What is your tone?

I didn’t really get tone until college. What is the author’s attitude, they’d ask us on tests. How the fuck should I know? Why can’t we just read it and have our own attitudes?

But I get it now. It’s not much of a conversation if our reading experience is limited to our own response without any consideration of the writer’s perspective. In a similar way, as an adolescent I had a limited understanding of theme. What they — the nefarious posers of literary questions — really meant for us to discover was: What is the story about — what are its themes? But I found this a ridiculous proposition. It took an entire book to tell the story and now you want me to reduce it to battle cries in four sentences? Harry Potter is about the humanist assertion that brutality and fear tactics have a shelf life and ultimately the hope of civilization is the united belief in kindness, bravery and curiosity. There should always be the opportunity for redemption. We are bound, one to another, in unexpected ways. Also, wizards.

My problem, obviously, as an earnest student, was a belief that there could be one correct answer. When in fact what I was being asked was how does the story work? How does it work? In these 700 pages, what did you absorb, what does it mean, and is it what the author intended you to experience? Jack Gilbert calls this the engine. What is the engine? How does the story run?

We like to say that what the writer intended has little to do with it. All that matters is the way the reader experiences the work. I suppose that’s true if the work fails. But tone is pivotal if the work succeeds. If we are moved, how are we moved and why? Did the writer get us where she meant to get us or was it something else entirely? If it works, does it work the way it was meant to work or does it work because we, the readers, stepped in and wrote back story and intentions that aren’t on the page? Did we help it work? Was it all there on the page but we resisted because we found the characters unappealing, the story stunted?

We matter, yes. The story doesn’t exist without the reader. But the story doesn’t exist without the writer either. It’s communal. It’s a conversation in one of those houses filled with Pinter-styled pregnant pauses. There’s a lag in your ability to speak back to the writer, the way there’s a lag in the writer’s ability to bring the story into the world. First, all things exist in our heads. Then they are made real. Paper and type. A story from a rib.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Jill Malone

Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery that made gummi bears the size of mice. She has lived on the East Coast and in Hawaii, and for the last seventeen years in Spokane with her son, two dogs, a hedgehog, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar. Jill is married to a performance artist and addiction counselor who makes the best risotto on the planet.

Giraffe People is her third novel. Her first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, was a Lambda finalist and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction. A Field Guide to Deception, her second novel, was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Great Northwest Book Festival.

Giraffe People

Giraffe People

Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain’s daughter isn’t resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she’s content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there’s Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole’s parents. They’re delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole’s world flips.

Giraffe People is a potent reminder of the rites of passage and passion that we all endure on our road to growing up and growing strong. Award-winning author Jill Malone tells a story of coming out and coming of age, giving us a take that is both subtle and fresh.

More info →
Buy from GoodReads
Buy from Powells
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
A Field Guide to Deception

A Field Guide to Deception

In Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, nothing is as simple as it appears: community, notions of motherhood, the nature of goodness, nor even compelling love. Revelations are punctured and then revisited with deeper insight, alliances shift, and heroes turn anti-hero—and vice versa.

With her aunt’s death Claire Bernard loses her best companion, her livelihood, and her son’s co-parent. Malone’s smart, intriguing writing beguiles the reader into this taut, compelling story of a makeshift family and the reawakening of a past they’d hoped to outrun. Claire’s journey is the unifying tension in this book of layered and shifting alliances.

A Field Guide to Deception is a serious novel filled with snappy dialogue, quick-moving and funny incidents, compelling characterizations, mysterious plot twists, and an unexpected climax. It is a rich, complex tale for literary readers.

More info →
Buy from GoodReads
Buy from Powells
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Red Audrey and the Roping

Red Audrey and the Roping

Occasionally a debut novel comes along that rocks its readers back on their heels. Red Audrey and the Roping is one of that rare and remarkable breed. With storytelling as accomplished as successful literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters, Jill Malone takes us on a journey through the heart of Latin professor Jane Elliot.

Set against the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Hawaii, this is the deeply moving story of a young woman traumatized by her mother’s death. Scarred by guilt, she struggles to find the nerve to let love into her life again. Afraid to love herself or anyone else, Jane falls in love with risk, pitting herself against the world with dogged, destructive courage. But finally she reaches a point where there is only one danger left worth facing. The sole remaining question for Jane is whether she is willing to accept her history, embrace her damage, and take a chance on love.

As well as a gripping and emotional story, Red Audrey and the Roping is a remarkable literary achievement. The breathtaking prose evokes setting, characters, and relationships with equal grace. The dialogue sparks and sparkles. Splintered fragments of narrative come together to form a seamless suspenseful story that flows effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

Winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction, Red Audrey and the Roping is one of the most memorable first novels you will ever read.

More info →
Buy from GoodReads
Buy from Powells
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle