Open Mic Blog

SPOTLIGHT:Christina St. Clair

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 10:25 AM

     Christina St. Clair  

A Writer’s Voice: Deepening Journeys



Writing, when I started out years ago, seemed a way I might quench a longing I couldn't even name. I certainly didn’t understand there was such a thing as voice which I now realize is an important aspect of becoming a writer.



Voice is defined as the author’s style and is something many fiction-writing teachers believe emerges over time. I would add that finding one’s voice is more than learning to write well: for me it’s been about meaning, purpose and personal authenticity.



When I was at my father's funeral in England, I began telling stories to my small nephews. It seemed to me perhaps I could turn this interest in story-telling into a energizing way of making my living. My job as a chemist no longer satisfied me. It never really had. It paid the bills though. How hard could it be to write for children, I thought? I became convinced my words would be worthwhile enough for people to pay me money, enabling me to live freely, roam the world, and never again have to work in a nine-to-five job. Success would surely come, but perhaps what mattered most, though I did not see it at the time, was not money but a deeper life.



Learning the “trade” is an important way to hone one’s skills and understand the publishing process. I began with children's novels which I wrote feverishly, full of excitement. I studied the genre, I attended workshops, I went to writers' conferences, I joined the SCBWI, and I constantly read the best in children's literature.



Submission to publishers includes targeting your market, and writing great cover letters. I learned this the hard way, often randomly out sending manuscripts and not creating remarkable cover letters to pitch my work. I got better but in spite of years of effort, the result was hardly any affirmation, and certainly no novels accepted for publication by major publishers. I did get a monetary award for a YA historical fiction novel, which convinced me my novel would find a good publisher. It did not. Could it be that my voice hadn’t emerged? Perhaps. Or maybe my goal of earning a living by writing novels was unrealistic? Probably.



Persistence, mentoring, and networking are important aspects of marketing. I am stubborn which can be a good trait in terms of persistence, yet after twenty years of effort, I was ready to throw in the writer's towel, heartbroken at all the rejections, convinced of the utter futility of continuing. I’ve been ingrained to always give rather than receive but part of my journey towards voice--aka authenticity--was to accept help, to receive. I’m not much good at net-working, but we need friends and mentors to encourage, teach, and lead the way.



Along came Eddy Pendarvis, teacher and friend, who like me is a big fan of Pearl Buck's work. It aggravated us that Buck never received sufficient acclaim for her writing achievements. In spite of winning a Nobel Prize in literature, Buck’s work was strongly criticized by the literary establishment. We wanted to find ways to promote her best works, to acclaim this woman of high achievement, and high principled altruism. We were deeply interested in promoting her as a role model for other women. Because of our interest and commitment, we wrote Between Two Worlds: A Biography of Pearl S. Buck, which was eventually released by the Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press in China as an English/Chinese reader. The published book, beautifully illustrated on good stock, delighted us.


Validation is an important encouragement to writers. A well-established writer once told me it is important to get your work into print, be it newspapers, the church newsletter, magazines, e-books, anywhere. She was right. The publication of the Buck biography gave me energy: I rewrote, reformatted, revised, and sent out tighter versions of two young adult novels. I gave up worrying about the outcome, I stopped needing anyone to tell me my work was good enough, and I accepted whatever happened. At last, two publishers offered me contracts. Instead of Harper Collins or Simon and Schuster, my books got taken on by e-publishers: DoubleDragon and Rogue Phoenix Press.


The big publishers didn't want my novels, which certainly humbled me, but these e-publishers with funky names said yes. At first, I felt despondent: Double Dragon, I muttered to myself, who are they? But, you know, it's been a wonderful experience and taught me to get over my need to be main-stream respectable. My editor, Christine Young who founded Rogue Phoenix Press, greatly improved readability of my novels: I’m excited about my next book, Ten Yen, the prequel to Ten Yen True. It’s due out in August.


Now that your book is published, even if you are fortunate to have been taken on by a big publisher with marketing money to spend, you will have to promote it. You must decide what is effective and what is not--a rule of thumb for me is to only do things which I like, and since I love to experiment, I’ve tried lots of things: blogging, twitter, reviewing, e-tours, press releases, linking to other sites, facilitating workshops, book signings, giveaways, advertising, postcards, bookmarks. The latest event I participated in was a Facebook Party on Rogue Phoenix Press site. I offered a free autographed copy of one of my books.


I've also self-published on Kindle. There can be serious issues with self-publication, so if you decide to go this route, make sure you’ve (or someone competent--not your granny) revised thoroughly and copy-edited not just once but several times. You don’t want to publish a novel that becomes an embarrassment. Somerset Maugham’s first novel was such a bust he tried to unsuccessfully buy back all the copies. I have one. It’s awful. Fortunately, he was Somerset Maugham.


I have been surprised to recently discover my voice emerging through blogging. I love writing short quirky anecdotes about all sorts of things that interest me. It is not only a good way to promote work, but also a forum for ideas and suggestions for others. I now have over fifteen hundred people who are registered on my blog. I have not seen an upsurge in book sales, but it is energizing to have a readership.  


