An Author’s Voice

I’ve been kind of idling in neutral when it comes to writing. I think it’s because I’m second guessing my abilities. Wondering, even, if I have a style or a voice worth reading. I am what I am, and I want to write and tell stories, but… is the way I word things, the phrasing I use, the images I paint, unique enough? Or mainstream enough? Or just … enough?

As I drove into town to work today I tried to look at my small community like an outsider might. We’re a little weird like everyone is a little weird everywhere. Meaning, what seems very normal to us might be quirky or odd to someone else. We park in the middle of the street. Two full rows of parking around the square of our downtown. There’s room. It’s always been that way. Makes perfect sense to us. We have a noon whistle that blows at… you guessed it… noon. Very loud. Reminds us it’s time to take a break. Just always the way it’s been. Takes at least ten minutes on a quick day to get fast food in the line at our two fast food restaurants in town. Nope. Nothing really fast about it, but hey, we don’t have to get out of the car, so that’s progress!

Living in a small town seems like an easy life. It is in some ways. It’s harder in others. It’s easy in that when I want to go to the grocery story, I drive up, park by the front door, and go right in. I don’t have to time my shopping around rush hour or fight construction or wait at lights. I don’t have to park at the end of the lot, or circle the parking lot to find a closer spot. If there are more than two people in a check-out line, the cashier gets right on the intercom and calls for more checkers. Standing in long lines is a very rare thing.

What can make small-town life challenging is the same thing that makes being famous challenging. If a celebrity goes out on the town and has a couple too many drinks, it’s in the tabloids by morning. Same thing in a small town, but instead of the tabloids, it’s the big story at the coffee shop or hair salon. Now, if you get a fine driving, then that’s in the paper, but it’s okay because the paper only comes out once a week. Maybe by then you can put some spin on the gossip so it goes over better with your grandma when she reads it.

Yes. It’s hard to live under the spotlight, so to speak, and yet, the only folks around here who are real celebrities are the kids in high school who win the game, and that’s just fine. Most of us cringe when attention points our direction.

Back to this writing thing. My voice, my style, is certainly formed by my surroundings. I write in my way, the same way we do things in our own way here in our small Nebraska town. It’s normal to me.

When I write a book, I let you see me through my story-telling voice. I draw from cousins and aunts and uncles, neighbors, and silly little sayings and legends of the area, and mispronounced words and turns of phrases. I write like I think… like I talk. I don’t try to polish it. I want to make sure it’s real and… small town… but honest.

I want to show that it’s easy, but hard at the same time to live small. Small town life has as much duality and intrigue as any other life in any other place. It mustn’t be discounted because it’s ordinary. If anything, it’s special because it’s ordinary. That’s what I try to show when I write. Maybe that’s why I think I need to write—because I know I’m willing to be honest with my “voice.”

The voice I use when I write is the only voice I can imagine using when creating stories about people who might be like those I’ve lived around, in towns similar to the one in which I live, carrying out simple lives, just like me and mine. Simple lives, full of relationships and love and frustration and sorrow… the most honest basic feelings at the core of every story ever told.

 

17 thoughts on “An Author’s Voice

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      I like to crawl into my hole and hide quite often! I wonder if I’d like anonymity as much as I think I would? Maybe living in a small town is what keeps me on the straight and narrow. Or, the slightly straight, and a bit wider than narrow.

  1. Parking spots in the middle of the street reminded me of a town near Broken Bow where I lived in my high school years. I think it was Anselmo (maybe Merna, or both). I had never seen parking in the center before that. I was raised in Cozad (age 2-12) before moving to BBow. My dad was a hospital administrator and Mom was a nurse, so everyone in town has stories about how Mom helped deliver their baby or how Dad helped them pay off their hospital bill. Mom and Dad actually moved to Nebraska from NYC after WWII. They didn’t want to raise their kids in the city. Mom had no idea where Nebraska was, but there was a job for Dad, so off they went.

