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Finding My Voice–Camy Tang, Gail Martin, and Shelley Bates

Friday, March 2, 2007

Please make welcome Camy Tang, Gail Martin, and Shelley Bates.

Camy Tang grew up in Wahiawa, Hawai’i, a small town right in the center of the island of O’ahu. She’s loved to write ever since Junior High, and after putting it aside for several years, picked up her pen once again in 2003. She is now active in American Christian Fiction Writers and the Faith, Hope and Love chapter of RWA. “My writing has been heavily influenced by my interests: reading and action/adventure movies and shows. I am addicted to the TV show 24, and will watch anything with Jet Li, Chow Yun-Fat and Jackie Chan.” Outside of writing, Camy and her husband and are staff workers with the youth group at Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church. Camy is a contributing editor for Rubyzine, an online Christian magazine for teenage girls. Camy’s first book, Sushi for One? (Zondervan) hits bookstore shelves in September 2007.

Gail Martin’s first inspirational romance was published by HeartSong Presents/Barbour Publishing Inc. Seasons was released in November 1998 with another published in May the following year. In 1999, she sold her first novel to Steeple Hill for Love Inspired, and her career was on a roll. Gail has now sold numerous category romances—both romance and romantic suspense. In 2002, she sold my first single title to Steeple Hill’s Women’s Fiction line, and has recently sold a third to them. Gail is also a columnist for the ezine Spirit-Led Writer and has written over twenty programs and skits for adults and children to be used in churches or Christian schools. Before writing, Gail taught English and public speaking at a local high school and later became a guidance counselor. She retired in 1995 and worked as a part-time English/public speaking instructor at Davenport University. Gail’s latest title, The Christian Romance will be released from Writer’s Digest Books in December 2007.

Whether typing search warrants and making undercover phone calls as an admin for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or editing marketing material for the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley, Shelley Bates has found that everyone has a story. Most people have stopped telling her theirs in case she puts them in her books. Shelley has a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. She sold her master’s thesis to Harlequin after she graduated in 2002, and it subsequently became a double finalist in the 2004 National Readers Choice Awards.
Grounds to Believe, her debut novel from Steeple Hill Books and the first book in her Elect Trilogy, won the 2005 RITA Award for Best Inspirational Novel of the Year from the Romance Writers of America. The second book in the trilogy, Pocketful of Pearls, released in 2005, and the last book, A Sounding Brass, released summer 2006. Her latest release is Over Her Head (May 2007). She is contracted for six books for the Christian teen market over 2007 and 2008. Between books, Shelley enjoys playing the piano and Celtic harp, making historical costumes, and spoiling her chickens rotten.

WPWT: How did you find your unique writing voice? Did you struggle to find it or did it come easily to you?
CT: Both, actually. When I first started writing, my voice was very muted because I didn’t understand what a writer’s voice was. Then I started to realize that each writer needs to let her natural “voice” come out in order to distinguish herself from every other writer out there. If you pick up an Amy Tan book, you can tell the writer’s voice is very different from Helen Fielding’s (Bridget Jones). You’d never mistake one for the other. I wanted my voice to be distinctive like that. Once I figured that out, I let go of all inhibitions and wrote exactly how I wanted to write, regardless of rules, etc. I fixed things up in revisions, but my voice was there on the page, uninhibited and uncensored. Now, I make sure I always write with my voice, whether in fiction, or articles, or my blog (practice makes perfect, after all). I firmly believe it’s a very important part of being a good writer–to have a unique voice that will appeal to an editor, and your readers.

GM: When I first began to write, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a writer’s voice. I just wrote the way the words fell on the paper, the way they made sense to me. Since then I’ve learned that a writers voice is not something that can be taught. It’s something that happens in time as writers find their own way to express a story, using a writing style and tone that fits into their own personality and sense of story, and that works well with the characters they have created. This might sound like mumbo-jumbo, but that’s what voice is to me.

SB: I wrote a lot of pages … a couple of thousand of them … before I sold my first book. There comes a point at which a writer stops being derivative of all the other authors she’s read, and is so comfortable with craft and structure that the words going onto the page are her own. For me, I stopped hearing the voices of my favorite authors and just put myself on the page. Which is a bit of a risk, but one you must take.

WPWT: How would you describe your unique writing voice? What is it that you do to make sure your writing “sounds like” you?
CT: My voice is a bit breezy, rather irreverent, and I try to always keep it honest and open. In the course of writing all my manuscripts that DIDN’T sell, I figured out what my voice “sounds” like. It really was a matter of just trial and error, and lots of practice. Writing with my voice is a very conscious effort. It doesn’t just come out whenever I write. I have to make sure I keep it in mind when I’m writing, or else it’ll be muted. I think a lot of writers assume it just “flows” out, but that’s not the case with me. I have to deliberately write in my voice. It’s something I work to do for every chapter I write. It’s not difficult or a struggle, but it’s definitely something I have to constantly keep in my mind.

