Episode 114: On Voice and Writing – Interview with Steven Rowley

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey there, Word Nerds. Welcome to this week’s episode of DIY MFA Radio. Today I’m talking to Steven Rowley, the author of the novel Lily and the Octopus about an important–but often neglected–topic: voice.

As writers, there are so many different voices we have to sift through: from authorial voice to characters’ voices to that critical voice in our head that tries to hold us back.

In this episode, Steven and I talk about how to differentiate between these voices, and how to discover which ones best serve you and the story you are writing. Most important, we also discuss how to silence that inner critic and let go of those voices that are weighing you down.

In this episode Steven and I discuss:

  • Working through hard emotions via writing.
  • Articulating the distinct voices of different characters in a story.
  • “Finding” your authorial voice.
  • Protecting yourself from the voices in your own head.
  • What to read when you need to replenish the well.

Plus, Steven’s #1 tip for writers.

Resources and Links

Lily and the Octopus CoverLily and the Octopus (affiliate link) is a simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring story, but from a writer’s perspective, it’s also more. This novel is like a master class on voice where you can see multiple layers of voice and how they weave together.

The Story:

Ted Flask is a man struggling with the loneliness and heartbreak of everyday existence. A useless therapist. A cheating ex-boyfriend. A challenging relationship with a distant mother. His saving grace is the intimacy he shares with Lily, his 12-year-old dachshund. Unfortunately Lily is ill and running out of time. Ted’s denial of her possible loss becomes the weird and wonderful journey at the center of this imaginative novel.

Ted can only acknowledge the tumor over Lily’s eye as an evil invader: an octopus. Ted refuses to lose Lily. So he declares war on the octopus, going to both fanciful and forceful lengths to save his precious friend.

And while Lily may not initially be aware of the threat they face, her companionship and unwavering loyalty give him strength—her staccato responses to Ted’s emotional life read exactly like you think a dachshund would talk: “THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE! YOU! SHOULD! MAKE! THIS! EVERY! DAY!” [page 22] Ted’s love for Lily is fierce, raw, and his struggle with loss cracks his life open anew. On the surface, this story about a man whose dog’s cancer takes the form of an evil talking octopus is strange, hilarious, and it likely will make you cry. But at its core, it is a redemptive tale about how far we will go shield ourselves from the harsh reality of loss, and how brave we become when we find the courage to make peace with it.

The Author:

Steven Rowley has worked as a freelance writer, alternative weekly newspaper columnist, and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College and currently lives in Los Angeles. For more information about Steven and his ongoing projects, check out his website, or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Link to Episode 114

(Right-click to download.)

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome!


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