Missy Tippens and Guest Connie Mann
Missy: I’m excited to welcome my friend Connie Mann today to help me with this post. When I started considering writing a post about how I’ve recently written on a subject I don’t know much about, I decided to balance that with input from someone who writes what she knows. I could think of no better example of that than author and boat captain Connie Mann. We’re going to have a “chat” today for our post. A fun back and forth as we discuss writing what we know…and what we don’t know.
Connie: Prevailing wisdom says you should write what you know. And that can be good advice. Especially if you’re just starting out on the writing journey, and there is so much to learn, so many moving parts to navigate and coordinate, that not having to worry about major research into, say, microbiology, makes sense. But at any stage of the journey, this tactic helps streamline the process, allowing you to focus more on the other parts of the story.
[Missy: Wait! You just happened to name my former career. And I’ve written a character who is a microbiologist!]
Connie: Of course, you did! If that was my background (insert wide-eyed fascination), I would have, too! But writing what you know comes with its own pitfalls. I’ve been a USCG-licensed boat captain for over 12 years and when I’m not writing romantic suspense, I pilot a pontoon boat for the Silver River Museum and take local schoolchildren on the River Silver.
If I’m not paying attention, I could easily spend the day on the River and never really notice the wildlife around me. “Oh, another alligator.” Yawn.
Connie: You wouldn’t think so, but it can happen. I never want to lose my joy in introducing children to nature and watching them get excited about the world around them. And that largely stems from my attitude—and from consciously seeing the world through their eyes.
We can slip into that same familiarity blindness with our writing. If your story is set in your hometown, or involves your career or hobby, what are the quirky, unique, or cool details about it that will appeal to readers and make it come alive? Or is it so familiar that it doesn’t register anymore?
This happened to me several weeks ago. I walked out by the lake and saw about a bazillion tadpoles. They looked like a dark cloud in two inches of water. I whipped out my cell phone and took a video. After I’d posted it on social media, someone commented how much they also enjoyed hearing all the birds. Wait, birds? I didn’t hear any birds. I replayed the video, and sure as shooting, there they were, singing their little hearts out. I hadn’t heard them. They’d become part of the background wallpaper of my life. And that made me more determined than ever to pay attention.
So, if you ‘write what you know,’ make sure you think through the telling details that make whatever it is unique and interesting and memorable.
Missy: Connie, I love these tips! I tend to write small southern towns. In creating my fictional towns, I envision small towns I’ve lived in or near—with the central courthouse and shops around a town square. Here's one I often picture...
|Photo by Missy Tippens-- Dahlonega, GA courthouse|
But I haven’t thought much about the sounds. Now that you made me close my eyes and consider what I may have heard in the past, I realized there have sometimes been trains! I need to add this detail next time…the whistle of a train late at night in the distance.
Connie: Oh, I love that detail. There is something very lonely about a train whistle at night. Great way to set a mood.
But on the flip side, sometimes we write what we don’t know, and it can be a scary place. I am doing this now and I’m constantly worried I’m going to get everything wrong. (Anyone?)
[Missy raises hand.]
Connie: My new series with Sourcebooks comes out next year and centers around Florida Fish & Wildlife Officers. I had met several officers through my job and thought it would be a cool series—cops, with a bit of a different, more outdoorsy twist.
But after I spent hours and hours watching videos and doing online research, I realized I still didn’t know enough to portray them even close to accurately. So, enter the scary part: accepting that I needed to get out of my writing cave and go talk to an actual FWC officer. Gulp. Instead of cold calling the office, I employed my favorite (i.e. less scary) research tactic. I called a few guys I know and asked, “Do you know someone in FWC who might be able to help me?”
A friend connected me with the public relations officer at our regional FWC office.
He was so gracious and gave me all kinds of information. Anything I get right in the series will be thanks to him and his fellow officer, who also arranged for a ride-along on the Silver River. They let me toss out possible scenarios and then ask, “Does that work? What would you do next?” They could not have been nicer and have been very patient with my follow-up questions, too.
Once I got past my fear—and the feeling that I was imposing (which they assured me I wasn’t)—I had a great time.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to ask. People are most often delighted to help. Sometimes they can’t, but in that case, employ the same tactic. “Who do you know who might be able to help me?” Keep asking until you get what you need.
Missy: Kudos to you for stepping out of your comfort zone to research your upcoming series. I really look forward to reading it!
