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Why I Don’t Say Theater

Why I Don’t Say Theater

When writing in any capacity, the writer always has to consider voice. Voice can mean a couple different things to a writer. It can be the writer’s own style of writing, syntax, sentence construction, etc. Voice can also be the personas or characters in the story. As readers, we respond to these two concepts of voice and it can drive our love or hate for the characters, story, or author.

Over the past few months, I focused on reading and editing two my novels. During that process, I realized my writing voice changed from one novel to the other. It made sense, sort of, because of the stories. One story was first person narration from a fifteen year old girl and the other was third person limited narration from a thirty year old man. Those voices would obviously be different. Writers must be able to create distinct voices, several voices in fact, in a novel or piece of writing.

So what about in real life? Can writing influence the author’s causal voice, or speech? Can modifying your accent or dialect impact the author’s writing? A few months ago, I read a piece by C. Davis called “Appalachian code switching” on her blog The Homesick Appalachian and haven’t been able to get it out of mind. I thought about the situations where I code switch in my personal life.

Being a native to West Virginia, southwestern West Virginia, more than a few people have commented on the way I talk. Growing up I never noticed an accent (or dialect) because we all sounded the same. My travels were limited and people rarely moved into the area where I grew up. My first jobs were local dealing with mostly local people so I didn’t hear it there either. Sure, in high school my English teachers tried to impress upon us the need to speak properly, but most of them sounded like everyone else so lesson didn’t have the desired impact. I was probably in college before the stereotypes about “dumb hicks” and “hillbillys” hit me full force.

As an adult venturing farther north (still within WV, mind you), I would get comments about my “southern” accent. Then I headed west to visit a friend in Arizona. It seemed like every single person I spoke to made some sort of comment about my accent. I remember sitting with my friend and a group of his friends talking about movies and each time I said “theater,” a couple of the women giggled. Finally, one of them told me the way I said “theater” was cute. While on some level I knew she and I didn’t sound the same, her saying “theater” actually did sound the same to my ears as when I said it. She explained when I say it, it sounded like “thee-hate-er.” Once she sounded it out in that fashion, I could hear it myself when I said it. So I stopped saying theater. To this day, over fourteen years later, I only say theater when I absolutely have no other word to use in its place. When I say it, the shape of my mouth changes to compress the space inside my mouth, I tilt my chin toward my chest, and my brain focuses on saying it fast so I don’t draw out the “e” or add an “h” to the second syllable.

I grew up in a house where the accent was pretty strong. Somehow, I escaped saying things like “far” for fire, “worsh” for wash, and “tard” for tired. However, the word window does stick out to me. Most of the people I grew up around say “winder” instead of window; when I say window, on the other hand, it comes out “winda.”

In 2000, I worked in a call center and our quality reviews were done by people on the west coast. I remember my manager pulling me aside to go over my reviews and the reviewer wrote: “needs to sound less West Virginian” in the comments on one of my call sheets. My manager handled the situation well; she talked about annunciation and remembering my “g” on words that ended with “-ing.” In all fairness, I was dropping the final “g” and most of the time I still do. Even as I type this, in my head “dropping” was “droppin’,” but at least my fingers know to add that final “g.” From that point on, I attempted to sound “less West Virginian” when I was at work. A few weeks ago, a customer told said he didn’t think I was from WV or “you at least weren’t born there because you didn’t sound like other West Virginians.” Mission accomplished I guess. My day to day work requires me to communicate with people all over the world on phone calls, many of which I lead. It seems to go well for the most part. The odd thing? I find I stutter more on work related calls than I do in my personal, casual conversations. I wholeheartedly believe the stutter comes from my brain trying to tell my mouth not to be a West Virginian.

Realizing how often I code switch for work and during my travels, I couldn’t help think about code switching while I was editing my short stories and novels. As I read my own work, I don’t hear an “Appalachian” writer in my words. I don’t feel that sense of culture in my work. I hear a fraudster. I hear someone trying hard to be something other than what she is. I’ve lost my voice and I think it shows in my writing.

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My First Writing Conference

My First Writing Conference

I attended my first West Virginia Writer’s Conference at Cedar Lake in Ripley, West Virginia this past weekend. Olivia Ferguson, past Guest Author and friend, attended with me. We enjoyed every minute of the three day event. The conference was full of workshops, lectures, discussion panels, readings, contests, collaborations, celebrations, and so much more. While I hate to start this post with criticisms of such an overall wonderful event, I feel I must:

  1. I should have attended this conference several years ago.
  2. I hate I couldn’t go to each and every session offered!

I learned so many new things and made really great connections with other writers. Writing this post is a challenge for me as I don’t know where to start! I’ll say this before I get into the nitty gritty of the post: I’ve included the names of the speakers and linked to some of their work at the end of this post and whether you are a writer or reader, I strongly suggest you click the links and check out these amazing authors. Over the course of the three days, we attended roughly ten sessions and I filled half a notebook with notes and writing exercises.

