I’ve talked a little bit before about a phenomenon I call voice bleeding, but for those of you who don’t feel like clicking I’ll re-hash here. We’ve all ended up with a fake British accent after watching Downton Abbey, or reading JANE EYRE. I think everyone walks with a little bit of a swagger or pretends that they’re riding a horse after watching Deadwood. Heck, some of us even find a way to slip the word “Tutanka” into our casual conversations after watching Dances with Wolves.
And while all these things are perfectly acceptable (if you’re capable of doing a decent faux Brit accent, that is), the unique danger that such cultural interactions poses for writers is a voice bleed. When your tough chic starts extending her pinkie and sipping tea, when you picture your bad guy polishing a splintered bar instead of revving his Harley, when the jargon of war-torn upper-class England and the 1800’s Black Hills starts infiltrating your contemporary YA… that’s a voice bleed.
So how do we avoid this as writers?
One trick is to not read at all while writing. It’s kind of like using abstinence to ensure you don’t get pregnant. It’s the sure-fire, hell-no-that-won’t-happen answer.
But some of us aren’t capable of keeping our hands off the papery spines, so the second option is to read something so far from your genre that there isn’t much of a chance of the boundaries being crossed. I highly recommend a good non-fiction read for those times, but there are also plenty of fiction options that fit the bill, and I came across one such this past weekend.
FOBBIT by David Abrams is a fantastic masculine satire set during Operation Iraqi Freedom. For those of you who don’t know (and really, if you did you get Mindy-points) a Fobbit is a U.S. soldier stationed at a Forward Operating Base who avoids combat by remaining at the base. Each chapter sets you solidly in the boots of different soldiers and their perceptions of one another as they move through the sand-covered world of Iraq, with mortars flying overhead and situations so ridiculous they’re only eclipsed by the fumbling efforts to control the public perception of them.
It’s CATCH-22 for our generation, and I won’t be the first person to make that comparison. Granted, there’s a sly aside in FOBBIT where one of the narrators is reading Heller poolside, but it’s a deserved nod and organic to the situation. I had Heller on my mind while reading FOBBIT for sure, but Chuck Palahniuk as well (another great genre-buster to read, b/c hey – none of us write like him). The writing is masculine and gorgeous at the same time, gut-wrenching and mind numbing. Abrams captures the ridiculous and makes the reader want to put their head in their hands right along with his characters.
So if you’re looking for something to break you out of a reading funk, give FOBBIT a shot. But you’ll have to wait until September 4th, when it’s available from Grove Press. 🙂
In honor of getting outside your writing comfort zone, I’m giving away two books to a lucky person who wants to read something substantial this summer. THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS both by Khaled Hosseini. All you need to do to enter this giveaway is be a follower of my blog and comment below. Giveaway is US only and will run through Sunday, July 22 at 11:59 PM.