In case you’re new to the blog, or new to my life, I should clarify something. I read a lot. Most would injure me by saying I read too much. I have to ask: Is that possible? (My husband is jumping up and down in the back of my brain shouting, “YES!”)
What I wanted to say is that I’ve been thinking about authors who ‘write what they know’. There are obvious (to me) winners in this category: Lucy Maud Montgomery, Jane Austen, Eva Ibbotson. (And Louis L’Amour, since we should include a man.) When these women wrote, their characters became real people, places and times took on a “now” quality. I want to live in nineteenth century England, or 1938 Vienna, or early twentieth century Prince Edward Island. I want to be friends with them, both characters and authors. I live in their creations.
When authors don’t write what they know, there are obvious issues. For example, when I had my family read through the manuscript for “Uneasy Fortunes”, someone told me I had called a gelding a mare, or something just as unfortunate. I guess I should have paid more attention to the terms people used when I was younger and we had horses. Another faux pas I’ve become privy to happened to my BFF Shannon Hale. In “Princess Academy” Miri and the other villagers on Mount Eskel used goat dung to keep their fires going. I have it on good authority that goat dung would not work as fuel. But instead of making me like Shannon less, it has the endearing effect of making her human.
Recently, though, I’ve discovered a Christian author who doesn’t do either one and does it well. She writes history in places she has never lived in times she couldn’t possibly have known. But she knows her stuff. I have learned lots from reading her stories, and I love feeling as though my time reading wasn’t a waste, but an education. I also really like the romance she plots. Because I’m a sap.
Other glorious examples of that, is Georgette Heyer and Louis L’Amour. She probably visited England, but she didn’t live there. And the period about which she wrote was not her own, but boy, does she own it! Same with Mr. Love (cause you know, L’Amour mean love, right? Get it? I’m a nerd.). He went West at the very tail end of the frontier days. He met a few of the men he wrote about, but for the most part, he did his research. A lot of it.
And therein lies the key, I think. A LOT of research. If you want to write about something you don’t know, get to know it. Good advice from me. Good advice for me.