Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Write what you know?

Set in the Depression and WW II’s aftermath, A Desire Path links a love affair between a married woman and a union organizer with the crisis a famous female journalist faces trying to decide whether to join the Communist Party. Two stories of conflicted loyalties, each a journey along a desire path. Ilse is drawn to Andy because of his involvement in labor causes, even as Andy himself is struggling with a loss of belief. Anna Mae, Andy’s old friend, tries to balance her responsibility to a senile father with a growing sense her left-wing politics have trapped her. After a disastrous encounter with Ilse’s husband, Andy retreats to the mountains. Anna Mae flails about — from Seattle to Moscow, Los Angeles to China — while Ilse gradually discovers her own inner compass.

ISBN 978-1-61386-069-4 Women's Fiction, Literary Fiction.

Question:  People keep telling me to write what I know. What do I know? I'm a  housewife with two grown kids....

Answer: Well you surely know more than how to avoid yellow waxy build-up on your floors. 

For starters, you have been a teen and lived through the teen years of your own children. Maybe you don't know the latest teen slang (nor should you, unless you want what you write to age rapidly!), but you know what issues face every teen, and from both sides.

To continue, whether you were a working mother, or not, you had to interact with other people in a goal-oriented setting, either on a job, at church, or with the PTA, Cub Scouts, etc. So you know about human nature. Unless you lived in a glass bubble, you couldn't survive to your age without learning about human nature. Readers (people) are always interested in other people.

Finally, you have a brain and a heart. Use them to write about what matters to you. Okay, someone else will surely have written about it before, maybe even someone smarter or better-looking, or thinner than you.  But no one can say, exactly what YOU want to say.

Use the things that have happened to you in your life to build a story about someone else. The real details will make the story more believable. You may have more to draw upon than you may think.

One of my favorite authors is the late Dick Francis, a former jockey, who often writes about horse racing. In his second book, a jockey is forced into early retirement through an injury to his hand, and becomes a detective. So he used what he knew – and used it well – to write mystery stories. He also wrote about losing what a person may value most and how that can be survived. So survival became a theme, and a good one for mystery stories.

His heroes were not always jockeys, though. One was a pilot, another a journalist with a polio-stricken wife, a third was an artist who painted in acrylics, and in each case he recreated the millieu realistically, though his beloved horse-racing was always somewhere in the background. It wasn’t until I heard him speak that I learned Francis had painted with acrylics as therapy for his injured hand, that his wife had been stricken with polio as a young woman and had spent months on a respirator, in his closing he mentioned that he had been a bomber pilot in WWII. That sure gave me some new thoughts on the old “write what you know” line.

In all his books, his protagonists espouse "old-fashioned values." They were often raised by elderly relatives, and they cling to things that are beginning to mean little in our modern world: Honor, faith in word and deed, and loyalty to family, friends, and country.

Those are important things for readers to know about. I used to get really angry when critics would say things like, "Francis writes well, for a mystery writer," as if mystery writing, or any other kind of writing, deserves less than the best we can do. He wrote well. He wrote VERY well for anybody at all. And he had things to say that were important in the world, even though, he had once said, "What does an ex-jockey know about writing?" when someone asked him to write his autobiography.

"You write for the newspapers," they said, and offered to get him a ghost, but he wrote SPORT OF QUEENS himself...

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