It took me years to learn to trust myself and to trust the process. Little did I know when I began writing, I would have so many hurdles to overcome: grammar, spelling, competent writing, rejections, daily grind, lack of validation, no payday, marketing, self-promotion, schmoozing, and on and on. I’m better at some things than I am at others. When I write now, it is with confidence. I am still not happy to receive rejections, but they don’t floor me. I don’t much like schmoozing, but the Internet and social media make it less painful for a solitary soul like me to reach out. I’d still like to earn money as a writer but am happy to have my work validated and realize the greatest reward is in the process.


You never know in what way your writer's path is leading your unique voice to emerge and what it will teach and how it will strengthen you. Your emerging voice might begin small, squeaky-clean, or dark and gritty. Over time it will change and become who knows what in a deepening journey of challenge and discovery.


Good luck, writers! Don't give up!



                                                * * *


Christina St. Clair, a Brit-American, loves multi-cultural mixed genre books, especially those that explore human relationships, spirituality, and mysticism. Her work is influenced by her upbringing in England: Emily’s Shadow and its sequel Blue Caravan are fantasy/mysticism/historical set in post WWII England; Unexpected Journey, a historical fiction novel, began with a character in England who ends up in colonial Philadelphia; her latest series of contemporary novels (Ten Yen…) are multi-cultural, with characters from Japan, from England, and from the U.S.





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Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
9:57 AM on May 2, 2014 
Thanks for joining us today, Christina! You reflect about so many important things, especially the evolution of a writer's voice and your own personal publishing journey. One thing that you said that every writer should remember is "...perhaps what mattered most, though I did not see it at the time, was not money but a deeper life."
Reply Larry Smith
10:16 AM on May 2, 2014 
Thanks for this fresh look at the art of writing.
Reply Christina
10:30 AM on May 2, 2014 
I expect every writer has a story to tell about what mattered most to them. For me, becoming a writer has been life-changing.
Hope all is well with you.
Reply Marie Manilla
10:36 AM on May 2, 2014 
Christina: I so appreciate your honest assessment and presentation of your journey. You show tremendous insight and growth. I think you mirror a lot of us, so it's affirming to know that we're not isolated anomalies grappling with the realities of what it means to be a writer. Thank you!
Reply Christina
10:44 AM on May 2, 2014 
Marie Manilla says...
Christina: I so appreciate your honest assessment and presentation of your journey. You show tremendous insight and growth. I think you mirror a lot of us, so it's affirming to know that we're not isolated anomalies grappling with the realities of what it means to be a writer. Thank you!
Reply Christina
10:45 AM on May 2, 2014 
Christina says...
I expect every writer has a story to tell about what mattered most to them. For me, becoming a writer has been life-changing.
Hope all is well with you.

And one of the challenges is figuring out how to reply individually, which hopefully this message is. Larry, I always enjoy your work; both Philip and I appreciate all you've done for other writers with Bottom Dog.
Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
1:59 PM on May 2, 2014 
I agree with Marie. Your insight rings so true. I know that you've co-written a couple of books. How has that experience affected you and your growth as a writer? What is your definition of success?
Reply Christina
2:50 PM on May 2, 2014 
My experiences of co-authoring books were in both cases positive. Both times the experience was informal based on trust and open communication. Eddy Pendarvis led the way for our Pearl Buck biography in what we wrote and in her contact with the Chinese publisher.
The book I wrote with Amanda Armstrong (Ten Yen True), was a different process entirely, but to some extent based on that first experience in that we each wrote separate chapters and put them together. Since then, Amanda and I have both written separate books for the series. We are now collaborating on a fourth book--this time we talked about the plot and then off we went, with Amanda writing something, and me responding--often in the voice of the same character. It's lent a huge amount of energy to have another creative voice working on the story--with the expectation of discovery. It's like a creative treasure hunt full of surprises--the plot twists and turns and changes...
My maturation as a writer is to appreciate the process and not take it too seriously--
My definition of success as a writer is to "be in the moment" absorbed in the work. I would like to earn money though!
Reply Eddy
8:24 AM on May 3, 2014 
Christina was too modest to give a real plug to her historical fiction. I don't even especially like historical fiction, and I loved Unexpected Journey. Emily's Shadow is a "Brit lit" book for me (similar to "Chick lit" not similar to a college course in British literature. I haven't read Blue Caravan yet, only because I didn't know it was out. This is not a paid advertisement!!! I'm speaking as a reader, not as Christina's writer friend..
Reply Christina
9:10 AM on May 3, 2014 
Thanks, Eddy, for your assessment of my work. I actually have a neighbor, a discerning reader, who also told me she thought Unexpected Journey was good and that I should go on writing. It's great encouragement and validation!
Reply Cat
7:27 AM on May 4, 2014 
Hi Christina--I like your honesty about just how much hard work this all takes. An author once said to me: idea to publishing? It would be easier to run a 26 mile marathon. I think the marathon would be easier! :) Well stated, ma'am!