The manuscript I am working on right now is the one that I’ve been avoiding up to this point. Oh, I knew it would come eventually but I needed it to come on its own time.
As many of you know, I worked at radio stations all my life. No, I wasn’t a rock ‘n roll dj or a distinguished news commentator. I was one of the behind-the-scenes people who helped put all the people and parts together in hopes they would gel into a successful and profitable venture for the company that owned us.
In these early years of my novel writing, I’ve often seen one piece of advice that says, “write what you know.” Radio is what I know and now, nine years after I left the business, I am finally willing to write about it. The main character in the book I am working on is a morning news anchor on Philadelphia’s leading radio station. Philadelphia, by the way, is my hometown.
So why the hesitation? Well, it all comes back to a topic I’ve discussed before: how does an author balance “getting personal” in his or her writing. How much of “what you know” do you let infiltrate the manuscript before the story is about you and your experiences and is no longer pure fiction? At what point does a novel turn autobiographical?
I realize, even if others deny it, that there is no way you cannot get personal with your manuscript. It’s a creative art form and to me that means, as the creator, you cannot be totally objective within the world of fiction. You will insert yourself in one way or another whether you realize it or not.
All your reference points are those you have collected throughout every year of your life. My take on writing fiction, as I’ve explained in an earlier posting, is that when you begin pouring out inner thoughts, sending their coded impulses down your arms, past your wrists and out through your fingertips onto the keyboard, a magical process takes place. Within seconds, all that jumbled mess in your head appears on a computer monitor inches from your face, hopefully in some logical form. It could be a magnificent experience as if peering at a mountain range rising up from ground zero right there in front of you…or, it could resemble just the opposite, as if you’re staring down at the floor watching a dozen or more large cockroaches climb up over your foot and begin ascending up under your pant leg. See, you can be as graphic as you want, too.
The stories and characters you create can be from your wildest dreams or scariest nightmares. In a fictional world it is always open season and the territory is both bountiful and boundless. That’s exactly what scares me about writing what you know. If I do that, based on all those radio reference points and experiences I collected and stored in my brain over 40 years, how do I keep former colleagues from drawing conclusions that I am writing directly about them or things they did? That could be troublesome? If they’ve made up their minds, then they will not accept that disclaimer that appears in the front of the book that explains “any similarity between characters in the book and real people is purely coincidental.” To them, it may not be.
So, placing fingers upon a keyboard can give you mystical power. But as is the case with everything powerful, there is responsibility that goes with it. The most intimate occurrences you may have sequestered in your personal dungeon can be released and if you choose not to own them, you can always manifest them elsewhere in one or more of the characters who roam your pages. But I would hasten to advise you—and me!—to be careful about what you know…and what you write.
I owe a big THANKS to the following people who stopped by marc’s blog and either left a “like” or signed on as a frequent flyer: Del Nolan, R. Tyler Gabbard, Nugget Tales, Antoinette Prato Shreffler, Camie Dunbar, Teri Griffin, Tim Williams, Ron Carmean and Mira Budd.