Critters -- or creatures -- are marvelous things, enriching our lives in so many ways just by being around and being themselves. Cute fluffy kittens, gangling turkey poults, a bandit raccoon, a lumbering box turtle -- they can all be a source of delight.
But there's something about those moments of communication between different species that tends to make us go 'Awww...' and smile and maybe feel a little better about life in general.
I know I feel that way when I see Eddie the cat snuggling with one of our dogs ... and this picture from an unknown source of a young deer that comes every morning to visit his friend the cat sure elicited a big Awww . . .
But as far as I'm concerned, this video below -- another of those internet wanderers -- went right off the Awww scale.Awesome!
An aspiring author recently asked me about the thing writers call Voice. "What is it?" she asked. "You mentioned 'finding your voice and being solidly in it.' How did you 'find' yours? Is it consistent in your novels? "
Ahh. That's what I get for tossing about terms, the meaning of which I have only a hazy idea. My initial reaction was to say that I had no more idea where my 'voice' comes from than I can account for those tiny circles like planets round the sun in the picture above.
That's not entirely true. I suspect the circles are reflections -- and I know what I mean by voice. But I went looking round the web for a more official definition.
Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or
Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.
Okay. Keeping those definitions in mind, where does voice come from?
The first sort of voice -- the style of the author -- I believe comes from the experiences of the author. In my case, that experience includes years of reading all sorts of things from Jane Austen and Thackery to Mark Twain and Wodehouse -- with a hefty dose of Douglas Adams, Lee Smith, Rumer Goden and, as they say, many, many more.
My style includes a slight tendency to be pedantic (yes, I was an English major and a teacher and I love big words,) as well as a touch of playfulness. There's also a Southern childhood, my particular generation (will I ever get beyond saying that things are 'neat' or 'cool'?) and my thirty-plus years absorbing the culture of rural Appalachia. All of these things contribute to a multi-layered effect. (I suspect that this blog is a fair example of my natural voice. )
The second definition -- the voice of a first person character -- is what I was talking about when I spoke of 'finding my voice.' What I really meant was finding Elizabeth's voice.
My protagonist Elizabeth not only lives on a farm that is very much like where I live, she also shares my Southern past and the English major thing. She's ten years younger than I and she doesn't (or shouldn't) say 'neat' and 'cool.' In fact, she shares so much of my world view that for the first four books, I chose to write her in third person point of view -- not wanting to have her quite so identified with me.
But by the time I got to the fifth Elizabeth book, my protagonist had become a fully-realized character -- a bit like me still, but with a whole set of experiences that were uniquely her own. So at last I began to write Elizabeth in first person. And her voice as a character is substantially different from my own -- at least, I think it is.
When I write my novels, the overall style is pretty much similar to my natural voice butI try to suppress or let free various elements as seems appropriate. The pedantic voice had a field day with the character of The Professor in In a Dark Season. The Appalachian culture is, of course, the basis for many of my characters -- Miss Birdie, of course, and Cletus and Bib and quite a few others.
Very often I have an idea for a character and I think to myself -- this person is going to be a lot like ____. Sometimes I fill in the blank with the name of a friend or acquaintance; sometimes it's a character in a book. And as I write this character, I'm always thinking, What would ___ do in this situation? What would they say? How would they say it?
I keep a file on my computer of interesting scraps of conversation or descriptions. And I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting characters
As forthat last question --Is the voice consistent in my novels? -- I think so -- but one day I may surprise myself and write something very different.
This post will be added to the FAQ page over at my Day of Small Things blog.
Dessert for 25 - 30 people. A quart and a half or thereabouts of whipping cream plus the juice and grated rind of a dozen or so lemons, sugar, toasted almonds, and twenty one egg yolks cooked to thicken.
The lemon, egg, sugar mixture gets folded into more whipped cream than is probably legal in some states, then poured into a container lined with plastic wrap and sprinkled with toasted almonds.
