Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's All in the Details...

We are pleased, proud and bustin' at the seams with delight over having one of our favorite authors, Linda Winstead Jones, blogging with us today! Linda is an acclaimed USA Today bestelling author of more than sixty novels, including Untouchable, 22 Nights and Bride by Command. She lives near our magnolia tree in Huntsville, Alabama. Please join us in welcoming her:

It's all in the Details...

You can give a hundred writers the same plot, give them a general description of the characters and then let them run with it, and you’ll end up with a hundred different stories. Every writer brings something of themselves to their writing, something that makes it uniquely theirs. Tone, setting, dialogue, atmosphere . . . detail.

Detail is important. Every detail. The little things make a story unique, they make the characters and the setting come alive. In the end, it’s all about voice.

This past weekend I was at an Auburn football game. In the state of Alabama, “Who are you for?” is an important question. Auburn? Alabama? Those are the usual answers, though the occasional Tennessee or Georgia fan makes their loyalties known. But that’s beside the point for this discussion, which isn’t really about football at all. For this discussion, it’s only important that I was at the game. While I was there I was flooded with memories. You see, I attended school in Auburn. Not after high school, like most alumni, but before grade school.

When I was four and five years old, my dad was a student at Auburn. I attended kindergarten there. More importantly, my first clear memories are of living in Auburn. Some are not all that pleasant -- like the time I chopped off my lovely long ponytail with a pair of scissors, or threw a new pair of shoes into a bramble-filled ravine. (Obviously they were unsuitable, in some way.) The first nightmare I can recall took place in student housing, and was Sleeping Beauty’s Wicked Witch related. I can still see the Wicked Witch standing on the landing of the apartments across the way from our own. But these things aside, most of my memories from those years are good ones.

I collected arrows from the woods behind the archery range. In hindsight maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, but at the time it was loads of fun. I can still remember the sight of a bonfire and a giant paper (yes, flammable) Georgia Bulldog. My dad was in a fraternity, and my little brother and I were the only fraternity kids. I still vaguely remember a couple of the guys, and Miss Olive, the house mother. She gave us candy, so what’s not to remember? I also had my first crush at that time, on the man who delivered the evening news. I didn’t miss the news, not even when I was five. According to my mother I used to go up to adults to talk about “that bad man Castro.”

We sat on a blanket on a hill and watched movies outdoors, and there was a skunk who liked to visit our student housing. The first song I learned all the words to was the Auburn fight song. War Eagle. (A song about love and marriage and another about an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini were close behind.) My dad painted the walls of my room bubblegum pink and I told him it was “awful pretty.” He asked me which it was. Awful or pretty?

One thing I don’t remember, but was reminded of a few years ago thanks to a friend of my parents, is that I used to write my own newspapers and go door to door selling them for a penny. I was a writer, even then. Shoot, I even got paid.

So what does this have to do with voice? What could all those early memories from such a long time ago have to do with writing? Easy. Those years, those memories, are a part of who I am. They are an important ingredient in the soup that provides all the important details that make their way into my books. That soup made up of memories, as well as genetics and other things I can’t even begin to understand, forms whatever it is within me that makes it possible for me to create a story that’s uniquely mine. It’s a simple truth that we are who we are, that we’re shaped from our first breath to be one of a kind.

I think if you look too hard for voice and style, if you try to create a voice instead of going with the flow and embracing who you are, you’re headed for trouble. It’s easy to look at another writer’s work and say, “I want to write like her.” But you can’t write like her. And on the flip side, she can’t write like you.

Do I purposely call upon a combination of skunks, arrows, Castro and Wicked Witches when I’m plotting a story? No. Are they there, somewhere, along with other important and unimportant moments in my life subconsciously contributing to every word I write? Absolutely.

I am who I am. War Eagle.

Linda Winstead Jones

Please visit Linda at www.lindawinsteadjones.com/ to find out more about her fabulous books!


  1. I agree - the details are what make us unique, including in our writing. My earliest memories are of following my grandfather around his farm. The rich smell of black dirt and the way everything seemed so crisp and new. I loved sitting on the mule's back band while grandaddy plowed in the hot sun. Sweat and the smell of animals still (I know it sounds gross) fill me with wonderful memories. Maybe that's why I love horses and mules and working outside so much. Grandaddy grew crops to feed people but I still believe he did it because he had to - the land called to him. It does me too.

    And as a proud Auburn graduate - WAR EAGLE!!!

  2. Until I was three years old, we lived in a duplex owned by my great-grandmother. My grandmother lived behind us and great-grandmother lived on the next block. I don't know how I got to great-grandmother's house, but I can clearly remember sitting on the front porch and watching my mother walk down the embankment across the street with a hickory switch in her hand. That, and the look on her face, made me realize immediately I was in big trouble. I suppose that could make me write about mother-hating serial killers, but instead my writing always seems to have a strong sense of family in it.

