A voice (in the wilderness?)

First off, a comment to a comment. Andi my dear, I don’t believe I ever said that a book has to be either grim or heavy to be award-worthy. Indeed, if you look at the Best First list you’ll see that we as a committee didn’t, either. And I would not venture to say that women writers lack seriousness–indeed, some of us are a tad too serious.

What I personally look for, and what I think most judges are hoping to see in a book, is what can be called “voice”, or its near synonym, confidence. A strong sense of person (which applies both to the writer and to his or her characters) just jumps off the page at you, and all the noir grit or meticulous research or humorous banter in the world aren’t a substitute. The Thin Man is brilliant not because of Hammett’s clever dialogue (although it is very, very clever) or because of the twists of the plot (which, though highly improbable, is nonetheless clever) but because it is perfect unto its kind: Dashiell Hammett cups his authorial hands around his book, and keeps them there, beginning to end, without spilling a drop of its essence.

Because the book I’m working on involves a set of characters I haven’t thought too much about for a number of fairly busy years, I’ve had to go back and read its predecessors, all four Martinelli books. Some of you may know that this is a thing I dread, detest, and never ever do if I can at all avoid it: when I re-read something I’ve written, all I see are the clunkers, so once a book has finished with the proof pages, that book is literally out of my hands. I know that some authors take the first copy of a new book and read it lovingly, cover to cover, but nope, not me. I really don’t want to know.

However, I also don’t like to get letters telling me that I’ve given Kate Martinelli a round face in one book and a square face in another, or that Lee Cooper’s eyes magically change color, or… Well, you get the idea. So I had to go through and make notes about the lives of these people. And it wasn’t easy. I found I didn’t much like A GRAVE TALENT, although it’s the only Edgar I’ve won–I have to agree with Barbara Peters (she of Poisoned Pen fame), who wasn’t much taken with the book when it first landed on her desk. I wasn’t all that taken by it, either, this time around.

But TO PLAY THE FOOL–now that book I could see the point of. In fact, though I say so myself, it is a very tightly written and very human book–not splashy, but a small gem. And WITH CHILD was pretty good, and if NIGHT WORK had a little too much God-stuff, it was easy to skip over those parts.

So, does this mean I should go back and make a second edition re-write of A GRAVE TALENT? (Not that I’m volunteering to do this, you understand.) Authors have done so, from time to time, and not all of them had as poor a result as the other King’s THE STAND Mark II. Personally, I think there are probably things in GRAVE TALENT that I’m not seeing, because my eye is critical. What I do know is that, thank God, a person does learn craft. My first drafts are still disastrous, unreadably so, but I have learned to rewrite more effectively.

Your motto for the day, then, and the first of the promised writing tips: Write for yourself, rewrite for your audience.

No extra charge.

Also, a big thanks to those who tried to lead this ignoramus through the undergrowth, and especially the Mistress of the Web, maggie Griffin. I’ve now conquered the web link process (I’d typed + instead of =) and so I can now tell you that you should really take a look at sarah weinman’s blogand you don’t have to hunt it down! A link which takes me sixteen strokes and a copy-and-paste, followed by a lot of squinting to check for typos, but for you guys, anything.

As for atom syndication feed, I’ve tried, maybe someone can let me know if it’s working. Whatever that is.

Comments

  1. Dear Laurie,

    You wrote:
    Write for yourself, rewrite for your audience.

    LOL! That is so true! If I had a nickel for every time something I’d written in the dead of night that (at the time) seemed absolutely brilliant, powerful, and invincible only to have it shrivel up and die a horrible death upon seeing the light of day, I could go buy myself some remote paradise in the South Pacific. (Or New Hapshire, I can’t decide…)

    Rewriting may be sheer drudgery but the end product is worth it. I still have the ashes of some of my 3 AM vampires, but I keep them only as reminders to always double check my work. 😉

    Cheers!
    Maer aka “Merely a whim.”

  2. Laurie,

    My comment on the grim and heavy was for Lee, not you, whose comment implied that women don’t get considered for awards because too many of them write ‘light and humorous’ mysteries. I’ve always thought that writing humorously is very hard work and that people who do it well never get enough credit. So I was interested in whether you thought there was a bias against humorous novels when it came time to nominate books for awards.

  3. Yes, your atom feed is working, because I read this post through it.

  4. I couldn’t resist mentioning this on my own blog. (I know people “TrackBack” but either I don’t have it or don’t know how.) What really got my attention was the mention of “Barbara Peters,” our editor at Poisoned Pen Press. Mary and I are right now working at revising our next book up to her standards, which is always daunting. But her suggestons are invariably so right. So reading she didn’t even think an Edgar winner was perfect…well…at least Mary and I are in good company! —
    Eric Mayer

  5. Hey,
    I just wanted to say that I absolutely love the Mary Russel books and I would be interested in what you think of those after you read through the final copies? Do you have a favorite one?

  6. R.J. Anderson says:

    For those LRK fans with LiveJournals, I’ve just added this blog’s Atom feed to the list of syndicated feeds over there. You can find it at lrk_mutterings, and add it to your Friends List if you like. Just try to remember to come over here if you have any comments to post, because if you post them at LJ Laurie will never see them.

