I’m not gonna name names, but there are some writers who get a BA in English: Creative Writing, an MFA in Creative Writing, a PhD in Creative Writing, and by the time they get their doctorate, they’ve published enough work to get a job teaching creative writing.
What the fuck do they write about?
Now to be fair, I really only know of this happening to poets, who don’t have to create the same suspension of disbelief in the reader that we fiction writers do, but still.
I’ve worked a ton of shit jobs, and they provide the filler for my stories and novels. I’ve been a fry cook all the way up to a procurement agent purchasing hundreds of millions dollars of equipment for major energy engineering projects, and a bunch of shit in between. And I’m glad I’ve done all that. Not every experience gave me something to write about, but they all gave me something to write around.
So there is something to the adage “write what you know.” I’m not going to argue whether that means what you’ve directly experienced or what you can research blah blah blah. I don’t argue on the internet.
But I will tell you of a tale of not writing what you know, one that makes me look dumb! Yay for you!
Burden Kansas is authentic like wo. I don't toss around words like "soogan" and "hackamore" like Cormac McCarthy (I do love him), but I know that I wrote an authentic contemporary western. This is partly because, even though there’s no comma in the title and the town is never named in the book, I grew up a few miles outside of Burden, Kansas. I grew up on 8 of Keith’s many acres, though in a ranch house, not a two-story with a sweet porch. I lived a half hour away from the town I went to school in! Farther than the bus went. I wasn’t a rancher, but I sure grew up around them, and my Grandpa used to own cattle.
South central Kansas is known for awesome grass-fed beef that’s too expensive for me to buy. Or you, probably. Lots of it gets shipped to Japan. My brother-in-law worked at a slaughterhouse that shipped a lot of beef to Japan.
What south central Kansas isn’t known for is dairy. But I just had to have a nice, big dairy barn in my story. And I got called out on a mistake it caused. And one day I will have my revenge upon Morgan Gallagher.
Yeah, I researched dairy barns, and I minimized the actual dairy presence, but that’s what caused the problem. The dairy farmers disappeared. So where were all the dairy cows, pissed off at not having been milked for almost two days? As soon as I got called out, I knew it was a real mistake. I’ve read that once dairy cows get on a milking schedule, they expect to be milked. They produce so much milk, in fact, that not getting milked can cause them permanent damage.
Luckily, Morgan posted that review just as I was formatting my paper book. It only took a few sentences to fix. The cattle are outside during nice weather, to create premium grass-fed milk. They only go into the barn to be milked. They’re loud, but no one is around for miles to hear them (for reasons made clear in the book). I just had to write a few sentences about how upset they were, standing at the fence near the barn, waiting to be milked when characters approached. I fixed and reuploaded the ebooks, too. I let myself change it because I wasn’t about to purposefully create my paper books with a big mistake. Once I’ve checked the proofs, though, that’s it.
But since I mostly write about what I know––alcoholism, angry hicks and small-town violence––I don’t think it should be a problem.
Remember when I mentioned getting my revenge on Morgan Gallagher? Guess who's been interviewed for tomorrow's post? That's right, Ms. Dairy Expert herself, Morgan Gallagher! She just released a vampire novel named Changeling.
This isn't going to be your average "So tell me about your book" "Where do you get your ideas?" kind of interview. I'm out for blood. But Morgan is certainly a worthy adversary, and we get down to some real craft and theory type talk. Be sure to check it out tomorrow!