Losing my Literary Voice (for a better one)

I'm having a literary crisis. A turning point in my life.

Author's always warned me about this—in quotations after they were dead, of course.

“A formal education will ruin your literary voice."


That was always the defense I had when people asked why I hadn't gone to college. Since it's expected: you grow up, you graduate High School knowing exactly what you wanted to do with your life, you were naturally skilled at some thing. Your parents paid your way or you got loans. You went to school, you got a degree, you got a good job, you got married and you had kids.

Except I didn't do any of that. The truth was: I was confused. I had tried to to go college before, but when I got to the point where my FAFSA said my “estimated family contribution” was anything more than 0 I gave up. I wasn't dependent upon my parents for my college money and I would never be. No one told me that the EFC wasn't something that should stop me dead in your tracks.

So it just became easier to say, “I don't need a college degree to be a writer. I have imagination! I don't need a fifty thousand dollars in debt to cripple my life. It's a myth that you need a college education to succeed.” I'd say something like that, only not as eloquently. More likely I was embarrassed, shifty, haughty—and would change the subject. We were talking about my writing, right?

I took English 101 in the Fall of 2015. I hadn't written an essay since I was in High School nearly 13 years ago. I learned a lot in my English class that I wasn't aware of. I learned that being a college student was going to leave me mentally and emotionally bankrupt and I had to come to terms with that. I started to get an inkling that there was more to “writing” than just trying to make a story about characters that someone enjoyed reading. I knew I wasn't the best writer, that I had plenty to improve upon—but I started to see my opportunities within myself. Things I already did that could be improved.

It wasn't until my Creative Writing class, in the Spring of 2016, that it all changed. I still can't tell you what a comma splice is, but I can show you how to do it wrong. I don't have the FANBOYS acronym deciphered but I know how to find it on the Purdue OWL website. I have read stories that I never imagined I'd read: some terrible, some amazing, some that just made me jealous. A few that made me think, “What the fuck?” (Hemingway is rolling in his grave right now, appalled that I could be offended by his writing.) I discovered Flannery O'Connor and Lori Ostlund, two amazing women who have inspired me this last semester.

O'Connor's stories taught me that it's OK not to pull punches, and that you can write “weird stuff” and still make it amazing. Her stories came across as profound, and odd, and fear-evoking. My English teacher explained that all of O'Connor's stories have a moment where the character is offered a “saving grace” and they can either choose to accept it (and probably survive the story) or deny it, and be revealed to be a truly terrible person. That's not a fitting tribute to her, but it's a start. Thank you, Miss O'Connor.

From Lori Ostlund I learned that my dream can be a reality because she Skyped into our little classroom from somewhere in New Mexico. Her wife and her usually live in California but she's teaching for a semester elsewhere. She's writing, and she's not perfect, and she's funny and flawed and—exactly what I want to be some day. Except, you know, a Fantasy novelist. She was very kind to answer our questions and very encouraging. I was too shy to ask her any of my questions (but I wrote them down in case I get the chance again).

I've learned a little about Modernism, Post-Modernism and what we're transitioning to: something without a name, but definitely not called Post-Post-Modernism. I like the idea of calling it Neo-Post-Modernism, after Neo Crystal Tokyo from Sailor Moon. Let's call it Neo-Post-Modernism and then we'll define what it means to me: my literary genre.

Except: I write Fantasy and Science Fiction which, as far as I can tell, is some kind of bastard literary genre that doesn't get fancy “movements” like contemporary fiction does. It may have also been included in this movement, but all the Fantasy and Sci-Fi books I've read are basically written in the same way: third person (free indirect style) – essentially: you can hop into the head of your protagonist, your antagonist (sometimes), a few main characters, and it's written in third person. There are some excellent first person stories too but I've only read a few. I'm limited in my own personal spectrum, I'm aware of this: which is why this revelation comes as such a shock to my imaginative system.

Someone out there is going to be yelling “Ursela K. Le Guin!” at their computer monitor. I'm sure she's lovely: I haven't read her (gasp!). I have my go-to authors, and until recently, I was happy with my ignorance.

But now I have learned that novels are not just words on a page. The words on the page have always been difficult to write, certainly. But words have power. I mean to say that I'm aware that authors have an ability to persuade, the power to convince, the power to make you think while reading. Dystopian literature? Turns out it's meant to make you see the evils in the world around you, by showing them loudly and often in their own books (this is generalized). I knew there were reasons certain stories resonated with me—because they were meant to. George Orwell's “1984” creeps us out because it warns of a future that could very well be our own. And how does it accomplish this? Through writing the story with specific details that are just close enough to our own world that it makes us believe. That's the simplistic version but what I mean is: until this very moment in my life, I was among the people who considered books “to read for pleasure.” Now, I write and read “with intent.”

My Creative Writing class taught me how to read. To take the story as a whole, to look at sentences that develop character, to cut out all the shit that doesn't.

Now, not all stories have hidden agendas. Not every atheist or anti-theist writer is going to try and convince you through their novels that they believe there is no Higher Power. They might have a world where there are plenty of gods. Too many, even. In fact, many authors will say that they have no agenda, no hidden message, “nothing they were trying to say aside from a damn good story,” as it were. And that's good and fine too. There are books that help you escape by being in a fantastic, well-developed world—and there are books that change your mind and you don't even notice (except when you're crying your eyes out at the end).

I'm here to tell you that I am going to write them at the same time. This Neo-Post-Moderism literary movement focuses on sincerity. It focuses on telling the truth, cutting to the bone, making you hurt. It carries with it all the rules that Modernism and Post-Modernism authors before established (and broke) and established again: third person, first person, beginning, middle, end. And a hundred other things—but it also focuses on that blinding attachment to making you feel. This new style of writing can be defined using the rudimentary internet meme: ALL THE FEELS.

The description is shorter than the title: Neo-Post-Modernism: ALL THE FEELS.

I'm accustomed to reading, and writing, High/Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction which is defined as “genre fiction.” Some of these books may have a moral or a message behind them. Some may not. Some people read books to escape their own reality and aren't interested in the agenda of the author. That's alright too. You can read a story without realizing or acknowledging the author's intent if that's all you're looking to get out of the book. But for those of you who, like me now, read between the lines: I have good news for you.

It's safe to say that with education, my greatest fears have come to the surface: I am losing my Literary Voice. What the warnings don't tell you is this: it's being replaced with a Stronger Voice. I now write with purpose. Writing with the Intent To Chill (to the bone). I'm going to write new stories but I'm going to do it with the knowledge that the way I'm putting sentences together and forming chapters and building characters isn't just by chance or my concept of skill. It's intentional, it's all to work toward the end goal of making you connect to my characters so I can break your heart. So I can make you more empathetic towards other people; so you can understand both sides of the protagonist and the antagonist and maybe look at someone a little different later in life. So we can all get along a little better and not ride this asteroid straight to Hell (does that make Hell a planet now?).

I am more than a woman who writes about Blood Mages and demons, bald-headed heroes and suspicious puddles of rain. I am a woman who writes about Transcenders because I want you to think very closely about the family you have around you and ask yourself: if they died tomorrow, how would I feel? I want you to finish my stories, hold the man or woman you love, and cry. To immediately call your mother. To smile, and understand that someone, somewhere, hurts just like you. I want to bring the power of empathy to my words, to Malisyn's doorstep, and to your world.

This isn't me procrastinating: I've been writing two stories for my Creative Writing class and keeping up with my school work. I've got straight A's across the board right now to show for it. So hang in there and once I have a better idea of how to work these delicate emotions into my work, I'll have something new to show you. I have a long ways to go yet in school, but every time I write, the words come out a little stronger, a little longer. I'm going to make a change for the better: one story at a time.

I'll follow up with a post my English teacher made about Literary Fiction versus Genre Fiction, and I eventually discovered I land right in the middle (an invisible line drawn by the Publishing Industry). A line my teacher insists should not exist, and we do not have to conform to it. So, watch me write Literary-Fantasy (sometimes also considered Speculative Fiction). There is a massive literary world out there that we should all open our eyes to, I've never been so happy to read and write.