YA, Voice, and Anthony Bourdain
On a mid-day coffee run, I caught part of an NPR interview with Anthony Bourdain. They talked about Parts Unknown, his new book, and how he hates brunch but loves making pancakes of every shape and flavor for his 9-year-old daughter and her friends.
Don't consider these spoilers. Go find this episode of Fresh Air and listen for yourself. If for nothing else, listen for his voice.
And I don't mean his actual speaking voice. (Though it is amazing, isn't it? It's like a warm blanket for me. I'd curl up and listen for days).
But I mean his writing voice.
I've never read Kitchen Confidential (I have a feeling there will be too many drugs, too much scandal for me in there) but I watch No Reservations, Parts Unknown and even The Layover for his voiceovers. Eloquent, thoughtful, and just a little bit crass. He travels the world as a writer. He can describe an NYC hot dog stand in a way that not only makes me feel like I'm right there, but also like I just experienced something somewhat intimate and moving... through my TV.
Lately, I've been reading my genre like I'm obsessed. I'm working on a lighthearted YA romance and so my literary diet has consisted of, you guessed it, lighthearted YA romances. 9 of them in the past month to be exact. I'm reading to get a sense of all sorts of things, voice included. I'm dissecting all sorts of things as I narrow in on my own path through this book. I reread entire sections and return to books frequently. It's educational and helpful and keeps my mind grounded in the tone, pace, structure and movement of the work I'm doing.
But on my coffee run, it occurred to me that it's probably time to poke my head up for a bit, and consume an entirely different genre or, at least, vastly different voices.
Which brings me back to Anthony Bourdain. One of the reasons I hang on every word as he describes soup in vivid detail, despite how I really don't like soup, is because he writes about it exceptionally well. He wants to draw you in. He has a point of view. He's visiting a place you will likely never be and he takes the responsibility of bringing you there more seriously than he takes the responsibility of keeping his stomach a functioning organ. He is brave and uses every word, phrase, and element of language at his disposal. His voice is unique and from it, there are lessons to learn, even if his work is the polar opposite of anything I'll ever write. Because I will never, ever write like Anthony Bourdain. And I don't pretend to want to try to. But damn, if I can write about the moment my characters first meet or that all important first kiss in a way that evokes the same feelings that Bourdain does when he writes about noodles? I just might be on my way.
(It just occurred to me that the first big scene in my book features soup quite prominently. This is all coming together.)