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?
It’s true that authors can never be sure how their work will be read or interpreted, or what readers will glean from it when they’ve read to the last page.
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.
I always hear the characters talking in my head and telling me what happened and what they said, so I guess I know it's not my story! Nice post and congrats again for the awards.
Intriguing post that carries a lot of food for thought. My characters enter my imagination at the oddest times and I've learned to take that opportunity to write a few notes about them. But until they tell their story, they're in my mind, chattering like crazy until I let them free. I believe writers are carriers of these characters' stories, and like Frank Sinatra sings, we have to write our stories "…our way."
Sounds like you "went rogue" and that's what good fiction writers do.