MEMBERS REVIEW: Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

WORK LIKE ANY OTHER
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by Virginia Reeves

Published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Author Virginia Reeves appeared last week at the New Fiction Confab in Austin on April 23, 2016, along with Kaitlyn Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman), Karan Mahajan (The Association of Small Bombs), Karen Olsson (All the Houses), Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night), Samantha Hunt (Mr. Splitfoot), Kirk Lynn (Rules for Werewolves), and Sunil Yapa (The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist).

Set in 1920s Alabama, Reeves’ Work Like Any Other is the new epitome of Southern storytelling. In an elegant yet colloquial voice Virginia Reeves weaves this complex odyssey with shades of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams while holding true to her poignant vision of possibility if not hope. The narrative centers on Roscoe T. Martin, a man of intelligence with a profound passion for bringing the magic of Faraday’s electricity to save the struggling farm his young wife inherits from her father. Many in the community deride his efforts due to their fear of this misunderstood power. Roscoe’s project results in the farm’s prosperity and helps him regain the respect if not the love of Marie, his young wife, who has emotionally withered following a devastating childbirth that gave them a son but left her unable to bear more children.

Though Roscoe detests farming, he shares the property with the extended family of Wilson Grice, who worked for Marie’s father as caretaker of the property. Roscoe’s decision to illegally connect to the power grid results in the accidental death of an overzealous power company employee and alters the course of the two families by sending both patriarchs to prison. Marie not only severs all connection with her incarcerated husband but keeps his young son from having contact with him as well. The narrative follows Roscoe through his nine years in prison, lacking any contact with his previous life, followed by his eventual release and a modicum of redemption.

The narrative shifts from clear and concise through passages of almost hallucinatory memory sequences, yet remains bold, comprehensible and gripping. Both the internal and external complexities of Roscoe’s character are explored with empathetic honesty. Most supporting characters are developed with depth and subtly as well, though rarely to the extent we experience Roscoe. Setting is drawn with a harsh beauty appropriate to the scene, be it the rank odor of the dairy barn or the piercing and ripping flora of the dense thicket.

The superstitions and social mores of 1920s Alabama function as a plot point throughout the intricate interactions of the two families. Work Like Any Other balances plot, character and setting as well as any novel I’ve experienced. This debut by Reeves, with its universal appeal set in the gorgeous dilapidation of Southern noir, is a must-read for any connoisseur of literary story in the American South.

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His recent story collection, Southern Gentlemen, has been receiving positive reviews. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.

 

Instructor Q&A: Karen MacInerney

“When I decided to get serious, I chose mystery because it was a genre I both liked and ‘understood;’ I’d read hundreds of them and felt I’d internalized what went into a mystery.”

-Karen MacInerney

Karen MacInerney is the author of numerous popular mystery novels, including the Agatha Award–nominated Gray Whale Inn Mysteries, the Margie Peterson Mysteries, the Dewberry Farm Mysteries, and the trilogy Tales of an Urban Werewolf, which was nominated for a P.E.A.R.L. award by her readers. When she’s not working on her novels, she teaches writing workshops, chauffeurs children, and dodges housework. You can find her online at www.karenmacinerney.com.

Karen is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries” on Saturday, May 7, 2016, at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Karen MacinerneyScribe: How did you first get into mystery writing?

Karen MacInerney: I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, and I always wanted to write a novel—but, like most people, I had hundreds of false starts that kind of dribbled off into nothing after about 30 pages. When I decided to get serious, I chose mystery because it was a genre I both liked and “understood;” I’d read hundreds of them and felt I’d internalized what went into a mystery. I had a tough time coming up with plots at that point in time, and that’s one thing mystery is really great for.  In every mystery, someone is murdered and someone else has to solve it. The variations are endless, but the stakes are high to start with, which is terrific!

Scribe: What mystery writers/books have most influenced your writing?

KM: In terms of mystery writing, Diane Mott Davidson, Susan Witting Albert, Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew. For humor, I am inspired by Bill Bryson and P.G. Wodehouse, both of whom I love, and of course Janet Evanovich.

Scribe: What is one way the mystery genre has changed in the last 10 years?

