Monday, December 23, 2013

Shirlee McCoy: Write What You Know

I’ve been published for a long time, so I guess it isn’t surprising that I’ve toyed with many different book ideas. Most of the ones that have made my heart go pitter-patter have been story ideas that coincided with genre trends. For example, I plotted an entire paranormal romantic suspense because that seemed like the ‘it’ thing to write. I got about three pages into it and realized I had no idea how to proceed. When angels and demons become hot again (because, like anything else, book market trends cycle), I brainstormed a fantastical (not to be mistaken for fantastic)demon hunter series. I wrote about sixteen sentences of that one before I threw in the towel. I don’t think the world was ready for my fantastical idea!

Interestingly enough, I have a son who is also a writer. He’s 17 and not published yet, but I think if he keeps working at it, he will be. The Professor has always been an interesting kid. When he was five, he put a towel down on the carpet in his bedroom, built a block town on top of it and created a tsunami by filling a bucket with water and throwing it on top of the town. I discovered his creative genius when he went into the bathroom for a second bucket of water. All the running water clued me in, and I put a stop to the second wave of the tsunami. The kid and I spent a loooong time soaking up the mess.

When this brilliant funny kid decided to write a book, I encouraged him. We came up with a cool plan whereby we would do a writing boot camp. All summer long, these kids were doing ballet summer intensives:

(mine is the one lifting the beautiful young woman)

Meanwhile, this kid and I were going to the gym and plotting our books.

After forty minutes of exercising and plotting, we’d go home and write. During this process, I tried to encourage The Professor to write what he knows. The old adage has certainly seemed to work for me. I write about family, about faith, about small towns and quirky characters. I write about the dynamics of relationships and the deep human need for acceptance and love. I pack all those things into series romantic suspense and, more recently, into sweet small town romances. I do it because those things are what I know.

I told The Professor this, and he wrinkled his forehead (like he does when he’s confused)and looked at me like I was crazy.

“Mom,” he said. “I know about physics. I know about string theory. I know about theoretical science. Do you really think I should write those into a book of fiction?”


I didn’t.

“I guess not,” I responded.

He looked at me quizzically for a moment, because that’s the way The Professor is. Then he said, “Besides, I don’t really think you write what you know. You don’t know about kidnappings, murders and mob activity. You don’t know about Witness Protection.”


I don’t.
Somehow, though, I’ve written about those things.

“I think what we have to do is write what we love,” The Professor continued. “I love ghost stories, so I’m going to write one.”

He does. He did.

I watched him print it out. I held that middle grades manuscript in my hands. I read it. It was good, and I guess it wasn’t because The Professor knows about ghosts and ghouls and ancient curses. I guess it was simply because he was writing what he loved. 

When I sold The House on Main Street, I was thrilled.

My first mainstream book, it is about family, special needs kids, friendships old and new. It’s about finding that one place where you truly belong and doing exactly what you’re meant to do. In essence, it is about everything I love.

This time of year, with snow on the ground and presents under the tree, with the short days and the dark nights, I have to think that there is no greater blessings than those things and no greater pleasure for me as an author than writing about them.

Have a joyous Christmas, a fantastic holiday season and a wonderfully blessed 2014! 

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