Should Authors Comment on Politics?

This photo didn’t come out in focus – too dark – but I’m sharing it anyway because the moment of this full supermoon rising through clouds in Santa Fe during a penumbral eclipse was absolutely incredible to see. My wonderful friend, Anne Calhoun, was visiting. We climbed up onto the roof and watched the sun set and the moon rise. Neither of us got great photographs. 

Too much magic, maybe,

But you’re not here to listen to me talk about friendship, moonrises and magic. Or maybe you are. If you know me or follow me on social media, you’ll expect this sort of thing. If you clicked on a link because you found the topic interesting, you’re maybe wondering when I’ll get to the point.

Eventually, my new visitor!

Because this week’s subject is Hot Topics & the Author’s Social Media Voice, it seems the perfect time to point out that the these three things – voice, social media, and an author’s response to hot topics – are inextricable. I unpack this over at the SFF Seven

This Is Voice

10_6_15Santa Fe had a mass ascension of our own this morning, as the fog lifted out of the valley. Just gorgeous.

I had a very interesting experience recently regarding voice that I thought you all might be interested in.

Writers talk a lot about voice. There’s all kinds of debates and classes about it, thoughts and rules. Inevitably every convention – for readers or writers – will have a panel or workshop on the topic. Clearly it’s not an easy concept to define. Or rather, we all kind of know what it IS – just not how to explain it to someone else.

In general, voice is what readers will love about an author’s work, regardless of genre. We recognize it when we settle into a new release by a favorite writer, or into one of our comfort reads from her. We sink into that world and voice with a sense of delight and kinship. It’s kind of like love – we sense it, but can’t force or constrain it.

So, I’ve been watching old Taylor Swift documentaries and concerts. There are REASONS for this. She only came onto my radar with last year’s album 1989. Which I love, love, love. Before that I thought of her as a teeny-bopper Country & Western star and had never paid attention. Also, I’m not much for C&W music. I almost never hear it. David is even more definitive about it than I am. He hates the twang and, as soon as it comes on the radio, he switches stations.

Then Taylor crossed over into pop, produced this tremendous album – that I only listened to because so many of my writer/agent/editor friends loved it – and I fell in love, too. Imagine my surprise, then, when I recognized one of Taylor’s early C&W songs. It was one I’d improbably heard a few times and really enjoyed. It stuck with me, though I had no idea who sang – or wrote – the song. (That older song of hers was Our Song, for those interested.) But the lyrics, the cadence, the sensibility behind it, had all grabbed me – in the exact same way her songs in a different musical genre did years later.

This is voice.

Within the same couple of weeks, something else similar happened. I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog my mad love for Amanda Palmer. I think she’s a brilliant singer and songwriter also. And if you’re out there shaking your head about me liking both Taylor Swift and Amanda Palmer, then you’re not paying attention.

So, one day I wanted to send a friend a snippet of the lyrics to The Ship Song. As you do. She’d quoted Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing and that song was covered by Concrete Blonde on their Still in Hollywood album, back in 1994, along with The Ship Song. They have a similar feel, making them forever connected in my mind and that one of my favorite albums of all time. So I looked up the lyrics to The Ship Song, to be sure to get them right. Guess what? Amanda Palmer wrote that song. I never knew it and didn’t discover Amanda Palmer until she connected with favorite writer Neil Gaiman in 2009. I loved her work before I knew who she was, just like Taylor. And I love Neil Gaiman’s writing – and Neil and Amanda connected first as artists, then as lovers and spouses.

This is voice.

This is what makes us who we are, as human beings. The questions we ask, what we seek to answer, the stories we tell – these all come out of our deepest selves. More, I think we’re attracted on some profound level to those others who are in the same place, asking and answering about the same things. We connect with each other, as readers, as listeners, as writers and musicians.

This is voice.



Finding Your Fiercely Out of Tune Voice

We interrupt the regularly scheduled kitten photos to celebrate the fact that it rained yesterday! Such a blessing on our parched and tinder-dry land. We’re fractionally less flammable now and the birds are going crazy this morning. It’s like everything sprang to life overnight.

Quite a few years ago, an acquaintance of mine who sang and played guitar on the side, said that he just hated Norah Jones. “She sings flat,” he said, and went on about how bizarre it was that someone who sings flat could be successful. I went home and listened to her again. (And I just put her on now.) I love the sound of her voice. It’s distinctive, unique and moving.

I thought of this because Amanda Palmer responded to a tweet yesterday on the topic. A fan tweeted:

@sevocean I think the only person who can make off key sound good is @amandapalmer.

She retweeted and replied:

@amandapalmer patti smith. bob dylan. tom waits. polly styrene

I saw this and suggested Leonard Cohen.

She retweeted me (cuz I’m a speshul snowflake) with the hash tag #fiercelyoutoftune.

This led to a great discussion of all these singers who do sing out of tune. And, among the musicians, about how autotune has changed things, because pitch can be electronically defined now, instead of the performer tuning her instrument to her own ear. Then someone asked and she answered:

@amandapalmer actually, yes. there really is…. RT @TinaH37 is there a secret to singing out of tune perfectly?

@amandapalmer ability to embrace, bend and feel around (or call attention to) roughness in your own voice is a SKILL (see Jeff magnum, Kurt Cobain, et al)

I just love that.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there’s been an ongoing discussion on the RWA PAN loop about the “Rules” of writing. A gal started the thread saying that her critique partner (unpublished, but an aspiring editor and writer) insisted on certain conventions. Things like never using adverbs. Never use the word “suddenly.” Never use filter phrases like “I realized” or “I wondered.” The consensus has arrived at the idea that when people are learning a craft, they cling to rules. They want to do everything exactly right, so they’ll succeed.

However, as evidenced by the #fiercelyoutoftune discussion, artistry is often found in transcending the rules. That’s where you find the unique take, that special touch that sends a shiver down your spine. This is something my acquaintance couldn’t understand about Norah Jones – she is successful because of the way she sings flat, in her own special, sultry way.

This is voice. For both the singer and the writer