Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finding My Writing "Voice"

Finding our "voice" in writing is a process. I struggled for the last two years to figure this out. Would it be an extension of my personality? Or would it be a part of me that would only come out in my fiction? I kept hearing "write what you know" and still struggled. One day an idea popped in my head. I thought about the small newspaper I interned at when I was in college and the people I met that summer. Characters started popping into my head based on people I'd met over the years. I grabbed a notebook and started jotting down ideas. Next thing I knew I had an entire town of characters "talking" to me. I started a blog with posts from my new characters to help me flesh out the characters while I was writing the stories. It turns out finding my "voice" and "writing what I know" meant remembering an experience from over 30 years ago when I was a young college kid on her internship. Who knew?

Below is one I thought I'd share today to give you all a glimpse into New Harvest, Michigan. This is written by Dotty, the owner of the Full Moon Cafe.

I've been cooking for the cafe since I was 15 years old, and helping my daddy out in the kitchen. I learned the basics from him: fried chicken, meatloaf, roast beef and all the diner food folks came to expect from our cafe. I was always trying to convince him to let me try new dishes, but he'd say "Dotty, our customers don't need any new fangled food. They like our menu just the way it is. They count on it." Daddy was nothing if not steadfast and reliable.

One year I talked him into letting me make a special dessert for Valentine's Day. I was 16, and it was called "Orange Kiss Me Cake". I made up a sign for the window, and had baked it at home several times earlier in the month, which is how I had convinced Daddy to let me make it for the cafe. I remember that day clearly for so many reasons. The lunch crowd had bought out the first cake, and I had just put out the second cake. I looked up and saw a young man walk in the cafe. He was six foot tall with sandy brown hair, and looked like a young Steve McQueen. He sat down at a table near the door just as I headed his way. I asked what I could get him, and he said in a slow Southern drawl:

"Darlin', I have to try a piece of the Orange Kiss Me Cake."

He hit me with a smile that made my knees buckle. Turns out his name was Ben, and he'd just moved to New Harvest from Alabama. I've made him the Orange Kiss Me Cake for 49 years now, and every time he gives me that smile it still weakens my knees. He waited two years to propose to me, sitting at the same table he sat at that first day. Turns out my daddy had threatened to ruin his pretty smile if he didn't wait to ask me until I was 18. It's okay, he was worth the wait.

I thought you all might like to bake the Orange Kiss Me Cake for someone you love. I remember cutting the recipe out of a newspaper all those years ago, but it's not exact. I changed it slightly and frost it with whatever frosting or glaze catches my fancy each year.

Orange Kiss Me Cake

2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 large orange
1 cup milk

Using a grater, carefully zest the orange all around. Set aside. Sift together flour, soda and salt. Cream the shortening and sugar. Blend in the eggs one at a time. Add the orange zest. Add the milk, alternating with the dry ingredients, using an electric mixer. Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool.

This cake can be frosted with a cream cheese or buttercream frosting.


Brenda Hyde has been a freelance writer of home and garden articles for over 20 years, and now she's working on a series of cozy mysteries while blogging about her characters in the fictional town of New Harvest, Michigan. Visit her at http://harvestmoongazette.blogspot.com/


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Brenda - finding one's voice when writing is so difficult. When I first started out, I tried to mimick the voices of my fav authors. However, the efforts always sounded strained. I just couldn't get it right. I gave up on that and my own voice flourished. Probably a step all authors have to take. :)

Brenda Hyde said...

That's what I did too. I ended up getting frustrated and I have a few unfinished WIPs to prove it. LOL

Fiona McGier said...

I always tell students to "barf it out, clean it up later"...in other words, you have to have words on the page in order to be able to edit them. Write first, respond to the voices in your head...you can always adapt it or change it when you are done. But you need to get it written first!

jean hart stewart said...

Loved the story of the cake. I guess all of us have had that struggle. Sometimes it's called finding your voice and sometimes it's called finding an editor.

Brenda Hyde said...

Fiona-- I love that advice. That's pretty much what I've been doing. I have finished and unfinished stories but I wasn't happy with them-- did sell one. Ahem...I'm also learning how to plot. Seems the writing by the seat of my pants wasn't always the best way to go. (Tina, don't laugh!)

Jean- thank you. On the blog I'm trying to share little stories, recipes and things that won't be in the books. I figured that was okay to do. Yes, I've never had an editor...I'm sure one would love me. Ahem...maybe.

Renee Vincent said...

Hey Brenda, finding your "voice" can be difficult at first but I've always said it should be as natural as breathing. Don't force a voice. It should be what comes out of you automatically. It's who you are as a writer.

Now we can have many voices, just as we have different personality traits. You just have to figure out when to let that particular one show depending on the genre.

I wish you luck.

And great recipe. Thanks for sharing. Love the name of it.