I made it Friday afternoon so it would be good and frozen to take to the party Saturday night.
The frozen delights traveled to the party -- an hour away -- in a cooler with ice. When I removed the aluminum foil, a good bit of the delicious stuff had stuck to it.
Never fear! Our hostess (the one who'd requested this particular dessert in the first place) knew what to do!
The lemon semifreddo was served topped with blackberries and on a hot summer evening, it was a Big Hit.
If you're interested, the original recipe (serving 8-10) is HERE. (I tripled it.)
One of our laying hens, after violent disagreements with the rooster, was being picked on by him and, alas, by the other hens to the point that we felt they would kill her. (Chickens can be as clique-ish and brutal as high school girls.)
So we turned her out to see how she'd do, figuring that she could live free for a while at least. Our dogs have ignored her and she's been happily on her own for week now, exploring the garden and beyond. When John goes to feed the other chickens, she runs and waits just outside the coop door for her scratch feed.
She's having a great time pecking around in the garden and the shrubbery. And I like to think that the chickens who were so mean to her are a bit envious.
A few years ago, in one of my monthly newsletters (now morphed into The Goodweather Report blog,) I posted a closeup picture of a rather attractive fuzzy caterpillar, calling particular attention to his cute little pink feet.
As always, I had some email comments on my newsletter and there was a memorable one from my agent who took exception to my calling the caterpillar feet (or, indeed, the caterpillar) adorable.
In fact, my agent's response was so amazing that I copied it to a file where I keep ideas for future use. And when I came to write Under the Skin, I used the response pretty much verbatim. putting it into the mouth of Elizabeth's sister Gloria who -- like my agent -- is no nature girl.
In the following scene, Elizabeth and her sister are at the beginning of a spa and seance weekend -- rather against Elizabeth's wishes.
--- As we walked up the path leading to the inn, I stopped by a high-arching clump of grass to admire a fuzzy yellow caterpillar teetering at the end of a glossy green blade. He had reared up and his tiny pink feet – the front six of them – were questing in search of their next step.
“Glory, come look at this guy and his adorable little feet!” It was worth a try, I thought. I’ll learn to love Dead Sea Salt exfoliation and maybe Gloria can get a little appreciation for Nature.
My sister leaned down to see my find, wrinkling her nose in fastidious disgust. “Adorable? Those creepy little feet? If you killed that thing and stuck it with pins to some sort of board and looked at it under a microscope, you would see that those feet are anything but ‘adorable’ – they are vile little buggy mutant feet that look really gross close up.”
She glanced at her watch. “We’ve got forty minutes before dinner – you can stay and visit with your yucky little friend; I’m going to go have a bath.” ---
The butterfly pictures are for my agent -- she thinks butterflies are gross too. You can imagine how she feels about snakes.
But that's one of the revelations about writing -- if one just pays attention, there's a whole world of interesting material out there!
Our summer visitors -- the hummingbirds -- are busier that ever at the feeders, draining them by early afternoon. I suspect that their first hatchlings are now a-wing, thus the increased demand.
Hummers are noisy, contentious little critters, especially the males who spend at least three-quarters of their energy running others off. It's hard to watch their buzzing, swooping air battles without being reminded of the tie fighters in Star Wars. Were the creators of these highly maneuverable movie space craft inspired by hummingbirds? Tie fighters even make a similar buzzing noise!
When I took these pictures, there were five or six (hard to be sure) hummingbirds fighting for places at the juice bar but I could never manage to capture more that three at once.
I've cherished another theory about humming birds -- wondering if they could have been the inspiration for the multi-winged seraphim described in the Bible and pictured below in this picture by Jan van Eyck. (Stigmatization of St. Francis.)
Alas, a quick visit to Mr. Google told me that hummingbirds are only found in the Americas -- though hummingbird-like fossils from 30 million years ago have been found in the Old World.
So much for my lovely theory.
I did find a nice image of a hummer from the Nazca Desert in Peru...