELS, Book #1 from my Mercy Allcutt series, also created by Melissa Alvarez. I love this cover!

 Please feel free to enter my monthly contest by sending your name and address to me at . At the end of May I’ll be giving away copies of, what the heck, TEXAS LONESOME. I’d give away copies of ONE BRIGHT MORNING, too, but I can’t find any. Also, please feel free to visit my web site, where you can read the first chapter of darned near every one of my fifty or so books ( ), and feel free to hang out on my Facebook page, too, if you feel like it: