But, the other day, I found myself using this particular "rule" to beat myself about the head and shoulders. See, I wrote this piece of flash a few weeks ago. Now, because I've been reading Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels and watching a lot of Discovery Channel's "Sons of Guns", I've had Louisiana on the brain. The accent has been in my ear. The story, I decided, also had a very humid, bayou kinda feel, so I set it in Louisiana. For the past week or two I've been dallying with the idea of expanding that story into something more. Novel? Maybe. There's definitely room to go for a longer short (20k or under). But, as happens when I'm thinking of starting a new project, I started to second-guess myself.
You--born and bred in central Indiana, a transplant to the desert--want to write something with cajun undertones? YOU, one of the whitest women south of Utah, want to write something with that much flavor, spice, heritage and ... seriously? What do you know of it? The closest you've come to Louisiana is watching Steel Magnolias a hundred times. But this is the thing about "writing what you know"... you can always know MORE. When I wanted to write authentic circus slang, I researched the hell out of it. (I'm a big fan of the circus.) There's this awesome repository of human knowledge that is quite literally at my fingertips. I can exploit the hell out of Google to learn about just about any damn thing under the sun. (Except Masonic teachings. For that, well, I've said too much.) While I'm not a carny, I can sure as shit tell you about them and I (think I) can spin a good circus tale that is all the more engaging because of the research I've done.
"Write what you know" isn't so much telling you that if you're a waitress, you have to write about waitresses. It's a reminder to us that while we as writers craft fiction, we should always strive to be truthful. Be honest. Our stories have to come from a real place within humanity, not necessarily a place found on any map or in our galaxy. For all your pretty words and well-paced plots, your story will fall flat if it doesn't ring true. You can tell when a musician is playing without soul or when an actor is just going through the motions. Writers, we can give ourselves away just as easily.
So, to that voice in my head that says just because I've never been to Louisiana, I can't write about a cajun...I say back off. It is within my power to learn more and craft something that is true to its roots. If the story is there and wants/needs to be told, I'm here to tell it.
Today, I've been listening to bayou blues and zydeco music.
I think there's a story that wants to be told and it comes from a humid, sticky place that smells like spicy shrimp and dirty rice.