Monday, November 12, 2012

Telling Tale Tales — lots of them

Kathy Lynn Hall on Style interviews

Writing style can vary widely over time and around the world. Like many readers, I can almost hear a particular “voice” when I read a British author as compared to an American writer. And who could argue that Dickens and other 19th-century authors had a style distinct from today’s prevailing style?
It seems to me that commercial fiction publishers are imposing a style. Can you distinguish Dan Brown’s style from Tom Clancy’s? EL James from J. Sterling’s?

It’s so refreshing to read an author like Kathy Lynn Hall, whose writing style is fearlessly her own. You probably already know her for Red Mojo Mama and its sequel, Red is an Attitude!, as well as The Great Twitter Adventure and other books, as well.

Kathy, how would you describe your own writing style?

Folksy — it took me a long time to find my “voice” and once I did I realized that it’s very earthy and one-on-one. I think I would have been one of those people sitting around the pickle barrel, telling tall tales in the old days.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I absolutely love Agatha Christie and Jodi Picoult, but can’t begin to write like either one of them. The only thing I think I can imitate is the way a story is woven. I often think of this as a pinball machine — anyone remember those? — when the ball starts down the chute and you’re madly trying to use the flippers to keep it pinging off all the little thingies. You keep trying to go back to the high pointers, sometimes failing, but sometimes you hit it big and everything lights up. That’s what a writer lives for.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

No particular authors, but if a story is bereft of heart, I’m really not interested and quickly lose interest. If it’s all action and no character-building or interactions, I just stop reading it.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

I have grown to really like my style. I’ll never be the Great American Novelist and that’s okay with me. If I can make a reader love my characters and care about them, then I’m happy. The one thing I have to watch out for is my tendency to be too concise and leave out description. I started out as a screenwriter and that’s ALL dialog, so I have to curb those tendencies.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

It’s definitely the characters and what they say and do to each other. I could have written Castaway — the film — because my character would have invented Wilson, too.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Absolutely — I think any genre does that. My “Red” novels are romantic suspense, which demands that there be enough romance, but not so much that it becomes a romance novel, and enough action to keep you hopping. The current novel I’m working on is a political thriller and I’m stepping outside my comfort zone a bit to insert enough action.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

With any author, I think the reader responds unconsciously at first, but eventually how you are writing rises to the surface and they begin to recognize what they like about the way you write. Or maybe what they don’t like.

How important do you think writing style is to an author's commercial success?

It’s everything. Almost, anyway. Style can overcome a lot. Sure, you must have a great story and characters, but if your style is clumsy or tough to read, you’ve lost the reader before they even get that far.

Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview, Scott. I enjoyed it.

And thank you, Kathy, for your insight.

Kathy Lynn Hall is author of the novels Red Mojo Mama, Red is an Attitude and The Great Twitter Adventure, the short-story collection Her Heart, the autobiographical collection of musings entitled Tell Them You’re Fabulous and the social media guidebook Blog & Tweet — How to Make a Splash Online.

She’s also a prolific blogger, maintaining seven (!) blogs simultaneously, while participating in others’ blogs, Twitter, Facebook and more. And somehow, she manages to do a whack of charity work and respond to pesky interviewers.

Check out her blogs:

What do you think about Kathy's comments about writing style? Leave a comment.


  1. Scott! You uploaded this at 4:15 am, my time! It only took me 8 hours to find it! What a really lovely page you've created. I feel so spoiled. Seriously - thank you so much for the opportunity. The questions were great.

  2. 'Earthy" and "one-on-one" are great ways to describe Kathy's writing style. I love her characters, she really knows how to bring them off the page.

  3. Kathy, I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head with regards to style. If the writing itself is difficult to get through, a great plot never rises to capture the reader. Great interview!

  4. Fabulous interview, Kathy, and I love your "voice," and Red's. :)