Does anyone still remember Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? When I started my career a few centuries ago, I shared my office with a younger Fred, a guy in light brown shoes and a suit of an undisclosed color who used to tap dance in the office in his “free” time. Since we had a vinyl floor it sounded pretty good.
Looking out the windows, we saw birds sitting in rows on the telephone wire. “Hey Frank,” Fred said, “looks they’re tapping too!” “I’ll be damned,” I said. “They really do.”
“I wonder what they’re hearing,” Fred mused. “They’re chatting and seem to be laughing a lot.”
“I bet Security put listening devises on the chests of those pigeons,” I said. “You see how bloated they are? Then after the day’s over they fly back to their head office to be fed, and the guys in Security take those mini-recorders off and start listening to what we said over the telephone.”
“You better be careful when you call your bed friend across the corridor,” said Fred.
“Gee,” I said. “Is that why the Penguin (our Director) was looking that strangely at me the other day?”
“Could well be. You see, the party that’s not in power is doing everything to find dirt on us, and you in particular.”
“Why me? You spend most of the time tap dancing in the office, just like those birds, and get a huge salary for it.”
“Exactly! They don’t care about me. I just shuffle inboxes. But you, you deal with real secret stuff that the other party wants to know about, so they’ll do everything to find out. You have telephone wires near your apartment?”
“I look out on a few. Damn! Now you mention it. Every morning I wake up there’s a bunch of pigeons tapping on those wires. Sometimes they’re even tapping on the window sash.”
“Now you’re talking! I bet Penguin knows everything about you and Irene.”
“Irene feeds them every morning when she gets up. Hell, now I understand. Penguin wanted to sleep with her, that is, he tried, but she said he had ED and it didn’t work. So he’s jealous and sends these birds to spy on us.”
“You sure she doesn’t talk any secrets with you? Did you tell her anything? I saw Penguin shuffling in your drawers the other day. Are you hiding Viagra there?”
“Stupid, I don’t need that stuff. Wonder though what he was looking for. Snuff may be? Cannabis? It’s all gone. I thought the cleaners stole it.”
“Don’t you have an old kid rifle at home you shot birds with?” Fred wondered.
“Good idea. I’m seeing my mom in the country this weekend. I’ll look for it in the attic.”
The following Monday morning, after Irene and I had our fling, I got up and took my pellet gun to shoot at the pigeons out on the telephone wire.
It took a few shots before I finally got one. All my shots must’ve gone over and under and in between, because the only thing the pigeons did was looking aside at what passed by. None of them shifted one foot.
The unlucky pigeon fell on the drive way in front of my apartment house. I stood looking at it from the window when Irene, half-naked, came behind me wanting to know what I was doing. “I’m on a spy mission. That pigeon carries evidence on our intercourse (I used a different word but can’t print that here). “Get away from the window, you crazy!”
I came up with the dead pigeon. “You see what’s in there? A little tape like in voice mail! Let’s try it out on my tape recorder.” We inserted it and heard weird noises. “Sounds like you’re having your cummy,” I said.
“Not my voice. More like Jane’s. I know hers, she sits across from me. I think she’s faking it.”
Then we heard a groan at the end. “That’s Penguin!” Irene said.
“How do you know?”
“He groaned like that when I faked it with him.”
“You said he had ED.”
“We have our ways, you know.”
“Gee, you girls are right for the CIA. Did you know about these pigeons?”
“No. They only told us we’re for the birds if we don’t play along.”
“Did Penguin want to know something or tell you guys any secrets?” I asked.
“He wanted to know if you did it with any of those Russian girls, you know, those that advertise on the internet. I said I couldn’t tell one way or the other.”
“What? You didn’t defend me!”
“He also told me he had secret recordings of them doing it with you.”
“No! That’s pure fabrication!” I protested.
“They all say that.”
“Irene! Shame on you. I’ll take this straight to Penguin!”
“But Frank, you can’t….”
“I publicize this in the office paper,” I told him when I got there.
“That’s treason,” Penguin said, furious.
“What treason? Can I help it when a pigeon flies astray into my apartment?”
The news in the office leaked faster than publication of the paper. I was summoned to the Director General and showed him the evidence. He laughed very hard. He was of the other party. Penguin lied about it to the Director General and was fired. Irene and Jane were transferred back to the CIA. They forbade Irene to sleep with me, but she still does.
