by Pat Hart
It seems all writing advice and axioms include: Write What You Know, and yet so many fantastic books are about times and places the writer could never have been. I marvel at writers who can write about Vienna in the 1890s, or Ancient Rome, or Japan during the age of the Samurai. Creating a science fiction world is different;the writer can make up the whole thing, and claim: it’s so, because I say it’s so. Not true of real places and time. Everything I’ve written is set in a time and place that is familiar to me. I guess I fear that the expert of the place and time I tried to write about will harrumph, slam down my book in disgust and declare that my work is total “poppycock!”
In my current WIP a portion of my book is set in suburban U.S., late 1960 thru the early 70s and the main character is a 14-year old girl. I’ve forgotten (seriously, totally forgotten) more about that era, time of life and place than most people ever knew, so, even though I lived it, I need help finding accurate “telling” details.
For example, my main character is a devoted TV watcher and could easily recite the times, premise and whether the show is new or a repeat for every night, every station. This is not information I still have from own sit-com infused childhood, but I found it online. By the way, does anybody else remember The Rookies, The Bold Ones, Love American Style, and Room 222?
What about clothes? In the early 70s, my style was Peanut jeans, wide belts, and earth shoes, but there was also qiana blouses, platform shoes and big, big, big hair.
And wasn’t there something going on that pre-empted “The Guiding Light” for weeks on end? Perhaps the Watergate trials? I do recall Nixon’s little wave as he boarded the helicopter and that my mother was very upset though she hated Tricky Dick. She said it all reminded her of listening to Edward’s abdication as a child in England and, though it had nothing to do with it, how her family emigrated shortly after and then lost her father to booze in America. Ohhhkay, Mom…that’s nice, but when do you think we’ll get back to normal life and find out who is really the father of Reba’s baby?
Who out there is writing about a world of which they have no first hand knowledge? How do you begin? How do you connect with the characters? How do you defuse the harrumphing experts?