Friday, November 07, 2008

Gina Robinson on Voice and Style

Gina Robinson
Spy Candy
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub date: November 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Author Web site:

Are You Who You Think You Are?

It took me a long time to sell and I’m not shy about admitting it. I hope my story encourages other writers to keep going. Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what I think finally propelled me over that big barbed-wire fence into the land of the published. Everyone wants to know my secret. They weren’t really satisfied with vague answers like perseverance, luck, and timing finally all aligning. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer—I found out who I am as a writer. I found my voice. And who I am as a writer is not who I thought I was at all.

Pretty much since I first gained consciousness of myself as a separate entity from my mother, I’ve thought I was a serious-minded woman. So when I first began writing, I was oh so serious. About four years into my struggle to get published, I wrote what I called a silly little proposal. I was embarrassed to show it to my critique group. But they loved it. It made them laugh.

I’m not a comedienne. I can’t tell a joke to save my life. That must have been a fluke. So I went back to the straight stuff, no humor allowed. Years later, I wrote another light, humorous book. And guess what? It’s my debut novel, Spy Candy. It still amazes me that people find it funny. Because I’m not funny. At least, I don’t think of myself that way.

Sure, I make up silly dances. But that’s just to cover the fact I can’t dance. And I sing silly songs to my kids, but that’s mostly because I can never remember any real lyrics. And I make up words and crazy names for things. And I write in a humorous tone. You see where I’m going here?

So write down who you think you are. Then listen to what people say about your writing. Write down what they tell you they connect with. Does it match what you think your strengths are? When writing, try to play to those strengths you didn’t realize you had. Your writing will be stronger, I guarantee you.

And now, will the writer out there who was the class clown and could be a stand-up comic, but whose strength is writing serious give me a call? We need to talk. I think our writing personalities were switched at birth.


linda hall said...

lol, thanks so much for writing today. I always love to see the path another writer takes to NY. Might actually have to check this book out. :D

Joyce said...

Your story sounds similar to mine--although I'm not published yet. My first two unsold books are serious straightforward crime novels. My WIP is the complete opposite. It's a funny mystery. I don't see myself a funny, either.

My critique partners have told me that I've found my voice. One of them said that the voice in the first two books is who I want to be, but the WIP is who I am.

Another friend who is a published author only read the first chapter and he keeps pitching the book to everyone he meets. Will this be the one that sells? I sure hope so!

Susan said...

Great story, great lesson: thank you for sharing this insight! Congratulations too on the debut novel and finding that voice.

JES said...

Nice. Very nice. Like you (I think), it took a long time to stop thinking of myself as A Writer and understand I was really just a lowercase person-who-writes. Furthermore, when I finally relaxed (and I still have to catch myself sometimes), I finally understood why people write in the first place.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people don't realize that Alice Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt were cousins and rivals. Alice was witty and funny and charming in person, but Eleanor was the opposite. Then a newspaper gave Eleanor her own column. It turned out to be, in writing, just as funny and witty and charming as Alice was in person. When another newspaper gave a column to charismatic Aice, and it tanked.

More often than not it's the class introvert who has the potential to write with a funny, witty voice. And the class clown is usually better in person then on paper.

Great post, because this sort of thing is rarely mentioned.

anita said...

Thanks so much for the encouraging post. It's always uplifting to hear of another writer whose hard work and tenacity finally led to publishing.

Congrats on your debut! I read the excerpt on your website and your voice ROCKS. Sexy and funny... :-) Wishing good luck and great sales for you!

Gina Robinson said...

Morning, Everyone and thanks for stopping by!

Linda--I hope you enjoy the book!

Joyce--Best of luck with your funny mystery! I love those.

Susan--Thanks and best of luck with your own writing.

Jes--Isn't it great when you find your voice? It's kind of like coming home to a warm, comfy fire in the fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate. It just feels good.

Anon--Great story about Eleanor Roosevelt and her cousin Alice! Thanks for sharing!

AC said...

Ok, wow. Thanks, that was definitely some food for thought. I'm not a very spunky person, but I think my MC is trying to assert her spunkiness--and I haven't been letting her!

Congratulations on your book coming out, and I love the title, BTW.

Crimogenic said...

Thanks for sharing. I think finding one's voice is a big struggle for some of us writers. Your success definitely proves that if one digs deep, he/she can tap into their potential.

Keri Ford said...

I know what you mean. I write southern mystery fiction. It's pretty deep south, but have always loved reading regencies. I finally braved it one day and started a regency. It's finished and I'm shopping it now. I don't know what will come of it, but it can be fun to try other things and see how well you can handle it.

I guess I need to find that refined English person writing off-beat, comfy southern fiction and get my personality back!

Ann Victor said...

Thank for an excellent post! After taking this year off from trying to get published and instead concentrating on trying to find my 'voice', your post has confirmed that I'm finally on the right track.

I was relieved to find out that having a writing alter ego who is the complete opposite of my normal every day self is perfectly normal!

The very best of luck with your debut novel!

Anita said...

Loooved this post! Thanks for sharing!

Jessica said...