    I was born in North Platte, the first of their “Nebraska kids.” (They had 3 NYC kids already.) Anyway, I am glad I was raised in a small town. When I went to college and met people from Omaha and Lincoln, I realized that my upbringing was much different than theirs. We had to be more resourceful in small towns because we didn’t have all the choices in merchandise and entertainment that our counterparts in cities had.

    One thing that was unfortunate growing up in a small town is if a person did something that “earned them a reputation” it was awfully hard for them to shed that Scarlet Letter (unless they were the doctor’s kid or a rich person.)

    Fun post, Gina! Thanks for sharing. I love your “voice!” Your stories are well-written and fun to read. Keep it up!

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      I think growing up small-town makes it a little easier to understand the real value of things. That lack of merchandise is probably a blessing we didn’t even realize.

  2. Terri says:

    I’ve never lived in a small town, but when I was married we often visited my husband’s hometown, 500 souls, a church, a bar, a mini-grocery store, and a hatchery. People left their doors unlocked and wandered into each other’s homes without knocking.

    I used to run on a dirt road just outside of town. I have always imagined running as a private, introspective time where I can lose myself in my thoughts. In the city, I run a set route that I can do on autopilot slipping by houses and people without noticing them and without being much noticed by them.

    But running in a small town, I would always be surprised to find that my mother-in-law had been able to time dinner to coincide with my return. Whether I took a short run or an overly long one, dinner was perfectly cooked and waiting for me.

    It was a little unnerving when I learned that she had been continuously updated on the progress of my run by neighbors. There I was blissfully musing on the nature of the universe, my thoughts rising from the soft beat of my running shoes and someone was reporting, “she’s rounded the last bend and is heading home. Mash the potatoes.”
    🙂

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      That’s hilarious! Yes. There is no such thing as privacy! Even if you’re behind closed doors, people will fill in the blanks about what you might be doing! I remember an elderly neighbor woman calling me one morning to inquire why I had been up so late the night before. She’d seen our lights were on past midnight. Farm life is fairly secluded, but I don’t kid myself. My life is an open book and I know it.

  3. Thank you for sharing your unique view of the world. I identified with what you said…from small town life to questioning my abilities as a writer. I caught an interview of Dennis Palumbo this weekend. He talked about artistic people needing to get out of their own way in order to create. The idea was explained in this article of his from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hollywood-the-couch/201303/getting-out-your-own-way

    To answer your question: yes, it is enough.

  4. Your voice is unique and gives me a taste of small town life that I love. Every time I read one of your stories, I feel like I’ve lived in a small town for years and know just what everyone is feeling (and that’s the power of your words making that possible…so don’t every stop).

  5. I love your writing voice. It’s genuine and down-to-earth, much like I imagine your community is. It’s nice to read books in the settings you use. Plenty of stories take place in big cities or exotic locations. We need some that reflect the heartland as well. You fill that niche well.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      I love reading classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Pearl, Grapes of Wrath… so many of those stories that came from the depression era were steeped in small-town people and habits. Probably why I love them.

  6. Mari Beck says:

    What a great blog post, Gina! I’m not from a small town but spent time in one researching for my first novel. I LOVED the simplicity, the honesty and the familiarity well as the loyalty people had to one another. I learned so much!

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      That’s really cool that you spent time to do that. Good job! People are people wherever you go, but there is just something different about small town folks.

  7. Yes, living in a small town is like living in a fishbowl. I loved it when I was growing up. Everyone knew everyone else, and I felt very secure and loved. Sometimes, at least when I was an adolescent, the desire for anonymity was strong. Looking back now many decades ago, some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met lived and worked in my small town. Capturing their voices in writing authenticates what it means to live in the midwest and to carry midwest values. I can’t think of a more honest way to write, Gina.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      I think it’s that simple honest language and characters are what I love about a lot of the writers I like to read.

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