Wednesday, July 14, 2010


In nearly every critique of writers' works, be it of a query, a chapter, a blog entry or a novel, the topic of voice comes up. We know that voice is the element that makes each writer unique. It's often said that one can't develop voice by trying, consciously, to find it or create it, that it only comes about through constant writing until one's own way of way of it putting down becomes stripped of affectations, blind obedience to rules, and takes on a distinctive tone and cadence.

Okay, so we know what it is, sort of, and we know when we read a work that has it, and we can recognize many well-known authors' voices, and we know that without it, we ain't goin' nowhere. Love him or hate him, a few pages from the middle of The Road could be no one but Cormac McCarthy.

So I'm finally reading The Lovely Bones because it was lent to me. I had read the first pages years ago and was hooked, but not enough to buy it. Then the movie had me look again, but still not intrigued enough to pick it up. But having it put into my hand, I did want to see why this debut author broke through the barriers to publication and not only landed an agent who sold the book to a publisher, but became a best-seller that went on to be made into a film. Why?

Well, the first page is obvious. A dead fourteen-year-old girl narrating her own murder. Great hook. But then (the big BUT) I moved past the opening chapters as she narrates the story from "her" heaven, looking down on events that unfold, and something began to bother me. Significantly. The writer has voice, no doubt. The narrator, the dead girl, has voice. But is the voice of the dead girl her voice or the voice of the writer? Because I'm constantly stopping at bits of observation on her (dead girl's) part that sound no more like a fourteen year old girl than I do. She says she wasn't the bright one. (That would be her still-alive older sister.) Her language, her choices of images, metaphors, and observations are so beyond a fourteen year old. My question, then, is is the voice of the novel, written in first person from the girl's POV, hers or the author's? We're told that each character's speech in dialogue, must be distinctively hers/his. Should it not be the same for a character who happens to be a first-person narrator? Or do we not care as long as the whole thing has "voice" and maintains it throughout. Because, as stated up top, the author must have voice.

What I do know is that I'm constantly stopping, though I'm enjoying the story well enough, and shaking my head, thinking no fourteen-year-old girl would think that or say it that way, and whether or not the "voice" of the author is distinctive (and therefore good by that standard), I should be held in her (the girl's) head, in her story, in her observations and way of seeing and saying things, and never pulled out to think she'd never say that. Shouldn't I? Isn't that the author's job?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What If?

Since that last post, started on Thursday but not completed until today (Sunday), I've had the wonderful opportunity to spend each of those nights more awake than asleep, quietly (mostly) following my stream of consciousness. Among the islands in that stream were the island of peaceful meditation with healing light, the island of anxiety about how crappy I'd feel the next day, the continent of contemplation about the nature of dedication to a hopeless and ridiculous project, the islet of don't believe in that continent, and the lovely tropical motu of What If. My favorite dwelling place. Trade winds. Soft sand and turquoise waters. And endless possible variations on perceived reality, where nothing is sacred but everything is.

What if... what seemed like inspiration and now feels stupid by the light of day really were inspiration? And, if so, inspired by whom or what?

What if... time really is not a continuum, if past, present, future is a human construct to make sense, with our limited vision, of a moment in which all exists at once?

What if...other civilizations, if we're to call them that, do exist, but we don't perceive them because they aren't physical in the way we experience physical? Might the universe(s) not well be populated by many kinds of sentience, not necessarily in any life form or beings as we perceive them?

What if... the miracles and visions of our ancient prophets, seers, visionaries, and divinities are all true and all nothing like we perceive them? Like time, humanity must make sense of what it can't explain, and so the "chariots of the gods" become the wheel within a wheel, an alien implantation a virgin birth, beaming up an ascension? Is it any less miraculous? If a caterpillar can "die" and morph into a butterfly or moth, might not apparent miracles be as mundane in parallel dimensions overlapping this one?

What if... there really are "things" in the closet, under the bed, in the basement, in the dark? What if children really do retain a bit of a pre-birth consciousness (not exactly Wordsworthian, but) that enables a kind of perception of the invisible that age diminishes as we grow to be more of the world.

What if... all the stories of alien visitation are not only true, but only part of the truth. Is it even possible we are alone in this vast cosmos?

What if... an entire civilization lives on a "planet" that is some sub-atomic particle in a toenail, its entire history, from inception to destruction, in our perception of time, lasting as long as that bit of nail takes to grow and get clipped?

What if... insomnia really does create insanity in an otherwise sane person?

The Endless Query

Back at it, once again. Holiday's over. Back on the bus.

Out of ten queries sent out, I've received 9 form rejections, one no response.
So, even though that is only one batch of queries sent, the response rate (zilch) would indicate that maybe the query itself isn't doing its job. And, as I've lain awake in those hours after midnight not thinking about it, what I've not thought about is that the query I've been using doesn't really get to the nature of the story. It sounds like a basic good (gay) guy vs. evil-evangelist story. But that isn't really it. It's more supernatural, more creepy, more David Lynchian. The query needs to convey more of that. Normaltown, USA being invaded by beings from some dark dimension to capture the vortex of powerful energy (light) that "downloads" there and to invert it to its dark opposite, beginning the plunge of this planet, a gameboard in the greater scheme, into darkness, reversing its evolution, and winning one for the dark side. 

And this must all be conveyed as a sales tool in a prescribed format (with variations per agent guidelines): The hook, preferably one strong grabber sentence to get across the basic thrust, including the protagonist, the problem to be overcome (both plot problem and the protag's internal problem), the nature of the quest, i.e. what's at stake if s/he doesn't achieve his/her goal. The hook is then followed by an extremely briefs synopsis of the main plot only, a few pertinent details, but most importantly, the voice and essence of the story. All to make the agent request some of all of the actual manuscript. No small task, but one which every unpublished author must face, and there is definitely good company in the misery of the task.

Or did I say all this before?
So, once more unto the breach...