GM: I only know my writing voice as it is defined by readers. My voice is so much a part of me that I can’t separate it from myself to see it in my work. Readers say my writing flows, it captures the essence of the characters and the emotion is grabbing. So I see my voice as an emotional flow of words that shows the story of believable characters and makes them come to life. It has a rhythm and beat that makes it my own. I don’t work at my writing voice. It is natural, but it stems from aspects about me. I am a poet. When I write, my ear listens for the rhythm of a line, the sounds of the vowels and consonants as they play against each other on the paper. I change words to make the line more alliterative, I add words to bring out the onomatopoetic sounds of the language, and I change line shaping so that it grabs the rhythm or music of the words that I feel should be there to fit the narration. My voice in dialogue is hopefully the character’s voice. I try to use vocabulary that’s true to the character. I like white space, so I write short paragraphs and dialogue that’s not always complete sentences, but this is just writing dialogue that sounds real.

SB: This is as difficult as hearing yourself on your answering machine. I always go, “Is that really me?” because what you hear in your head isn’t the same. Voice is a little like that. When you listen to Jenny Crusie or Barbara Samuel give a talk, they speak with the same voice that’s on their pages, only on the page it’s distilled into this wonderful liqueur with its own unique flavor. Barbara has a really useful worksheet on how to discover your voice at We may as well learn from the masters!
WPWT: Shelley, how do you remain true to your writing voice when you write in different genres? Was it hard to transition from Women’s Fiction to YA?
SB: It wasn’t hard to transition, but I think the voices are a little different because the audience expectations are different. At the same time, I need to stay uniquely myself. My women’s fiction is more leisurely and I take more time to delve into the characters. In the YA, by virtue of the reading audience, the pace is fast and I develop characters through dialogue and experience rather than through internal monologue. But an author’s way of thinking and perceiving the world still comes through, no matter what genre she’s writing in. You can recognize the values of Suzanne Brockmann, for instance, whether she writes SEAL adventures or Regency spies (not that she’s ever written a Regency spy, but I bet she’d be really good at it).

WPWT: What advice would you give to beginning/intermediate writers to help them find and develop their unique writing voice?
One really good book is Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. Not all the exercises resonated with me, but the majority of them are great for helping a writer to discover their writing voice. It’ll also help a writer develop their voice and bring it out with much less writing than I did to develop my voice (I mean, it took me 3 or 4 entire manuscripts!), because the exercises are so targeted. And like I said before, practice makes perfect. Strive to develop your voice with everything you write.

GM: I would recommend two things. First the writer should write. They can work on fiction, but they can also write thoughts—express emotion about things going on in their life–almost like a journal, write about their dreams, their perceptions, their worries. Look at a beautiful calendar photograph that is a natural setting. Put a character in the scene. Have the character walk through the meadow or into the barn or loll on the bank of the river. Have a character kick the autumn leaves piled beside the old shed and ponder thoughts. After the writer does this for a period of time, read what each has written. Notice the techniques they use. Listen to the sound of the language, the word choices, the shaping of the lines. This will help the reader to get a feel of their voice–the tone, the mood, the attitude, the sound of the lines and words. Second, listen to what readers say about their work. If the writer is unpublished, ask critique partners what they pick up that makes their work different from someone else’s. A writer should never try to copy another writer’s style. The style must be your own, a part of you that’s so real, you can’t see the style yourself. Then you know it’s yours. Once you know what others say, work to hone that part of your writing. Going overboard doesn’t work. Let your voice be as unique as you are.

SB: Learn your craft (pacing, story structure, character
arc) so well that you don’t have to think about it when you write. Let those things process in the back of your brain so that the words can bubble freely on the front burners. And when you’re describing something, don’t settle for the first cliché that comes to mind. Use something out of your own experience or history. I remember reading a description of a woman’s face where, instead of saying she was “white as a sheet,” the author said “her eyes looked like two holes burned in a blanket.” Now, that not only gives a great description and develops that character, it’s a very earthy and concrete image that you could see coming from someone’s experience or family roots. That’s what helps to build your voice

  1. Camy Tang permalink
    Friday, March 2, 2007 1:19 am

    Thanks for the interview, Kaye! It was a lot of fun!


  2. heidi ruby miller permalink
    Friday, March 2, 2007 7:16 am

    I completely relate to Shelley’s comment about writing a few thousand pages before finding your own voice. It seems that only through practice does the voice become organic for me, and with everything it evolves with my schema.

    Great series, Kaye!


  3. Erica Vetsch permalink
    Friday, March 2, 2007 10:58 am

    Thank you to the authors in this series who are so generous and willing to share their expertise. I’m really enjoying the answers.


  4. Patricia W. permalink
    Friday, March 2, 2007 11:10 am

    Enlightening series. Enjoyed these interviews.

    When I thinking about voice, it’s about how I put words together to say the same thing that someone else would say using different words and/or structure. It’s who I am on paper.

    I wonder how authors handle voice during the revision process. I had an experience where specific phrases, which I considered part of my voice and endemic to the particular character based on their ethnicity, were completely stricken by an editor. Fortunately, the editor was willing to hear this, and keep the phrases, with only a little wordsmithing.


  5. Cee Cee permalink
    Friday, March 2, 2007 3:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing with us. I’ve learned a lot!


  6. christa permalink
    Saturday, March 3, 2007 6:33 pm

    Great information. Thanks for letting us “hear” all these authors’ voices.


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