Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Voice of Reason - Yeah Right!

I was charged when asked to be part of the Do Some Damage gang. Really stoked. These guys were awesome. I loved the blog. I admired the writers. I felt like I had been asked to sit with the cool kids at lunch. Then I started thinking - these are fabulous crime fiction writers. The kind of guys who turn over rocks and shed light on what lies beneath. Social commentary, deep dark shadows and really cool stuff comes to the surface of their stories. They write Crime Fiction with a capital C. And me...well, I write crime fiction...small c. I'm not deep and dark and filled with social commentary. I'm just - fun.


Yeah! I worried that my membership card was going to be revoked as soon as they remembered that I was a bit…well…um…different. I really want to be that cool noir writer or a page turning thriller chick. I want to be the one that makes you think about bigger issues. I do! When I started writing for real – not that practice book that made me realize I might like to write – I tried writing those stories. Only, the more I wrote, the more my voice got lighter and wackier. I couldn’t help it.

Yep. I just invoked the V word. Voice. It is that thing that makes one writer’s work sound completely different from another’s. Voice is one of those strange things that either happens or it doesn’t…kind of like growing breasts. (Sorry guys…but you added a girl to the blog. The B word has just come into play.) Yeah, you can always go to some fancy doctor and have him add a bit more to mix, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t real. Voice has to be genuine and it can’t be forced. And you can’t try to sound like the next Greg Iles…I tried because 24 Hours was a book I couldn’t put down. It sucked me in, held me tight and made me gnaw at my fingernails until the last page. But, no matter what I did, I sounded like a writer who was trying to mimic a NY Times Bestseller.

Double Crap!

You can’t steal a voice. And you can’t just snap your fingers and make one magically appear. It takes writing. Lots and lots of writing. Some people find their voice in their first manuscript. I hate those people…and I say that with all the love and admiration in my heart. Others writers find their voice lurking in book number two. I found in book number five – the first mystery and the first 1st person POV writing I’d ever attempted. Suddenly, my voice was loud and clear and kind of wacky. I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I mean, I liked it. I was having a blast writing whatever strange thing came into my head, but it wasn’t what I had ever intended to write when I started this strange and mythical journey into the publishing world. But it was what I was and I went with it. The more I wrote the stronger that new voice got.

So a strong voice is good – right? Well, that depends on your point of view. A strong voice brings both good and bad with it. Good because it’ll hit people over the head and make them notice you. That sounds great, right? Well, not always. A strong voice will always get an equally strong reaction, but that reaction might not be a good one. A voice that one editor passionately loves tends to be a voice that another editor hates. And readers will react the same way. I think a strong voice is a fabulous thing to behold. Strong voices create strong reactions, which as a writer is what we all hope for. Love our voice or hate our voice – we want you to remember our voice.

So before these guys realize that they have a zany writer on their hands and kick me out of the club, tell me: Who did you try to mimic when you started writing and what does your voice sound like now?


last year's girl said...

Just wanted to say welcome to the Do Some Damage crew Joelle - it's fantastic to finally have a chick on board!

Steve Weddle said...

Great stuff, Joelle. And welcome.

That French dude Flaubert (bald, fat, cool mustache, wrote that book the womens like about adultery) went all blabby about wanting to write a novel just with style -- no characters, no plot. I think that's how it goes. (Speaking of no plot, what the hell was I talking about?)

Having read SKATING AROUND THE LAW (in bookstores this Fall, peeps) I can say that you've completely nailed the voice there, a voice that helps move the plot along as much as the violence and threats of violence and death and fear. Oh, and humor. But, I gush.

I don't know if this is exactly right, but lemme throw this out there. If I'm wrong, well, there you go. If I'm right, someone probably said it before me ->

Plot is the thing that keeps you from putting the book down. Voice is the thing that makes you pick up the next one by that author.

Anyhoo, welcome. And thanks for classing up the joint.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Welcome, Joelle! I look forward to reading your posts.

I couldn't help but think about "Brick's" (played by Steve Carell in Ron Burgundy) comment about adding a woman to the station -- check out this sound bite: Bears!

Congrats on finding your voice ~ it must be a feeling of great comfort and relief! I'm trying to peg mine, not sure I'm there yet, but I'm getting warmer. After being a cop for 21 years, I'm so used to writing "just the facts" and I'm trying to allow myself to make stuff up ~ it's definitely fun.

