Saturday, March 14, 2015 Forgiving Effie Beck, a novel that took me two years to write, received the EPIC Award for Best Historical Fiction. Five months earlier it had won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Since I wrote the story without regard to most of the shoulds and shouldn’ts writers are hammered with daily, the EPIC announcement left me stuttering with confusion.
The Will Rogers Award: A fluke? I had to wonder. But a second honor: The EPIC?
I never, ever felt comfortable with anyone reading drafts of Forgiving Effie Beck. I wrote it in a style or voice I’m most comfortable with – like writing my journal entries about everyday observations. Agents, editors, publishing houses would probably label it “too colloquial.” The characters are far less than perfect, dreamed-up combinations of family members, old friends and past enemies. I put them in a setting familiar to me, then placed them in difficult situations. Words flew off my finger tips and onto the computer screen. I worried writing it had been too easy, probably not worthy of much. It was too elementary, too simple, entry-level work. Worse, I couldn’t name an age group or audience who’d want to read it. I’d always believed that trying to control reader’s perceptions stifles one’s particular writing voice. But I also believed my real story telling voice wouldn’t hold a novel together.
And yet . . . Awards?
We’ve all heard “write what you know.” Forgiving Effie Beck is what I know, some of what I’ve lived. I worried most about keeping personal agendas at bay – a point I believe vital to writing decent fiction. Especially if it is to have any universal meaning whatsoever. To guard against having my agendas seep into the story I gave the task of telling Effie Beck’s story to the characters. Characters like down-and-out Mike LeMay, heartbroken Red Kasper, lonely and isolated Effie Beck herself and ostracized Jodean Travis. They told my fingers what they thought, felt, how they perceived troubling events. All I had to do was set them free on the page. The voice, the writing, belongs to them.
I’ve often noticed I say, “Forgiving Effie Beck won an award.” Then I’d wonder why I don’t say, “I won an award for Forgiving Effie Beck.”
Now I think I understand – It’s not my story.