Dialect in Dialogue: Guest Post with Open Ink Perspectives

A couple of months ago I had the honor of being asked to write a guest post for Open Ink’s Perspectives blog. It was published a few days ago, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share it with my readers who may not have seen me tweet about it! Meant to engender conversation with both readers and writers, I hope y’all will enjoy and share your thoughts. Many thanks to Open Ink for hosting me!

When I was writing my third novel, Idlewild, I spent a lot of time pondering (agonizing) over speech patterns in dialogue for my characters. This story takes place in downtown Detroit; in it we have Tyler, a young, genderqueer black man coming out of college and into adulthood who grew up in the city. We also have Asher, a sort-of middle aged (I am struggling to reconcile 33 as middle aged, if only so I can avoid being called so myself, ha!) Jewish man from the suburbs who has become stuck in the wake of his partner’s death. Idlewild was a beast to write; in part because good, complex romance involves complex people navigating the world, and writing that is hard. Additionally, this particular book touches on many difficult to navigate threads: race, class, gentrification and grief being the most prominent.

Idlewild also features a third character: Malik. Malik is Tyler’s boyfriend at the start of the story (no worries, no cheating). When Idlewild came out, I was not expecting people to fall for Malik. I was definitely not expecting requests to write him a story! I think many authors can speak to the fear we harbor that readers might hate a character we love. Having readers fall in love with a character who might be divisive was lovely.

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Nope, not I, says the squirrel

I have a very big deadline barreling at me — in 12 days to be exact. I predict a lot of stressful freaking out in the next two weeks; it’s been suggested that I could ask for an extension. But that’s a nope, not for me. People function in a lot of ways and I think that process is personal and important to honor. The truth is that deadlines are hard for me. And what I mean is that I have to have inflexible deadlines to function. There’s something about the horror of a close, looming deadline that really gets me working the way I should. I’m a classic procrastinator, and I complain annoyingly as I freak out about whatever I must do, but this is also when I do my best work.

Anyway, yes. Deadline looming, many other projects, including two *more* book ideas, clamoring in my unpredictable brain. This is part of my squirrel nature. Each idea is a new, shiny thing my brain gets so excited about –this is why I call myself a squirrel. My squirrel brain it dashes toward the new shiny, but then there are *more* shiny things and so I tend to leave things half done, or in fragments in my brain. Trust me, my brain is full of shiny things and wonderful ideas, and my execution rate in contrast to those numbers is woefully small.

Hence, deadlines that stay fixed and hard are a great way to keep my squirrely self in line.

Dream It, Do It

So now that you’ve met me — as well as you can in a three paragraph blurb — we can get down to the nitty gritty. 

If you’re here right now, chances are it’s because you know me from my Glee fandom blog; I say this because I’m only starting out so I really don’t have exposure elsewhere (yet). So thank you all for following. This whole process is like a dream — I’ve still not really processed that I have a book deal, that I’m writing this manuscript, that sometime in the next year, I’ll be holding a novel that came from my brain and heart into my hot little hands. 

I have deep seated roots in fandom, but I thought I’d talk a bit about  my history (and challenges and fears I have) as a writer. I also want to extend a little challenge and open my ask to some of your stories.

As a teenager, I wrote. I wrote poetry and some short stories and journals full of teenage pain (we’ve all been there). For the most part I’ve identified as a poet since my early teenage years. I studied poetry in college with a fantastically difficult and challenging woman. I learned here to love being held accountable to high standards, to being told with honesty when I’d messed up, and being expected to perform at my best. 

Fiction writing was a dream and a wish. I knew myself as a poet. I never really believed I had the ability to sustain a story long enough to write something longer. I wasn’t even sure I had stories to tell. One of the things I love most about poetry is the challenge of capturing stories and moments and even histories in fewer words. How to challenge conventions of grammar and expected usage to fit my needs. How to create something to sound a way, to make the reader feel something with a pause for breath, with a small line break, how to use words in ways they weren’t intended to. Fiction writing, in my mind, didn’t work that way. 

Then, one day in 2007, I re-read The God of Small Things by Arundhdati Roy. It was a book I’d fallen hard in love with when I read it in college. But re-reading it on my own terms — it was like a light bulb being switched on. Her use of language, the way she turns her sentences into art, and the way she tells a story in a way you wouldn’t expect are all things that helped me realize I didn’t have to follow all the rules I’d accepted as unbreakable. 

I started two stories that day, each with different styles. One was a story that was straight forward with a clear plot and approachable style. The other was not. In the other, I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted. 

I’d written about 17 pages of the first when one day, researching fiction writing while at work that I discovered National Novel Writing Month — which I call NaNo. NaNo is a project that encourages anyone to write a 50k novel in the month of November. It’s intended in part to challenge those who have always said “I want to write a book,” to actually  do it. The only other person who I liked in my office had talked about wanting to write a book. I sent her the link and we said “yes, let’s get on this crazy roller coaster”. And we did. 

I’ve done Nano every year sine 2007, and completed my 50k word goal every year but 2008 — mostly because I had a 2 month old son and basically couldn’t think about anything but sleeping. 

I have five original novels on my hard drive languishing. The only story I’ve published in some capacity is fanfiction. Only one of the others has every been through and editing process or seen by anyone but me. 

Writing a novel for publication has always seemed like a dream, but never a reality. All I’ve ever heard was how hard it would be to get published. The woman I wrote the first novel with worked for years to get published — she got an editor after 3 years and then got dropped. She self publishes now. 

I talk myself out of things. I am excellent at it.  I’m not afraid of hard work — but I am very good at giving up on things I really want because I’m scared they won’t come true.

When in December a good friend in fandom (seetheandtumble) me she’d gotten a book deal with a co-writer (lettersfromtitan) whom I also knew, I about died with envy but also said, it will never happen for me. And she said, why not? You can do it. (Side note: they are soon publishing the first of a few projects I am ridiculously excited about. If you want to know more about what they are working on, head over to avian30.com, where they have a fantastic little thing going called Do The Thing

A week later I was approached by Interlude Press.  And that’s a story for another day and another blog post. Suffice to say, there was a deep rooted part of me that was really scared to say yes, and to take a chance on turning a dream into reality. 

For now I want to leave with this advice — dream it, do it — because that’s something I wish I’d been telling myself this whole time. Don’t talk yourself out of something you want because you see the obstacles ahead of you. Fill yourself with knowing and try. Take chances. 

Taking chances is a theme in the novel I am working on, and something I’ll be addressing as I move forward. As I wind up this ridiculously long post, I’d love to open the floor to any of you reading and ask what are your dreams? What are the chances you are afraid of taking? Let’s talk. My ask is open, and I’d love to hear from all of you.