On my bedside table and spilling onto the floor are forty-eight books, most of them novels, but I can also spot a few devotionals, books on early American history, and two Bibles. The novels fall into every category (almost) from women’s contemporary to romance to suspense to literary. Oh, and my dead Kindle is charging on top of one pile.
Have I read all of them? Most or parts of most. Books are my job, but they’re also my passion. My husband Mike jokes that when we move, one truck is filled with our household goods and the other with boxes of my books.
I give away tons of books, but just as many are given back to me, and I spend way too much money on hardbacks, trade paper, and mass market paperbacks. Not to mention the Kindle books I buy. Abingdon Press bought one of the first Kindles for me so I would stop killing trees by printing out proposals and manuscripts. And I forgot to mention the books filling two massive bookcases in our TV room and two more bookcases in my office.
But what does my collection of books have to do with voice? Everything. If you want to recognize a unique voice, you must read. You must read constantly, even though you are a writer. Writers read, and if they don’t, they miss out on the opportunity to read with a discerning eye. Compare how writers treat the same subject. Romance is romance, but the way the story is told (voice) can make it Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook.
We are original human beings. One of a kind. Individuals. I advised you to remember who you were at the age of five. Your personality was formed then. If I’m going to dish out advice, I thought I should put it into practice too.
At the age of five, I was the youngest of three, laughed a lot, and made silly faces in the mirror to entertain my family. I started first grade that year and was thrown out of the hokey-pokey circle with my “boyfriend” because we put our hips in the circle and shook them all about. I think we shook them a bit hard and giggled a lot. Our teacher Mrs. Sun was not amused and made us sit out the rest of recess in disgrace.
When my turn rolled around for Show and Tell, I told the class that my mommy was going to have a baby. I don’t remember my exact words, but once again, Mrs. Sun was not amused, and I was asked to sit down. Since I talk with my hands, my “show” may have been too graphic for my teacher’s 1953 sensibilities.
Every teacher after that wrote on my report card, “Barbara does not live up to her potential because she talks too much in class.” I’m an extrovert. What can I say?
I loved music. I loved to dance, and in the third grade, I stood up in the cafagymatorium and conducted the orchestra along with the visiting conductor. My teacher called my parents to tell them how talented I was and that they should enroll me in special classes to nurture my abilities. My mom and dad were amused. I think I was a bit of a mimic.
Even now when I listen to a symphony, I either conduct in my head or choreograph whole ballets. I’m amused. However, if Mike drags me to a pro baseball or football game, I always bring a book. A $95 ticket is a total waste of money on me.
Before I left college I had attended twenty-seven different schools. It was not until my poor father was in his 80s that we discovered he was bipolar and that was the reason he couldn’t hold a job for too long. Childhood was a series of ups and downs and walking on eggs to make sure I didn’t cause one of his rages.
Of course, if I had to live with four kids in a 27-foot trailer without a bathroom, it might have made me a little crazy too. No offense to those who are bipolar. Our family is filled with people who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and drug addiction. But we’re quite creative. According to family history, Mark Twain was my paternal grandmother’s second cousin. Now he had a unique voice.
I could write a serious novel, and I have, but I’ve finally found my voice in that five-year-old girl who loved to laugh.
Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!