    (Yes, Laurie, I know — “blah blah blah blah Ginger”. *grins*)

  7. PK the Bookeemonster says:

    Hi Laurie, I liked your comment about “voice.” I’ve set upon reading many of the Edgar nominees (the ones I haven’t gotten to yet) and have been mostly very impressed and glad I’ve done so. I’ve found some new authors on which to keep watch. For instance, Ron Faust’s Dead Men Rise Up Never I really enjoyed and would have loved to go visit his supporting characters (especially during the too long “Perfect Storm” reenactment). The supporting characters felt to me like they really lived their lives outside of interactions with the protagonist.

  8. My curiosity having overtaken my sense that this might be an impertinent question (in which case feel free to ignore it) – if you weren’t happy with A Grave Talent then why did you release it for publication? Did you have a contract and a deadline and you felt that it was the best you could do in the circumstances? Or that no matter how much you wrestled with it the finished product was the closest you could come to what you wanted?

  9. I passed on your comments on A Grave Talent to my father, who is also a fan. He asked that I pass on the message that it is quite good, and if you don’t believe that, he’s going to have to give you a talking to. Or something like that. 🙂

  10. Mary Achor says:

    I remember not being so fond of the Martinelli novels when I first read them, preferring to read and re-read and re-re-read my dear Russell and Holmes. But I just re-read Grave Talent last night, and was impressed with how much I liked it. Depth of characters, lushness of backgrounds, etc. AND, I do not blame you for not liking to read your stuff after it is in print. Whenever I do mine, I go into a rage at the errors. It’s an occupational hazard, apparently.

  11. Laurie:
    How to start, how to start? I was completely astounded by “Grave Talent” and am saddened to hear that you didn’t much like it once it was done and in the hands of the editors. I do understand how characters and situations can change depending on the day, the hour, or just because. Parents don’t always love or like their children, all the time.
    I read and re-read the books and authors that I feel a connection to. One time to see how the story comes out, the next time to learn more about a particular character, and so forth. I have never been disappointed, no matter how many times I have read the book, with any of your mysteries. The characters do not diminish with time or familiarity. Like well-loved friends, they never cease to amaze, entertain, perplex and delight.

  12. Laurie,

    First off, you’ve added a new must read on my daily list – and I am so thankful for the opportunity to hear your voice in a new forum.

    I was reminded of Jasper Fforde when you mentioned re-reading your earlier Martinelli works to make sure you kept the details straight – on his website, he publishes new “versions” of his novels so you can upgrade your earlier version – as in:
    v/ Turn to page 335 and where it says: “Thursday, drive it towards their red ball, and Spike will intercept.” change to read: “Thursday, drive it towards their red ball, and Snake will intercept.” Copyediting glitch and a wobbly memory of Granny Next. If you recall Thursday is transported into one of Gran’s memories in TN3 which was during a SuperHoop. Since we now know that Gran is Thursday, she is recalling something that will happen to Thursday in the future – and here it is. Trouble is, I had written TN3 already so was locked into Jambe’s speech (heard later on page 344) so couldn’t change anything – except Spike who I thought, when writing TN3, would be on the field. I didn’t manage that so added a player named ‘Snake’. If asked, I could always reply that Gran’s memory wasn’t as good as it once was!

    A long quote, but that’s where my mind took me.

    Thanks for entering the blogging world!

  13. Hello from another fan who loves blogs and thinks you’ll enjoy having this one! Though it can become a timesink.

    I beg to differ with you on the topic of “voice” (though I wish I didn’t have to.) I am constantly being reassured that voice is a Good Thing, yet when I get rejections, they often refer to my style and voice (indirectly or directly.) Or the rejections are just wrongheaded, if they’re really based on what is mentioned.

    I wish I’d had you as a judge, *ever*, for *anything*. My work has voice out the wazoo. That is often what gets it rejected. I have recently received rejections accompanied by such explanatory comments as, “Your characters’ weirdo names pulled me out of the story” (said names were Zoe and Francesca, not as weird as Ponyboy and Luscious, surely); “I don’t do horse stories and the names were too different for me to even care” (I searched the manuscript for mention of a horse, and finally decided that the reaction came because the book is set in Dallas, Texas); and “I would recommend doing a spelling and grammar check. I opened your submission in Word 2003 and there were a lot of grammantical [sic] errors and fragmented [sic] sentences. Also, errors like this could be a downfall: ‘It felt as though she’d been stabbed a hundred times in the chest with one of those plastic knives that just bruises (Should be just bruise) you without the final mercy of actually ending you.” (Of course it shouldn’t be just “bruise.” Yes, the sentence is colloquial. No, it’s not ungrammatical. And anyone who runs fiction through Word’s so-called “grammar checker” is not in touch with reality, IMHO.)

    Though I really am worried about them thar “grammaNtical” errors and “fragmentED” sentences. They’re undoubtedly even worse than grammatical errors and sentence fragments. No doubt they’ll be someone’s downfall.

    Again, welcome to the blog-o-sphere (as Ron Reagan, MSNBC correspondent, calls it)!
    –Shalanna Collins
    (livejournal.com/users/shalanna)

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