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.


  1. I write a little of both, but I'm more inclined to write about what I don't know because I like to learn and I'm also a research junky.

    Fire and fleas. I've had my share of both. The 1989 earthquake in San francisco and witnessing the Marina fires, the fires in the Berkeley hills the year later, and as for fleas...what can I say with three dogs two of which share the bed with me. Flea bites I don't mind. It's the ticks and the fear of Lyme disease that worries me.

  2. I write what I know. Maybe when I've mastered the craft more I'll branch out and add research into the mix.

    I often find when I'm stuck writing about one topic, another is banging against my skull trying to escape. I let them do what they want now, and just transcribe the results.

  3. "Write what you know"... That's a dangerous thing :) Not for any other reason than that it can be misunderstood into "write ONLY what you know"--thus making any fantasy world impossible. I also find that many writers think it's a limitation, when it is in reality (to me, at least) a mantra: infuse your writing with what you know, meaning USE what you know to bring your writing into high relief for readers, to make them experience your story intimately, to make it *their* story as much as yours. I think you do that very well, Beth :)