“How did you research the book Selfie, and what steps did you take to make it authentic?”
My first thought (and I have had this one since I started writing) was “I am a terrible fraud!” because I couldn’t remember doing any research for this book.
And then my actual brain kicked in (as opposed to my panic brain), and I realized that I’d been researching this book before I started writing.
When I was a kid—eight, nine, ten—my parents made three trips to the Pacific Northwest. Oregon, Washington, Canada—I fell deeply in love.
When I was a teenager, I was one of the deciding voices to send my marching band to Victoria, Canada for our trip in my senior year, because my burning passion never dimmed. As an adult, I’ve talked Mate into taking me up there twice—for our 10thanniversary, and as part of a business trip—and that area and I renewed our affair.
Oh yes, from Goose Mountain to the Seattle Fish Market to Puget Sound, I have researched that area simply by being in love. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to look up some maps—because my head for directions is limited to three coordinates: Pure Fucking Magic.
“How did you get to Vancouver, Amy?” “Pure Fucking Magic.” “How did you get to the airport, Amy?” “Pure Fucking Magic.” As far as I’m concerned it’s the only way to travel. But just because I need a map doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t live there, so I’m good with PFM as a means of transportation.
The real research, the research that informed my descriptions of how much I love the fog or why someone would want to be a fisherman when it’s backbreaking work—that was already done.
The same applies for Connor’s profession—actor.
Well, the internal work was done as a kid. I wanted to be an (picture this word in lights with decorations and glitter) actor.
Junior high, high school, college—it was all I could think about. My parents convinced me I could never do it—didn’t have the looks, didn’t have the talent, didn’t have the willpower to stay away from cookies—all of which was probably true. I became a teacher instead, which was even better because not only could I act out the books but the kids were required by law to be there. It was glorious.
So I understood what made Connor tick—but what about his day to day? Amy, the closest you’ve been to a television set is Universal Studios—how could you possibly know what his day was like?
Well, this goes back about twelve years, and a little show—you may have heard of it?Supernatural.
Yes, I’m still somewhat obsessed.
Anyway—back when I was teaching and the administration was killing me and the kids were ungrateful and I didn’t know how my teeny paycheck was going to feed my children much less send them through college, I would sit at my computer and pretend to write.
And I’d watch anything related to this show. This included gag reels, interviews with the cast, convention footage, outtakes, interviews with the directors, “making of” clips, interviews with the writers, anecdotes, the makeup trailer, film schedules, the producers talking about casting or story arcs—you name the angle for the production of a small network television show, and I was all over that. I just wanted to know. I had actually done similar things for a lot of the movies and shows I’d loved—I wanted to know whyFirefly was canceled, or the logic behind Buffy’s death at the end of fourth season, or how the dog escaped immolation in Independence Day. Knowing how real life and imaginary life collide and change the shape of the other has always been fascinating to me—and I was more than ready to explore that on the page.
When it came time to write Connor’s day-to-day life in Wolf’s Landing, I was there.
So what research did I do?
My whole life has been research.
And that brings me to my point.
Writers are often told, “Write what you know.”
I think we need to refine that idea a little bit. If all I wrote was what I know intimately, I’d have to keep my stories incredibly small–not that I don’t sometimes, but we’re talking a tiny house and a relatively circumscribed set of destinations in my day. I wouldn’t write comedies because real life has no punch lines. I wouldn’t have writtenThe Locker Room because I’m not an athlete. I wouldn’t have written Keeping Promise Rock because I was never in the military and I tend to fall off horses and break bones.
As much as I love music, I never would have written Beneath the Stain because as many songs as I’ve sung until my throat was raw, as many “Top 500” lists as I’ve read, as many interviews and biographical movies as I’ve seen, I’ve never been up on the stage, screaming until my heart explodes.
And as much as I love movies, the theater, and TV, I never would have written Connor, because Connor is beautiful, and I am not. Connor is talented in ways I am not. And Connor is heartbroken in ways I pray never to be.
But I love knowing about music, about sports, about the military and horse ranching. I love knowing about visual storytelling. I love studying these tgubgs. I love watching standup comics and romantic comedies and situation comedies. I love watching 30 for 30and Invincible and Wimbledon and I even love working out. I love stories about soldiers and stories about horses and God, Goddess, and other, do I love music and movies and TV.
These are the things that inform my writing. These are the things that light the passion in my blood.
So I think maybe, instead of “Write what you know,” we should think about it more as “Write what you love.”
Love isn’t always rational. My love of Puget Sound defies description. I can’t tell you why I can listen to “In One Ear” sixty-thousand times, or why three paragraphs at the end of Exile’s Gate have changed the way I think about writing and character and good and evil forever. I can’t tell you why I’ve watched eleven seasons of Supernatural even though I’ve had to stop in the middle of the last five seasons and catch my breath until the show no longer hurt my heart.
Nobody can tell you why they read the same books again and again and again, until they know every word, know every nuance, can imagine every moment.
It must be love.
Write what you love—and like with real love, you will come to know the object of your affection better with every word.