Monday, January 23, 2006

Are you there voice, it's me Mary.

At the age of ten, my Grandma Margie planted the idea of becoming an author when she snuck me a copy of Hollywood Wives. Jackie became my image of what an author should be: controversial, gutsy, rich, powerful, famous, loaded with fabulous jewelry and of course, those luscious pool boys who'd serve me cocktails.

Even when I made a serious commitment to writing ten years later, I kinda sorta still had that image in mind. I'll never forget that moment, I was in a gift store in Sedona, Arizona during spring break of 1994. I found a tiny statuette of a Native American storyteller for $10.95 and as I held her, I decided that I would become an author and as God as my witness, I would have my pool boy!

Six years dragged on as I wrote one crap manuscript after another. When I finished a book that I intended to sell as a category romance, I realized that I had to stop writing for publication. I know that sounds very odd, but it's true. Writers don't get published because they created a story that fits the new trend everyone is buying. They are chosen because of their voice, their unique way of looking at and making sense of the world.

When I saw where I was going (e.g. nowhere), I turned my soul inside out and wrote the story that became my first book. Do you know how I know I'm writing in my own voice? Well, there are two things.

First, when I wrote Hot Tamara I kept thinking: dear God, my mom is going to disown me. While the character of Susan Contreras is not my mother, there are parts of my mom in her. And while I'm no Tamara - although I always wanted a Karmen Ghia - there are parts of me in her, as well as in Isa (In Between Men), Isela (My Favorite Mistake from Friday Night Chicas) and Nellie & Lulu (Switchcraft - working title). In other words, I know the story is true when it is so honest that someone could get hurt.

Second, the writing is like I'm typing an email to my friend ... but with more drama and a liberal use of SpellChecker. I know the characters are real when it feels like they're talking through me. By the way, that doesn't happen all the time and it often happens when I'm doing other things like showering or feeding my son. However, in revisions it is much easier to tap into what I imagine is an underground river of words. Which is why I race as quickly as possible through the first draft so I can get to the good stuff.

Out of the two screenplays and two manuscripts I had written, Hot Tamara was the first story I wrote for the sake of uncovering my voice. Publication came after the story was told and because it had authenticity, my editor took a chance on it. So when I hear writers at conferences and meetings exclaim that this will be the year she'll get published, I hope she'll come to understand that publishing won't validate her as a writer. If anything, becoming an author makes writing that much harder.

Every now and then I toy with the image of showing up at some massive booksigning in a Bentley escorted by the pool boy who looks like this guy ... a little fantasy never killed anyone, okay?

In all seriousness, what consumes and tortures me almost every day is the writing: am I mining those characters deep enough, am I telling the story the way it needs to be told, and why does this character who I never planned on, suddenly want to be in the story? Writing stories that are true to me and to my readers is what has made me successful.

Thanks for reading.



Anonymous said...

My long time image of the perfect author has always been Nora Roberts. Though I've never really read her (only two books out what millions??) she is what a great author should be.

Of course when I started writing I kept thinking..oh man why do all these authors whine about this being I whizzed through chapter after chapter. Don't shoot me just yet!

After a few short months I was already at chapter 18, woohoo for me right?? Well, my pc crash and with it all my hard work. A week later I had surgery. Needless to say it was about 8 months before I could even open my word program without cryin.

BTW before you cringe in fear I didn't loose it all, only 3 chapters.

Once I was back on track the writing wasn't moving as quickly. I started to get busy back in the real world..ya know the one that doesn't include a pc.

So you might ask what in the world is all this rambling about? Well, I've learned that Nora Roberts is an author myth. Sure other authors can do it..I'm just not one of them. Another lesson..back-up everything!! And after my laptop fried this a few months ago, I learned back-up everything in more than one writing program, cause they dont all work on all pcs(which is why I'm missing my chapters 23 and 24).

Just for the record..Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas and Teresa Medeiros are my new heros.

Hope you have a wonderful day.

Bethany Hiitola said...

This is a great post Mary!

I spent years wanting to become a writer. I did a lot of talking and even tried writing every now and again. But ALWAYS I wrote very guarded prose, worried someone might read too deep into the words.

I took this so far, that even in my journals I'd not tell *all* (that I blame on a boyfriend once who read the damn thing when I wasn't around).

But, one long day--early in motherhood when I was exhausted, weary, and well yearning to reach the dream I'd once longed for (write a novel) I started writing in a way that was at once relieving and scary. So, I guess you could say, I finally write with true voice and true characters.

I haven't been lucky to find publication just yet, but at least I know I am headed in the right direction. :-)

Unknown said...

Eeeek! I accidentally erased a chapter - and it was a real good one. I thought I was going to die right then and there. But then I rewrote it from memory...whew.

But get this...I met a writer who's husband was so jealous of her work that he deliberately ERASED her entire book. And she was still married to him!!!


Michele said...

After having the opportunity of meeting Jackie at OCC, there's something else I learned from her: An author can still be gracious even though she's gutsy, rich, and loaded with fabulous jewelry (and, nope, I didn't forget those cabana boys!). That's something I've taken to heart and I've been lucky enough to meet other writers-- such as yourself, Mary--who have done the same.

And for the record, you've got a fantastic voice. It really pulls me into the story.


Michele said...

One more thing to add here--

The photo of the guy who is your fantasy pool boy...Nicely done, Mary. ;-)


LaShaunda said...

Hi Mary,

Oh my goodness, I thought I was the only one who wanted to be just like Jackie Collins. LOL Only I was going to be the black Jackie Collins. I use to sneak my mother’s books, because she read to slow. I gobbled those books up. When I was sixteen I got my first typewriter and I sat down and wrote my first romance. I still have it.

Jackie is probably the image I still have in my head. She was the first best selling author I’d ever heard of. I guess its those first thoughts of writing fame, that continues to drive me as a writer. I say one day Lord, one day.

My new heros - Rochelle Alers, Beverly Jenkins, Marilynn Griffith and Jaqueline Thomas. They writing inspire me and they wonderful kindred spirits too.

This is my first visit to your blog. I know I’ll be back.