How I Found My Literary Voice Part 2
After I graduated from undergrad with my BA in English, I had a plan. I wanted to find a job that paid me enough to live and still left me with free time to write. I got my wish with an electronic publishing company in Northern Virginia. The job was interesting and the people were great. I didn’t make huge amounts of money, but it was enough to pay the bills.
I had been so inspired by Raymund Chandler, I thought I would write mystery novels. Through out my teen years, I read Mary Higgins Clark, Jonathan Kellerman, and the Nancy Drew stories. So after settling into my new adult life complete with my own apartment and new job, in a new city, I started to write my mystery story. It was slow going. I liked the idea, but it just didn’t feel right. After a few months, I put it aside.
I had a dilemma now. This was my best idea. If I wasn’t going to work on it, what would I do? My typical writing schedule was to work on my lunch hour and a couple of hours when I got home. In March 2000, I started a short story on my lunch hour. I was just playing around, trying to think of something to write, when an idea came over me. The story would be about a girl who was scared to grow up, so much so that her fear came to life. It was a strange, weird idea that I found compelling, so I followed the thread.
A couple of weeks later, I had to put the story aside. I was being laid off and job hunting became a priority at lunch time, instead of writing. Plus my apartment turned out to have so many problems that my roommate and I needed to start looking for a new place to live. My strange story would have to wait. I packed it away in a box.
Months later I had a new job and a new place. The apartment was good, but the job was taxing. I had a long commute and had zero energy to write when I got home. I also made the mistake of moving myself and instead of doing it in one or two days, I moved little by little over the course of a month. (Pro tip: Never move yourself. Pay people to do it. Trust me.) I didn’t really relax until the holidays.
I opened my writing box and there, on top of a stack of papers, was my story. Funny thing, I didn’t remember writing it. I read it with fresh eyes and realized: 1)I didn’t write an ending and 2) the story was good. I wrote the ending right there on my bed. Also, I realized I needed to quit my job. Writing was my calling and this demanding job that drained me, added thirty pounds of stress on my body, and left me unhappy had to go.
By the end of January 2001, I had a new job (back to electronic publishing) with a sensible commute and plenty of time to write. I enrolled in a community writing class and work-shopped my story. I had no idea how people would react, but I was damn proud of the story. It was the first thing I wrote out of school that I felt was in my true voice.
The class was good and most people reacted to it just as I hoped. But there was this one woman (I can’t even remember her name.) who hated it. She said to me, “I don’t understand anything that is going on here. Why don’t you just get rid of all this supernatural stuff and write a real story.” I was utterly confused by that and, at twenty-three, had never met people who were so hostile to genre stories. I have since met plenty of others who were just at snotty and I steer clear of them. My stuff is not for them, plain and simple.
Anyway, after this lady said her piece, an older woman named Carol took one look at her and shook her head. She leaned closer to me and said, “Ignore her. You write magical realism. That’s who you are.” I had never heard the term, but you’d better believe I went home and googled it. I took a look at my bookshelf and sure enough next to the Chandlers and the Dashell Hametts were Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and quite a few of those teen horror/fantasy books from Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. (Remember those?) Turns out I had a strong streak of the supernatural in me.
And to even solidify this realization, I found a note written on a realistic story that I had written while at UNM in Advanced Creative Writing. My professor wrote in the margin — This is good, but it is all a bit magical. My true voice had been inching out years earlier and just didn’t see it. After that class, I knew who I was as a writer.
I knew my voice.