"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, May 9, 2014

My voice skips across water

My writing ego has had a bit of a spanking this week, so I've been thinking about who I am and what I do.

When I began, I wanted to write literary fiction. It is mostly what I read for many years. I was a bit of a book snob for a while, and would not read a book that wasn't at least 50 years old. I spent my time with Willa Cather and Somerset Maugham and Victor Hugo and Miguel Cervantes and so forth.

My first book attempted prose. Not just a story with characters, told by words. Beautiful phrasing, layers of thematic glory, a novel that would embed itself in each reader's soul and remain.

It lays on my external hard drive, where I use it for spare parts.

Slowly, painfully, I realized that I am not a literary writer. I have the words. The ones I don't have, I enjoy finding. Story is something that can find me, along with the cast. I'm not afraid of doing the work.

But I have no voice for literary tomes. The voices I have read are serious, perhaps to the point of depression. The words are not only beautiful, they are heavy with the weight of meaning. We laugh about "what the author really meant when they describe the curtains" but it's true. Even if I'm reading for enjoyment, the theme's undercurrent seems to pull me in with each word.

By contrast, my voice is light. It is a woman's soft laugh, a whispering wind too mild to blow the leaves back, pretty fireworks that light and sparkle and disappear into the darkness. To quote a friend of mine, I write "popcorn for the brain."

I put aside literary fiction to write mystery, which was my second favorite, thanks to Sherlock Holmes (fortunately, there were other old books in my library). After four novels, I can say that mystery suits me. I can tell a casual tale about some quirky folks who get into hot water. I know how to get them out of that hot water, too. My love for logic leads me to create interesting puzzles. And I still work hard to find the right word for the occasion.

When I was young and in choir, I was in the alto section. Being an alto meant I never sang the melody, only the harmony. Perhaps that is where I'm supposed to be as an author. Writing the harmonies.

At the end of the day, I'm happy to be telling stories and proud to be doing the work. Still, someday I should like to be able to weight my voice with enough importance to tell a tale that a reader cannot shake from their heart.

1 comment:

Sherry Antonetti said...

Beautiful story of a real writer's arc in development.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.