Friday, March 13, 2009

Write what you know...or fake it

Write about what you know, says the familiar mantra. That implies that we should all be experts, or at least quite well versed, in something. Like a lawyer would write legal thrillers, and a doctor would write medical mysteries. Ex-football or basketball players could pen novels in the sporting realm.

That sort of leaves me out. If I was ever an expert, or at least reasonably proficient in some particular endeavor, it was so long ago that I’ve either forgotten how all the good stuff worked or things have changed so much in the interim that I’m way too far out of date.

Take newspapering, for example. I started out as a reporter in 1947 and departed the field in 1959. That was back when everybody typed their copy on sheets of newsprint with old Underwood typewriters and stuck the pages together with goopy paste from a jar. Newsrooms were as open as the corner drugstore, and anyone could walk in off the street. Try to get past the reception desk at a newspaper now. I have no idea what goes on in newsrooms, but I’m sure it’s all done by computer.

Bottom line, I’ll not be writing a contemporary reporter story.

I wrote copy for an ad agency back in the late sixties. I’m not sure how agencies operate now, but no doubt it’s eons removed from what we did back then.

My last job of any consequence was executive vice president for a statewide trade association. I worked at that for eighteen years and was pretty proficient at it. I was one of the early Certified Association Executives accredited by the American Society of Association Executives. But I retired in 1989 making a salary in the $50,000 range. You got any idea what they make now? It would make me cry.

So I’m twenty years out of date on that score. The only thing I’ve done that hasn’t changed over the years, except for the implements used, is writing. Sentences are still put together pretty much the same as when I was in grammar school (only they don’t have grammar schools anymore, do they?). Nouns and adjectives and, yes, even the dreaded “ly” adverbs, are still the same as they’ve always been.

I suppose that means I should be writing about writing, or writers. But I’ve learned to cheat. For the past several years, I’ve been writing mystery novels about a pair of private investigators. I’ve never been been a PI or anything approaching it. But I’ve learned a lot about the field and seem to have knack for creating believable situations for my fictional investigators. I was really flattered when one reviewer wrote:

“If you’re interested in seeing how a real private detective works, try Chester Campbell’s Deadly Illusions.”

And another wrote:

The Marathon Murders is a skillfully woven tale that shows detective fiction wannabes how it’s supposed to be done.”

So I guess I’ll just keep on writing about a subject I shouldn’t really know. What about you? Do you write about what you know? Or do you fake it, too?

To learn more about my PIs, go to my website.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I agree with the quote by Valerie Sherwood that says, “Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words.” I think your reviews show she knew what she was talking about!

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Jane. Good quote from Sherwood. I might put it a little differently. Write what you're passionate about...but don't go overboard.

Connie Arnold said...

I agree that you should write what interests you, then it will be more interesting for the reader. You can always research and learn more about it if it's not something you already know much about.