I attended a wedding in Omaha, Nebraska two weeks ago. I'll have to admit, I did not know this state offered so many interesting sights. The road trip from Colorado was a fun mini-adventure.
So far, this year has been rough. We recently lost my husband's mother, a lady with a quick smile and generous heart. The heartbreaking passing of Donna Jean left a huge gap in our lives, and also meant my husband's father no longer has his caregiver and soul mate. We have taken him into our home until we can arrange a safe and healthy living situation for him. We are at work all day. It is just too depressing for him to sit around alone, waiting for us to get home in the evening. Anyone who has done a stint of elder care knows the challenges.
So while a trip to Nebraska may seem rather tame, my husband and I enjoyed a break from our not-so-routine schedule. With his adult granddaughter left in charge, we knew Dad would be safe for a weekend.
Besides attending a beautiful wedding and fun reception, we were able to catch up with friends, meet new people, and tour Omaha. In the slideshow below, I have photos of the Joslyn Art Museum, Boys Town, St. Cecelia Cathedral, and random things that caught my eye.
Jason Half is a screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. His short story "The Widow Cleans House" will appear in the July/August 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Jason joins us today to share his thoughts on that difficult to define topic, voice.
Writers might not spend a lot of time considering and defining their individual creative voices, and that’s probably a good thing. As often with the writing process, overthinking and overanalyzing can become a liability. But taking a few minutes to identify your own artistic voice may strengthen your future writing and offer a new perspective on previous work.
On the surface, a creative voice seems like an easy feature to spot. Stephen King’s voice is markedly different from Raymond Chandler’s, and Agatha Christie’s voice would likely not be mistaken by faithful readers with those of P.D. James or Ruth Rendell. Some of the elements defining voice are obvious signifiers, like narrative style or tone or type of story. Algorithms could be built, using word choices and genre structures and character types, which could reliably identify the data-driven aspects of voice. This one must be Charles Dickens. Hello there, Shakespeare.
But voice goes beyond a mere collection of writerly tics, traits, and behaviors, and that is cause for celebration. Voice contributes greatly to make a text personal, relatable, and engaging to the reader.
1. Voice can enhance and inspire characters.
Sometimes I get the feeling that writers actually ignore their personal voice in an attempt to deliver a story in a recognizable, straightforward way. The trade-off often sacrifices original voice for a safe and marketable product. Instead of relating a story that overlaps genre styles or highlights intriguing contradictions within a character, the author adheres to conventions. The result may be a competently plotted piece with no real sense of life or discovery.
Recognizing your own creative interests and obsessions – and inviting those interests into your stories – can be a powerful artistic choice. Humbert Humbert’s manic intellectualism, Mattie Ross’s dogmatic tenacity, and Holden Caulfield’s angry vulnerability each benefit from their creators’ willingness to trust their own artistic voices and reject safe character archetypes. (Those creators are Nabokov, Portis, and Salinger, respectively.) As a graduate playwright, the most memorable characters offered by my colleagues were the ones that went beyond placeholders or plot forwarding mechanisms and connected with the writer’s voice: through emotion or perspective or passionately held beliefs. Such characters were never timid, never nondescript, and always engaging.
2. Voice can provide meaning.
It took me quite a long time to recognize an essential tenet of successful writing: always know WHY you are telling the story. This, of course, is connected with the story’s thematic idea, and with identifying (at least for yourself) what you are trying to say. When you recognize the thematic interests that drive you, your reason for telling a story can become clear. From there, you then have the freedom to approach the writing on both a plot level and a theme level, and can shape the paths to move in the same direction.
Previously, I would start a story by shaping its plot and working out the details. If I wasn’t listening to my creative voice – if I wasn’t actively thinking about how I could find a way to make the plot my own and keep myself engaged as a writer – then the plot would stay merely a sequence of events. It would feel disposable. In contrast, a recent short story of mine uses its revenge plot to deliver a greater realization to the wronged protagonist about his life, and this is the element that is much truer to my voice and my ideology than with answering the basic question of “Will he have his revenge?”
3. Voice can connect a body of work.
Here is another great advantage to recognizing your artistic voice. Suddenly, all of your previous works begin to speak to each other in new and interesting ways. Stylistic and tonal elements that repeat in your writing might be obvious, but voice also looks at your artistic intent, whether that is conscious at the time of writing or not.
I am always amazed that my own writing, which was purposefully diverse in plot and setting, is nevertheless thematically connected. Whether the story concerns a cynical tulip seller in 17th century Holland, a headstrong female producer in the man’s world of 1950s live television, a big-city gangster exiled to small-town America, or a mother emerging as an activist against the company poisoning her land, they all display a central, universal idea that I return to time and again. In nearly every story I write, there is a tension between an individual’s views and the expectations (and often damaging actions) of society. Some characters conform and suffer, others retain their individualism but at great cost. The stories may be different, but it is my voice – my view of the world, my sense of humor, my questing spirit – that runs like a thread of creative DNA through each and every one of them.
Jason Half runs a tribute website for prolific Golden Age mystery author Gladys Mitchell at www.gladysmitchell.com . His short story “The Widow Cleans House” will appear in the July/August 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. His personal website, which contains writing and mystery reviews, can be found at www.jasonhalf.com
Because I garden, you might think I would be upset that a bunny lives in my back yard. We actually exist in relative harmony. Rabbits, you see, are not too bright. As long as my lettuce is protected by row cover, bunny does not bother it. If the lettuce is exposed, all bets are off.
This spring, I am going to try a tactic I heard somewhere - I would credit the source, if I could recall it. Planting parsley around your garden is supposed to distract the bunnies from eating your vegetables. They are supposed to prefer the parsley, and will nibble around the edges of your plots instead of marauding through them.
I believe rabbits like flavorful food. I witnessed my bunny eating dandelion flowers. What a good bunny!
In other news, I added a tab to my website titled "Map." This fun map appeared in Stone Cold Case. I plan to include it in book three.
My book signing at Why Not Books? May 14 went well. I had fun talking to interesting customers. I plan to return for another event when book three is released.
Join me next Tuesday for guest blogger author Jason Half, who will write on the topic of voice.
The only thing that is constant is change. - Heraclitus
First, a reminder that I am having a book signing this Saturday, May 14, from 1-3, at Why Not Books? They will have book one and book two in my series for sale at a discounted price. I am hoping to also have copies of the recent Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine with my short story "The Chemistry of Heroes."
Folks have asked when book three in my rock shop mystery series is coming. Each book stands alone, but readers want to know what happens to Adelaide and Houdini, the escape artist donkeys. Stone Cold Blooded is beginning the publication process. I anticipate a mid-September release.
If you follow my blog, or publishing news, you know Five Star is ending their mystery line. How, you may ask, am I expecting to release book three? After much thought, seeking advice from authors, and talking to my husband, I decided to self-publish Stone Cold Blooded.
I am not doing this on my own. I am working with an experienced publishing outfit who will guide Stone Cold Blooded through the process. There is just too much happening in my personal life to handle the learning curve involved with independent publishing. A huge bonus is that my novel will have the same style cover art.
Change can be challenging. It is easier to stay in a comfortable spot. I had to make a decision about which approach would be best for book three. I consider this is a fun experiment.
I have other novels not in my rock shop mystery series in process. My intention is to pursue traditional publishing for future projects, but I'm going to keep my mind open to other possibilities.
Because change is the only constant.
Saturday, May 14
Why Not Books? used bookstore
5975 North Academy Boulevard Suite 204, Colorado Springs, CO 80918
Why Not Books? used bookstore supports local authors. On May 14th, from 1-3pm, they will host Catherine Dilts, author of the amateur sleuth murder mysteries Stone Cold Dead and Stone Cold Case. They will also carry copies of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine with her latest short story.
Drop by to check out Catherine's work, and to browse the bookstore. Bring your used books to receive store credit for new-to-you used books.
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