I recently read this great quote that speaks volumes to me now: "...Madeleine L'Engle, in which she reported saying to her students, 'Don't think. Write. We think before we write a story, and afterward, but during the writing we listen." (I read it in "Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page" by Lynn Freed -- a great book.)

Best wishes!

Chris said...

I'm with Steve; voice is what keeps me coming back. Voice is what my favorite writers bring to the table, time and time again. Favorites like Westlake and Block, who oh by the way, alternated funny and bleak like nobody's business. And it ain't like they got thrown out of the clubhouse for Rhodenbarr and Dortmunder...

John McFetridge said...

I was already really interested in a book with "skating" in the title (even if it seems to be on something other than ice, weird) but then you compared developing your voice as a writer to boobs.

Now that's a great voice.

Anonymous said...

First book I wrote was nearly all dialogue - more of a screenplay than a novel. Second book - tried out first person pov (and then ended up rewriting it in third). Three was the lucky number for figuring out the voice thing.

Wacky is good! Can't wait for the release of SKATING AROUND THE LAW!

Deb G.

Marilyn Brant said...

Joelle, I love reading about voice because it's THE thing that makes me want to read (or keep reading) an author. A cool plot might be the reason I check out the first few pages of a novel, but the voice is why I buy the book. I love the self-assured voices of Janet Evanovich, Nick Hornby and Susan Elizabeth Phillips--I know when I read their work that I'm in the presence of an author comfortable with his/her own style. And I JUST saw that you have a release day--CONGRATS!!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Thanks for the welcomes. Hey, I might not get kicked off after all!

Steve - Thanks for the gushing!

Steve and Chris - I agree that voice is the thing that makes you keep coming back to an author. There are some authors that I still love to read even when the plot isn't up my alley because their voice is compelling.

Kathleen - I love the audio clip. Yep...I'm totally bringing the bears with me. Funny that you mention the difficulty with learning to make things up. As an actor and singer, I felt the same way. I was always used to having the lines written down for me and I just created characters around what was already there. I have to admit that I've learned to love creating characters and situations from scratch, but it took a while to allow myself to just relax and let my imagination roam free.

John - I'm going to have to use more boob comparisions in the future...maybe it'll sell books:)

Nightingale said...

Great article. Some say my voice is strong, others say the writing doesn't engage them. Ah, the sting of rejection or the hint of praise.

Carrie Lofty said...

I wanted to be whoever I was reading at the time--Janis Reams Hudson in the mid-90s, Elizabeth Lowell and Susan Wiggs some years later. I just needed a few years to figure out that I actually skirt toward darker emotions than they do. And I really can't help my historical training. It's not gonna go away.

Congrats on sitting at the cool table, Joelle. I feel that way when I hang out with you and Deb :)

Beki said...

I think you know it's your voice when even you are surprised at your writing. I love my voice. Took me years to realize that though I don't sound like my favorite writers, I sound like ME and that's a good thing.

Good post, Joelle!

Bryon Quertermous said...

Welcome, Joelle. And Thank you for being a wakeup call that I might be losing my way with my voice, getting too dark and too violent with out a real reason.

Voice actually came pretty easy to me, it's the plotting that I'm still working on developing even a rudimentary grasp of. Of course that doesn't mean that if you go back through my early stuff you won't find ALOT of Dave Barry and Robert B. Parker sounding prose.

So here's to lightening up the dingy hole that is DSD.

Debra St. John said...

Hey Joelle,

Congrats again on your release date. I can't wait to read the whole book.

Voice is one of those really tricky things. Sometimes I think either you have it or you don't. Each voice is different. Unique. And so hard to teach and/or learn.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Deb, Marilyn, Carrie, Nightingale and Beki- Thanks for stopping by! I think between all of us chicks from today we've upped the estrogen quotient by about 100% on DSD:) You guys really do make me feel like one of the cool kids.

Bryon - I love dark and violent...I just can't do it. My voice doesn't work when I try. I'm always envious of those who can. The fact that you do both amazes and impresses me!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey Debra! Thanks for coming to chat. And I agree. Voice is one of those strange parts of writing you can't teach. It is something that comes from you.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Joelle, *waves* I happen to love your voice. (Her book is great-put it on your preorder list.)
I think I'm one of those with a voice. It does get you into trouble sometimes. :) Cheers~

McDroll said...

Joelle, delighted to read your post....and I love wacky!!

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Joelle, thanks for introducing me to this kewl site. I hadn't visited before. I will be sure to bookmark it so I can come back. I'm one of those whose voice often gets them in trouble. LOL--hence I lurk behind an alias.


Mary Ricksen said...

Hi Joelle, the only time my voice is really strong is when I'm yelling.
Oh, you meant that voice, I firmly believe that people can have more than one voice. Up and quirky for a contemporary, dark and scary for a mystery, or soft and flowing for that HEA story.
So, with the voice I am using today I say, "Great blog sweetie, make us think!"

John McFetridge said...

Elmore Leonard has said that it takes a million words to find your voice.

Of course, he also said there's no reason you can't start selling before then.

Barbara Monajem said...

I think voice is a combination of mechanical stuff -- an author's tendencies in sentence structure, word choice, and so on -- and world view. In other words, what is said, and how. Voice is definitely what draws me to an author's work over and over again.

I have two voices -- contemporary (for the paranormals) and historical. The mechanics are quite a bit different, but the world view, although colored a little by history, is much the same. It was harder to find my voice in historical romance because of having read so many books by Georgette Heyer! It's difficult not to channel her when writing Regency.

Congrats, Joelle. Looking forward to reading your book this fall... (I'm jealous of you lucky ducks who've already done so.)

Bryon Quertermous said...

"I think between all of us chicks from today we've upped the estrogen quotient by about 100% on DSD:"

Nah, they still have Dave and Russell to provide enough.

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Joelle, dear girl, if those big bad boys don't treat you right, I'll whup up on 'em. Excellent post. I'm Nora Roberts and LaVyrle Spencer with dashes of Debbie Macomber and Linda Lael Miller, of course.

Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writer Mama Mary

Morgan Mandel said...

I think you're just what they need over there to keep in line!

Good going, Joelle!

Morgan Mandel

Nancy Kay Bowden said...

Great post, Joelle!

When I first started writing, I couldn't read another novel without picking up the author's voice. My writing took on lots of voices--even in the same chapter. I compare it to traveling in Texas or England and coming back sporting a smidge of new vocabulary (and maybe a new accent too.)Suddenly, everyone's "ya'll" and they're "fixin' to" do something. Or it's "cheers" instead of goodbye and, when asked how everything's going, you answer, "It's just lovely."

After realizing I couldn't read novels and write them at the same time, I stopped reading for a painful month or so and paid lots of attention to my writing. I read it out loud, too. One day, almost magically, I heard my voice and I've stuck to it! (At least I think so!)

Can't wait to read your book and hear your voice!

Matt said...

Nice post Joelle! I feel like you could have fleshed out the breast analogy some more. :-)

Sorry, the joke was too good to pass up. Seriously though, I love the post. It encourages me to, simply, write. Write for no reason. Write for any reason. Just write. See what comes up.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Nancy P and Scarlet - I understand about a voice getting you in trouble. And yet, I love strong voices so I think the troublesome voices are the best kind.

Mary and Barbara - I do think more than one style for a writer is possible...and if you are writing noir vs straight mystery or contemporary vs historical, you will have the same voice - just with a different color. Kind of like singing. You always sing with the same voice, but you might alter your color depending on whether you are singing Opera or jazz.

Mary R - thanks for dropping by. I'll let you know if I need someone to help me keep the boys in line.

Nancy B - I can't wait to read your voice and I hope you like mine when the book comes out. (fingers crossed)

Matt - I'll try to enhance my boob references the next time...just for you!

Dana King said...

Wow. This is eight or nine times as many comments as DSD usually gets. The message is clear:

More boob references.

I started out by trying to rip off, er, channel Raymond Chandler. Figured I might as well aim high. Now I try to match the voice with how the story needs, or wants, to be told.

You're right about voice, though. It's why I read. Plots are nice, and characters are what help me identify with the story, but let's face it: people don;t re-read books for the plot. It's the voice.
I make it a point to re-read something by Chandler, Ed McBain, and Elmore Leonard at least once a year for exactly that reason. I just like how they read.

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Joelle,

Excellent post. Like many others, voice keeps me reading and I was going to quote Elmore Leonard but it appears that John already beat me to it. As long as it was said that's all that matters, right?

Congratulations on joining this awesome blog and for your release date too.


Maureen Lang said...

Hey, Joelle, You Brave Girl for joining this testosterone-laced blog!

And what a great topic. To me, voice is something we discover and not learn, something that can influence our writing but we can't entirely mimic. Even what we want to mimic goes through our own filters and takes on our own flavor.

Congrats on the release date for Skating Around the Law. It may still seem a long way off, but blink and it'll be here, time goes so fast. I can't wait!