Yes, I do “Write What I Know”
Ranch Girls and Shape-changers are not much different
Sometimes I wake up with dreams in my head that rattle the windows of my world. Sometimes I wake up with a song in my head that plays all day. Today I woke up with an idea I couldn’t shake. I am a writer in my dreams, in my soul, in my heart, and in my daily life. Most of my friends know this, and though only a few have read my fiction, they are slowly coming around since my job as a journalist ratifies the credibility of the not-so-credible fiction I author. Most of my novels are contemporary paranormal mysteries, and they are always a story that contains a shape-changer. My more traditional Science Fiction and Fantasy stories are also shape-changer stories. Even my literary work contains a version of shape-changer.
I’ve had more than one person who has not read of my work suggest I should “write what I know.” Somehow, it goes against people’s sense of good writing that I should prefer to write Fantasy, or Science Fiction, or Paranormal fiction. This is especially true of family, and of those-who-know-all in the literary programs of today’s colleges. I’ve spent many years in literary workshops, so have heard this often. After all, I did my graduate work and thesis in poetry, how can I be compelled to write meaningless, shallow genre crap? Of course, no one who reads my work says that because it becomes abundantly clear that I do exactly what they are suggesting; I absolutely write what I know. Kathleen Ann Goonan (author of Queen City Jazz and two time Nebula Award nominee) so aptly nailed it when she said I “seamlessly write across genres to create my stories.” A marinated ranch girl, a whole bowlful of the wild west, a dash of myth, a jigger of archaeology, a cupful of romance, a murder or two, a pack of dogs, a horse or a herd, and at least a pair of shape-changers, if not a whole gaggle, go in to a story that I strive diligently to keep lyrically poetic, and I constantly resist the temptation to hit a snowballing sort of stride of action and adventure that leaves out the introspective burning of the characters’ souls.
So, you ask, how can I write about shape-changers if I am writing what I know? And how can I keep it believable, layered, and meaningful while using genred themes of romance and mystery littered with paranormal characters and the archaeology of myth? What you are forgetting, or have failed to notice as you blithely traverse your daily life, we live with shape-changers. Do I believe in the shape-changers I write about—the Sithé, the loup-garou, or other, darker things that go bump in the night? Yes I do. Have I seen them, up close, as I stare straight at them? No, no I haven’t. But, just because I haven’t been able to take a picture, doesn’t mean they aren’t real. I haven’t photographed wind, and I don’t have a picture of happiness either, but I know they are real because the evidence is all around me. Many of you believe in god, but who has a photo to show me? Of all the paranormal beliefs, of all the shape-changers who traverse this reality, god is the least likely, actually. But that doesn’t stop belief, does it?
You and I live with and see shape-changers every day. The beloved priest who rapes boys for 50 years, and gives you the sacrament on Sunday. The famous star who rapes 30 women and says the women are liars and everyone believes him. The loving father and hero firefighter and business owner who abuses his wife, and has sex with his daughter. The great politician with a secret drug addiction. The trainer at the gym who smokes. The doctor who kills and dismembers women in dark alleys. The bomber who lives with his wife and kids next door. The serial killer who is a teacher at the high school. The cross-dresser who is the HR manager at the biggest chip manufacturer in town. The CEO’s wife and PTA mother who got pregnant in high school and gave the baby up, or sadly, put the baby in a plastic bag in a dumpster. The pilot who is a drug mule. The five star general who pays prostitutes for bondage and rough sex. The two friends who are secret lovers who have separate homes and lives and have lived openly with spousal partners for years. The pretty little girl who is possessed of a desire to kill the parakeets, the goldfish, the family dog, to shit in her sister’s night stand, and take a rock and smash a can full of snails on a stepping stone in the garden. Some shape-changers are darker than the others, some are monsters, and some are harmless. But they are shape-changers all the same. This is how I know them. How much different are these people than a werewolf, or a vampire, or an alien, or even a god? How much different are their inner demons and desires, how much more of a blade to their souls is their angst, or their remorse, their greed, or their repentance, their love and hate? I know them. You know them. They are you. I am them.
This is how I can write about shape-changers, and still write what I know.