Every once in a while a new writer emerges who seems to capture the imagination of a large number of people. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps they have an existing platform like singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson. Maybe they have a large circle of influence from their day job such as Patrick Carr. Maybe their writing wins fans, like Jill Williamson’s. Maybe they’ve garnered some fame from some other exploit such as Tosca Lee.
At any rate, various writers have burst on the scene as if from nowhere. They may garner awards or have instant success as far as sales are concerned. People are talking about this author. They’re doing book signings and speaking at conferences.
So who are these people?
Of course, it’s impossible to say who the next new voice is going to be, unless you’re an acquisition editor and you know about the terrific novel you signed that is about to come out.
The thing about new voices, though, is that they sometimes take a little while before readers find their books. In other words, some come storming onto the scene and others build slowly to a crescendo. Frank Peretti stormed; Tosca Lee built.
Because I’m a novelist, I’ve given some thought to what exactly makes a book or an author stand out—what gets their work noticed. Because the truth is, some really, really good books get bypassed and those authors never become the new, favorite voice.
I think of it a lot like drafting in professional sports. Each of the major sports set aside a day (or days) for the professional teams in the US to select players who wish to come into the pros. These are usually college players, but sometimes high school graduates (such as Kobe Bryant) get drafted, as do some players from European or Australian leagues.
The key is, those trying to make it in the pros want to impress. They want to be noticed, for the right reasons. They want scouts to see their video. They want to perform well at the camps and whenever they’re invited to work out for a team.
But inevitably, there are good players that go undrafted. Yet some manage to make it in the pros anyway. The Denver Broncos are notorious for undrafted players who end up starting for them and even making the Pro Bowl, like cornerback Chris Harris has done. So what’s their secret? How do they present themselves and get noticed?
That’s the question. Talented players get overlooked by 32 teams. Not once, but in the case of the NFL, seven times, in seven different rounds.
The thing is, some of those who get drafter, even in the first round, end up being NFL busts. In other words, they had great promise and received a lot of attention. Some team even chose them out of all the other eligible players, but they ended up striking out. What got them noticed? What got them “fired”?
Any kind of talent type competition is similar. There’s a singing competition on NBC called The Voice, and it’s similar. What gets a coach to turn his chair for one good singer instead of another? Sometimes the coaches will admit they made a mistake by not trying to bring a particular singer onto his or her team. Sometimes they’ll try to articulate why they didn’t turn for a contestant. Usually they’ll say things like, they weren’t quite ready or there wasn’t something that stood out.
In other words, they’re looking for a fresh voice, something that is unique, a little off center. Which seems odd at first. I mean, if all the fans like A, why do you want to look for A- or B+ or even A+? Why not look for more A?
The fact is, some athletes, singers, and writers have the ability to move the pile—they lead the way to something a little different, and fans follow.
Steph Curry is like that in the NBA. No one called him “the next Kobe Bryant.” He does something different, freakishly different and equally unstoppable. And suddenly hitting three point shots is even more popular than slam dunks. He changed the game so that now teams are looking to sign shooters like Steph Curry (as if!)
So who are the new voices in Christian speculative fiction? Who is moving the pile? Who is doing something a little different so that editors are saying, we want a writer like that?
“My place beside you, my blood for yours. Till the Green Ember rises or the end of the world!” So ends the prologue to The Green Ember. What a start! S.D. Smith’s debut novel stands in stark contrast to most contemporary middle school fiction. Courage, loyalty, wisdom, and hope abound. Classic virtues are esteemed. It is moral without moralizing. It is dramatic without resorting to preteen angst. It is swashbuckling without glorifying violence. Good is good and evil is evil. Clearly Smith is influenced by Lewis’ Narnia, but this isn’t derivative fan fiction. Smith has created a new world that stands on its own inhabited by wonderful and sometimes terrifying characters.
Sounds like a new voice, to me, if you can call a book that came out in 2014 “new.”
So what do you think? What new book/author is about to burst onto the literary scene with a big, cannonball splash?