Christine DePetrillo writes stories to make you laugh, cry, possibly sweat, and definitely make you believe in the power of love. She’s tried not being a writer several times, but the Voices won’t leave her alone. They insist that she has to tell their stories, and so she does.
Write what you know. How many times have I heard that?
Easily a zillion.
I often roll my eyes at it too. I don’t want to write what I know. I want to write more than what I know. I want to discover things when I write. I want to live the lives I don’t live, be the people I am not, make the decisions I would never. I want to take risks, go on adventures, meet vampires and skulk through the shadows of night.
I want to do stuff.
But…and you knew there would be a but…write what you know is good advice, and I follow it. Often.
In my latest full-length release, Firefly Mountain, I tell the story of Patrick Barre, firefighter, and Gini Claremont, photographer as they try to save their cozy Vermont town from a dangerous arsonist. Now I’m not a firefighter or a photographer, and I don’t make a habit of chasing down arsonists, but I do know something about Vermont. I have property in northern Vermont that my husband and I have been remodeling for the past five years. I used this experience, this “what I know” material, to build the character of Patrick, who is also renovating a house. Some of the very activities he does in the book are things we’ve done ourselves, such as tear down walls, put up new ones, remove stubborn wallpaper, sleep on stacked mattresses while the master bedroom is under construction, and haul out debris like it was an Olympic sport. We’ve lived with inches of sawdust on the floor and wrestled with insulation, a vile substance, by the way. We’ve used every tool imaginable and dutifully plugged our ears and worn safety goggles. All of this helped me write a believable Patrick.
Check out some before and after pictures of our work in Vermont.
The setting of Firefly Mountain, a hot, garden-ripened, mountain-clad Vermont in the summertime is very much what I know, having spent the last five summers there. The lush greenery, the gorgeous sunsets, and let’s not forget the fireflies at night, part of the reason for this book’s title. For a few weeks every August, on really steamy nights at about 9:30ish, the fireflies come out en masse on our property. They flit around in the tall grasses, blinking their tiny fires, trying to attract a mate. It’s one of the most beautifully natural—and romantic—occurrences I’ve seen, almost like stars have fallen to the Earth. There’s something so magical and inspirational about fireflies.
Check out some pictures of the Vermont landscape.
My character, Patrick, has an arson detection dog, Midas. Midas is an all-black German Shepherd. I own one of these beasties myself. His name is Anubis, and though he is not as well trained as Midas, I still think he’s mighty impressive. I based Midas on my own dog, but Midas is way more sophisticated. Anubis is an enormous clown. One of my friends calls him a “Big Galoot,” and that’s exactly what he is. As you can see from his picture, he looks like a wolf, but trust me, he acts like Scooby-Doo most of the time. I once saw a balloon tied to a mailbox scare the crap out of him. Some watchdog, but I love him anyway, and it was great to have him as “research.”
Check out some pictures of Anubis, the Large.
So, while I’d like to say, “Forget write what you know,” I can’t. Writing what you know is a good place to start. If you use what you know as a foundation, your imagination can make the leap to new and exciting places, fascinating characters, and plots that have your heart beating like a drum solo at an Iron Maiden concert. Putting a little bit of Y-O-U into every tale you tell will help readers connect with you and your writing. And what author or reader doesn’t want that? Writers live to hook readers. Die-hard readers live to be hooked. It’s a win-win situation.
If you are a writer, when have you used “write what you know?” If you are a reader, what’s one thing you “know” that you’d like to write about?
You can find out more about my other books at my author website at www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com and follow me on Facebook at my author page www.facebook.com/christinedepetrilloauthor. I also blog on the 4th and 14th of each month at The Roses of Prose.