Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Favorite Compliment

Even as a learning author, I get a lot of compliments on my writing. Generally from family and friends - so nothing that's going to make me an overnight sensation - but appreciated nonetheless. Part of my love affair with writing is couched firmly in the realm of "daddy issues." My father, before he passed away, was a typical man when it came to feelings. Men of his generation generally didn't sit you down and ask what was going on, even if you were teary-eyed. Especially if you were teary-eyed. (They'd be more likely to scream for their wife, amirite fellas?)

Yet, for all of his seeming emotional stonewalling, my father was a deeply caring man. I learned this not through the sometimes awkward coming of age tales, or the shoulder pats and head-rubs (of which there were enough, if not "many.") No, what my father did, when there was something particularly emotional to share, was write me notes.

Typically, I think he did these in the wee hours of the morning, when everyone else was still asleep and he was consuming his traditional bowl of cereal. (Cereal, every morning, for years.) Neither my father nor I are very good "morning people." Our mannerisms are best compared to a bear whose winter slumber has just been cut short by an unwary traveler. We respond to any and all overtures in unintelligible growls, and our visage was plainly taken from the Will Maw Your Face aisle of the Expression Store.

Morning was like a sanctuary for my father, I believe. There was a short span of my life where I also had a job that required early waking and lived at home. In those days, we both snagged food (cereal for him, a pop tart and glass of OJ for me), and sat across from each other at the table. There were few - if any - words. We prepared ourselves mentally for the day to come, and that was that.

I suspect now that it was during these AM reflection periods (the ones without me, that is) that he wrote me. He only wrote on special occasions. My birthday. The day I took my driver's test. Before exams or the Big Game. The day I graduated from high school. Or just when he knew I'd been having a particularly rough week.

The paper was yellow, likely from a run-of-the-mill legal pad (though my father was not a lawyer). The writing rarely filled more than half of the page. It was always in ink, most often black, though occasionally blue or red. Never green. Or pink. The note would turn up hidden in my lunch, or taped to the computer monitor (I was obsessive about checking my email even then), or near the pop tarts. A place I would be sure to find the words before school. And with those words, I heard his voice. It was as clear as if he were standing next to me, passing along his support or wisdom, whatever the case required. It was a helluva lot more effective and comfortable, too. For both of us.

As I've studied the craft of writing, Voice is something that keeps popping up. I read another good article about it just a few minutes ago. It seems to be one of the most difficult things to describe or learn, yet one of the most important tools in a writer's toolbox. My favorite compliment from the readers that know me, then, is one I actually get often: "I have to admit, it's a little freaky because I could hear your voice the whole time I was reading." Sometimes I'm not sure if its meant entirely as a compliment. From a relative, it may be more like: "Well the romance scenes were sort of awkward because I kept hearing you.... but good." Which, let me say, is likely the right response. It would probably be weird if it wasn't awkward.

As far as I know, my father never trained or studied writing. Perhaps the clarity of the voice in his notes was because of that, rather than in spite of it. Traditionally trained writers can sometimes get mired in the mechanics of the craft, and forget about the art. In any case, I seem to have inherited the ability, and it is perhaps one of the qualities I'm most protective and proud of in my writing. I may not be the most polished in other areas, but I want you, the reader, to be able to hear my voice in everything I write. My father wrote to his son; I'm writing to readers. (I suspect if/when I eventually have a son of my own, I'll find the former more difficult.)

Voice is very important to me, and the more I learn, the more I believe that importance to be well-founded, but it would be a lie to claim that I'd recognized that from the start. Really, I just wanted to relate to people in the same way my father had related to me. It is one of the reasons I dedicated my first book to him. What you read in my books is pretty much how I tell stories in real life - as many of my friends and relatives can attest - and I plan to keep it that way. I guess not all "daddy issues" are bad.


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