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Write what you know, they said
When what you know is who you know....
I can’t be the only big time fan of 1994's Little Women. If you know, you know, but if you don’t, a little context: in the early scenes of the film, Wynona Ryder's Jo declares proudly that the first rule of writing is never to write what you know. Right on, Jo, thought little me. Sage advice. But it's a bait and switch, with Jo coming to realize by the end, thanks to the wisdom of the unforgivavebly very-not Laurie Professor Bhaer, that she should have been writing what she knows all along.
Nuts to that, said I. From age 8 to now. Nuts to that.
Write what I know? Really, Jo? You get one date with a professor and you're gonna throw away your own perfectly good advice? Well, not me. Write what I know? A. I'm from a big family in the burbiest burbs - the kind where the mall was the hang out spot of spots and slurpies were the height of cuisine. I dont know a lot about a lot. And B. Most importantly, it has always seemed to me that you can’t write what you know without writing WHO you know, and thus risking the very real possibility of pissing them off.
This is a truth universally acknowledged. And if its not, it should be.
Heck, you run the risk of upsetting people you know even when you write about distant galaxies and fantasy kingdoms. I know, because when I published my first book, a fantasy adventure about boys abandoned by their warrior amazon mothers, I had to deal with "oh so am I supposed to be these unfeeling monster moms?" from my own mother for a couple months. Nevermind the fact that the mothers in the book weren’t monsters and there were a lot of layers to what they did that the boys and the reader had to unpack, but that’s a discussion for another newsletter. The point is, if someone sees themselves in your fiction, whether true or not, good luck convincing them they’re wrong.
I bet ya think this song is about you.
So, as a rule, I don’t write what I know, or rather, who I know. I write what I feel - what scares me, what worries me, what I am trying to sort out for myself. And inevitably, my life experience and the people I encounter influence the worlds I build, the characters that populate them. Obviously! I can’t write without being influenced by real life. But these characters are Frankensteined amalgamations of many people, sometimes a dozen in one character. Never are they 1:1 representations of a person I know. Because what oh what would happen if the real person recognized themselves and didn’t like it? The betrayal. The pain! The drama!
No no. That would not do.
I imagine Taylor Swift has an ocean of offended lovers in her wake...most of us know the names of MANY of them (hey swifties!). And you know, I don’t think it keeps her up at night.
And what about the thing Nora Ephron says? I watched the 2019 documentary by her son about her work - Everything is Copy. The phrase apparently came from something her mother used to say and Nora Ephron lived by them. Everything. Is. Copy. Those words follow me around all day, everyday. They whisper at me.
Because here's the thing - a story has been nagging me for years. It keeps nagging. And this is the thing about the ones that nag - they demand to be written. And they get their way eventually. But this nagging tale is made up of characters who are 1:1. No Frankensteins.
I've been resisting for a very long time. And in that time, life's...issues...build and grow and expand until they occupy a lot of mental space in the everyday.
Everything is copy.
But you know, I suddenly don’t want to resist the urge to write the 1:1. I want to surrender and write exactly what’s in my guts. What’s eating me up and tying me in knots. I want to scribble it all down and throw in some dragons and magic systems and try to solve the problems I can’t in real life. Which means I have to accept that I might piss off some people that know me.
But here’s the thing about writing for a living - for a story to go from words on a page to physical published book, its a very long road. There are a thousand and one hoops to jump through and assuming you jump through them all successfully, it could take years for that story to see the light of day and be in the hands of a reader. Not to mention that after the first book, everyone you know stops reading your nonsense anyhow (except my cousin - hey cousin!). So there’s a strong possibility that whoever I write about wont ever know I did it anyway. Not until we're casting the celebrity to play them in the movie (it’s important to dream).
And at this point in my writing career...sure, whatever. I'll take that risk.
Are you ever afraid to write something personal?
What I’m Working On
It’s almost October and I have big plans! They’re all probably too ambitious but Halloween is just too much fun to let pass without AT LEAST trying to make it as much fun as I can. Which means, that October on Authorstrator is going to be filled with your regularly scheduled posts but ALSO lots of Halloween fun.
First - it’s Inktober. If you don’t know Inktober, its a drawing challenge that asks you to draw something using ink (markers, fountain pen ink, india ink, pens, whatever!) every day for the month of October. Last year, we had a lot of fun for Inktober testing different kinds of alcohol markers. This year, I’m going to challenge myself by using fountain pen inks. I’ll be sharing the processes with Paid subscribers (as well as some festive digital wallpapers for downloading) and the final results here in the free version of the newsletter!
Second - a scary story of some kind. I want it to be fun and kind of interactive maybe? I’m still thinking but whatever it is, I’m really hoping it will be great.
Third - a spooky reading list. I’ve been putting one together for me but if you’re looking for something to get into the spooky season, then I shall share what I’ve put together.
That’s all I’ve got planned so far. We’ll see what happens!
I’ve also got edits on my AI book due like….now, so trying to get that all tied up so that I’m free and clear for my big Halloween plans! I’m enjoying this book a lot and I think readers will have a lot of fun with it when its finally done!
I recently posted chapter 12 of Zombie Shark Highway! If you missed it, you can catch up on all the chapters here. I don’t send an email alert about new ZSH chapters because I don’t want to spam your inbox, so if you want to catch the new chapters as they post, I usually drop a note on Notes or Insta to let you know its live. Otherwise, you can always check the ZSH section of Authorstrator for the latest chapters!
Working on my graphic novel proposal - the trouble with a mermaid story is there’s a lot of water. And rendering water is…tricky. So that’s been my Everest, trying to sort out exactly how to depict water. I still haven’t figured out a style I like but I’ll get there.
What I’m Reading
The Hunger by Alma Katsu is the first in my spooky reads list and it is VIBES. I’m already scared and I’m like two chapters in. I’ve had this one on my reading list for a while and I’m so excited to finally be getting into it.
Given my feelings on social media, this was an interesting read from
If you’re in the query trenches or thinking about jumping in, I highly recommend giving these tips froma read. They’re very very wise.
Wanna know what Hollywood is looking for in books? This was a fun read from