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Sunday, July 15, 2018

“Write what you know” means “write the truth”

Writers are always looking for formulas and rules to make their writing struggles go easier. Eight rules on this, ten tips on that, three on the other. In fact . . . 

   My take on that is, the more I familiarize myself with the different philosophies and “rules” of the various writing worlds (journalism, creative, non-fiction, et al.), the better I am able to write the truth about my characters…their personalities and their worlds. In a way, I am world-building for my novels, even though the characterizations are based on people I’ve met and emotions I’ve felt.

   Granted it's easier to write “what you know”—i.e. the truth—when we write about the people and places we know best. In my Choosing Carter novel, the setting is Dinosaur National Monument and the Yampa River that runs through it. And yes, I once did a five-day white-water rafting trip there. Even with that familiarity, I had to do more research to make sure I had the dialogue and sites correct. (Memories are notoriously faulty.)

   The following excerpt is from regional writer Judy Alter who specializes in her familiarity with Texas.

. . . “setting a book in a particular region (doesn’t) make a writer regional. It’s essential that the author absorb the setting so that rather than obviously telling, such things as geography, culture, food, and manners flow naturally. Otherwise, the background looks like those fake sets in so many grade B westerns.” 

   I’ll take Judy Alter’s advice one step further: Regions are made up of cities, and to write the truth about a city and its characters means the writer also needs to absorb the city setting and its language. That’s why Elmore Leonard’s books are so Detroit-authentic.

   I would never consider myself a regional writer, though not by choice, but by happenstance. Born in Texas and raised in Michigan, I currently live on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. (I guess I could do a decent job of characterizations and syntax of Detroiters.) As a native Texan, I do populate almost every story with a character from Texas, and now that I live in Mobile, Alabama, I people-watch intently. I want my new characters to have some authentic Southern attributes.

   I know a slew of excellent Old-South-regional writers; I also know I’ll never be that good. Writing things Southern is its own genre. There’s a humor and a dialogue cadence that are peculiar (and I mean that in the nicest way) to the South.
Ave of the Oaks, Spring Hill College, Mobile
   Whatever the genre (mystery, suspense, romance) or theme (cats, dogs, yoga, ecology) of the novel, the setting is all-important. How do you incorporate your setting and what you know into what you write?

Passing along information …..

Congratulations to the winners! The 2018 International Thriller Writers (ITW) Thrillerfest Award winners were announced at ThrillerFest XIII, July 14 in New York City, and now you have more books to add to your to-be-read pile:

Best Hardcover Novel
   Riley Sager —Final Girls
Best First Novel
   K.J. Howe —The Freedom Broker
Best Paperback Original Novel
   Christine Bell —Grievance          
Best Short Story
   Zoë  Z. Dean —Charcoal and Cherry  
       (Zoë beat out Lee Child) 
Best Young Adult Novel
   Gregg Hurwitz —The Rains 
Best eBook Original Novel
   Sean Black —Second Chance

Stop by for more information about the International Thriller Writers.
Sandra Seaman's excellent site, “My Little Corner” ( )  lists calls for submission to anthologies and tons of markets.
  Okay, that’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


Judy Alter’s Murder at the Bus Depot, book 4 of her Blue Plate Café Mysteries series can be found on Amazon at   

For great vacation reads, don’t forget to pick up your copy of Deadly Star (
and Choosing Carter ( Available on Amazon. 

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