Olivia and I gravitated toward the workshops geared toward sci-fi/fantasy (or speculative fiction) since those fit our current writing interests. These workshops focused on creating a believable “monster” or villain. Frank Larnerd pointed out how some of the most famous monster in literature and movies are all the more hideous to us because there is some humanistic quality, a familiarity, wrapped in some off-putting body or form. The other workshops included using things like tarot cards to flesh out characters and plot, Southern Gothic styles, Magical realism, and so much more.

Bil Lepp held a workshop on Tall Tales and provided the entertainment at the awards banquet. He is amazingly funny. His ability to take a mundane activity, like going to the dentist, and turn it into an entertaining story blew me away. He talked about giving the reader, or in his case listener, enough information to make them comfortable and allow them to suspend logic. While I may not be an oral storyteller that advice still applies. If I want my readers to believe my main character lives on a newly discovered planet called Arbez, I have to make certain elements of that planet familiar to my reader.

The other workshops we attended focused on non-fiction and/or memoir. While the focus for these sessions was a little different, I still pulled out nuggets of information I could apply to my writing. For example, Fran Simone talked about how scene and summary drive the story in memoir and she gave us a hand out with pages of wonderful examples. She included one of the best post-session reference/reading lists of the entire conference. This information will be helpful for upcoming Memory Monday pieces! Carter Taylor Seaton also presented a session on the importance of good research and using primary and secondary sources. Research is necessary for fiction work as well and her tips will help me “write from a position of knowledge” going forward.

The Social Media Panel was also interesting, but not exactly what I expected. The panel discussed the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumbler, Google+, and Goodreads to promote yourself as an author and your bibliography. They also talked about using paid advertising packages offered by various sites. The big takeaway on paid advertising is to set spending limits to stay within your budget. There was also discussion around only using social media versus having a Web site. The consensus was social media popularity changes. Apparently Facebook is for “old people” now according to one panelist’s clients. So while social media sites rise and fall in popularity, a Web site has permanence. If you are new to building an author platform, the general advice was: be authentic and don’t try to force a social media presence, try the various sites to see what fits you best, you may use different sites for different things, and be nice.

To learn more about WV Writers, Inc visit their WVWriters (there are links to the conference and writing contest information as well).

Olivia and I are already looking forward to next year’s conference! We even have a list of must dos/don’ts for next time:

  • Pre-register as early as possible.
  • Skip most of the meals on the meal plan (breakfast and the banquet dinner are tolerable)
  • Enter the annual writing contest.
  • Bring swimwear (Cedar Lakes has a pool.)
  • Bring a chair/blanket for outdoor sitting and writing

As promised, here is the list of authors and books to check out:

Memory Monday-First Trip

I’ve been getting ready for a work related trip over the past few days. A quick 5 day jaunt across the U.S. from WV to WA. While I love traveling, my travels have been somewhat limited. I’ve been to a handful of US locales and three international spots.

I took my first trip when I was about 6-7 years old. I had family in Bradenton, FL at the time. My mother, grandmother, and I took a bus the 900+ miles. Oddly, I think I have more memories from the bus ride than I do the actual stay in FL which even included a trip to Disney World. Here’s what I remember about that trip:

  • I was traumatized there were no mountains in FL.
  • We crossed a really long bridge and a man on the bus swore he saw dolphins jumping out of the water, but I never saw them.
  • I met a little girl on the bus and I was captivated by her. She had brown eyes, black hair, and brown skin. We were watching the little hills coming up on the highway and wondering how tall they were. She said something about a hill that went all the way to Jupiter and I played along even though I didn’t know what or where Jupiter was. I didn’t want her to think I was dumb.
  • A very hateful old woman was on the bus. At a bus stop, she was trying to get on the wrong bus. The lady wouldn’t listen to the drivers. My grandmother tried to help her and get her back on our bus, but the old lady was mean to my grandmother so we walked away. Our bus pulled out and the old lady was still arguing with the driver for the other bus.
  • There was some commotion over a hitchhiker or a woman that needed a ride? She might have been a prostitute? There was a lot of yelling.
  • I saw a lot of lizards in FL.
  • We went to Disney World. I remember riding It’s a Small World and crying on my second ride on Space Mountain.  I also rode the Dumbo ride, but I don’t actually remember that; I know I did because we have a picture of me on the ride.
  • We went to the beach a lot. The sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico were pretty.
  • I lost my two favorite dolls somewhere during that trip.
  • I fell asleep on the bus on the way home. When I woke up, there were mountains again and I yell out: “Mommy, we’re home! The mountains are back.” I was overjoyed to be off flat ground.

To this day, flat places make me a little nervous.

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