Review: Finding Your Voice

My critique group decided to take a break from our usual meeting plan to read a book on the craft of writing and discuss it as a group. One of our members suggested Finding YourVoice: Make Your Writing Unique and Unforgettable by Bria Quinlan and Jeannie Lin. It was a good choice.

First, let me say that this is going to be one of those “sort-of” reviews. I’ll talk a J
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bit about what I did and didn’t like about the book, but I’m also going to focus on what I learned from it about my own writing. My hope is that by giving you the full picture you can decide if the book can help you with your craft. Plus, I’ll be honest, it gives me a chance to talk about my work.

At our critique group meeting last night, there was one comment that was almost universally agreed upon. The first portion of the book on “emerging voice” wasn’t as valuable as the second and third sections on “core voice” and “signature voice.” That’s partially due to the less concrete nature of the content, i.e., it focused more on what voice is not than what voice is. But, it’s also largely due to the fact that everyone in our group, published and unpublished alike, already has a voice, whether we could describe it or not.

We also had some pretty interesting discussions on what is voice vs. what is plot and style. For example, I tend not to set up a lot of interpersonal conflict between my main characters, letting the time period and circumstances do it for me. Another member of our group tends to favor wounded heroes. We decided both of those examples were more style/plot preferences than voice. Not sure Jeannie and Bria would agree, but it’s probably not worth arguing over. (As I said, I’m not a big fan of interpersonal conflict.)

What I loved about the book is that it helped me identify some things that are a distinct part of my voice:

Sentence structure – Since I write historicals, my sentences tend to be longer and more lyrical. They help me set the scene. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can use shorter sentences to increase the tension. It just wouldn’t seem quite right if I used shorter sentences throughout. (In our discussion in sentence structure, the editor in our group lamented a time when everyone was told to “write like Hemingway.”)

The book did a good job of pointing out some flaws I made early on in my writing career. For example, I’ve always lived participle phrases. Don’t know why. I also tend to start paragraphs the same way. Luckily, I had editors point these flaws out to me along the way, but I’m sure if I went back to my earliest writing, I would just cringe.

Word choice – We had a good discussion on how each of us chooses the right word. Some stick on that word until they get it right. I tend to write my first draft with the first word that comes to mind. Then, in subsequent revisions, I will either scale it up or scale it down. I may even change my mind half a dozen times. While I think historical romance readers tend to have a fairly broad vocabulary, I don’t want to choose a word that is so obscure it would lose its effect. Plus, I don’t want to re-look it up later only to find out I used it incorrectly. 

Humor – While I don’t write “funny”, I love to add touches of wry humor in my stories to give them a little sparkle. For example, in Le Chevalier, when the hero first meets the heroine, she is wearing a dress the same shade as the background in the flowered (big, purple peonies) wallpaper as if she is intentionally trying not to be noticed. (she is) Then, the inevitable happens. Someone spills wine on her dress:

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She scowled at the man’s back, but said nothing. He must have sensed her eyes on the back of his neck, however, because at that moment he spun around. His wine glass led the way, and before he noticed her, he knocked it against her shoulder and spilled a burgundy stream down the front of her dress.

Mont Trignon recovered himself just in time to avoid a belly laugh. Now the poor woman matched the wallpaper perfectly.

Interestingly, word choice and humor are two things I hone in on when I ghost write for executives in my day job. While I may not structure my sentences the way they do – especially for the non-native English speakers – I try never to use a word they wouldn’t use. I also pay careful attention to the level and types of humor with which they are comfortable. For example, I think some of my female execs were told they needed to be serious in order to be taken seriously. I don’t even attempt mild humor in the pieces I write for them. Other execs are quite comfortable with humor and are even good with borderline snarky. (Though I admit I don’t do snarky well. Again, it’s the conflict thing.)

All in all, I think it was a well-written book on craft that writers of all levels can appreciate. The authors give plenty of exercises throughout. I marked half a dozen that I will come back to as I work through the revisions in my current manuscript.

Punctuation Drunk

Small rant here if I may. I love to read as much as I love to write, and normally, I subscribe to the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Mostly because “people in glass houses…” and all that.

Anyway, I’m not going to name names, but there is a punctuation trend that drives me nuts. Every. Single. Time.

Yep! That’s the one. Dividing a three-word sentence up using a period between each word. If you ask me, it's worse than peppering your manuscripts with exclamation points! (But not much!)

I get it. It’s for emphasis. It’s how people think. It’s fresh. Well, scratch that last one. It used to be fresh. I think every contemporary writer—and a few historical novelists—I’ve read recently is using it. One author used it almost once a chapter. Made me wonder if her protagonist had a bit of a speech impediment. 