OH my! What an awesome post! I don't think I'm funny either but sometimes I make people laugh.
Very interesting story. I like your title too :-)

Amy Nathan said...

I think sometimes people mistake serious writer with serious writing.


Carrie said...

Wow. I can so connect with this, because I had the same experience. I thought I was a serious writer of women's fiction. And then (four books later), I discovered my voice and emerged as a mystery writer. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

I love to hear how other authors finally moved from unpubbed to pubbed. This is a VERY valuable post and confirms some things I've been struggling with.

Julie Weathers said...

I long ago accepted my writing has definite comedic undertones. Even the suspense novel had a lot of humorous situations. I just stopped trying to change the writing to fit some formula and left it alone. So, this is really good advice and thank you for sharing it.

Congratulations on the book!


Kate Douglas said...

Gina, I love your post! It affirms what's going on in my writing. In real life I can always get a laugh, but my books are angsty and emotional--when I try and "write funny," I tend to miss it by a mile. It's so good to see the split personality confirmed by one who's "been there, done that!"

Gerri Russell said...

Gina, what an inspirational story. Congratulations to you on your debut release. May this just be the first of many more to come!

Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Gina! Loved your story about voice--maybe because it's so much like mine ;-). Congratulations on all your successes!

Gina Robinson said...

I'm glad so many of you are finding my post helpful. Finding one's authentic voice isn't always easy. If I've encouraged others to go with what feels natural for them, even if it doesn't match their outward personality, well, that makes my day.

Natalie said...

Thanks for your words. I'm a pretty conservative person on the outside, and some of my readers have been a little surprised at how intense and emotional my writing ends up being.

Sometimes I wish that I could write funny, but it's a disaster when I do. I find when I stick in my "zone," it comes out more authentic.

Shelli Stevens said...

Hi Gina! I'm so excited for you and this book! And I think you have a bit of humor when I hear you talk, so it transfers well into the book. Congrats again!

Randy said...

I have a pet theory and it goes like this: To at least some extent, many of us live behind a fa├žade. For me, it’s a cheerful, bright one, and I rarely allow myself to go “to the dark side.” I read funny books, and I try to write funny. So, I often wonder if my writing wouldn’t benefit from trying the flipside—writing dramatic and serious—to tap into a deeper part of myself that I’m trying to otherwise hide from. Likewise, writers who tend toward the dramatic and serious, should perhaps try out their funny side—maybe in going in the opposite direction of our nature, for whatever reason, we find a deeper well.

Heather Hiestand said...

Gina: I'm so glad you gave your "funny" another shot. And I still want to read the Harvey Girls story.

Gina Robinson said...

Hi Shelli!

Heather--Maybe someday. I'd have to finish it first.

Randy--You make a good point. If nothing else, trying another writing style will stretch you as a writer. If you find the new style doesn't suit you, you can always go back to your humor, and it may even be stronger because of it.

It's really all about experimenting to find out who you really are as a writer.

K.S. Clay said...

I think that's interesting and in some ways I can relate. Back in junior high I wrote some fantasy and horror short stories. Then I moved on to more mainstream stuff, thinking that's what I was really made for. My first three novels were all along these lines, two of them young adult and one for adults.

About two years ago, I sat down and wrote a short story that included a genie. I liked it. Then my stuff grew darker. I started a novel that definitely leaned in the direction of supernatural horror. I've continued in that direction and just a few months ago sold my first short story which was a horror/weird fiction piece. It's funny because I told my little brother that I was writing horror and his first reaction was "Not you! You can't write horror." But it turns out I'm having a blast writing this stuff and I'm getting some of the best reader reactions I've ever received, and it's writing in this genre that I managed to sell my first story. So I must be doing something right.

vera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vera said...

Dear Gina,
I'm the girl you switched personalities with. I make people laugh just by saying exactly what is going through my mind--no edits. The teacher in Sunday School can count on me to say something outrageous during class. And yes, it works every time, even in church. I've a long history of this--elementary, Jr. high, college. I do, I admit, have answers on the tip of my tongue that have made people spit up their beverage through their nose. (Yeah, yuck.) I don't know where they come from. Honest! But, dang it! I can't write anything funny. It falls flat on my character's face--and on mine. When a friend read my first MS, she called me--and I swear I could see her raised eyebrows--and said, "I had no idea you could write such a dark, serious story. Are you sure you wrote this? I couldn't put it down, but I expected something light from you... something funny."
People die when I write. People that could never be together meet and fall in love--only to be frustrated. Inanimate objects make my characters see themselves for what they really are, and it's never pretty. Mothers are mean; men are mean spirited. Regardless, my dark stories have worked for those who have read them.
Tell you what. When I get published, we'll talk about switching--back. Maybe.

spyscribbler said...

I adore the title! Wow! I'm going to find this and read it, definitely. :-) Good luck!

I am perplexed by my voice often. When I go back and re-read my old stuff, I always feel like someone else wrote it. Knowing thyself is a difficult thing.

Vivian said...

Gina what great advice. I think I should heed it and give myself a thorough once over.

Congrats on being published!