The Whiskey Mattimoe Mysteries

humorous whodunnits by Nina Wright . . . starring a Michigan realtor and her felonious Afghan hound

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ya Gotta Have Sass

by Nina Wright

Now and then I tend toward the blunt and cynical.
Example: On a recent occasion when I may have been more...ahem...emotional than usual, my significant other, whom I fondly call Coach, asked why I was being "such a girl." In response, I asked why he was being such an a--hole. He calmly observed that I sound like the character I write.

"Which one?" I demanded.

Whiskey Mattimoe is hardly the girliest of girls, but she does have a mouth on her. Since she runs a real estate agency, however, she can't afford to piss everyone off. My teen protagonist Easter Hutton is more likely to let flip responses fly.

"Pick one," Coach said. "They all say what you want to say."

I started to protest, then reconsidered. Before long we were engaged in a lively discussion. Allow me to summarize:

* Esprit de l’escalier. French for “staircase wit.” In everyday life, that’s the sparkling remark you wish you had thought of when you needed it but were too slow-witted to produce. In writing, it’s the power to give your characters the verbal snap and crackle you lack. Or not. Sometimes we make them mis-speak for humor, humanity, or plot activation. Both Whiskey and Easter frequently open mouth and insert foot.

* Author-Protagonist Identity Fusion. No, this is not a new listing in the DSM-IV, although perhaps it should be. Authors, especially authors of series fiction, grow weary of being asked if they are their protagonists. Sue Grafton has admitted that she conceived Kinsey Milhone as a younger, braver, fitter version of herself. That’s partially true of me and Whiskey: she’s taller, braver, more athletic, and certainly more affluent than I am. But in all fairness, she lacks my brains and sophistication. Faraway friends with whom I used to spend lots of face time insist that reading the series is the next best thing to hanging out with me. I can only imagine that’s because Whiskey has a few of my questionable charms. Frankly, it’s the differences between us that keep me intrigued. My teen protagonist Easter Hutton is nearly the complete opposite of the sunny sixteen-year-old I used to be. That’s what makes her fun to write. I get to relive teen angst as a dark personality in a high-risk, paranormally charged world.

* Author Personality Projection/Adjustment. Again, not a disorder. I contend that we infuse every character we write with pieces of ourselves, often neatly twisted. Although I’m inspired by real-world folks and frequently borrow dialogue or other details, I’m the final filter. Confession: my villain may be more like me, or more like what I fear, than my protagonist.

* Author’s Voice. Finding our own is hard work for most of us. Reshaping it as needed for the various books (and genres) we choose to write may be even tougher. My signature voice, though distinctly different for Whiskey vs. Easter, is breezy, irreverent and direct, not unlike the way I talk. (There. I admitted it.) Yet that’s hardly the way I’ve always written. Back in grad school I believed that my future lay in writing literary novels. Oh, the poetry I churned out. I was the sensitive, articulate type. What happened, besides waking up to the reality of commerce? I dropped all pretense and wrote my essence. But I’d like to believe that I could still find the voice needed to write that literary or gothic novel. Without going back to grad school.

Although I aspire to weightier pieces, I'm mighty proud when I make people laugh. Sass beats class for readability and sheer entertainment! What are your thoughts about Author Voice and where characters come from?

Happy Halloween from this occasionally rude writer....