I had similar fears with my newly released boxed set of contemporary novellas, Cowboys of Summer. I was thrilled when I was invited to participate with Sherri Shackelford, Cheryl St. John, Mary Connealy, Tina Radcliffe, and Lorna Seilstad. But then I immediately panicked. How could I ever write a cowboy story? Sure, I’ve ridden horses. I’ve even taken my daughter to “horse camp” and watched as she learned to care for horses. But the running of a ranch? Still, I felt God had provided me the opportunity. So, with knees knocking, I accepted the invitation. Then I did what all authors do who feel out of their wheelhouse… I hollered for help from some of my best writer friends. :)
[Connie: I love that you took that risk! Phone-a-friend is always my first and favorite strategy, too—and waaay less scary than cold-calling experts.]
Missy: You regular blog readers can probably guess who I called on for help. I immediately emailed Pam Hillman and Mary Connealy, whose husbands are ranchers—their very own real-life cowboys! They both assured me they would help. And boy did they! They offered website links and personal experiences. They answered my crazy emails and texts about fencing and birthing calves. And then, bless them, they even read a scene or two to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself. Now, this is where I have to add: ANY MISTAKES IN MY NOVELLA ARE MY OWN. If you see that I got something wrong, please don’t blame them. :)
[Connie: They were the perfect sources. How fun! By the way, I’ll have a similar disclaimer in my upcoming book. J]
Missy: What I’d like for you to take away today is that it actually is possible to write what you don’t know—with lots of research and the help of others. Like Connie said, don’t be afraid to ask.
Connie: I agree. It is definitely possible. Just don’t let fear of making a mistake paralyze you. Whether you’re writing what you know, or what you don’t, remember that stories hinge on those telling details, the things that make places like say, Florida and Arizona totally different, just like your story will be completely different from anyone else’s.
We have giveaways! Missy is giving away 2 Kindle copies of Cowboys of Summer and Connie is giving away two print copies of Deadly Melody! (U.S. winners only this time.) Please let us know in the comments that you’d like to be entered.
Writers, have you tried writing what you don’t know? Readers, what do you think about writers creating stories about something that’s new to them?
P.S. Be sure to read below about Connie's special promotion: She'll be donating profits from preorders and this week's sales of Deadly Melody to help street children from the Philippines!
Connie Mann is a licensed boat captain and the author of the Safe Harbor romantic suspense series, as well as Angel Falls and Trapped. When she’s not dreaming up plotlines, you’ll find “Captain Connie” on Central Florida’s waterways, introducing boats full of schoolchildren to their first alligator. She’s also passionate about helping women and children in developing countries break the poverty cycle. She and her hubby love traveling and spending time on the water with their grown children and extended family. (Hubby says they are good at fishing, but lousy at catching.) Visit Connie online at www.conniemann.com
Home is where the heart is. The danger, too . . .
The Martinellis were the closest thing to family Cat Johnson ever had. That’s why she ran—to protect them from her threatening past. The orphaned child of classical musicians, she’s been lying low in Nashville, and performing at the No Name Café. When Cat reluctantly agrees to attend the wedding of her beloved foster sister, the plan is simple: make a quick appearance at the Martinellis and then disappear again. Instead she’s thrust headlong into a nightmare.
After a wedding guest is murdered, Cat’s past descends with a vengeance. So does handsome and inquisitive Safe Harbor cop, Nick Stanton, who will stop at nothing to uncover the town’s secrets. That means exposing Cat’s as well. The more intimate Nick’s feelings for Cat become, the more driven he is to find out what she’s hiding.
As things in Safe Harbor take a terrifying turn, Cat realizes that the man she’s afraid to trust might be the only one she can turn to.
Since the heroine of DEADLY MELODY is a musician, I’ve teamed up with the School in a Cart in Manila, Philippines, to support their street children’s band. Being part of something and learning to play an instrument is really helping these street children stay in school and get an education--their best hope to break the poverty cycle. I’m donating all my pre-order and first week’s royalties (via www.Lift-the-Lid.org) to make a difference in the lives of these children. Will you help me help them?
In "His Lone Star Heart" by Missy Tippens, rancher Zeb West tries hard not to fall for Beecher Brown, the feisty but off-limits sister of his best friend. As she tries to prove she's capable of running her family's ranch--the one he's trying to buy--he might just find he's met his match...for life.
After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, ACFW Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com, https://twitter.com/MissyTippens and http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.