Back in my office, Fred asked, “You want to see some new steps? I got them over the weekend.”
Sorry for my absence for a while. I had to finish a Manuscript. While doing that, I was reminded again of an author’s “voice.”
VOICE! That’s what “Literary Agents” look for: a strong, enticing, original, sparkling, superb, surprising “voice” in your writing. As I started writing, I read books and essays about “voice.” It was as mysterious to me as the vague “audience.”
Literary agents point to how the author’s writing comes across – woody, conventional, boring, long-winded or, yes, “surprisingly superb, stunning, unique.” They talk about “tone” and “style” as part of the essential “voice” components. What does “voice” to a reader? It depends on who reads, who critiques, and to a large extent on what the story is about, Some like it hot, some like it cool, some like it dreamy, others like it cruel and hard. Implying you would use different voices for different genres. It’s so easy to say what you must do. It’s so much harder to do what they say.
Very few “voice” professors compare voice to composers, music, and audience. Since I am a musician and like classical music and jazz, I recognize each composer with his different sound or “voice.” Listening to the radio, I immediately recognize Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Gershwin or Glenn Miller. Each singer has a different voice (here we’re talking about the real meaning of “voice”). I recognize Pavarotti, Domingo, Callas, even Caruso (older people like me). Jazz musicians have a different “voice,” such as pianists like Errol Garner, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans. All have different audiences, although some are shared.
Like composers, authors have a beginning, a middle and an end, sometimes torrential. What does this mean for me as a writer? Apart from learning the craft, a writer needs to develop a particular voice to get “read,” as for a composer to get played, or for a player or singer to fill an audience in the concert hall.
Just recently I watched renowned Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., playing a most intricate concert for violin by Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich. Her Stradivarius violin has a very warm voice, her style is remarkably varied, very melodious, powerful, and moving. She got three standing ovations. After the intermission, she sat in my box to listen to – a very different – Brahms’ second symphony and since we could talk Dutch, we chatted about how she learned to play so well. She began playing at 5 years old. At the age of 14 she played Paganini’s First Violin Concerto! There you go: a “miracle kid.” (wunderkind). Do you have to be a miracle kid to write a best seller and to get read?
Two things struck me: with modern composers, it is much more difficult to pinpoint a typical “voice.” Some modern poets I can’t follow because of the remote universe of their words. A writer must also write stories in a manner that people like.
There are writers who use currently available software (prowritingaid.com. grammarly.com, just to name a few) which may help wordiness, grammar, punctuation, or “sticky sentences.” However, while “brainy,” software does not have a “heart.” It does not produce feeling or the tone of your “voice.” That has to come from within. Some authors have it or have it more than others. Some of it can be learned by trial and error, but at some stage, you reach what your voice represents. I tried hard to play like my idols, but I just didn’t have their gift. Do I have to accept the same feat in my efforts to have a voice good enough to get books sold?
I believe you need to write several books before you find your “voice,” a voice “that is not intrusive or flamboyant or pretentious and allows the reader to focus on character and action.” (those are award-winning author Mark Spencer’s words, my editor).
Good, I am not a “miracle kid” jumping off the stage like in American Idol. Writing gives me peace of mind. Like playing on the piano, knowing I’m not sounding like Ahmad Jamal. I love to draw up a story and take it to the finish. Some readers like my stories and a few of them gave me good reviews. I’m just happy to see the finished products sitting on my bookshelves, and on someone else’s. I like to run to a few book signings at B&N, and sell 3 books an hour in 4 long hours. I like to chat with my “audience.” Some people who read my books apparently like my “voice.” They are in my “audience.” Musicians like to chat with their audience, too, to sell their CDs. “Voice.” That’s what it is, composed, heard, or read.
But if you heard me singing in my bathroom, you’d all be running away, screaming.
For your spring reading:
Some Women I Have Known – http://amzn.to/1QIL94B; https://youtu.be/CehtAV55QpU ; Audrey Hepburn and Lady D can’t stop John from falling off the keyboard. But who does?
Enchanting the Swan – http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o ; https://youtu.be/8vHdGKGWQEo ; Pianist Paul loses cellist Fiona and does all to redeem her love.
Coming soon: Francine, The Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State – Francine, a bright West Virginian MBA graduate, rises to the top of a mining conglomerate, demobilizes the anti-mining lobby, but will she save the company and find love in the meantime?