Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I worked as a campus switchboard operator in college. We were never allowed to give our names out, only our employee numbers. So I was surprised the first time someone called and knew who I was. "How did you know?" I asked. "Because I know your voice." This was a guy I hadn't spoken to in more than two years, and we'd only been casual acquaintances in the first place.
Around this time, I made a phone call to a friend. His roommate answered the phone and then called out, "It's for you! It's Bobbie!" When my friend came to the phone, I asked how his roommate knew. The roommate's answer? "Because she sounds like a young Katherine Hepburn."
Since college, I've had people ask me all the time what's wrong with my voice. Almost ten years ago, one guy I'd barely just met kept insisting, "No, really, what's wrong with it?" every time I told him, "Nothing. This is my voice." He wouldn't let it go. We were at a dance, and the music was loud, and I'd been talking all night, so it was more strained than usual, but it was still mine. Nothing was wrong with it. Nothing.
I dropped my son off at preschool today and one of his teachers said, "It sounds like you're coming down with something." "Nope," I said. "This is my voice."
I'm about 24,000 words into Basement Princess, my current manuscript, or my WIP for you other writer types out there. And it's my first foray into paranormal romance. My previous stories have been young adult (if you don't count my first manuscript, and please, don't count my first one). My talented and wonderful crit partner Brigid Kemmerer told me before I started BP that maybe I should be writing for adults instead of young adults. She quoted from a blog post over at Uncreated Conscience:
There is a YA voice and an adult one, and even if stories overlap, the adult voice has a sense of scope. What makes YA compelling as a read is its immediacy; a young person cannot write of him/herself from any perspective aside from “now” and “later”. With a YA voice, the past is less present, the present looms like a storm, and the future ever just out of reach. With an adult voice, there is a sense that the future has come to pass, the past is present, and the present encompasses all that has been and all that will be.
Brigid pointed out that perhaps my voice was more suited to adult fiction. (She said it much better and much more flattering than that, which is why I love her so much.)
And I'm believing her, because BP feels right and natural and I'm enjoying writing it more than I've ever enjoyed writing before.
I've never had an agent tell me my voice wasn't believable. I haven't had one say over and over, "No, really, what's wrong with it?" So I don't think the issue is believability. I think the issue is whether I can tell the story that suits my voice rather than suit my voice to the story. It's the latter than can strain it.
Or, as Katherine Hepburn said, "If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased." Simply be authentic.
And now off to my writing--and to add "The Philadelphia Story" to my Blockbuster queue.
*black and white studio headshot from Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1961