Today, TeachingBooks.net welcomes author Shirley Reva Vernick as she stops by on her blog tour.
The art of writing presents challenges for even the most experienced authors. My biggest struggle in writing the YA novel The Blood Lie (Cinco Puntos, 2011) revolved around voice. This book is based on a real hate crime that happened in my hometown in the 1920s. I really wanted to give the characters authentic Jazz Age voices, and I was committed to narrating the complex events in a credible, coherent way. It wasn’t easy!
For starters, I had to figure out what point of view would work best for telling the story. I agonized over this issue for months. I wrote the first few chapters over and over, trying out the first-person viewpoint of Jack, the main character; then of Emaline, his love interest; then of other characters. None of these attempts worked because no single character appeared in all the scenes (or had access to information from missed scenes). There were plot elements that Jack wasn’t aware of, but that I wanted the reader to know, so how could I have Jack tell the whole story?
Next, I tried the multiple first-person approach—in fact, I wrote a full draft this way. But my gut told me it was too busy with all those voices. Sometimes, you just have to go with your intuition, so, as painful as it was, I tossed that draft.
Which left me with the third-person point of view. I must admit, I resisted for some weeks. I’m usually a first-person person; it’s as natural as using my right hand to hold a pencil. But once I got a few pages under my belt, it felt right. The story was telling itself. The characters were speaking for themselves. I was just lending them the ink.
This picture shows how my Upstate New York hometown looked in the 1920s, when The Blood Lie takes place.
My voice challenges didn’t end with the point-of-view dilemma, either. I still had to work out how to make the dialogue sound genuinely 1920s-era. I couldn’t let Jack dream about driving a Lamborghini, for instance, or have his little sister ask for some microwave popcorn. And dweeb, emo, shizzle and LOL were most definitely out. So I delved into the pop culture of the Roaring ’20s—reading up on the music, the radio programs, the fashions, the Presidential elections, you name it. I also studied 1920s slang, which was kind of hilarious (anyone for a “juice joint”, “dead soldier,” or “struggle buggy”?).
I hope The Blood Lie readers will feel transported to a different time and place—and return to the 21st century with a broadened perspective on their world. Then all my struggling will have been worth it!
Hear Shirley Reva Vernick pronounce and speak about her name. Listen now.