I've been writing most my life, sometimes with the left side of my brain, as
when writing technical documentation in the 1980's, and sometimes with the right
side, as when writing my new novel, Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with
Polygamy. Either way, my focus has always been on the human mind. My most
basic desire is to know how people come to believe what they believe and
how those beliefs lead them to act in specific ways. Exploring the depths
of another's mind, with all its intellectual and visceral layers of complexity,
is as exciting and stimulating as exploring a foreign country.
Given my fascination with mind, I search for books which have a unique and
idiosyncratic voice. It is not the writer's voice I am looking for, but the
voice of the characters who live out their lives on the pages. For me, "voice"
is more than just a tone or narrative style: it reflects the movement and subtle
nuance of a character's mind, it maps the associative leaps between one experience
and the next, it connects the character's sensory experience with a unique perception.
Maybe the best way to say it is that everything in such stories is characterization,
to one degree or another. Books such as Jane Hamilton's, Book of Ruth,
McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and Joyce Carol Oates', Because It Is Bitter
and Because It Is My Heart, all have this quality that I so admire.
In my own stories, I try to achieve a high level of psychological realism,
moving into the mental space of my characters, and settling in for the duration.
Maintaining this kind or realism can be difficult at times. For example, when I
was writing from the mind of my 12-year-old narrator in Torn by God,
there were things I wanted to say that I couldn't say and still maintain the
child's perspective. Still, I felt the innocence of the child narrator was
important because it was indicative of the innocence of all the characters in
the story. They are all controlled by the voice of their parents, by the voice
of their religious leaders, by the voice of their God. So I let the girl see
what she could see and let the deeper meaning lie beneath the surface, in the
subtext where it belongs. It is there for my readers to find, if they can.