Voices from the Heart


It took me some time to come to a workable understanding of what ‘voice’ is in writing.

So when it’s challenged, I get a little panicky. My back arches. My ears flatten. I discover I have hackles. I discover they can rise and point. And I have to circle back over the ground I thought I’d claimed and check all the territorial markers to see if it’s still mine…if I can still work with it and defend it.

‘Voice’ in writing perplexed me for a long time. I’d get the inevitable rejections, but somewhere along the way editors and agents began attaching little notes: ‘Nice voice.’ ‘Interesting voice, I’d like to see more.’ ‘Keep developing your voice.’

It felt as though they were talking about something as tangible and declarative as a fingerprint, but I couldn’t see it, or, more accurately, hear it. Then I was told a writer’s ‘voice’ can change from genre to genre and character to character.

Fingerprints don’t do that. Not without acid and intent, anyway.

So how do you grab this slippery, inaudible thing and wrestle it into submission? It squelches around in your hands and defies examination. I mean, ‘voice’ is ‘voice!’ If it’s so identifiable and individual and recognizable, then why is it so hard to see in the plain light of day?!

Because ‘voice’ is a misleading, kind of crappy word to use for it.

I’m stuck with it because it was adopted and put into use long before I wondered if I had one. Or wanted one. Or had even the vaguest hope of producing something other than the harshest of caws when endeavoring to display one.

But when I realized what everyone was talking about, I also realized it’s not a voice. It’s a heartline. It happens when you’re so immersed in writing that the rest of the world disappears. It happens when the words come from the center of your being without artifice or detour. It’s a direct line from your writer’s heart to the page.


It is as changeable as mood and emotion and the sky. But at its core…unchanging.

So ‘voice’ be damned. Write from the heart.

They’ll hear you.



The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part II


We’ve looked at the silence residing at the base of the rejection pyramid in the publishing world. Now let’s drag ourselves up a step and see what other forms of discouragement are waiting to greet submissions.

I used to think the form rejection was a sad comment in and of itself, but then I discovered its extraordinary, toxic cousin. I call it the Drunk-With-Power rejection. Now, I’ve only received one of these, and only heard of a couple of others that found their way to writer-friends, but, boy-howdy, do they stick out. Here…you’ll see what I mean:

“Thank you for thinking of ***** Publishing. I only accept the very best. Lots of writers send me their work, but they have to be really good for me to consider associating my name with them…”

And then:

“I’m sure there are other agents who’ll want this, but I only work with writers I believe will make it big. Really big.”

Now, serious writers do their homework when contacting agents. I make it a point to visit websites, Google client lists, read bios. Your aim is to find the best fit, the most receptive ear for your voice. Failing that, you hope to find the best possible slush pile that will give your work a soft landing when it skitters its anonymous way onto the heap. You also send submissions out in batches, so the details of your research probably don’t reside in your long-term memory. They’re overwritten by subsequent searches.

But I just had to go back and retrace the path that led to the producer of this particular rejection.

As I tapped away on my humble keyboard, expectations blossomed in my mind. Surely this pundit of the publishing industry would have a client list of luminaries that included those worthy of sharing shelf-space with the likes of Hemingway, Steinbeck…Shakespeare, for God’s sake! What I found staring back at me was someone who looked as though she still shopped in the junior section for her wardrobe using Mommy’s credit card.

Someone who had been working as an agent for a grand total of two months.

Someone who I had selected, because she described herself as eager to build a client list of up-and-coming writers who worked with speculative fiction and the darker side of fantasy.

Someone who, today, is no longer with that publishing company. Or any other as far as I know.

Hmmmmm…I wonder why….

So on my ladder, one step up from silence, is the rejection that kicks you to the curb as it strokes the agent’s ego. Drunk-With-Power.


Next time, the many faces of the form rejection….Ooh, yippee!



Submission: Act & Attitude

You pour blood, sweat, tears, and whatever else your life exudes for months on end, into your manuscript. If it survives, it’ll be your first published novel.

You’ve edited. You’ve polished. You’ve re-re-re-polished. Finally, finally, you’re ready to begin the submission process. (Although the polishing will never stop; you’ll be prodding and poking at it with relentless obsession until either success or defeat pry you away from the keyboard and slam you against the wall.)

Every writer who’s walked the walk of submission knows the tortured steps.

First, the dreaded query letter looms. You must distill your story down to a couple hundred words, turning it into a literary sphincter that grips the reader with strength and persistence, forcing him to cry out for the release of knowing more. You must also hit just the right balance of confidence and supplication. You’re luring, baiting, enticing. And then gripping! Gripping HARD!

Everything must be targeted. Your manuscript must fit a genre, and you better know which one it is. The agent you choose to entreat must be a proponent of said genre, and you better know his background, too.

Many potential agents require a synopsis. Think of it as a query on steroids. Longer. Bigger. But it must retain that sphincter-like quality that sucks the reader in. It must be emotional and immediate, demanding a right to exist.

Many publishers also require you have a website; someplace where they can browse your personality, your ‘voice,’ to greater depth. Or maybe they just want a good laugh while eating a tuna sandwich at their desk, about who’s out there banging on their door.

All of this is well and good for the most part. It puts you through your paces, forcing you to see your work from different angles. Sometimes it leads to a moment of revelation, resulting in a great, big, fat rewrite. Sometimes it just makes you calm down enough to abandon the idea of grabbing agents by the lapels and shaking them because they don’t see what a terrific find you are.

But the part of submission that hits me like a sea-change, is the attitude adjustment.

All this time you’ve been The Creator. The Sole Authority. The one gifted with divine inspiration to tell your story as no other can.

And now, with the click of a key and the flip of a switch…you’re a beggar. A supplicant.

And you realize that submission isn’t only the act of presenting your work. It’s the act of bending your knee and bowing your head and hoping someone will hear the squeak of your voice that was once a roar as it crafted words into marvels of imagination.

This is submission. Expose your belly.

Welcome to Hell.