by Annette Dashofy
With two completed manuscripts in the hands of my agent and a new one not yet started (other than notes and notes and more notes), I keep coming face-to-face with the ugly question of what story am I most qualified to write? Agh!
Some writers have a built-in area of expertise. Lawyers are shoe-ins for writing legal thrillers. Doctors have the inside track for medical thrillers. Cops know the scoop for writing police procedurals. But what about the rest of us who live boring lives? What about those of us for whom the most exciting part of our day is what happens inside our heads?
I guess it’s the book marketing class I’m taking that has me contemplating this subject. My mystery series is about a veterinarian at a Thoroughbred racetrack. Yes, I know horses. Yes, I have some inside information about that world. I have a groom’s license. I am NOT a vet. I do have retired racetrack vet who serves as my technical advisor. But if I need to write articles about veterinary care in order to promote this book…well, I’m screwed.
So for the new book, I’m asking myself in what area can I think of myself as an expert?
HA! I’m the proverbial jack of all trades, master of none.
But that also poses the question: WHAT IS AN EXPERT? How much “expertise” must you have to be given that title?
Years ago, I came to realize that the term “expert” is relative. I was working at a camera shop, selling all sorts of photographic paraphernalia (way before digital) when a gentleman came in and asked me if I was an expert at photography.
Hmmm. Well, it depended. If this guy were some Joe Schmoe who’d only handled a point-and-click Kodak, then YEAH. I was an expert. If he were Ansel Adam’s protégé, NOPE, I was a rank amateur.
At that point, I realized that an expert is anyone who knows more than the person they’re talking to.
I actually said that to a self-proclaimed art expert at a neighborhood festival a few years later. He didn’t find me amusing.
The problem then becomes “who is reading my stuff?” We all dread having someone approach us and tell us we got it all wrong. I’ve ordered my veterinary technical advisor to be brutal when he reads my drafts. Don’t let anything slide. And still, I worry.
But what can I write about next? Okay, I’ve taught yoga for almost ten years, but I have to tell you—yoga instructors as protagonists are a real snooze. We mostly go around telling people to relax. I ran a photography studio for five years, along with working in the camera shop. But advancements in technology have made my expertise in that field woefully outdated.
How about a retired photographer who takes yoga classes and works odd jobs to make a few bucks?
Hmmm. Nah. Back to the drawing board.
So what about you guys? Do you rely on your personal expertise when you write? Or do you do research until your head explodes? As a reader, do you get completely annoyed when the author gets it wrong and you know it? Or are you willing to forgive a minor slip-up if the characters and story are otherwise compelling? I want to hear from the experts out there!