Experts tell you to write what you know. That always confused me. I started out writing mystery short stories and I didn’t know much about crime. I went to conferences and listened to panels on poisoning, fingerprints, DNA, and serial killer profiles, etc., because I wanted to get the basics right. And I’d read lots of mysteries to know the rhythm and format. But I finally decided that “write what you know” meant write what you emotionally know. I’ve never killed a person, but I’ve sure been mad as hell, felt betrayed, or wished a person out of my life–forever. The thing is, what we live, what we feel, is what makes our writing real.
In my third romance, the protagonist’s dad dies soon after he retires from the army. My dad didn’t get to live long enough to retire. After a long bout with multiple myeloma–where his blood became so thick, he was hooked up to a machine that took blood out of his left arm, used centrifugal force to “clean it,” and returned it to his right arm–he finally lost the battle. His blood got thicker faster and faster until his heart had to work too hard to pump it. I didn’t want to do that to the characters in my book, so Paula’s dad got a quick, unexpected death, but I know that feeling of loss and the aftermath. Paula tries to help her mom through her grief. That, I know, too. So do my sisters. Paula, herself, has lost her military husband overseas, and she has two kids to raise. My daughter’s a single mom, and even though we helped her, I know it’s no piece of cake to raise kids without a husband.
In my fifth romance (and it’s far, far in the future before it’s released), Joel–the love interest–is raising his daughter by himself, because his wife isn’t emotionally strong enough to deal with their daughter, who has cerebral palsy and will never be mentally older than twelve. She’ll never grow up and move away. She’ll always live with him. Which Joel is fine with, because, lord, what a beautiful human being she is! But she’ll always be a child–the good and the bad of that. My cousin has cerebral palsy, and is maybe mentally eight or nine, and I remember my grandmother and my cousin’s mother worrying about what would happen to her after they died. My sister, bless her, took her in, but I’ve met more people with those worries. When a child won’t grow up, will never be able to make it on her own, what happens to her when you die?
In the romance I’m working on now, Karli goes to Mill Pond to deal with her grandfather, who’s mean and uncooperative, but is reaching the point where it’s not safe for him to stay in his own home without help. I’ve been there/done that. My John’s mom was unstable when she didn’t take her meds, and after John’s dad died, sometimes she took them, sometimes she didn’t. Even though we checked on her every day and brought her to our house for suppers, it didn’t work. Our two small daughters got on her nerves. She’d wake up at two a.m. and call us. Her doctor finally told us, “Find a place for her, or she’ll be in the hospital.” The doctor told Harriet, too, thank goodness, and then Harriet pushed for me to find a good nursing home for her. Those decisions are almost always messy. They’re messy for Karli in book six, too.
You don’t have to battle witches or vampires to find the right emotions for good to battle evil. Most of us have battled something in our lives. We know how it feels. A writer’s life experiences and the emotions they invoke add depth to our stories. So use what you’ve got. Write what you know!