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The Problem With Voice

12 Feb
Abigail Cash

What do you mean Voice isn't all about dialogue?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, digging through the Indie releases promoted on various blogs and websites that I visit. One of the nice things about the Internet and the way the Indie-writer community has evolved these days is that it gives us the ability to find out about so much that normally wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar. I’ve run across a couple of really fun reads that way.

On the other hand, I have also run across some things that frustrate me. Finished, published manuscripts that are rife with typos. A novel with a beautiful, tightly written beginning that devolves into something less than engaging at about chapter four. These are universal issues that every writer should be aware of, and something that writing partners and crit buddies are perfect for catching.

There’s something else that I’ve noticed though, and its made me take a good hard look at my own writing. Voice.

It’s that vague word that all English composition teachers like to toss around like it means something to a room full of 16 year old kids. Later on, we hear about it from college professors and literary agents. More often than not, the concept stays muddled, confused with tone and flow and a host of other technical issues. That’s a shame, because I think voice tops the charts as the number one thing that will pull me into a story, and its also the first thing that will make me set a promising story down.

A consistent voice is important, regardless of the point of view you’re writing from. Right now, I’m reading a mystery novel that has an interesting and well-thought out plot. I’m sticking it out because I’m truly interested in the plot, but I’ve had to read it in spurts because the author doesn’t have a good grasp on his voice. At times, he’s digging into the mind of the main character, a cop who’s just counting the days until retirement. Other times, the prose shifts into a poetic, breezy kind of narration, unconnected with anything and completely at odds with the previous passages. The juxtaposition makes me do a double-take, and gives me a jolt that yanks me out from whatever I was reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read some wonderful books that have played with a variety of voices. To be an utter cliche, yes, I read The Help recently. Kathryn Stockett did a wonderful job of telling a story from three distinct voices, and not just through the use of dialect. I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer also uses multiple voices to great effect. That being said, there is a difference between using multiple voices and not having a defined voice at all.

The point is that choices in voice must be made deliberately. It can be tempting to wander off-voice, especially when the result is something that sounds really good. But if that lovely, poetic paragraph or two is smack dab in the middle of something with a completely different tone and voice, the result is less pleasing. One thing I really appreciate is when a beta reader highlights a passage and points out irregularities in voice.

How do you try to keep your voice consistent and defined? And how do you find your voice to begin with?

The Social Media Catch-22

4 Feb
Abigail Cash

This guy has probably been trying to figure out how Facebook Insights work. Good luck, dude.

Catch-22 is an amazing book, and one that I had to read twice before I started to get the hang of Joseph Heller’s complicated prose. The gist of the true Catch-22, of course, is paradox.

In Heller’s book, John Yossarian wants to be declared unfit to fly combat missions during WWII. Pilots who volunteered to fly crazy, suicidal missions would be considered insane, and thus unfit…but in order to be declared insane, you had to ask for an evaluation. Too bad that asking for an evaluation was a sign that you were sane. A Catch-22.

I started my new job this week. It has been awesome, and I’m sure that it will be a great fit for me. While I feel like I’m drowning in new information, I know that will pass. The problem that I’m struggling with is something silly, and one that I guess really can’t be considered a “problem” in any normal sense of the word.

Because I’m busy at work, I can’t engage in social media to help connect with other writers and grow support for my work. I’m still in the editing phase of my first novel, but my goal is to start querying in the spring. I’d like to be able to continue the tweeting and the facebooking etc etc…but social media seems like a full-time job! And I just got one of those. Things were much easier for my writing career when I was under-employed.

Of course, I could slow down on the social media, and take a break. But then a new problem arises. From what I understand, a social media presence is practically required these days to get a book deal and then sell your books. If I cut down on networking through social media in order to focus on my book, I could potentially be hurting my book’s chances!

The circular logic makes my brain hurt a little. Maybe I am over-thinking this. I am a baby author, after all, and I have a lot to learn. Any advice?

