Behind the Scenes: “Discover the Victorious “V” in Voice!” by Caitlin DeLems

Voice—mysterious, essential, unique—that quality that every editor wants, the “flavor” bestowed by the author that makes a story come alive. Here Caitlin DeLems shares her struggle to find voice in her nonfiction book PITCH PERFECT AND PERSISTENT! THE MUSICAL DEBUT OF AMY CHENEY BEACH. And you’ll see that even Caitlin’s blog article has voice!

GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment below to get in the drawing to win a copy of PITCH PERFECT AND PERSISTENT!

Caitlin DeLems_copy_Beth Anderson BlogDiscover the Victorious “V” in Voice! by Caitlin DeLems

Allegro! Vivace! Presto! Words lit across my computer screen effortlessly. Getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper seemed natural. Voice for my fiction always showed up with ease, silky smooth.

But what about nonfiction?

After many years of creating fiction, I began to explore nonfiction for children. How thrilling to write about REAL subjects in a slice-of-life telling. But nonfiction for me was as arduous as learning a musical instrument.

Alongside crafting fiction stories, I wrote articles for children’s magazines before I ventured to take the plunge and attempt a biography.

As a fiction writer at heart, this new challenge seemed foreign. For years I had participated in SCBWI workshops, annual conferences, and other writers retreats to hone my skills. Filled page after page on the “How To” of crafting story. But how quickly I ascertained composing meaningful succinct articles for children’s magazines was far different from producing a biography.

The problem was not getting words onto my screen, but how to remove myself as a fiction writer. Every time I started a sentence, I fretted. Was it absolutely true? Did I state it with clarity, heart? Is it interesting enough?

Although self-doubt visited often, the more I wrote, the more I did not want to give up. However, one obstacle stopped me cold—VOICE—or I should say, absence of voice. It’s true voice never failed me in fiction. For the first time, voice vanished in my attempts at a biography.

9781662680083I continually overthought every word, every sentence that emerged on my screen. Fretted over my research. And when I did manage to succeed (I thought!), my now editor, Carolyn Yoder of Calkins Creek/Astra Books for Young Readers, would say, “This is wonderful!” Followed by, “Did this actually happen?” Alas, I had taken the liberty to embellish a sentence—or two.

I went back to the drawing board to find my voice. I had to turn the regurgitation of facts into story. To seek out the emotional connection. To dive deeper. Five hundred pages later, and grossly overwritten, I declared my manuscript finished—I thought. It wasn’t long before I cut it to three hundred fifty pages. Put it on the shelf to breathe—for a short period—only to reduce the word count again. End result, a picture book draft!

But what about voice? Although my painstakingly l-o-n-g biography never went to print, I succeeded in a breakthrough—the emergence of voice.

A few years later, I dove into a new project—a picture book biography. My editor’s wise words had never left me—thorough research is crucial. Pearls are hidden in the research.

And then she provided another gem, “Write it like you write fiction.”

“But how,” I asked.

 “You’ll figure it out,” she said.

I thoroughly researched my next subject. The further I dug, the closer the bond. Still, it was not enough. Refusing to give up, I persevered to get my hands on even more primary documents. I kept peeling back the layers until I reached the core.

Like the crashing of cymbals, voice showed up! Words flew across my screen.

No embellishments. I framed words carefully. Directed them away from hard, dry facts. Turned them into narrative with essence and emotion, and wove them into story.

Voice gained momentum. Electrifying!

After three months, I completed my research and first draft and titled my project, Pitch Perfect and Persistence! The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach (later vibrantly illustrated by Alison Jay).

What shifted?

I managed to capture the “V” for victory in the voice of young Amy. In hindsight, I realize a story rich in research is rich in content—flows as smoothly as notes in a sonata.  

Amy Cheney Beach’s personal letters and interviews, in addition to her mother’s diaries, provided a wealth of primary documentation. She lived in me.

The young musical prodigy’s every emotion awakened my connection to character . . .

Her delight in music from early on.

Pitch Perfect and Persistent_Spr1

Her passion to gain access to the piano, thwarted. Tears of frustration. Inability to convince her mother she HAD to play the piano.

Pitch Perfect and Persistent_Spr2

And Amy’s tenacity to do it her way!

Pitch Perfect and Persistent_Spr3

Amy Beach was steadfast in her determination to compose and perform. And later, like many nineteenth-century stalwart women, she struggled to seek a career in a male-dominated society.

I consider myself an author across genres, for as I compose nonfiction, a fiction story or two will always remain in progress. Fiction allows me to write with my eyes closed, move freely from page to page, while nonfiction now opens its door to the far less inhibited and fervid voice.

My editor’s right! Gems are in the research. Dig deep enough and you, too, will discover the voice of your character in your research. A pearl—the “Aha!” moment.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of PITCH PERFECT AND PERSISTENT! (US addresses only, please. Winner announced 3/31/23)

You can connect with Caitlin here:

Instagram Facebook Website

11 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Discover the Victorious “V” in Voice!” by Caitlin DeLems

  1. Years ago, all of our fifth grade students in the school district took a writing assessment. Our district believed in high-quality writing instruction. We studied the results, which were reported in 6-traits categories. Year after year, we noted that students’ pieces with the highest overall scores also showed the highest Voice scores. We shared this observation with our students and studied published mentor texts for Voice. IMO, Voice is the most difficult of the 6-traits to craft, but it’s worth the attention. I look forward to finding the voice in Pitch Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, yes! I find that the voice is the key that allows you into the story. And if you can’t find the voice, you need to do more research. That said, I do find it takes multiple “trials,” and maybe a mentor text or two that I find myself mysteriously attracted to while thinking about my own MS, to lead me down the right path. Congrats on finding the voice for this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a fascinating interview. I loved how you continued researching until you found the heart of your story. I’m excited to read your beautiful book and learn more about this incredible person.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic post and so inspirational! Finding voice is the one thing that editors say they can’t help with and I know how hard it is. Well done Caitlin and Alison and what a fabulous Kirkus starred review too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed this post! What great advice to help find the voice in a nonfiction PB biography! Thanks for sharing, and congrats on your new book, Caitlin. Lovely illustrations, as well! Thanks Beth for sharing Caitlin’s words.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.