“Empty of Words, The Page” appeared in Black Static 27, the February/March 2012 issue. I’ve been a fan of the magazine almost since its beginnings (I missed a few issues at the start), and I am proud that Andy Cox gave the tale a home there!
One of those things that’s very hard to get a handle on in writing — much more, I think, than in music — is the effective development of a unique, highly personal voice. Some of my writer friends somehow quite naturally seem to have done it (or maybe they just make it look natural), though even they sometimes need to push it to make it grow in new directions.
As for me, when I started work on the first version of this story back in 2007, I was constantly puzzled at how certain writers could construct texts such that there was a distinctive voice throughout, even as they gave individual characters particularized voices of their own. That’s one of the things that got me thinking towards this tale — what if authors’ voices were actually voices? What if we could hear them, and what if they interacted with one another just as literally as they do in a figurative sense? And is it possible for a piece of writing to be “voiceless”? How could it be? (I think it’s impossible now for writing not to have a voice of some kind — though it can be developed, it’s always there if someone is writing honestly; but worrying about its absence is as natural among writers as the teenaged boy fretting about whether his voice is ever going to stop cracking.)
The other half of the formula is that of the professor felled by scandal. What can I say, I teach in a university in Korea, where expat circles reverberate from time to time with news of such scandals. (Though, I shall note, illicit relationships between Korean professors and their students are reputedly much more common than those between Korean students and expat professors; the really big scandals among foreign profs here usually involve fake credentials, illegal drug use, and plagiarism of renumerated academic work.) In any case, though I set the tale in Montreal — a city that I always associate with disaster, for personal reasons, but where I also taught TEFL and essay-writing as a graduate student — the tale was fueled by the kinds of stories that make the rounds among expat professors in Korea.