KM: First, self-publishing has opened the field up; the gatekeepers are not as influential, which is great, but on the downside, there’s a lot more out there. Second, there’s a lot more cross-genre work than there used to be. People are mixing things up, which is fun; several years ago, paranormal was largely a romance “thing,” and now there’s tons of it in mystery! And third, which is a plus and a minus, the downtime between books is decreasing; people like to read things faster. Some mysteries are also coming in shorter as a result.

Scribe: You mention that this class will discuss how to structure a killer plot and select a victim (or victims). Is this generally the way that you start a new story: by considering the crime first and then how the crime is revealed?

KM: It always goes much more smoothly when I kill someone who has actually done things to make other people want to kill him or her; sadly, I seem to forget this sometime, and when I do, I have to go back and do some fixing. I generally start with character and go from there, although occasionally I come up with a great twist at the beginning and everything else follows from that.  It varies from book to book, but there are some basic boxes that get checked as I start plotting my next murder, and we’ll discuss that in the class. (I’ll also share my secret weapon—the Book Map—which makes the whole process SO much easier.)

Scribe: You have supernatural elements in some of your books like the Urban Werewolf trilogy. How did you start getting into supernatural mystery writing? Will this class discuss supernatural mystery

KM: I’ve always been interested in the supernatural; in fact, I’m working on an epic fantasy right now that incorporates a lot of it. There are lots of ghosts flitting around my more traditional mysteries, too; I love them. The thing about making the supernatural a key element is that you have to have rules for what does and doesn’t work, and you have to follow them. I’m happy to talk supernatural if anyone in the class is interested in writing it!

Thanks, Karen!

Click here to register for Karen’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Shyvonne Betts

“Writing provides healing for the writer and the reader.”

– Shyvonne Betts

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A new member of the Writers’ League of Texas, Shyvonne Betts lives in Austin, Texas.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Shyvonne Betts: I write in any genre that comes to mind. I love fiction and I love creative writing. The majority of my writing can be described as quirky with a lot of understated humor.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

SB: I would like to have a coffee (or maybe tea) with Jude Deveraux. I lived my pre-teen years with my nose stuck in any title of one of her romance novels.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

SB: If I were stranded on an island, I would want to keep a photo book with me. My family keeps me sane, so it would be a necessity to still be able to see them should I be denied the pleasure of their company.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

SB: I see my writing taking me to a place of contentment in all aspects of my life. I am taking my writing to a place that will allow me to make a positive contribution to society. Writing provides healing for the writer and the reader.:)

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

SB: I recently read Killing Secrets by K.L. Doctor and loved every single moment. So much so, that I had to look her up and see what else she had published. Looking forward to reading more of the Thorne series!

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

SB: Nope. I’m a true introvert. If you want anything more out of me, you’ll have to do some serious prying:)

Introducing Our New Program Director: Q&A with Michael Noll

“When we talk about the literary community, it’s tempting to think only in terms of ‘what can the community do for me?’ But this is the wrong way to think.”

-Michael Noll

There’s lots going on here at the Writers’ League as we look ahead to another month of terrific weekend classes (before we take some time off for the summer), gear up for the big Agents & Editors Conference in June and the Summer Writing Retreat in July (hence the time off from weekend classes), and (drum roll, please) prepare to launch our Third Thursday podcast so that our monthly panel discussions can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere.

The classes, the conference, the panel discussions, and more—all are important pieces that contribute to the year-round programming we offer here at the Writers’ League, to members and nonmembers alike, and none of it would be possible without a top notch Program Director at the reins. This month, we officially welcome Michael Noll as the Writers’ League’s new Program Director and we couldn’t be more excited to have him join our staff.  Michael is no stranger to the WLT, having taught classes and participated in event programming for some time now.  He’ll make his public debut as Program Director this Thursday when he moderates our panel discussion on writing and publishing short fiction (7 pm at BookPeople; details here).  If you’re in the Austin area, we hope you’ll come by to say hello in person.  In the meantime, we asked him to answer a few questions for us here and he was kind enough to oblige.

Michael NollScribe: Tell us a bit about Michael Noll, Writer.  When and how was your creative fire lit?