Real Life vs. Writing Life

26 Jan
Abigail Cash

All clipart writers are right handed. As a lefty, I take offense to this...

The title of this blog post makes me smile for a couple reasons. First, it makes it sound like my Writing Life is something entirely separate from my Real Life, almost like the worlds I used to create as a child to play in with my imaginary friends. But also, it makes them sound combative, like there is a cage match going on inside my head. Only the strongest will survive!

In a way, both those things are true. When I am immersed in my Writing Life, the concerns of the real world seem to fall away one by one in favor of late night scribble fests and frantic interactions with half-formed characters. I get emotionally invested in my characters to the point that I start neglecting my flesh-and-blood friends. It’s a delightful fever, but its unmaintainable.

On the other hand, when Real Life rears its ugly (or at least uglier) head, I find myself drifting farther and farther afield from the creative outlets in my life. The last couple of weeks have been chock full of Real Life Endeavors, and as a result I’ve left my Writing Life sitting out in the cold Minnesota winter. (Okay, for any of you experiencing the reality of this Minnesota winter, it isn’t nearly as cold as it could be. There hasn’t even been a cold enough night to say, develop frostbite. But I digress…)

I’m starting a new job next week. This is great news…I’ve been on the job hunt since before graduation last spring, and I am really excited about the opportunities that this position offers. But between all the hubbub around interviewing and preparing for interviews and then worrying about interviews…there hasn’t been time for the kind of Writing Life frolics I enjoy. Twitter and blogging are part of that, of course, but so are editing and (gasp!) writing new things.

The truth is, I’m almost as new to my Real Life as I am to my Writing Life. More than likely, I’ll find a way to balance the two. For now, they remain rivals for my attention.

Weekend Warrior

15 Jan

Abigail CashAnother weekend has almost passed, and I find myself swimming in lists and things I didn’t quite get done. Don’t you hate that? I’m in the middle of a third set of edits for my current book, and I have been dying to put pen to paper for the sequel, which has finally started budding in a tangible form in my head over the last couple of weeks. Added to that, you’ve got all the little things that must be done around the house, friends to catch up with and family to spend time with, and it seems like the hours just fall away.

Since I’m not working at this writing gig full-time, my hours are limited during the week when I can really sit down and devote myself to it. I often find that while ideas are swirling around in my head when I’m at my desk at work, by the time I get home at night, all I can think about is a hot meal and a nap. As much as I love my characters and the world I’ve created, I find myself saying, “Not tonight, guys. I’m beat.”

This last week, a writing buddy and I have started an editing schedule. An hour a day, no matter what. It worked so well that I think I may have to build in a writing hour as well. I’m starting to realize what a discipline writing is. It sounds funny when I say that, because I’ve been working on honing my words and story-telling for years, but this is the first time I have hit a brick wall and thought, this really is a second job.

Luckily, it is a job that I love a great deal more than my day job at the moment, and one that gives me joy and pleasure   that I just can’t find anywhere else.

If you’re like me and write on the side, what’s your method for staying on top of your manuscript and edits?

If you’re a full-time writer (I’m jealous), how do you manage your time?

The Uphill Climb and Other Thoughts

5 Jan

Well, it took less than a week into the New Year for me to start moping. It isn’t surprising. The last year was a doozy, and I’ve felt like Sisyphus more often than not (Sisyphus was the dude who was damned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity and never get anywhere…gotta love Greek myths). One thing that I think I’ve gotten better at in the last year, though, is stopping for a deep breath and a reassessment.

I always feel silly talking about the “power of positive thinking”, but I think that once you get past the corny motivational speaker connotations, you reach an idea that is pretty central to accomplishing anything. Believing that you can do something makes it more likely that you will. Now, I’m pretty sure believing I can fly won’t help me sprout wings, but believing that I could write a book certainly got me over some difficult humps of self-doubt.

It can be hard to get to that place where you can smile about all the things that are going right, especially when it seems like the world is dog-piling on top of you. Maybe life would have seemed better to Sisyphus if he had stopped and thought, “Well, at least I get to be out in the sun while I push this enormous boulder up a hill for the rest of forever!”

