Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Writing What You Know

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!

21 comments:

  1. Listen mate, do you know where your darn cowboys came from in the first place? Scotland, sweety. Where we were herding cattle all over the place, before you was even a country! There had never been a cow in the good ol' US of A, when we'd given up ranching, back here.

    And that's why you got called out, matey Jim, 'cos that's what elders and better so, advise the Young 'Uns on how they should be conducting themselves.

    Bring It On!

    And whilst I'm here, I'm glad you brought up the mention of that missing comma. I was being too ladylike to mention it. Glad you got to it on your own.

    And as for cows... moo!

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  2. You're comparing your herdsmen to our rough-ridin, gun-slingin, hardassed cowboys?

    That "Burden"'s a verb! HA!

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  3. No, I'm comparing your range men to our Reivers.

    You might need a dictionary for that. Whedon got the right spirit.

    And I'm still being too ladylike to respond to cheap tricks.

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  4. Not to "horn" in on your little argument here, but, as an honorary dairy cow myself (just ask my 8 kids), I'm glad Morgan brought this little tidbit to your attention. I applaud you for fixing it in both your print and ebook versions, Alan. :) You've saved those poor fictional beasties an uncomfortable fate. :)

    My great-grandfather was a dairy man in Minnesota. One of my favorite memories when I was tiny was watching the cows line up and enter the barn for milking after grazing all day. They never got to take a vacation; they always had to be there for the cows.

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  5. I have to advise you Mr Ryker, that you might want to make sure you have adequate provisions in your storm cellar. Ms Gallagher has brought down Government ministers. And you are small feed, I assure you! I can see the cavalry coming over the hill....

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  6. My goodness, what an attractive photo young man. I am the cavalry, and I'm already pissed, it having taken me 6 hours to drive the 3 1/2 hour journey to get to Morgan's as the highways agency are a bunch of incompetent morons......but luckily my best friend had a gin and tonic waiting for me. Let's see......you dare to take on Morgan and myself in the field of lactation...I hope you are quaking in your boots!

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  7. I'm getting the feeling that this might be my final stand-off. I won't go quietly, but guns a blazin!

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  8. You could always surrender sweet cheeks. I like a man who knows what to do with his gun.

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  9. Week Alan - you do not understand just quite what you've gotten yourself into matey! My mate Morgan will picket for your cows' rights (and discomforts) at not being milked. Prepare for defeat!

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  10. GoodWife, if more parley negotiators utilized your tactics, this world would be a more peaceful place!

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  11. Methinks you might also like to spend 30 seconds on Google finding Morgan's other blog.....before you drown yourself further in milk related issues....

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  12. I read the modified version, and it really has been taken care of superbly.

    "In the interest of maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis, the vampire crawled to the cows underside. He relished a long drink, but regretted that he hadn't stopped for Oreos. His milk mustache glistened in the moonlight."

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  13. It it because I am dairy-free that I can't follow along with all this?

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  14. I'll give you a clue...she's one of "those" women...

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  15. haha, what she didn't expect is that you lactivists are such delightful people that not only am I glad you've invaded my blog, but I hope you stay! I love it!

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  16. We love you too. Honour is satisfied....and as Morgan has plied me with food drink gin and red wine I fear I may have to go lie down. After all it is nearly one here and I should go to my bed, safe away from the vampires.....

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  17. This is the most I've laughed at a blog post in, well in forever. I'm a bit sad that I didn't pick up on the lactating mishap. I feel like a failure as a woman. :(


    This though, this is pure gold! Clearly this is how he maintains such nice fangs despite his meth problem.
    "In the interest of maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis, the vampire crawled to the cows underside. He relished a long drink, but regretted that he hadn't stopped for Oreos. His milk mustache glistened in the moonlight."

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  18. Oh yeah, Mr. Funny man has to pop in to show me up on every post!

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  19. please, someone milk me, i think one of my udders just popped.

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  20. To the nice people coming over from One of Those Women: since you're already here, go to the front page and check out the interview with Morgan! Here's a link

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