Michael Noll: I always wanted to be a writer—the fire was always lit, I guess, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I began by imitating writers and stories I loved. In 6th grade, all the way back at Robinson Middle School, I won a class contest with a story that basically ripped off a John Bellairs novel. When I got to college, I imitated Hemingway, and in my first attempts as a MFA student, I found myself copying Tim O’Brien and Sherman Alexie. I didn’t publish any of this work, and I’d likely be embarrassed for anyone to see it now–but it did perform an important function in my development as a writer. I couldn’t match any of the writers who inspired me, but I began to get a feel for how their work was put together, and, occasionally, I’d write a scene or paragraph that I liked. If we’re sticking with the fire metaphor, you could say that these inspirations and imitations were the bellows that kept it lit.

Scribe: You wear many hats—”writer,” “teacher,” “blogger extraordinaire,” and now, we’re happy to say “Program Director”—how do you balance them all and, most important, when do you sleep?

MN: First, I want to say that Program Director feels like a position that involves all of the hats you mention. I’m grateful to be combining them in this way for the Writers’ League of Texas. In my own life, I balance them by (and I’m serious about this) working hard not to freak out. It’s a situation most writers will be familiar with. I’ve got a job, a family, and several different writing projects going at once. I tackle each as I’m able and as each demands. Sometimes it means not much writing gets done for a few days or that my kids eat fish sticks for dinner or get to watch an extra show on TV that day—and that’s okay. It’s tempting to create false deadlines and ultimatums for ourselves: if we don’t finish this book by this date, we’re a fraud, or if our kids don’t get the very best, healthiest, most enriching experience every minute of their lives, they’re doomed for failure. So, I try to give myself reasonable goals and manage my expectations in a way that doesn’t feel like throwing in the towel but also doesn’t lead to a freak out (How can I possibly do everything!). As we all know, freak-outs shut everything down. Staying calm is good. I mostly succeed at this.

As for sleep, hmm, I’ll get back to you on that one!

Scribe: Can you tell us a bit about your first introduction to the Writers’ League?

MN: I learned of the Writers’ League through Jodi Egerton. I’ve long admired her as a teacher, and I saw her post on Facebook about a class she was teaching through WLT. I wondered, “Hmm, what is that?” So I wrote to (former Program Director) Jennifer Ziegler, and pretty soon I was teaching a class myself. So, that was my introduction. The thing that most impressed me—and continues to impress—was the level of talent and enthusiasm I encountered in that first class. The members are passionate about developing their craft and supporting each other. The Third Thursday events are packed. It’s an energizing, positive environment, and I’m grateful to be part of it.

Scribe: We’re all about community and the many opportunities we see in Texas and beyond to bring writers together to support each other. What are some of the ways being a part of the larger literary community has impacted you as a writer?

MN: Without the literary community, there would be no Michael Noll, Writer. When I was attending the MFA program at Texas State years ago, I started teaching after-school writing classes through Badgerdog (whose educational programming was, at the time, run by this smart, awesome woman named Stephanie, who I’m now married to!). Through Badgerdog, I met Jill Meyers, who worked with American Short Fiction, which was also run by Badgerdog. Jill published my first story, which led to an editor at another journal requesting work. Jill gave me the opportunity to teach classes to adults. When ASF briefly went defunct  and those adult classes vanished, I took the teaching philosophy I’d developed in them and started a blog, Read to Write Stories, where I post writing exercises based on published fiction and nonfiction. Through my blog Read to Write Stories, I’ve discovered so many writers whose work I admire. I’ve interviewed them about their work and met them when they came to town for readings or at conferences around the country.

When we talk about the literary community, it’s tempting to think only in terms of “what can the community do for me?” But this is the wrong way to think. Writers must give to their community—by teaching or helping with programs and reading series. We ought to participate in communities because we’re excited about the writers involved in them. People pretty quickly suss out if someone is simply trying to climb some imaginary literary ladder. Everyone wants to succeed—that’s a given. Being a writer, however, and being part of a literary community means hoping that others succeed and appreciating their success when it comes.

Scribe: You’re turning your attention to the upcoming Agents & Editors Conference program and the full schedule of panels, presentations, genre meet-ups, and more. What can you tell us about your plans for June 24-26?  What are you most excited about sharing with the attendees?

MN: I grew up on a hog farm in rural Kansas, so my understanding of the publishing industry was limited to the knowledge that books existed. There wasn’t a bookstore for sixty miles. I didn’t personally know a single writer. As a result, I’ve had to learn how publishing works—the process that takes manuscripts on someone’s computer and turns them into commodities for sale in stores and available in libraries. But this has been difficult because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. For a long time, I thought that you simply wrote a book, sent it out, and got published. If you step back far enough, that’s what happens, but it leaves out a lot of the sausage making.

The great thing about the Agents & Editors Conference is that it brings the industry—writers, agents, editors, marketers, booksellers—to Austin. It’s an opportunity to see the industry firsthand and learn how it works. If you have a manuscript, it’s a chance to pitch it to an actual agent—a real, living person rather than the larger-than-life figures we sometimes imagine from our desks and tables. There really isn’t any substitute for sitting in a room with the people who make up the publishing industry. You get a feel for what they want, what they hope for, what they dislike. You begin to learn how you fit into the industry. It’s a necessary step for any writer.

Scribe: Finally, tell us about a book by a Texas author that you read recently that you can recommend to our readers—we love hearing what writers we admire are reading and admiring themselves.

MN: I can’t pick just one, so I’m going to cheat. Benjamin Alire Sáenz has a new Young Adult novel, Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, that is set in El Paso, where Sáenz lives and teaches and has the most charming characters you’ll read this year. (Heads up: Sáenz is speaking at the Agents & Editors Conference Keynote Luncheon. He’s also the author of Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, which won the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Fiction Prize.)

Kelli Jo Ford’s story, “You Will Miss Me When I Burn,” is in the most recent issue of Virginia Quarterly Review and can be read online here. Kelli was a Dobie Paisano fellow a couple of years ago. Her story is set in North Texas, with references to the Red River, Bob Wills, and Dairy Queen.

One of my former students in a writing class in Austin—Alejandro Puyana—has a story forthcoming in Huizache, the literary journal published by CentroVictoria at the University of Houston-Victoria. The journal is dedicated to publishing writing by and about Latinos and regularly puts out great work.

Native Austin-ites should read Scott Blackwood’s novel See How Small, Mary Helen Specht’s novel Migratory Animals, and Amanda Eyre Ward’s novel The Same Sky, all of which capture the city at different moments and show how differently it can be experienced.

Michael Rosenbaum had a story, “Daily Double” in the fall issue of North American Review. Michael grew up in El Paso, and this story is set there, at a horse track.

Antonio-Ruiz Camacho’s story collection, Barefoot Dogs, imagines a very different outcome for the wildfires of 2011.

Thanks, Michael!

Before joining the Writers’ League as Program Director, Michael Noll taught writing at Texas State University. He created and edits Read to Write Stories, a site that offers writing exercises based on published stories, novel excerpts, and essays. His work has been published atAmerican Short Fiction, Chattahoochee Review, Narrative Magazine, Huffington Post, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and The Good Men Project. He was formerly the writer in residence at the Katherine Anne Porter House in Kyle, TX. He’s currently at work on a story collection set in rural Kansas and a novel, Seven Attacks of the Dead.

Join us at our next Third Thursday on April 21st, where Michael will be in conversation with Michael Barrett, Jill Meyers, Chaitali Sen, and Kirk Wilson for a panel on “Keeping it Brief: Writing and Publishing Short Stories.” More details and RSVP on our Facebook event page.

 

Meet the Members: Dede Fox

“Texas has a vibrant writing community. Fellow writers have been the best teachers and my primary support system.”

-Dede Fox

A member of the Writers’ League for two years, Dede Fox lives in The Woodlands, Texas.

