I still chase the ladies. I just don't know what to do with them once I catch them anymore.
However, in the course of giving me the good news, Melissa Jeglinski (my wonderful literary agent who is the best thing to ever happen to my writing career) said something along the lines of, "I can see this leading to blog posts about writing what you know."
Writing what you know: A sage piece of advice handed out to aspiring authors everywhere.
Years ago, before Still Waters was published, I heard that advice all the time. It seemed so commonsense-ical that I paid almost no attention to the words or the meaning behind them. As an elementary school teacher and homeschooling mother, I had no plans to write about drug runners, mob families or, even, murder. Interestingly enough, I've written about all of those things.
Fact #1 about me: I have a good and very vivid imagination.
Fact #2: I have friends and family who have careers that give them insight into things that I know nothing about it.
So, yes, I've written about many things that I know almost nothing about, and, frankly, I have no desire to write about teaching or homeschooling. It's my life. Why would I want to write fiction about it? Honestly, I've never thought the write-what-you-know thing worked for me, because I write about things I don't know.
Today, I met Bob.
Bob and I have run into each other before. Once in November, when I dropped a few dollars in his bucket and he handed me a red poppy. I know he doesn't remember that, but I do. When he appeared again a few weeks back, I dropped a couple more dollars in the bucket and took another red poppy. As I walked away, that little voice I should never ever ignore whispered that I needed to get to know the guy.
I ignored it.
Life is busy. I am busy. I am tired. I am sick.
I have many excuses for ignoring the voice.
Last week, I saw the guy again, and I put another couple of dollars in and I took another poppy and I walked away wondering who he was and what his story was and why I thought I was too tired and busy to find out.
Today, I ran to the store for some medicine. There he was again, and when I came out, I tossed a couple of dollars in the bucket, that little voice whispering frantically that this was my chance and I shouldn't blow it.
For once, I listened.
I asked him where he'd served. He told me Korea and Vietnam. He was a pilot, and he showed me a photo to prove it. I saw his name and a date scrawled across the black and white picture, and I was hooked.
And, so, Bob and I met. A forty-something writer and an eighty-something vet. He asked if I knew who Debbie Reynolds was.
He'd flown her to Korea during the war. According to him, she wanted to learn how to fly, and he let her sit in the cockpit. I learned a lot of things in a very short amount of time, today. I learned that Bob once had a German girlfriend who got him a fake passport on the black market (for the price of a pack of cigarettes). I learned that he snuck into the Russian part of Germany to meet his girlfriend's parents. When he was stopped, he showed the fake passport and pretended to be a deaf mute. I learned that Bob's uncle served during WWII, and that he passed away last year at the ripe old age of 101. Bob's other uncle is currently going strong at 99. Bob is hoping to do the same, but he says that if I don't see him in the same spot in the fall, I can look for him in the obituaries.
I don't plan to find him there.
I plan to see him in November when he's collecting for VFW again. I want to hear more about Bob and his ordinary extraordinary life. Now that we've met, I won't forget him, and I won't let him be forgotten.
If you read my books, you'll get a chance to meet Bob. He'll be written into the pages as a secondary character. Look for him, and you'll find him, wearing his VFW cap and his grin. He'll tell his story in his own way. I'll just be the narrator, writing what his hat and his grin and his words have told me.
So, maybe I do write what I know, because what I know are people. I'm not good at many things, but I am good at being a friend. I am good at listening. I am good at hearing what people say and what they don't. Maybe it's because I am an introvert. Maybe because I was always a little awkward, a little shy, a little quiet when I was a kid. Maybe it is because I find people fascinating, their stories beautiful and ugly and wonderful and horrible and everything in between.
If you read my books, you will see them. You will learn their names and their gestures, their personalities. You will learn what drives them and what scares them and what their deepest beliefs are. In every word I write, there are hints of the people I love, of the relationships I have, of the sorrows and joys and friendships I've shared. Often, there are people who I have run into just once- men and women who, like Bob, need their stories told- woven into the fabric of my books.
The truth is, if I don't write Bob and Marge and Radley and Raina and Gertrude and Byron and Old Zimmerman Beck, if I don't put down on paper the story of the strange sad woman in Silver Spring who screams for hours as the sun sets, who will?
How will the world know, in a hundred years, that they existed?
Will their names be forgotten or will they live on, written into books that might, one day, be discovered on dusty shelves or in dimly lit attics? Will someone, many many years from now, read about Bob or Marge or Radley or Gertrude, and wonder if their characters were based off of real people, living real lives, doing real things?
Write what you know....
It has more meaning than I thought, and a lot more depth than I imagined. It's not just about careers or hobbies or knowledge. It's about heart, about soul, about values and connections. It is about putting down on paper what lives inside us.
That is a scary thing, but it is also wonderful, because when we truly write what we know, we spell out the messages of our hearts in words and sentences and paragraphs. In black and white, we describe the world as only we can see it.
So, my friend, write what you know, because what you know should be shared.
Write what you know, because what you know is valuable.
Write what you know because you must, and then be happy with what you've written. No matter what the critics say or the world says or your friends say. Be happy, because you've done what only you can do: Written pieces of your heart into the world and left them there for someone else to find.
As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.