Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense/Christian horror and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

Finding Your Voice

When I first started writing, I read a lot of Charles L. Grant, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon. I thought I wanted to be a horror writer. I had a file full of ideas about vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, malformed creatures created by a combination of man’s vanity and recombinant DNA, zombies, ghouls, and a smattering of ghosts for good measure. Armed with those ideas and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite: Infernal Dance in the background, I was off and running.

Consequently, my first attempts at writing fiction sounded a lot like cheap Charles L. Grant, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon knock-offs. The writing wasn’t necessarily bad (okay, my first three novels stunk like dead fish), but it also wasn’t me. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t help much when you’re trying to blaze your own trail.

Now What?

While I was being rejected, editors wrote short notes on the rejection letters. They said, “I really like the description, but…” or “You are a really strong storyteller, but…” and the ever popular, “I really like this story, but…”

So what’s a fellow to do?

I kept writing. I kept producing fiction that sounded like someone else. In the meantime I started attending various writers conferences and joined a writers group. The conferences exposed me to professional writers who were willing to share their knowledge with those who were just starting out, and the writers group required all members to regularly bring something they were working on for the rest of the group to evaluate. That’s when I learned the secret.

What’s the Secret, Mister Tom?

The two-part secret I learned is pretty basic, but it gets straight to the heart of finding your own voice.

First thing I learned what writer’s voice means. It is the way the words move and flow. It is the way the composite parts of our writing fit together as a whole. It is the thing that makes each person’s writing unique. Often you can identify a writer’s work by the way the words sound, their cadence, even the way they look on the page. Its style plus a hard-to-define “something else” that sets them apart. Something you develop without being aware you are doing it. For example, read passages from your favorite authors. Notice what makes each one different from the next—the thing that lets you know it is a particular author’s work. That’s their voice. The passage may not state it is a work of Dean Koontz or Rene Gutteridge, but you know it’s their writing.

How do you “get” a writing voice? First, don’t try to write like someone else. Don’t try to be who you’re not. Like an old storyteller said at a festival years ago, “If you is de tadpole, don’t try to be de bullfrog. Your time will come.” Write with honesty, and your voice will develop on its own.

Next, write the way you talk. Listen to the little voice in your head, the one that’s talking while you write. The one that really talks while you take dictation. Don’t be concerned about writing as “art.” Be more concerned about writing as story. John Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, said, “Think of writing, even the most serious writing, as a medium of entertainment. I mean entertainment in the broadest sense: engaging the reader’s mind and keeping the reader interested. What good is a piece of writing, however brilliant, if nobody reads it all the way through? Always ask yourself, ‘Are they still paying attention?’”

The second part of the secret is this: You have to practice. You know, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Find the feelings of the words. Words evoke responses, feelings, and emotions. Some words are powerful (thunder, commanding, explode, terror, grandeur). Some words are peaceful (tranquil,

flowing, sigh, velvet, sunset). Some words invite feelings of joy (puppy, celebrate, happiness, smile, cotton candy). The way we select the words we write is directly related to the way we want the readers to feel as they read the words. And that only comes with the process of getting hundreds of thousands of words under your belt.

Also, language has certain rhythms. The words either lie flat on the page, or, with the proper amount of attention, they take on a life of their own. For example:

“There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made” (My Antonia by Willa Cather).

“An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed” (The Way of all Flesh by Samuel Butler).

“Miss Morstan seized my wrist, and we all stood with thumping hearts, straining our ears. From the great black house there sounded through the silent night the saddest and most pitiful of sounds—the shrill, broken whimpering of a frightened woman” (The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

“And though home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration” (Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens).

Practice a Lot!

Phrases like those don’t just roll off a writer’s fingertips . . . not at first. It takes time and seasoning. It takes thousands and thousands of words crafted on a regular basis. It takes being willing to write flat prose and rework it into something special.

That being said, let’s get started. One of the best ways to develop your voice is to write. So here is your assignment. Type the following sentences: Fingers of moonlight brushed the roof of the cabin at the edge of the pine barren. Inside, Karen Foster had the inexplicable feeling that she was not alone.

Now, using that as your first sentence, write the first two pages of a horror story, a love story, a comedy, a travel article, and/or a thriller.

Till next month, let’s keep those keys clicking.


Soemthing Stirs