2015 family Dede Close

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Dede Fox: I write YA historical and realistic fiction novels, non-fiction articles for Highlights for Children magazine, and poetry.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

DF: Anthony Doerr would be an amazing companion at tea, which is my preferred beverage.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

DF: Are you kidding me? As a school librarian for eighteen years, I couldn’t possibly pick one book. Childhood favorites were The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz Series, and Jane Eyre. In recent years, I particularly like The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See, among many others.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

DF: The Writers League publications have helped me stay in touch with craft lessons, authors, and conferences available in Texas. Texas has a vibrant writing community. Fellow writers have been the best teachers and my primary support system.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

DF: I hope to continue submitting poetry to anthologies (and having them accepted) until I have enough to fill a third book. My YA novel in verse that’s set in Mexico, 1968 is being read by an agent right now and hope to see it published.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

DF: Sarah Bird’s Above the East China Sea is brilliant. Wendy Barker, Anne McCready, Larry D. Thomas, Dave Parsons, Carrie Fountain, Sandi Stromberg, Ada Fuller, and many other Texas poets write beautifully as well.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

DF: Here’s my official bio: Dede Fox is a third generation Texan whose publishing credits include TCU Press’s The Treasure in the Tiny Blue Tin, a middle grade historical novel and Sydney Taylor Honor book; multiple nonfiction articles for Highlights Magazine; and two poetry books–Confessions of a Jewish Texan (Poetica, 2013) and Postcards Home (Ink Brush Press, 2014). Her poetry can also be found in di-verse-city, The Enigmatist, Far Out: Poems from the Sixties, Poetica, Sol, A Summer’s Poems, Swirl, Texas Poetry Calendar, and Untameable City. “Chapultepec Park” won the Christina Sergeyevna Award at the Austin International Poetry Festival, and she has twice been a juried poet at Houston Poetry Fest.

A former public school educator, Dede taught with Houston’s Writers in the Schools program. She serves on the board of the Montgomery County Literary Arts Council and received the 2015 Montie Award for the Literary Arts. In Spring, 2016, she will teach writing to female inmates at a minimum security federal prison camp.

 

March 2016 Third Thursday Wrap-Up

Writing About the Military

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by WLT Intern Kelsey Williams

When Leila Levinson, author of Gated Grief, asked the audience at March’s Third Thursday whether they had a loved one who is a veteran, nearly every person in the room raised their hand. The military has a huge, broad impact on us and our families—but as Brandon Caro, author of Old Silk Road, mentioned, fewer than 1 percent of the population today has actually served in the military, even in the wake of some of America’s longest wars.

For Caro, it’s important for him to share his experiences as a Navy corpsman (combat medic) in the military through writing, first because writing is a personally satisfying pursuit, but also because people want to read these stories. And out of the small percentage of people who have served in the military, even fewer have shared their story. “And it’s a great story,” Caro said, “it seemed like a no brainer [to write about my experiences].”

Jack Woodville London, author of A Novel Approach, similarly has experience serving in the military as a U.S. Army Captain. London’s unique personal experience in the military allows him to write about things such as the problematic elements of the command structure in the military—something most of us don’t think to consider. “It’s what I know best,” London said, when asked how he started writing about the military. “You write what you know, and you go out and learn about what you don’t know.”

Research is one the most important aspects of writing, in general, but especially about the broad experiences of the military. Caro and London have firsthand experience serving in the military as a foundation, but for Levinson and Jonathan Wei, founder of The Telling Project, interviews become the core of their research. As Levinson puts it, “war is the story of all of our families.”  Levinson, the daughter of a WWII veteran, believes listening to veterans speak and tell their story in their own way is essential to the interviewing process.

Wei’s The Telling Project is a theatre piece that tells the stories, verbatim, of veterans. The stories are interwoven to create an emotional, personally charged narrative. The three-act act play structure works to combine the stories into a full arc with a beginning, middle, and an end—from entrance into the military, to basic training, duties stations and deployments, to return and reflections. “You have to let people talk, and let them encounter silence,” Wei says of interviewing. Interviewers, in Wei’s view, bring a lot of misconceptions with them, and it’s best to stay “objectively curious” and respond to the veteran’s story in an open-minded way, realizing the complexity of “trauma” and the military experience.

Writers will always grapple with research, and what shape that research takes can have many more faces than we anticipate. We persevere because we know all stories are important.

Join us at next month’s Third Thursday to see what our collective research tells us about the art of short story writing.

Kelsey Williams is a full-time bookseller, and part-time short story writer. She loves art, literature, and the little smiles people get when they text someone that they love.

