Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wild Card Weekend : Write What You Know

Please welcome Gail Barrett to the PHS this weekend with a great post about writing what you DON'T know!

Write What You Know. Every time I hear that timeworn advice, I cringe -- because frankly, I don’t really “know” anything, or at least not anything I can use in a book.

Honestly, I have very limited areas of expertise. I can speak Spanish. I used to play the bagpipes. Having taught high school for years, I know the ins and outs of a typical school. But none of that helps me write romantic suspense. I should have become a smokejumper instead of a teacher. I should have joined the military or the FBI -- something that would have provided me with actual gun-shooting, villain-capturing skills. At least then I could write with real authority instead of spending so much time researching my books.

To make things worse, I’m invariably drawn to foreign settings. With parents who love to travel (they’ve visited thirty-six countries to date), I guess that was inevitable. The problem is, as much as I’d like to visit every place I set a book, I don’t always have the money or time.

Take my current book, THE ROYAL AFFAIR, book three of my miniseries, THE CRUSADERS. I decided to set it in the Himalayas for historic reasons. (The Roma, the main characters of the Crusaders series, originally came from that corner of the world.)

Of course, the fact that I know nothing about India or Nepal didn’t stop me. After lobbying my husband to take a trip there (no go), I resigned myself to doing research online. Fortunately, people post everything on Youtube these days -- from videos of snake charmers to scenes of rush hour in Kathmandu. I spent hours watching overcrowded buses careen through traffic, imagining the diesel fumes and noise.

The more I researched, the more I wanted to go there. Every photo, every exotic detail intrigued me more -- and sparked ideas I never would have thought of on my own. When my characters needed to sneak into a heavily-guarded monastery, for example, a photo I found online provided the solution -- they posed as villagers carting loads of straw.

Photos of sadhus (ash covered ascetics sporting dreadlocks and face paint), gave me another idea. I decided to have a sadhu guard the cave which contained the secret they needed to solve.

At other times, I had to ignore what my research revealed. I completely overlooked caste issues because they were beyond the scope of the book. I also had to minimize the horrors of the underbelly of Himalayan society. The heroine of my story, Maya Chaudry, rescues women being trafficked into the sex trade -- truly hellish stuff. (If you want more information, watch The Day My God Died, a heart-wrenching video funded by the Bill Gates Foundation -

By the end of the book, I knew more about the Himalayas than I did at the start -- some of it intriguing, some of it appalling -- all very enlightening.

So while I didn’t write what I knew, I learned as I wrote. And maybe that’s the point, after all.

Check out Gail's THE ROYAL AFFAIR, out this month from Silhouette Romantic Suspense!


  1. Hi Gail - I agree - write what you know is not always the best advice for romantic suspense authors!

    I love learning how authors come up with their scenes, so thanks for sharing that. And I love the cover for The Royal Affair - it's absolutely gorgeous. I'd already decided to buy the book because of the great plot, but I'd probably buy it for the cover alone!

    All the best,

  2. Cris - I agree about the cover. This is my absolute favorite cover. I LOVE it. It's HOT! And the best part is that the art department got the characters exactly right. I couldn't be more pleased:))))