As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m working on a middle grade series. I’ve recently paused writing the second story to edit the first.
At a conference last fall I had the opportunity to read the first six pages of the first novel aloud to a group of twenty-five writers and the accomplished author/editor Arthur A. Levine. In preparation I spent a day tweaking the brief introduction to the book. Arthur’s advice was to carry the voice of the narrator in that introduction throughout the novel, and I might have something worthwhile.
After the conference, I reread my manuscript and discovered serious inconsistencies in the narration. One voice was enthusiastic and immature.; another, brusque and flashy. A third seemed unfocused. The only voice worth hearing was indeed the the plain, confident one in the introduction. Who was that? I searched my memory for the face of someone I knew who spoke like that. One wrong face after another appeared in my imagination before I recalled that of Charles Emery (pictured).
The late Mr. Emery was my high school coach and English teacher at the Fountain Valley School of Colorado. He was an extremely reserved but approachable man in his forties. His teaching manner can best be described as deliberate. He gave good lectures supporting his positions with historical facts and passages from the text. Students could always tell when Mr. Emery was about to read. He would lean back in his chair, lower his half-moon glasses, and tip his head up slightly. He read us Chaucer, Shakespeare and Donne in his naturally low timbre. There was a resonant, Gregorian hum to his voice that caught the ear. He spoke almost without inflection. The poignancy and emotion of the stories were carried rather in the occasional pause or drop in volume. He read to a room filled with sixteen-year-old boys, none of whom ever spoke over him. I recall closing my own eyes or staring out through the window, not to avoid his performance, but to focus on it more intently.
Mr. Emery – Chuck, as he insisted I call him in our few correspondences years later – was a decorate war hero (UDT in WWII). He was a champion handball player and had been a scholar at Columbia University. He never spoke of any of this to us. We learned about it in murmurs from the seniors. I never saw him brag, or swagger, or speak sharply to anyone.
I’ll never have Charles Emery’s voice, but always carry it with me, perhaps feebly into my own little stories.
Here’s a bit more about Mr. Emery from the school. As you will see, I’m hardly alone in my praise of him.