 

 

Instructor Q&A: Sara Kocek

“Most readers have an intuitive understanding of what a successful narrative voice feels like. It’s a feeling of being in good hands; a feeling of knowing you can trust the author to keep you entertained; a feeling of someone whispering—or screaming—into your ear.”

-Sara Kocek

Sara Kocek is the author of Promise Me Something (Albert Whitman, 2013) and the founder of Yellow Bird Editors, an Austin-based collective of independent editors and writing coaches. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she taught fiction and poetry to undergraduates and worked as a full-time editorial intern at Random House and Penguin. Prior to pursuing her MFA, Sara graduated with a B.A. in English from Yale University, where she worked as Writing Fellow, tutoring undergraduate and graduate students in academic and creative writing.

Sara is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Who’s Telling Your Story – and How? Narrative Voice and Point of View in Fiction” on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Sara KocekScribe: In a couple of sentences, how would you define “voice”?

Sara Kocek: Voice refers to the words you choose (diction), how you arrange the words (syntax), and the attitude toward the characters and subject matter (tone). Put another way, it’s the soul of your story and the unique way that only you can tell it. I think most readers have an intuitive understanding of what a successful narrative voice feels like. It’s a feeling of being in good hands; a feeling of knowing you can trust the author to keep you entertained; a feeling of someone whispering—or screaming—into your ear. If you find yourself feeling this way about a book, chances are it has a strong narrative voice.

Scribe: How do you decide which point of view to use in a story or novel?

SK: I am a big fan of first-person and close third-person points of view, and I have written stories in both of these narrative modes. Sometimes close third-person POV can feel so personal and intimate that I accidentally find myself writing “I” instead of “she” or “he”. Usually I find that a story idea presents itself to me in either first-person or third-person, and I think it’s best to stick with whatever first popped into my head, rather than overthinking it too much. That said, if you’re having trouble achieving a specific goal with your manuscript—for instance, if you’re having trouble creating a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character—it can sometimes be effective to try switching the narrative mode from third person to first person, or vice-versa.

Scribe: What’s an example of a time when you struggled with narrative voice?

SK: I have a middle grade manuscript that I struggled with for years because I couldn’t land the voice. I wanted to write for a young audience, but I was attached to certain passages that were fundamentally intended for adults, not kids. My friends and family kept praising the voice, telling me they loved its “adult sensibility” (meaning they, as adults, got the jokes). It took me years to figure out that the same passages they were praising were the ones I needed to cut in order to create a consistent middle grade voice.

Scribe: In your book, Promise Me Something, what perspective(s) do you write from? How did you get into this narrative voice?

SK: Promise Me Something is told in the first-person, exclusively from the protagonist’s point of view. This is the easiest way to write a book, since you don’t have to worry about any of the problems that come with head-hopping—inconsistencies, irregular patterns, voices that sound too similar, etc. This wasn’t really a deliberate choice on my part; the story simply came into my head that way, and I ran with it. There were limitations, of course. When I wanted to convey what other main characters were feeling, I had to filter everything through my protagonist’s point of view, asking myself, “How would Reyna see it?” Whether you choose to write in the first-person, third-person, or even omniscient voice, there are limitations with every narrative mode. Your challenge as a writer is to minimize those limitations by picking the mode that will best serve the story you’re trying to tell.

Scribe: What’s an example of a story with multiple narrators that works well and why do you think it works so well?

SK: I have always loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think it works incredibly well because each of the four first-person voices is incredibly unique. You can open up the book at random, read one or two sentences, and know right away whose point of view you’re in. It’s not just that the four narrators’ personalities are very distinct; it’s that their voices—the language they use to give shape to their thoughts, and the way they construct their sentences—are so different. It also helps that the point of view shifts in The Poisonwood Bible have a regular pattern (alternating by chapter). I’ve read too many manuscripts where the point of view shifts back and forth on the same page—sometimes even within the same paragraph—which can be incredibly difficult to follow. Of course there are writers who have managed to pull this off without confusing their readers (More than it Hurts You by Darren Strauss comes to mind), but I think this is harder to achieve, particularly for new writers. For this reason, I generally urge writers to ere on the side of clarity and create obvious delineation (e.g. chapter breaks or scene breaks) every time there is a shift in point of view.

Thanks, Sara!

Click here to register for Sara’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.