Monday, October 16, 2006

From Sleuthing to Sorcery (and Starships)

An old, and perhaps overused, adage often dangled before writers is to ‘write what you know’. There is a wisdom in that saying which rests in the fact that it’s difficult to convincingly portray something you’ve not experienced. How can you make a reader feel, smell, taste, love or fear something you’ve not?

But that adage, in my humble opinion, ignores another old adage. One that has equal, if not greater weight in my authorly mind: write what you love.

Like most authors, I’ve always written. I can’t imagine not writing but that doesn’t seem to be the issue with who read my books and then peruse my bio.

The question inevitably raised is: “What’s a nice (retired) private investigator like you doing writing about wizards and starships?”

In essence, why don’t I write what I know? Why don’t I write about sleuthing, about surveillance, about sussing out someone’s deep dark secrets?

There are actually several answers to that question, but the primary one is that I write about starships, space stations, demons called mogras and a furzel named Tank because I’m writing what I love.

Long before I donned my professional deerstalker, long before I lounged in ‘Criminology 101’ as an undergrad and ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ as a grad student, I was fixated on Star Trek®. Fascinated by Battlestar Galactica. Okay, I’ll give away my age and state I never missed an episode of Lost In Space. The original show from way-back when there were only seven channels to choose from on television.

I went into private investigation (well, first I went into journalism) because it was a way to make a living. But my heart belonged to the Starship Enterprise.

It never occurred to me to follow science as a career. Well, okay, astronaut training did occur to me but was quickly discounted after a glance in the mirror: five foot tall, thick glasses and (see report card dangling from left hand), never managed more than a ‘D’ in math… nope. Short, bad vision, can’t add. Definitely not astronaut material.

Not like Catherine Asaro or Susan Grant, two authors who write in the same genres as I do. I greatly admire both, not only for their literary talents, but their career choices. Grant is a 747 pilot who used to fly jets in the Air Force. Asaro is a real life scientist. They not only write what they love but they do what they love, and it shows in their terrific books which draw awards and hoards of fans.

But does that mean a short, myopic detective can’t write science fiction?

I never thought so, because like Grant and Asaro, I’m still writing what I love. And to me, that’s equally as, if not more important than writing what you know.

One thing I’ve learned over the years as a journalist and a detective is that knowledge can be acquired. But true passion for something, no, that has to come from within. And true passion is what adds the oomph to your plot lines and strums the heart strings of your characters and your readers.

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t write a gripping detective novel (actually, I have two in the works, though both have paranormal/science fiction elements). It means that I prefer the science fiction and fantasy realm for the breadth and depth it permits me with characters and plot. The genre permits me to play with, and shatter, stereotypes and beliefs about good and evil, as I did in my (now out of print) sword and sorcery novel, Wintertide. My heroine, Khamsin, is a village healer who has her world turned around when her closest friends, and eventually even her lover, are drawn from the very people she’d believed to be her direst enemies.

In Gabriel’s Ghost, which is science fiction with a shape shifter element, Captain Chaz Bergren learns a lot about prejudices…especially her own. The false accusations which have branded her a murderer and stripped her of rank and command in many ways mirror her own false beliefs about Stolorths and Ragkirils, two alien races she’d been raised to fear.

And in Finders Keepers, down on her luck starfreighter captain Trilby Elliot must face the biggest prejudice of all: her own lack of self worth.

These situations, these challenges could be contained in any genre’s novel, true. But by placing them in the science fiction and fantasy settings that I love, I can draw on that extra energy inside me and infuse that into my characters and their stories. Like other authors in my genre who’ve never piloted a starship—Robin D. Owens, Patricia Waddell, Elaine Corvidae, C.J. Barry and my 'sister' authors here on this blog—I can bring to life worlds none of us have ever experienced excerpt in our imaginations. And our hearts.

The unreal becomes real. And then we’re writing not only about what we love, but about what we know.


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