Robyn Hood Black - children's author, poet, artist

Hannah enjoying poetry workshop

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Hanging with fellow Georgia writers (from top, l-r) Tracy Walker, Heather Kolich, Donna Bowman, (bottom, middle) Janice Hardy and Paula Puckett
photo by Steve Kolich

Susan Rosson Spain, Robyn Hood Black, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Myra Meade at the Hall Book Exchange in Gainesville, Ga.
photo by Mel Hornsby

Southern Breeze Kudos Kites 09 - Donna, Robyn, Heather, Sarah, and Peggy

Robyn with Kathleen Duey, author extraordinaire

Robyn with Alaska Nature Writer Debbie Miller

photo by Robyn Hood Black
Paul B. Janeczko

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Life on the Deckle Edge

VOICE LESSONS with Irene Latham

August 22, 2012

Tags: SCBWI, Southern Breeze, authors, book tracks, poetry, conferences, workshops, writing life

Poetry buffs who frequent this blog know about Poetry Friday regular Irene Latham – her COLOR OF LOST ROOMS (2010) was a National Indie Excellence finalist and winner of the 19th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award. She just sold her first collection of children's poems, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, set at an African watering hole, to Millbrook Press/Lerner. Look for it in the fall of 2014! Irene has been poetry editor of the Alabama Arts Journal since 2003.

She’s also an accomplished novelist. LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, 2010) won the Alabama Library Association 2011 Children's Book Award and was a SIBA Book Award finalist. Her new novel, DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook, Oct. 2012), is soon to be let loose!

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference in Birmingham in October, Irene is presenting a workshop on that elusive, crucial, desired-by-any-editor element of a story: voice. She was kind enough to drop by today and give us a sneak peek.

Take it away, Irene!

Confession: when I sold LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I thought “editing” meant someone somewhere sending my words through some fancydancy spell-check program. I really had no idea how to revise.

Guess what I learned?

The best and quickest way to educate oneself about editing and revision is to actually DO it. And what I’ve found in the years since is that for me, revising is most successful if taken in stages. By which I mean, I read over the manuscript multiple times, addressing one specific issue during each pass.

I generally start with plot, because that’s easiest (for me). Then I move to character arc – one pass for each major player, then another pass for supporting characters. Then, eventually, I move to voice. It’s during this pass that the magic happens: ordinary words take on flavor and personality. Dialogue quirks emerge. Similes and metaphors become consistent with the character. Gone are the modern words in a historical piece, while invented words manifest themselves in a fantasy piece.

One of the best ways I have found to teach about voice is to show examples of writing without voice. Take, for instance, the first line from a household favorite book FEED by M. T. Anderson.

line STRIPPED of voice, by me:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon was boring.”

actual line, written by M.T. Anderson:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

That, fellow readers and writers, is VOICE.

Want to learn more? Come to the SCBWI Southern Breeze region annual Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference in Birmingham, Oct. 20. (There’s an optional novel intensive Oct. 19.) Here’s the official description for my workshop:

Voice Lessons: Revising for Voice

Got a book with great plot, characters, but no distinctive voice? This workshop provides revision techniques and advice on how to create a voice that’s authentic and memorable. *Attendees should bring at least one page up to an entire chapter of a work-in-progress to revise.

Handout includes a list of strategies, a voice-revision checklist and three before/after excerpts to illustrate effectiveness of the suggested techniques.

Sounds terrific, Irene! Thanks for the preview.

To learn more about Irene and her books, check out her website and blog.

And to register for the Writing and Illustrating for Kids (wik) fall conference in Birmingham , click here.

Hope to see you there!


  1. August 22, 2012 10:24 AM EDT
    Ooooo, I am so intrigued!!! How's a girl to decide which session to go to!!!? e
    - elizabeth
  2. August 22, 2012 10:30 AM EDT
    Great example and great post! Can't wait to read Irene's new book!
    - Vicky Alvear Shecter
  3. August 22, 2012 11:00 AM EDT
    Hi, e and Vicky! Thanks for popping in. I know, so many great workshops to choose from at wik. And I loved this example Irene shared.
    - Robyn Black
  4. August 22, 2012 11:02 AM EDT
    I hadn't heard about Dear Wandering Wildebeest -- sounds delightful! Congratulations!!
    Can't wait for the conference :)
    - Jo S. Kittinger
  5. August 22, 2012 11:08 AM EDT
    I know, Jo - such exciting news, and I can't wait to see the book! Or you all, soon, in Birmingham.
    - Robyn Hood Black
  6. August 22, 2012 12:12 PM EDT
    Thanks, friends! I look forward to seeing y'all in October, when, yes, there will be pumpkins! :) Robyn, you are THE BEST. I appreciate you.
    - Irene Latham
  7. August 22, 2012 12:34 PM EDT
    I wish I could write words like "completely suck" in a PB, but I'm not sure it would fly. :-) Loved the post!
    - Bonnie Herold
  8. August 22, 2012 2:14 PM EDT
    Glad you approve of my re-posting the pumpkin pic, Irene - I thought it appropriate!

    Bonnie, yeah, not sure kindergarten teachers would want that as a read-aloud. ;0) Thanks for visiting!
    - Robyn Black
  9. August 22, 2012 5:07 PM EDT
    wish I could attend this year's conference but maybe next year... or maybe Springmingle
    - Patricia Weaver
  10. August 22, 2012 5:49 PM EDT
    We'll miss you, Pat - hope to see you at the next one. Thanks for dropping by!
    - Robyn Hood Black
  11. August 22, 2012 11:43 PM EDT
    I'm always happy to hear more about Irene. Thanks for the good interview, Robyn. I didn't know about the poetry book for kids. The writing session sounds wonderful. Maybe some day I can attend.
    - linda Baie
  12. August 23, 2012 7:35 AM EDT
    Great to see you, Linda! We do have some mighty fine conferences in Southern Breeze. Would love to catch up with you at a workshop somewhere, sometime! :0)
    - Robyn Black
  13. August 23, 2012 9:12 AM EDT
    Great example of voice using Feed. Great book! Irene's workshop sounds invaluable for those of us trying to improve in pinning down that illusive quality of voice for our characters.
    - Sandra Havriluk
  14. August 23, 2012 9:23 AM EDT
    Hi, Sandra! Thanks for visiting. I'm sure Irene's workshop will be terrific; she's always full of great insights.
    - Robyn Black
  15. August 23, 2012 1:40 PM EDT
    Hey Robyn and Irene! Great interview and love the FEED example for voice. Can't wait to hear more at WIK! TK
    - TK
  16. August 23, 2012 9:03 PM EDT
    Looking forward to seeing you there, TK! Thanks for the wave.
    - Robyn Black

Quick Clicks

bio, photos, interview links, etc.
Explore a poem or two or five....
Explore this genre of sparely crafted poetry which offers endless depth. Resources for students, teachers, and writers.
Author visits
In schools or other settings, Robyn shares her passion for writing and encourages creativity. Presentations for all age groups.
In addition to writing books, Robyn has sold her writing to major children's magazines.
A rhyming tale of a young boy's knightly adventure with an imagined dragon.
Nonfiction, interactive book on wolves featuring giant pop-up and tons of info!