Okay, true confession: I hear voices.
I don’t think I’m crazy: the voice I hear at any given time isn’t the voice of a deity, nor does this voice tell me what to do. But when I start a new writing project it begins with me hearing a voice in my head. Sometimes the voice sounds weird and sometimes I do feel like I’m channeling, but at the end of the day, all of my books begin with a distinctive voice, chattering away, leading me into a world I’ve never before imagined.
That world could be one of corsets and daggers, or of togas and chariots, or, like my most recent novel, a world of gangsters and gun molls. Whatever world I enter when I write, it begins with a voice, and a dream.
My books are character-driven and I tend to write organically, from a scene that emerges from the ether, from what I call the writing “dream-state.” Sometimes it’s literally a dream: I might wake up with an idea that is as nebulous as a fog, and I have to try and wrap it into words before it evaporates in the strong sunlight. Sometimes it comes on a walk, and I have to pound the words into submission with each step until I’m home and can commit them to paper.
However it begins, it goes on for a while—this dream-state—in which the character speaks to me and tells me what’s happening in her world. I follow her lead, trying to discover the actual story; but what is important is her voice. If her voice is compelling, I’d follow her anywhere. If not, well, there are things I’ve written that will never see the light of day. So right off the bat, when I begin a project, I have to fall in love.
Falling in love is like living in a dream. Remember that rush of adrenaline? That heady “conquer-the-world” feeling? That pit-of-the-stomach ache for the beloved? The realm of early love is like the dream realm: nothing is quite real, every one of your senses is heightened, all things seem precious and yet frightening, invulnerable and yet fragile. Capturing the early story dream is like falling in love—any tip of the pen in the wrong direction, and . . . pfft. But if it works, the commitment is forever.
Once the dream and the voice form something tangible, then I run, like the headstrong lover, into the landscape that emerges. I happen to love historical landscapes, and thus far my characters have spoken to me from historical settings; but I’ve also dreamed science fiction and fantasy and contemporary, and who knows where the dream will lead me next?
Voice and dream and love are utterly interconnected. I write from the dream because I think it forms the core of who we are and what we need. The dream bleeds through our present from the past; it chases us into the future. I love writing from the dream state because it can provide the basis for the life-long, committed relationship between me and my readers, which is the goal for any writer. I listen to my voices; I hope I’ll always follow my dreams.
About Janet Fox:
Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults, including three historical fiction novels. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers, 2010), set in Yellowstone in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak, 2011), set in San Francisco before the Great Quake of 1906, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist. Her most recent novel is SIRENS (Speak, 2012), set in 1925 New York. She is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives with her family in Bozeman, Montana. To learn more, visit her website: http://janetsfox.com/.