The State of My Voice

This year I managed to post one blog piece, kicking off 2022. The rest of the year slid past me, though that doesn’t mean I wasn’t using my voice. I was busy with agent queries, a bit of poetry writing, and revisions on my set of linked short stories. Yet none of these endeavors insisted on a blog post. I’m remembering how I started this blog in 2012 to explore the idea of voice and vocal problems. In an attempt to round out not only the past year, but also the last decade, I will offer an update on the state of my voice.

I hit a milestone when Finishing Line Press accepted my novella, Off the Wall, last September. While I’ve had a few short stories published, Off the Wall will be my first full-length paperback (if you discount my self-published collection of poetry). The novella stars Sadie Taube, the daughter of a deceased heroin addict. She’s living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, with her aunt and uncle in their big ass house. While they treat her all right, she’s not exactly their daughter. She’s been working in a diner and saving every penny. The restaurant is warm and friendly, decorated with the dollar bills customers have left behind. When Sadie turns 18, her boss Bev asks her to stay after work so they can celebrate. Bev doesn’t know she has a plan brewing, one focused on the Coast Starlight. Sadie is gonna get on that train and head to California. Yet during this last hurrah she finds reason to track down a little extra money (when Bev isn’t looking). Off the Wall is due out next fall.

What I like about poetry writing is the way commercial aspects do not play into the publishing process all that much. I can tinker with work and get it out there. But I can’t expect a lot of recompense. So I don’t. Writing poetry allows me to experience the joy of writing without feeling pressures focused on agents and editors, or the tough publishing market. Feeling that joy has its own reward. Once a poem is out in the world, it claims its own destiny. It can live or die, as necessary. 

And yes, I’m still singing. During the first year of the pandemic, I connected with a voice teacher on the Oregon Coast who was willing to work with me either on her porch (as she guided and accompanied me through the window), as well as via FaceTime (during times when I was working as a librarian in California). My teacher uses the Joseph Klein technique, which initially felt like a dubious challenge as it differed from anything I’d done before. Yet this approach has helped me fix a number of problems. For example, evening my upper register with my lower register has been a major snafu for me since day one. We are now in our third year together, and I continue to be amazed at my teacher’s ability to push me to the next step. This fall she assigned “O cessate di piagarmi” by Alessandro Scarlatti, as well as “Nel cor più non mi sento” by Giovanni Paisiello. As I live in Davis, California, when school is in session, I’ve been trying to do my best with these pieces through FaceTime. I’m looking forward to my next in-person session with her so that she can truly assess my progress.

Finally, I haven’t stopped exercising my library voice, and I’m not talking about shushing people when I’m sitting on the reference desk. Community college librarians have been charged with the task of helping people work through the maze of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. It takes work to develop the sort of critical thinking necessary to pinpoint quality sources. I stand ready to cheer on any student willing to deepen their information literacy skills. As an FYI, I will be teaching Library Research and Information Literacy online through Sacramento City College this spring (March 20 to May 12).

Happy New Year!

One Bar at a Time

My new voice teacher has been insisting I work on sight-reading, a skill I never learned as a young person. While I have rudimentary ability in this area, I generally feel handicapped when I’m called to prepare for performance. I’ve survived a number of choir concerts, but it would be nice to read with more confidence. I appreciate my teacher’s willingness to be patient with this retiree (OK, semi-retired) as she works me through one sight-reading exercise after the next.

This week she suggested I break the song into little pieces. When I master one bar at a time, the sight-reading process becomes less daunting. I’m not sure I’ll ever be “literate,” but working on this in a methodical way is making it easier for me to interact with the literature. This’s what my voice teacher calls individual songs.

I’m facing another hurdle, a “now or never” conundrum. I’ve got three novel manuscripts I believe are ready for publication: a middle grade mystery, a young adult novel, and a novel for adults (whether the third one is commercial fiction or literary fiction, I’m not sure). I’ve tried various approaches to get my work onto an editor’s desk. I’ve mailed manuscripts. I’ve emailed them. I’ve attended conferences and pitched to agents and editors in person. I haven’t come up completely empty. I’ve received a few nice notes from editors of major publishers on earlier drafts of the first two manuscripts, now significantly revised (the third has not yet been pitched). As an aside, I’ve been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. My poetry chapbook was an Eric Hoffer Book Award category finalist. Yet success in novel writing has remained elusive. I’ve stopped believing I’ll ever find the person who sees reason to get behind my long prose voice.

As I face this impossible task, yet again, I’m considering my voice teacher’s recent advice, “Work on one bar at a time.” Set little goals and complete them—one after the next. My first goal is to polish my supporting documents—query letters and synopses. My second goal is to make a verbal pitch to two literary agents via Zoom at the Willamette Writers Conference. Once I check these boxes, I’ll put together a list of agents and shoot out a pile of queries via email. If I can keep up staccato pressure approach, maybe…