The Tantalizing Voices In This Writer’s Head By Ann Hite
As a four-year-old child, I saw pictures in my mind, static scenes. Of course I didn’t understand, I was already a writer before I even put a story on paper. I only knew I loved reading and when no one read to me, the long complex stories appeared. I called these scenes my voices because they always arrived with developed characters.
By the time I was eight, I wrote my tales in a diary with a gold lock and key. During school hours, I would gaze out the window while the characters worked out the next event to occur. As soon as the afternoon bell rang, I threw my books in my basket on the front of my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could, where I would walk up and down a ditch in our back yard. I told my latest story out loud so I could hear the places that didn’t sound like music or make any sense.
So, reader, you can only imagine what my mother thought the first time she heard me carrying on a full-blown conversation and no one else present. I tried to explain, but she warned me others might not understand my telling stories to the air.
And so began my years of explaining my call to write. Most had no such understanding on how these things go.
My novels find a spark of life when two things happen. 1). I have a question I need answered. 2). A character or characters take up space in my thoughts, giving their opinions on the story I am thinking about.
Example: My first novel Ghost On Black Mountain began with this question: if a mom tells a lie, lives the lie, and never gets caught in the lie, are there any repercussions?
The whole novel formed from that question. About a fourth of the way through writing this book, I became stuck. All the magic had left the story. Nellie, one of the main characters, told me, “You have to let me do something terrible. I can’t be sweet all the time. How boring.”
I sat at my desk and wrote several new scenes that allowed Nellie to commit a horrible deed and get away clean, or did she?
See how the question played into tale.
The book was on track again.
When I was writing my fourth novel, Sleeping Above Chaos, I had a character named Buster, who should have been the life of the book, but he was duller than paint peeling on the walls. I plotted to cut him from the novel. Out of complete frustration, I said aloud, “Why are you so boring?”
The answer zipped through my mind. “Because you made me the sheriff. I should be a preacher.”
I knew in my heart this was spot on. Readers still tell me he is one of my best characters.
One of the secondary characters in my second novel, The Storycatcher, kept appearing in scenes fifty years before the time the book was set. I picked up my journal and wrote the following to Armetta, the character: why are you fifty years behind? I wrote the answer: Because I am a ghost. This made for an interesting turn of events and the story fell into place.
So, by now, dear reader, you must be thinking she is not in touch with the real world that I live in. And that would be true to some degree. Fiction writers, when writing, are rarely in the here and now world. We have to be pulled back to it kicking and screaming. Instead, we prefer to build our worlds and occupants for this place. Every character I have written is part of me. This stresses me when I think about two of my worst villains, Hobbs Pritchard and Charles Dobbins. But they are part of me, and if I tell the truth, I enjoy unleashing them in my stories.
Fiction writers have a hard time describing their true writing processes, the places they go when committing words to the page. Most people don’t understand and only humor us. Even my own children roll their eyes when I begin to talk about my character as if he or she is real and sitting in the room with us. As writers, we have to decide whether to tell the truth about our habit of putting words on paper, mention those tantalizing voices, or just talk around it, tell them what they expect to hear?
I wouldn’t change a thing about my characters who come to visit me when I’m working. On most days, they are my friends, my allies, my art. I wouldn’t have my writing days go any other way.
About the Author
In September of 2011 Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published Ann Hite’s first novel, Ghost on Black Mountain. In 2012 this novel was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize, Georgia’s oldest literary award. In the same year, Ghost on Black Mountain won Hite Georgia Author of the Year. She went on to publish four more novels, a novella, memoir, and most recently Haints On Black Mountain: A Haunted Short Story Collection from Mercer University Press. In December 2022, Haints On Black Mountain was one of ten finalist for the Townsend Prize. It has been nominated for a Weatherford, Pushcart Prize, Indie Award, and Georgia Author of the Year 2023. Ann is a lover of Appalachia. She received a scholarship to the Appalachian WitersWorkshop Hindman Settlement in the summer of 2020 and was invited back in 2021. Her passion for history heavily influences her writing. “Lucille Frank: The Wife and Lost Women Connected to the Leo Frank Case” will be her first biography upcoming with Mercer University Press.