ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sharon Linnéa is the author of the new mystery These Violent Delights as well as the four Eden thrillers, Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Ede and the new Plagues of Eden. She has also written award-winning biographies of Raoul Wallenberg and Hawaii’s Princess Kaiulani. She lives outside New York City with her family.
We all grew up with the aphorism, “Write what you know.” For beginners, it’s often good advice. And, for any of us, lines like, “I know this because I have personally lived in a labyrinth of underground caverns for the past seven years,” or “I myself was sent to the International Space Station to investigate the bodies of dead aliens,” will certainly attract at least a first read by an agent.
On the other hand, in his blog, David Bell turns the advice a 180 and says, “write what you don’t know,” which is spot on.
Recently, I’ve been considering this advice in a different way. It seems that truly, the most important thing is to “write who you are.” Or, more specifically, write who you are becoming.
Back when I was a young writer of Spider-man comics, Jim Shooter, then editor-in-chief of Marvel, sat me down and said, “We don’t write comics about superheroes so that kids will sit in their bedrooms and be entertained for half an hour. We write them so that kids will go out into the backyard, pull on a towel as a cape, and become the superhero.”
That stuck with me. It explained why I read. Anne of Green Gables. Merlin the Enchanter. James Bond. Atticus Finch. Reading about those characters and getting inside their hearts and minds, was a stretching experience. You got to try on their courage and emotions, and, often, you began to grow into them. They showed you experiences you’d never had—and gave you the possibility of responses you may or may not have had the courage or pluck to live out yourself.
The kind of books I read were those that resonated with me emotionally and often philosophically. Granted, many characters lived lives and made choices that weren’t for me—but it was eye-opening to begin to understand why they made the choices they did.
I don’t know if this is a normal thing for writers, but I began the whole “towel around the neck” thing pretty young. In early elementary school, I had friends who would enter imaginary worlds with me. We returned to the same characters again and again, and the situations became more complex and intriguing. These worlds usually had to do with rock bands or secret agents. I also had worlds which existed only in my own mind.
By the time I was in fourth grade, I realized that if I wrote down these adventures, I’d get as much enjoyment from reading them again that I had gotten the first time of making them up. Thus, the writer was born. Looking back, I can also see how certain plots and emotions kept recurring. In many ways, I was trying on those emotions I’d read about in my favorite books, claiming them, and making them my own.
Then my family moved to Missouri, and I found a new best friend, Barby Sherer. While other girls were playing Mystery Date or the Barbie Game, we were outside playing French Underground. We hid in attics of houses under construction, had hidden drop points in culverts, and found very suspicious red Mustangs. I don’t know for sure how many Nazis we thwarted, but it was quite a few.
Those were the emotions (and perhaps the adrenaline rush) I wanted to capture in the stories I wrote, as well.
My guess is that every writer grapples with different subjects and “lives into” different emotions. What makes a book ring true for a reader is not that the author has known and correctly described the bushes that grow on Prince Edward Island (which are, nowadays, easily found online), but that the author has created a world in which readers can also, for the space of the time they inhabit that world, live and move and have their being. More than anything else, the emotions (and often the spirit of the protagonist) ring true. They are familiar. They are real. It’s clear the author has “written what he knows.”
It’s not surprising to me that Barby (now the Rev. Dr. Chaplain Colonel B.K. Sherer) and I co-write the Eden thrillers with a female protagonist, Jaime Richards, an Army chaplain who saves the world on a regular basis. Or that Jaime often grapples with the same issues of faith and interpersonal relationships and the meaning of it all that we do. We are still experimenting in fiction, and growing into that courage and those emotions.
Several years ago, Barb and I met up in France to work together on our next novel. She had been asked to join her general and give the prayer for U.S. Memorial Day ceremony at the Oise Aisne American Cemetery . Before the ceremony, we laid wreaths in the squares of the small surrounding towns, and heard stories from the Frenchmen who remembered both the world wars. As storm clouds loaned a dramatic backdrop to the ceremony of soldiers, and the music swelled, it felt familiar. I’d been here—been here emotionally, anyway—with Barb, in sixth grade. When we were in the French Underground. Couldn’t mention it to anyone, of course, but it occurred to me then—be careful what you imagine.
Because, in so many ways, you become what you write.
HOW HAS YOUR WORK EVOLVED THROUGH THE YEARS? Whether you write or not, tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of PLAGUES OF EDEN! (U.S. entrants only, please.)
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