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Guest Blogger – Christine Morgan

25 April 2014 No Comment

Christine is one of those authors-slash-editors I’ve admired for years, and when I had the chance to work with her, I was over the moon. I’ve been privileged to be able to work with her as an author with her titles at Belfire, and as an editor (I co-authored a short story for the anthology Fossil Lake), and mostly, to call her my friend.

PS – it’s not Christine’s fault about last month, even though she’s graciously taking the blame… I forgot to put dates with the names on my list. Usually, I’d annoy the guest a week or two in advance, and… I spaced out. Thankfully she was okay with posting this month!

Welcome into the mirror, Christine!

Write What You Know
© 2014 Christine Morgan, all rights reserved

How is it April already? Wasn’t it January just the other week? Was I signed up to be last month’s guest blogger? Oh crap, I was, wasn’t I?

Excuses, excuses. Brag-xcuses about how busy I’ve been … so many stories, so little time … editorial gigs and anthology invites … but when it comes right down to brass tacks, the point is I totally forgot.

Anyhoo, here I am now! Being not sure what to write about, I went to Jodi’s handy list and snagged the first suggestion that caught my eye, figuring I’d then do my usual freeform rambling for a thousand or so words.

This one caught my eye – “Write what you know.”

Yeah, we’ve heard that one, haven’t we? See it tossed around a lot. And why not? It’s catchy, it’s pithy.

It’s also annoying as heck, because of how, and how often, people misinterpret it.

Write what you know becomes write ONLY what you know. ‘Know’ is used to imply a certain level of education, experience and skill. So, the pithy advice-phrase becomes a limitation, a restriction, a confinement.

Want to write legal thrillers? You darn well better be a lawyer like John Grisham. Medical thrillers? Doctor Robin Cook. Police procedurals? Espionage? Military? Better have the credentials to back it up.

Now, it’s good to do your research and reality-check. It’s good to get your facts straight and your background right. It’s good to have things make sense, and be plausible.

Good? Vital, even.

Basic blunders, bloopers, mistakes, inconsistencies, and huge glaring errors aren’t going to do anybody’s story any favors. The moment the reader is knocked out of the story by “hey wait that’s not how it works,” you’ve done it wrong.

(example: I can never go back and re-read an otherwise fun werewolf novel because the author botched the lunar cycle stuff; my suspension of disbelief will stretch to accept contagious shapeshifting just fine, but THE MOON DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT and the annoyance factor becomes unforgivably great)

But how dull would it be if everybody ONLY wrote what they ‘knew’? Book after book of contemporary real life humdrum … and nothing else. Nothing purely imaginative, speculative, mythic, made-up.

No historical fiction, because, hey, are YOU a time-traveler? No alien worlds unless you’re an astronaut who’s been there. No fantasy worlds; don’t be absurd.

As for romance … well, sex sells, right? Porn, smut, erotica, whatever you want to call it. Cinematic love-scenes. But how well would depictions of realistic sex sell? Honestly?

What about horror? I know horror writers. I am one myself. I can safely say with confidence that, not only do we NOT have up-close-and-personal experience with MOST of what we write about. For that matter, we wouldn’t WANT to.

Write what you know?

I write about decapitations sometimes. I’ve never had my head chopped off, or chopped off anyone else’s head, or met an executioner, or watched a guillotine in action except cleaving through a cabbage at a magic show.

I write about epic battles, demons, exotic steampunk adventures, eldritch nightmares from beyond space, horrific tortures, elves and dragons, monsters, superheroes, ancient gods, psychic powers, the undead.

What do I ‘know’ about any of those? In terms of actual real-world true-life experience?

I do what I can, though. Within reason. I’ve planned vacations for the purpose of research as much as anything else, but I’m not going to volunteer to spend a year living on some Iron Age farm (my husband would, but he’s a freak and that’s another matter and I don’t even camp well; I hate being cold, uncomfortable and dirty).

I read a lot, fiction and non-, all kinds of genres, all kinds of styles, classics and pulp trash. Likewise movies and music, even if I do have an unfortunate fondness for totally cheeseball disaster flicks

I love words and language; language is my Play-Doh, engaging all the senses, fun to play with, and what can be made is limited only by creativity and skill. Accents, linguistics, dialects and styles of speech fascinate me. I have a bit of an ear for it, and a bit of a flair for mimicry, all of which lends itself well to writing dialogue.

I have a degree in psychology, which I guess means I must ‘know’ about people – and, I admit, it’s been a lot more help to me in terms of character building and storytelling than any of those English courses. It also let me land a job working residential psych, where, on the night shift, I get to double-dip by writing on the company clock … and, yes, there’s occasional anecdotes that make their way into my stories, because some stuff you just CAN’T make up and sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction.

I have interests in a wide range of subjects, from astronomy and natural sciences to anthropology and folklore. I may not be a Renaissance woman in terms of talents and abilities, but I have a scary-good memory for such things. My mind collects and hangs onto fascinating facts and tidbits like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter.

Sometimes I can even FEEL it, that weird uptaking of information, as an almost physical sensation in my brain. When I stood in the Viking ship museum, or when I watch a documentary on caving, or the times I tagged along as an observer to the tattoo parlor or ‘adult’ club (talk about out of one’s element; frump that I am, I felt like the Jane Goodall of kink) … that’s how it was.

Write what you know? I prefer writing what intrigues me, what fascinates me, what challenges my imagination and wits, what I enjoy. If the process itself is fun and inherently, intrinsically rewarding, then anything else is a bonus (that said, still, PAY YOUR AUTHORS; exposure is for chumps). If the process is difficult and unpleasant and I hate it every step of the way, then the eventual payoff just might not seem to be worth the hassle.

Of course, I’m utterly helpless at plenty of things as well, but self-aware enough to realize it. Funny how often interest and affinity go hand-in-hand … I’m more keen on what I have a knack for, and more averse to that at which I know I wouldn’t like or be capable at.

I’m also often helpless at endings, which is why my stories turn into novels and my novels run in trilogies or more. So, having reached my original goal of rambling for a thousand or so words, I’ll sign off here and hope I didn’t stray too far off-topic.

Christine Morgan works the overnight shift in a psychiatric facility and divides her writing time among many genres. A lifelong reader, she also writes, reviews, beta-reads, occasionally edits and dabbles in self-publishing. She has over a dozen novels in print and more due out soon.

Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, been nominated for Origins Awards, and given Honorable Mention in two volumes of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She’s a wife, mom, and possible future crazy-cat-lady whose other interests include gaming, history, superheroes, crafts, and cheesy disaster movies.

Website: http://www.christine-morgan.org/
Blog: http://sabledrake.livejournal.com/

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