I’m not sure what my point is here, except that positive thinking can actually help us reap real rewards. I’m gearing up for a final editing push of my manuscript before submission, and am currently taking notes for the second book in the series. When it all seems like a little too much, I’m concentrating on how marvelous it is that I had the  chance to take the time to accomplish something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I never thought I’d have the time or the energy, but look what I have done!

How do you get yourself to the top of that hill? What motivates you and keeps you going strong?

Resolve

29 Dec

I’m not really a person who does the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing. At least, I didn’t think I was. And then last night, I was writing down all the things that I wanted to do in the next year. I didn’t call them resolutions…but the list went something like…

1. Eat Better

2. Lose Weight

3. Exercise More

4. Read More New Releases

5. Read the Classics On My To-Read List

6. Get My Manuscript Edited

7. Submit My Manuscript For Publication

You get the idea. And it occurred to me that this list of goals was exactly what  I always try to avoid: a list of New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s not that I don’t believe that the idea has merit. I think resolutions are a great way to look at the things you want to do with your life and start planning for a better year than the one before. But I think that the word “resolution” only gets us so far.

Resolution comes from the root word “resolve” which means to come to a firm / definite / earnest decision about whatever it is we are resolving. But what good did coming to a decision ever do anyone?

I don’t mean to downplay decision-making. It is certainly necessary to get on with the daily job of living. If no one ever made any decisions, we’d all be sitting around in our pj’s all day, watching TV and doing nothing productive. While that sounds awesome, it is not typically how success comes about.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that we need something past the act of “resolution” to complete our goals. We need action and support. I’ve found that support mattered to me more than any decision I made in the last year. Deciding was the easy part. But nothing that I accomplished would have happened if I had simply decided and then tried to act alone. I am not one of those happy few individuals who can provide all of their internal motivation and drive without any input from others. They are certainly out there, and I am in awe of them.

The rest of us, however, need friends and co-workers and even rivals to give us the oomph we need to make the important steps of action and completion. Without the help of others, all most of us (myself most definitely included) end up with is a list of decisions on a piece of paper, and a feeling that we failed.

Thank you to everyone who helped me and supported me this year. Whether you were there through my recent graduation and the three months of tortured studying for my license that occurred after that, during the drafting and early editing of my manuscript, or through the endless search for employment and meaning that has dominated my life since last spring…Thank you.

Who are the people who take your resolutions from decision to success?

Visions of Sugar Plums

22 Dec

I’ve started a new Christmas tradition in my house. While we were always a cookie family when I was a child, I’ve decided that there is a downside to cookies. They make mountains of dishes, they take forever, and even when they’re done baking, they still need to be decorated!

My new tradition is Christmas candy. Of course, by tradition, I mean I’ve been doing it for two years (this is the second). But I’ve already learned a few valuable things about sugar.

For one thing, nonstick pans are a must when you are boiling sugar. There may be no hope of scraping and chipping that hard candy off the candy thermometer, but if you have any sense at all, you’ll give yourself a head start when it comes to getting the candy off your pots and pans.

White chocolate is impossible to work with. It burns at the drop of a hat! The only way to avoid this is constant vigilance, and even then, you may be screwed. I had to throw out a whole batch of melted white chocolate because, halfway into my melting process, I managed to burn it and turn it brown.

Use a very shallow, long baking sheet when making any kind of hard candy, from caramels to peanut brittle. It will make life easier when you need to break apart the pieces. This year I had an epic battle with my caramels that ended with me wielding a meat tenderizer in order to break the inch-thick BLOCK of caramel into workable pieces. My sharpest knives had failed me, and breaking the pieces apart by hand proved impossible. Now I have tiny chips of caramel scattered all over my countertops and floors. I’ll clean it up…eventually.

The good thing is that I have carefully measured my batches so that all this candy will be leaving my house by the end of the holidays. The bad thing is that I feel like after all this work, I should get to keep some of it!

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?