It was Anne Lamott who said in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, that writers have two voices playing in their heads. One persuading them they are brilliant, unique and on the way to writing the next great American novel. The other telling them they are untalented imposters, with nothing to say. The writer's job, Lamott says, is to turn both voices off and get to work. This is why talking about the best thing I've ever written makes me squirm. Maybe it's not as good as I think. Maybe it's terrible.
Out of all I've written - six books, a dissertation, a master thesis and countless reports of one sort or another - four pieces of writing generate a sense of pride and affection. And all for different reasons. I'm not saying they are my best. I'm just saying that when I asked myself what are the best things I've written these four jumped to mind. The first is a report I wrote as a young probation officer doing a pre-sentence report on a woman arrested for shop lifting. My supervisor told me it was the best report he had ever read, except that he doubted it had anything to do with the woman under investigation. He thought I'd romanticized her. I loved it because I thought I'd illuminated the unique complexities of her difficult life. The second piece was a long report I wrote evaluating a police field training program whose mission it was to turn academy graduates into full fledged cops. It was a long study involving multiple interviews and a lot of critical analysis. I wanted to move the administration to making changes by humanizing the process, portraying officers as complex beings rather than interchangeable units of labor. I got a polite nod for my efforts. My third favorite piece of writing is my first non-fiction book, I Love a Cop:What Police Families Need to Know. I wrote this book from my heart, as a woman in a man's world, reaching across the pages to meet my women readers. My fourth favorite - and I'm coming to the end here - is a description of a fireworks display in my first mystery, Burying Ben. Would that I had this facility with language more often.
Fireworks explode in all directions, cascading sparks on the square. One explosion triggers two more that trigger four more until dozens of pinwheels are spinning wildly, spraying the crowd with whooshing ribbons of flickering colored embers. Children run screaming and laughing as a wooden bull bursts into streaking sparklers that chase them across the field. One final ignition and an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe spins about in the flame, her halo bedazzled with glittering phosphorescent fizz. Round and round she spins, illuminating the night with her otherworldliness, shimmering and blinking until she fades into darkness.
My best writing happens when I find my voice. Doesn't matter what I'm writing, fiction, non-fiction, a short piece or long. Voice is an elusive little bugger. Likes to play hide and seek. I must find her over and over with each new project. She's teasing me now, writing this blog.