Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Finding your Voice with Guest Blogger John Knoerle

The Book Boost welcomes author John Knoerle to the blog. He's here to discuss finding your voice as an author.

Here's what he had to say...

Everyone knows that serious purveyors of fiction write in the third person. They hover high above their characters, the better to examine them with high-powered binoculars. And there is nothing wrong with this approach, if you can pull it off.

I did passably well in my first two novels Crystal Meth Cowboys and The Violin Player. But I felt there was something missing. A consistent point of view. The all-knowing third person narrator should, by definition, maintain a semblance of neutrality towards his characters, let their actions and dialogue speak for them.

But I’m one opinionated s.o.b. And I like to think I have a good sense of humor. I got to indulge both these predilections when I shifted to first person narrative in my new American Spy Trilogy, Book Two of which, A Despicable Profession, has just been published.

Which is not to say you can’t create humor in the third person. Catch-22’s Yossarian is a funny guy who gets tangled in bizarrely humorous situations. But while we often smile we rarely laugh at his exploits. I think this is because we view him from a distance. Humor needs an individual point of view. Stand-up comics get their biggest yuks when telling stories on themselves.

I wish I could say I had puzzled this all out before I dove into the Hal Schroeder trilogy. But I had not. I had the makings of a story and a central character and set about the tedious task of crafting an outline. The plot line behaved itself but Hal Schroeder insisted on speaking to me in the first person.

I liked him that way. He cracked me up. And why not? First person narratives are commonplace in the mystery genre, though I have never been quite sure why. Doesn’t the suspense in a thriller depend upon the fate of the hero? If the hero is also the narrator we know he’s not getting knocked off no matter what mayhem comes his way.

So writing a first-person mystery does have that drawback. But Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novels are first person, and legendary. Not to mention such classics as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Plus those of my favorite author that you never hear about anymore, that slightly daft Southern gentleman Walker Percy.

So high quality fiction can be written from the POV of one character. You’d be hard pressed to create a sweeping epic, and the Nobel Prize committee isn’t likely to awaken you with a 4 a.m. phone call. But you just might have some fun.

A Note from the Book Boost: As an author myself, I'm always aware of the "voice" of a story when I'm reading a book. It can make a huge difference. I just finished penning my first attempt at first person and I wrote it from the male perspective (this should be interesting since I'm a female)! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, please tell us more about your book.


May, 1946. America is basking in hard-won peace and prosperity. The OSS has been disbanded, CIA does not yet exist. Rumors swirl about the Red Army massing tanks along the Elbe in East Germany.

Former OSS agent Hal Schroeder gets an offer from Global Commerce LTD to be a trade rep in Berlin. He flies to New York to meet his new boss. Hal’s jaw drops when former OSS Chief Wild Bill Donovan strides in. Schroeder, who survived perilous duty behind German lines, says he is no longer interested in being a spy. General Donovan assures him that’s not part of his job description.

Hal comes to doubt that when he meets his immediate superior in Berlin. It’s Victor Jacobson, the case officer who sent him on repeated suicide missions in WWII.


The Pierre was a swanky joint. Beyond swanky. The lobby had white marble columns and white marble floors and black vases with sprays of flowers in them and was the quietest place you’d ever seen. Or heard. It looked like the room you waited in just before you met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Herbert waved to the reception clerk and walked directly to the bank of elevators. No check in, Herbert already had a room. Good for him but I wasn’t keen on spending the night in a twin bed listening to him snore. I was about to say so when Herbert said, “We have a three bedroom suite with a dining room. Breakfast’s at nine.”

Herbie didn’t say anything more after that. He let The Pierre do the talking for him.

Want More John?

John Knoerle was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1949 and migrated to California with his family in the 1960s. He has worked as a stand-up comic, a voiceover actor and a radio reporter. He wrote the screenplay for Quiet Fire, which starred Karen Black and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, and the stage play The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, an LA Time’s Critics Choice. John also worked as a writer for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Knoerle’s first novel, Crystal Meth Cowboys, published in 2003, was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, The Violin Player, won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. Knoerle is currently at work on The American Spy Trilogy. Book One, A Pure Double Cross, came out in 2008. Book Two, A Despicable Profession, was published in August of 2010.

John Knoerle currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Judie.

You can visit his website at

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