I even saw it used on a store display earlier this week! When the marketers pick up on a trend, you know things can only get worse. Luckily for the marketers, they can change their ad campaign. No one will remember. Unfortunately for authors, this trend will date your writing to that time back in the mid-twenty-teens when authors were a bit punctuation drunk.


New Interview with Inspirational Romance Author MaryLu Tyndall

I love discovering new authors – well, new to me anyway. And, when I do find someone whose work is inspiring and enjoyable, I always want to know more about why they write what they do. I found a gem in MaryLu Tyndall and she graciously granted me an interview. Enjoy!

MaryLu, what got you started writing? How long have you been writing? And, are you doing it full time?

Actually, it was an act of God that got me started writing!  I had always had an
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interest in writing and often dabbled in it throughout my life, but marriage, kids, and a full-time job prevented me from pursuing it as a career. One day, God told me write a novel about a Christian pirate. I kid you not. I knew it was Him speaking to me because the idea was so ludicrous. Anyway, long story short, I did, and that became my first published novel, The Redemption. By the way, getting a first novel published so quickly was also a miracle, especially when only 4% of submitted novels ever get published.  That was 17 novels and 13 years ago! Currently I write part time while I care for my grandkids.

Note from MJ: I just finished The Redemption and I had no idea it was her first novel. We should all have a first novel that is that good. :-)

Some of your novels add a fantasy element to the Christian element. I would suspect some of your hardcore Christian readers might be reluctant to accept that. Have you had any blowback, or has reception been generally good?

Good question. I assume you are talking about Tears of the Sea, my mermaid
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romance. Yes, I did get some negative comments from some of my readers. Some wondered why I would dare write such a thing, others refused to read it. I have no doubt I lost some loyal readers when I released that book.  People are entitled to their opinions, but I believe if they had given it a chance, they would have seen the true meaning of the story. However, for the most part, it was well received.   

Note from MJ: I loved Tears of the Sea. Not too many romance authors even attempt allegory. When they do, the characters can easily come across as trite instead of allegorical. You can read my review here.

What do you read in your spare time?

Everything! I don’t stick to just one genre.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction. I love suspense too. But for the most part, I read historical romance.

Many of your books—maybe all, but I haven’t read them all yet—take place on a ship. How did you learn the terminology?

Yes, exactly. I have read many many books, both fiction and non-fiction, that take place on the sea. I also have some very technical sailing manuals in my library, along with ship diagrams, etc.

Do you read other sea stories, e.g., Aubrey/Maturin, Hornblower, etc., for inspiration?

I love to watch sea-faring movies such as the Hornblower series, Master and Commander, and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Do you have a favorite author either inside your genre or out?
I actually love many of the old-time authors. Two of my favorite are Georgette Heyer and Rafael Sabatini. 

Tell us about your latest work.  I believe it’s coming out soon?

Yes, She Walks inPower releases September 2nd!  I’m very excited about this

book! It’s the first in a medieval trilogy entitled Protectors of the Spear.  The spear in question is the famed Spear of Destiny, the spear that stabbed Jesus on the cross. The trilogy revolves around 3 women who are destined to keep the spear out of the wrong hands, i.e. people who want to use its power to win wars, etc.

In this first book, a lady archer who protects the spear (think female robin hood) falls in love with the knight sent to find it for the king.  It is available for preorder now at a discounted price, and you can read more about it on Amazon.  

Note from MJ: Yep, you guessed it. I have this on preorder. I may be an author, but I make a great fangirl, too. :-)

How would you compare it to your previous works? Does it explore some new boundaries, or would you say readers familiar with your other writings will easily recognize your approach?

It definitely explores new boundaries.  My heroine possesses the spiritual gift of discernment, which gives her the power to see into the spirit realm.  She sees both demons and angels and also the light of God inside someone’s soul. 

I’ve noticed you have a lot of your books available on Kindle Unlimited. Why did you decide to go that route?

Kindle Unlimited is a great way to introduce my work to readers who wouldn’t normally pick up one of my books.  It’s also really nice for those readers who can’t afford to buy a book or who don’t want to take a chance on buying a book they won’t like.  I’ve only recently put several of my titles in Unlimited, and already I’ve had thousands and thousands of page reads. To me, that’s worth its weight in gold because it’s more important to me that people are reading my books and hopefully drawing closer to God through them, than it is for me to make money.

I’ve heard a lot of authors complain about losing royalties through Kindle Unlimited. I’m wondering if they aren’t overly optimistic about how their books would do if they sold them outright at the going prices. Without my prying too much, how do you feel you’ve done financially through Kindle Unlimited vs. if you had not taken this path.

Yes, I’m losing royalties, no doubt. But so far it seems that the money I make on page reads is more than making up for it. Time will tell, however. I do plan on pulling my books out of Unlimited eventually because some of my readers only purchase them from ITunes or Barnes and Noble.

If you'd like to learn more about MaryLu and her work, you can visit her Amazon page here.