    I love reading about your memories of Auburn.

    And as the proud mother and mother-in-law of Auburn graduates -- WAR EAGLE!!!

  3. I've always lived here and I'm never as satisfied anywhere else. I like to go to the the mountains and beach but I don't find a piece of my soul there. I need some red clay and cotton fields for that. Sometimes I feel like my characters show up at my door and say, "You've known me all along."

    I love the visual of you as a fraternity child. Little shirts with little Greek letters. Little Hawaiian shirts for theme parties. Little beer mugs. . . .

    And with much affection and all due respect, I must say it: Roll, Tide, Roll!

    Kathy will be along shortly to negate me. I'm sure of it.

  4. Linda, I lived at Purdue for two years when my dad was in graduate school, and what a fun environment for kids! My sister and I always sold the most Girl Scout cookies because we'd hit fraternity row, and when the homecoming floats were parked in front of the frat houses, we'd swipe crepe paper and decorate our bikes.

    Thanks for bring back some of my old memories! And you're so right about voice. I think instead of "write what you know," which we hear all the time, it should be "write who you are."

  5. Sorry to be late -- I thought I was blogging tomorrow. Oops. I've spent the morning at the farmer's market with my youngest granddaughter. We're making memories today. :-)


  6. Welcome to our blog, Linda. I hope you enjoying the gentle breeze beneath the Tulip Tree today. ;)

    Childhood memories are so important. In fact, a child's first 6 years are the most critical. I've got great memories of ice skating behind our quarters in Japan, attending picnics in Japanese parks filled with cherry blossoms, watching women walk down the street in kimonos from age 4-7. And the most vivid of all, the earthquake of '68, hunched in a ball under my desk as my teacher walked between the isles telling us a story as the earth shook for what seemed like hours. (That teacher has always been my hero!) So many memories from so many different places and phases of my life.

    Cheryl, if you believe in reincarnation, memories appear to run sub-consciously from life to life. And, it's proven that genetic codes carry memories. Which makes me often wonder why certain people gravitate to certain fields. ;)

    PM, I have a memory of how mad my grandmother got when I got car sick in the back seat of her new car while on a road trip to the plains. Not pretty!

    Here I come, Jean! LOL! Blogger ate my first post, but I just wanted to say that we say everything with affection and respect here under the Tulip Tree. :D WAR EAGLE!!

    Vicki, I love what you said about 'write who you are'. Which follows what Linda said about 'we're shaped from our very first breath to be one of a kind'. We have no choice but to write what's within. At least, I don't. But I do hope that one day my voice will be as unique as my fingerprint. Vicki, you and Linda sure have developed your writing voice into a distinct entity.

    How long did that take and how do you think you were best able to encourage your voice to ring clear?

  7. Linda, you've had such a long and successful writing career. What advice can you give aspiring authors? And, what kinds of memories stand out from your writing career?

  8. Kathy, my first advice to aspiring authors is to find like-minded people. For me, it's RWA. For others it might be a critique group or another writers organization.

    Memories of my writing career: There are so many. My first book was out in 1994, so I have lots to choose from. But for now -- When my youngest son told me I'd never be as good as Stephen King. (It was his attempt to keep my feet firmly on the ground, after I sold my first book. He'd never read any Stephen King, he just wanted to make sure I kept him fed and ran him to soccer practice.) Winning the RITA. Finishing a book and knowing it was better than the last. Ask me tomorrow and I'd probably come up with a completely different list!

  9. Sometimes I find it hard to write who I am. Baring your soul to people is not an easy thing. I don't really share my deepest part - that I keep in reserve. But there are times when I do see it bleed over into what I write. I have been called intense and sarcastic - which is true. Perhaps it's my life, dealing with criminals and trying to keep a good perspective when everything is dark. So, I guess - yes, you do write who you are.

    And, on behalf of my sister, my hubby and my son who all graduated from Auburn - WAR CAM EAGLE!!!

  10. Linda-Thanks for visiting with us today.
    I loved reading about your childhood memories. I often think about how my experiences as a child shaped the person that I am today.

    Vicki-"Write who are you are" is great advice!

    PM-Ouch!! I am so glad you don't write about mother-hating serial killers! lol
    How great that you lived surrounded by so much family.

    Cheryl-What wonderful memories of you grand father you have. It sorta put me an a "It's the land Katie Scarlett" sort of mood. :-)

    Jean-I support you 100% Roll Tide Roll!!!

    Kathy-You ask such thought provoking questions.
    I am sure blogger at your post because it had something about that War Eagle in it!
    You know blogger "goes for Bama."