Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, April 06, 2012

F is for Firestorm . . .and Fleas

I've been told to write what I know. How was I to know that a short story about selkies would take me to a three-novel plan about the Industrial Revolution, clearances, and transportation to Van Diemen's Land?  The actual writing becomes a kind of intuitive blend of what I've read (research) and experienced and try to integrate what "good writers" do. And an excuse to travel, though Tasmania just now seems very, very far away.

So this morning, thinking about F, I was reminded about a piece of writer's advice. Go back to the basics. Conflicts internal and external -- against other characters, against nature.  Earthquakes, natural disasters. Fire.

A few years back, we (that is my DH (dear husband) Allen and I) went camping in California's Siskiyous, the first trip in a long time. Actually, the trip was more a disaster. We carried, yes carried backpacks and canned food and a small propane stove (I can't believe we did this) UP four miles of a mountain trail to set up our tent by a lake. No can opener. No matches. No fire. But the lake was pretty and later the stars came out.

In the morning, the air was a strange color of blue, very hazy everywhere. We were just taking down the tent when a ranger came by and told us to get out, a fire was headed our way. Was our campsite taken down fast? Yes! The fire was a big one. We drove through it at one point with fire on both sides of the road. So, a little research and I found that Tasmania is susceptible to bushfires, several tragic fires have occurred there, and I wondered what might have happened out in the bush in 1842.

My "F" is also for fleas. We stayed in some nameless lower-than-budget hotel on one trip. Allen refused to sleep under the covers; he's fastidious, but I was too tired to care. In the morning, my entire body was covered with flea bites. The hotel owner had some hokey story about his wife and her dogs and some fight they had. I didn't care. I love dogs anyway, and the bites healed. But the shock of seeing those bites everywhere stayed with me.

Such experiences large and small shape our writing.

So I do write what I know, but I also write to learn, to expand my understanding of how others have lived and struggled and survived great calamities. Somehow that's reassuring, maybe cathartic. Do you write what you know?

Today is Day 6 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Visit to read what other writers have written.