Please help me welcome author Shelley Noble to What to Read Wednesday! She’s visiting with an interesting guest post about writing as well as her latest release Breakwater Bay!
And don’t forget to check out Shelley and Avon Books awesome giveaway at the end of the post!!!
Take it away Shelley…
Writing What You Know May Be Harder Than You Think
One of the first pieces of advice an aspiring author receives is “write what you know.”
Well it makes sense doesn’t it. You don’t get tripped up in the details of something you have no experience in. You don’t have to spend hours away from writing researching what you don’t know but need to know.
I took the advice for my first five mysteries (written as Shelley Freydont). They were about a dance company. I’d been a professional dancer before so I was pretty current with how a company works, who’s really in charge, the kinds of people who become dancers. The workings and trappings and rules of theaters.
That was a good thing. I was learning how to put a mystery together, so having a known landscape made things a little more organized. And believe me, I’d met a lot of people in the dance world that many people would have gladly murdered . . . if it weren’t against the law and didn’t make such a mess.
Then somewhere along the way, someone said, “Write what you want to know.” And someone else said, “Write what you enjoy.” I took that advice, too.
All of my women’s fiction novels and novellas take place in a shore town. Until my current story Breakwater Bay, they were fictional towns, composites of various towns and similar areas.
They were captured from memory or something I read. They were spliced together from several places or constructed totally in my head, but as Scrooge’s housekeeper once proclaimed, “in keeping with the situation.”
It gives you great freedom to make up a place. I guess you really know a place that you make up. Right?
It seems easy but a place that resides in your head is easily susceptible to Writer Fuzzy Brain Syndrome. Does Aunt Louise live on Main Street or Elm Street? Is there even an Elm Street in this story or was that the last book?
Remember we’re dealing with thousands of words. My books are usually around one hundred thousand words give or take ten thousand. That’s about 500 manuscript pages. There are lots of things going on. Lots of people to keep track of.
So was it Elm Street or Main?
The first time that happened to me, I sat down and drew a map. Now I always draw a map. So what if I make it up. It keeps the story clear in my mind. I spent three chapters once thinking a lake was on the north side of town, to discover I meant it to be on the east side. Sometimes it matters, sometimes not so much. But consistency does. This summer’s book, Breakwater Bay, is that first that takes place in an actual town, Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is one of may favorite places, the history just speaks to me, the food , those ostentatious “cottages”, the cliff walk, the ocean. Ah.
I known Newport pretty well, but I live in New Jersey, and when I needed an answer, I couldn’t hop in the car and go look for myself (at least not too often.) So I would have to do a little research, because you really want to get a real town right. I guess this situation could be called is writing something that you sort of know, but aren’t an expert on.
And then we come to the novel I just turned in. So far it’s called Whisper Beach. It takes place at the Jersey shore. I live at the Jersey shore. Write what you know, right?
It was the hardest one I’ve written yet.
I knew I didn’t want to write about a real town. You never know how things are going to change along the shore and with publishing dates a year or more after you turn the manuscript in, you don’t know if Eighteenth Street will be still be two way or one way going east, or was it west?
So I took some of my favorite places: beach, boardwalk, pizza joint, sea food shack, marina, houses, and placed them all in one little area named Whisper Beach. But it turns out that writing what you know in this case, turned out to be harder than making it up. I did draw a map of a town.
But I’d describe a restaurant based on one I’d seen that seemed perfect. Then I’d be driving one day and see one that looked even better. So I was tempted to change a few things. And a few more. Then I got interested in what I guess you’d call it poaching. People who stretch out the food budget by fishing or clamming illegally. Now I don’t know any of these people personally, but I became fascinated with them. I did research, I asked questions. Every time I drove past a river or along the shore at night, I imagined people out clamming. I’d never thought about giving them a part in the novel. Then one day they were there on the page. Why not, just another part of the local culture. And suddenly they were there taking over the whole story.
Why? Well, because they were there. I wrote some really great scenes. Realized they didn’t’ belong. Tearfully, took them out. They weren’t really part of my story, just one of the many shiny objects that tempts you when you’re actually living in your setting.
So write “what you know” is fine. It’s sometimes easy. But sometimes the things that interest us aren’t the things that belong in the book. Sometimes we know too much. That’s the hardest lesson I’ve learned by writing my backyard. My next book? It may look a little like Cape May, might be isolated like Cape Hatteras, may even be a rocky deserted beach in Maine somewhere.
But I think I’ll keep it distant and in my head. That way I can concentrate on the things that work and not be distracted by every shiny thing.
The perfect summer story of family secrets, an abandoned baby, and new romance set in Newport, RI.
Meri Hollis is happy to come home as her restoration career takes her back to her roots in Newport, RI. She can spend time with her Gran, contemplate her future with her not-so-committed boyfriend, and help restore a classic Newport mansion to its former glory. But her idyllic summer takes a turn on her 30th birthday. She did not expect to have her family’s deepest, darkest secret exposed and she certainly didn’t expect that secret to have anything to do with her…
30 years ago, Alden Corrigan was just a boy who snuck out of the house to take his father’s dinghy out on the water. But when a storm come up, he suddenly finds himself playing rescuer to a girl. A very pregnant girl. After he saves her life, the girl runs off. But not before she leaves behind a very special gift.
Now that the truth it out, there is much more at stake for the summer in BREAKWATER BAY. And Meri and Alden are thrust into situation that could prove to be the making of their futures… or the end of their friendship.
Link to Follow Tour: http://tastybooktours.blogspot.com/2014/05/now-booking-tasty-virtual-tour-for_2.html
Shelley Noble is a former professional dancer and choreographer. She most recently worked on the films, Mona Lisa Smile and The Game Plan. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America.
*Avon is hosting a TOUR WIDE Rafflecopter Commenter Giveaway for FIVE Print Copies of BREAKWATER BAY (US/Canada ONLY)*