I have a head filled with superlatives thinking about recent experiences at my first writer’s conference: Women Writing the West. The event was three days of encounters with friendly, accommodating, inquisitive, creative, inspiring presiders and fellow attendees. Because I was a newbie, my name tag identified me as a”green dot” person alerting the “old guard” to extend extra warm-fuzzies to make my experience positive. I came home with pages of notes, handouts galore, and inspiration to carry me through creation of my next novel.
One of my most positive experiences was my interview with a real, live, smiling agent, Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli from JET Literary Associates, Inc. We met in a conference hall filled with groups of “speed-dating” conversations sprinkled around the room between hopeful authors and established agents, publishers, editors, and marketing representatives. Nerves abound in situations like these. I was instantly at ease with this sophisticated woman I knew was accustomed to rubbing elbows with big shots from the New York publishing scene.
The following day I listened to a panel discussion which included Elizabeth. Believe me, I was all ears, as a series of questions was posed to the experts. Question number two: “What do you (agents) look for in a client?” Liz’ answer was “a good voice.” Now I have to tell you, of all the elements of writing I have learned over the past four years, “voice” is the most puzzling to me.
So I was musing on this today during my morning exercise routine which includes headphones to keep my brain engaged in thinking about higher thoughts than when will this misery of healthy living be over? I thought about creative arts areas familiar to me and reached some interesting conclusions. My ears were hearing (according to host Sterling Beeaff) Franz Schubert’s Impromptu #4 in A flat. The lilting, staccato notes reminded me of the laced, gauzy, frilly, hand-crocheted doilies from my Great Aunt Mary draped under family photos on my desk. I looked to my wall calendar with October’s rendition of Manhattan Bridge by Edward Hopper. Now there’s an artist who know how to “show – not tell” with his depictions of humans placed in dark landscapes with buildings shaped in bright, almost cold light. His living, breathing subjects are gazing just beyond the viewer’s reach and the corners and roof lines and destinations of roads, bridges, and rivers are dissected by the frame. My eyes want to probe beyond the edge and see what’s left unshown. And there on my bookshelf is the recently read debut novel Bloodroot by Amy Greene. Talk about your voice. The words out of the mouths of the book’s Appalachian characters resonate with a hill flavor that sets the tone which is unmistakably colloquial. Places called Chickweed Holler, horses named Wild Rose with glassy eyes colored haint blue, and characters named Grandmaw place this story firmly in the hills of the Smokey Mountains. So maybe my efforts to capture the verbage of the 1930s, the vehicles driven I pictured as characters in themselves, and the nerves of a nation poised on the brink of another world war show in my voice. The plot thickens.