Thursday, January 30, 2014

Write what you know?

Can it be we’re fated to love only once? What if we have loved and lost? Can we find love again?

Cassie Brown believes plastic surgery has restored her face with its original dimple in her cheek. Her amnesia is temporary. Then, as she begins to fall in love with her employer, Kyle Chambers, the memory of a former husband surfaces. The past love seems so real. But if it was, why hasn’t he come for her?

Question from the e-mail: Everyone says to "Write what you know." What if you want to write something, but don't "know" it?  How do you handle that?

Answer: Well you can also "know" what you can find out. And one experience can often be incorporated into another.

After I saw the movie CROSS CREEK. I set a short story in the Florida swamps, though I had never been there, and I worried that I hadn’t gotten the atmosphere right, although some people had told me, “a marsh is a marsh is a marsh” even when they call it a “prairie” as they do in Florida.

I wrote a “coming of age” story in which a young girl loses her virginity to an older man, and used an alligator hunt as the metaphor for that. I put in lots of what I thought was sexual symbolism and tension between the girl and the older man, a friend of her father’s, who had just been waiting for the opportunity to take advantage of her, etc.

But I was worried about the setting, never, at that time, having been to Florida. So I read it at a writer's conference in a critiquing session with about 17 women, five of whom I knew were from Florida. I felt sure they’d pick up on any bloopers.  Well, the form for critiques at  that conference was that you read your work aloud, and then shut up and listened. People in the circle answered three questions put by the moderator:

    What happened?

    How did you feel while the story was being read?

    What would you change if you were writing this story.?

After everyone has answered those questions, then the author may ask for details, like, “Well, was the setting accurate?”

The answer to the first question stunned me. “This girl and her brother went alligator hunting,” was the first comment.

Whoops! If they thought he was her brother, then they didn’t get my sexual content at all! I knew right away what was wrong and what I had to do to fix it.

My job was to give them an understandable story and I had failed miserably. I learned a lot that day — nobody had to say whether they “liked” it or not, which isn’t relevant to begin with. Nobody had felt bored, which I felt was luck, certainly not skill, since nobody had got the plot. When it came my time to ask, the Florida people said they had assumed I lived there as the detail was so accurate. Most of those place images had come straight out of the CROSS CREEK movie, which was filmed in Florida.

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