Many of you know I read the fiction slush pile for Post Road. It’s a wonderful literary journal that’s published some memorable short stories, my favorite among them being those of Tom Perrotta, Paul Yoon, and H. H. LeCraw, especially August by H. H. LeCraw. I promise that in years to come you’ll find yourself stilled in unguarded moments, wondering about the old man holding the baby fast to his chest as they nap.
The editor sends the submissions in bunches and, for the most part, I read them in their entirety. A very few are written for simple shock value and don’t warrant more than a single page of a reader’s attention. Most are fine. Just fine. And then there are those that sing with the first line, where the writing has been given a voice, infused with a particular tone, a rhythm that cradles and lulls the reader.
Voice is what gives life to your writing. It’s a tone that’s struck from page one and the good writers are capable of maintaining it through to the end. In Jon Clinch’s Finn, his first line is all you need to understand his voice: "Under a low sun, pursued by fish and mounted by crows and veiled in a loud languid swarm of bluebottle flies, the body comes down the river like deadfall stripped clean." His voice is languid, melodic, ever so slightly menacing, thunder on the horizon on a sweltering summer’s day.
Voice calls to life your writing. If structure and plot are the bones of the story, characters the flesh, then voice is the soul a writer breathes into it all to make it come alive.
How does one find one’s voice? I don’t know how others do, for me it was through essays. I wrote of the most personal experiences of my life, stories about miscarriage and war, postpartum depression and hope. My first attempt at writing a book, I admit to copying other voices, an amalgam of successful authors. It was fine, just fine, but it wasn’t my voice. It failed, but I kept trying.
I started a second book and sent off a very rough first chapter to a friend, an avid reader, but not someone familiar with writing or any of its terms. After she read it, she replied with a one line email, one I’ve saved to this day, “You’ve found your voice!” She had no idea that voice is a craft designation, she knew only that I was writing in a manner that was wholly my own.
I suppose a writer’s voice is what springs from our cores, if only we would listen, the one that speaks from that thoughtful place within each of us. The next time you find yourself stilled in one of those unguarded moments, after your thoughts turn over the old man and his grandson, take a moment and listen, really listen to that voice inside of you. Can you hear it murmur? It’s whispering now. Listen. There. Do you recognize that tone? Let it go, allow it to lull you. Feel it envelope the words, cradling them as the rhythm carries you away. Deep breath now. Ready? It’s time to sing.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007