Sunday, June 19, 2011

Write What You Know (A Father's Day Blog!)

"The New Thriller, inspired by Dad!"

What's the first thing you learn in Creative Writing 101?

"Write what you know!"

For young authors who haven't yet experienced a whole lot of life, that can be a rather daunting idea. but for those of us who have been around the block a few times, there's always a story or two we can write about, such as the night I spent alone in a Sing Sing prison cell, or the time I was stranded in the jungle in Benin, Africa, after our 4X4 bit got stuck in a swamp.

But then, sometimes you don't have to look too far in order to tap into a life experience. Sometimes you just have to take another look at the way you were raised. In my case, I was raised in a family of construction workers. And by the time I reached puberty, my dad's business had taken off to a level where he went to work in pressed trousers and button-down oxford instead of jeans and workboots. In fact, my dad's business began doing so well, he groomed me for taking over the business one day.

Truth be told, the grooming began very early on. I helped my dad lay out a new church he was contracted to build at age 5. I still recall holding the tape measure for him while he recorded the measurements in his notebook. At around age 12 I was in charge of recording telephone quotations should he be bidding a big job during my summer vacations. At 15 I worked on my first job-site and stepped on a sixpenny nail that impaled itself through my foot. At 20 I was assigned to the office where I read blueprints and helped expedite projects. By 23 I was managing construction jobs worth $6 million or more. That's when I quit to become a full-time writer.

My dad was heartbroken, but not disappointed. After all a dad only wants his kid to be happy, right? And he was happy for me that I'd found something to be as passionate about as he was his business. All he worried about was my being able to make a living, so when books like THE INNOCENT and THE REMAINS became bestsellers, he jumped for sheer joy higher than I did.

But all is not lost on my having essentially experienced an entire career in the commercial construction business. I put it to use in my new thriller, CONCRETE PEARL, starring brassy but bold construction business owner, Ava "Spike" Harrison. How did she get the nickname Spike?
Well she stepped on a sixpenny nail of course, first day out on a real construction job-site. When it comes to writing what you know, the apple should not fall far.

But I appreciate all that my dad did for me when I was growing up and trying to find my way, the least of which is giving me a real insiders look at a world of builders, designers and architects that remains fascinating to me, even if I no longer carry a hammer or work on blueprints. Oh, and as for Spike, she's not only a builder, she's an amateur woman sleuth who carries a framing hammer as an equalizer instead of a might want to kiss her, but you sure as hell don't want to mess with her.

Happy Father's day Dad! Oh, and thanks!!!


  1. Since I write a lot of genre stuff -- fantasy, sci-fi and horror -- "writing what you know" becomes a somewhat dodgier proposition. But I've found that I tend to adapt the personalities and physical characteristics of people I know into fiction, and a lot of settings are inspired by places I've been. But I also happened upon an acting book when I was very young, which talked about the Stanislavsky technique of "the magic 'if.'" I've abused the hell out of THAT one.

    However, unlike you, writing is the family business -- in fact, I take after my father in that respect. So... Kind of the opposite situation to yours, I suppose.

  2. Thanks, great comment...
    Sometimes it's a little more than writing what you know :)

  3. While writing, I personally modify this statement to say:
    Write what you know. Research what you don't. Make up the rest.

  4. I like your motto, Steve. I'm printing it out for my desktop inspiration quotes board. Thanks!

  5. @M.E. - Glad to help and you are most welcome.