Guest Post: “Finding Your Voice” by Charlie Hills

Finding Your Voice
by Charlie Hills

Is that… is that a diet book? Don’t bother rubbing your eyes; you’re not hallucinating. It really does look like one, doesn’t it? But as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its blog appearances.

My name is Charlie Hills and welcome to the seventh stop on my virtual book tour. For those of you already following the tour, you might find Ecstatic Days an unusual stop. For regular readers of Mr. VanderMeer’s blog, you’re probably finding this appearance equally strange.

As out of place as it may seem to both audiences, I’m very glad to be here and I would like to thank Jeff for finally giving in inviting me to be here today. Why? It’s quite simple, actually. While I do enjoy talking to my regular audience, here I get the rare opportunity to talk to other writers. It’s a new and exciting prospect and therefore one which I both greatly looked forward to and simultaneously dreaded. It’s somewhat akin to that feeling I get before donating blood: I know it’s a good thing but I still can’t help thinking about the big needle.

Despite the book cover and the implied subject matter, Why Your Last Diet Failed You and How This Book Won’t Help You on Your Next One is not a diet book. It’s more like a humorous memoir sprinkled liberally with pizza references. But just between us, what the book truly represents is the end of a fifteen year journey to find my voice as a writer. And darn it if it wasn’t in the last place I looked.

Although I’m in no danger of becoming a commercially successful writer any time soon, I nonetheless feel I have a small bit of wisdom to pass on. (Who knows, I may just save one of you fifteen years of your own searching.)

Between 1992 and 1993, I experienced two life-altering events. First, I finally read The Lord of the Rings. Second, I printed out several copies of a thick software manual. Oh, sure, I also wrote the manual, but that wasn’t what got me. No, it wasn’t until I watched the laser printer churn out copy after copy that I had my epiphany: writing didn’t excite me half as much as the prospect of someone actually reading what I wrote. Granted, this particular manual had less chance of being read than Master Cage Fighting Techniques by Kathy Lee Gifford, but it didn’t matter. A seed was planted.

Coming off my recent enthrallment with Tolkien’s work, I, like many others before me, instantly became a Tolkien wannabe. After all, fantasy was a wonderful genre. And, heck, what could be easier to write? Fantasy stories almost wrote themselves:

“Dost thou, fair maiden, wisheth me to slayeth this dragon, ere I get much older? For if thou wilt move but a little to thy right, methinks I hath a clear shot.”

I wrote many lines like this, with pride to rival Ralphie Parker penning his What I Want For Christmas theme. I was confident I was on to something. Then I made a grave error (a mistake most writers make sooner or
later): I read what I wrote.

It was terrible.

So I tried writing again. But that was worse. So I tried even more. But it just got worser and worser. Something wasn’t clicking. I had no choice but to set it aside for a while.

Enter life-altering event number 3. Just a few years later, I bought a thick, impressive book on 3D modeling and animation. “Wow,” I said to myself. “I may not be able to write fiction, but I bet I could write a book like this.” And so I did. Once it was out in the wild, one reviewer wrote, “Charlie Hills uses a breezy, informative style and plenty of graphics to go beyond the software documentation to help create slick, well-edited video pieces.”

A breezy, informative style. That quote struck a chord with me, but for some reason I was still convinced my opus magnum lie in the realm of fantasy. Still, I ended up writing eight editions of two video editing books, but all the while continued to hammer on The Big One. Never mind the fact I continued to get absolutely nowhere with it. When wilt this potential raconteur learneth his lesson?

A breezy, informative style. I enjoyed writing the video editing books, but the fact that they were nothing more than glorified software manuals meant that they were changing all the time. It was a treadmill. As soon as one book was finished, the next version of the software was nearing its beta stage and I had to start over. This got old really quickly. Could I somehow take this breezy, informative style of mine and write something with a little bit more shelf life?

So in January of 2004, I sat down and wrote about twenty five pages of what eventually became the book you see pictured above. It was wonderful. And I don’t mean what I was writing, but how I was writing. I like humor. I use it all the time. It’s my only superpower. And once I combined it with my topic of choice, the words just flowed. As soon as I truly realized I didn’t have to write like someone else, a whole new world opened up.

And now that I finally know what I’m doing, I’ve at last returned to the fantasy genre and it’s going surprisingly well. You can bet this time around there isn’t a single “thou” in the entire text but there is plenty of humor. And that has made all the difference.

If anyone’s following me on the tour, tomorrow’s stop is at The Alcoholian. If you want to take the tour in reverse, yesterday’s post was at Biggest Diabetic Loser.

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