Have you ever been given that advice, to write what you know?
I have, though 82% of my published books fall under the “Fantasy” umbrella. While I can’t say I’ve ever ridden a dragon or shape-shifted into a wolf in *real* life, I have imagined doing both and many, many more *impossible* things. What I do know – and subsequently write into my stories – is the life I’ve lived, the people I’ve encountered, and the experiences I’ve had. Sometimes the inclusion is deliberate, sometimes it’s inadvertent.
Recently, I read a blog post by author Katrina Jackson, titled I want to tell you a story about grief... At the end of the piece, she briefly explains why she bared the grief she has lived with her entire life - and her reason had to do with a romance book of hers being criticized for including the death of the main character's beloved spouse. That book - Back in the Day - is about a father looking back at his love-filled marriage as he speaks with his adult son. Kat's post brought me to tears, both because of her writing and because I'm on intimate terms with the vagaries of grief.
(Note: Nowadays, most authors include content warnings or notes at the beginning of their books, or in the book's blurbs. The language at times must be tailored to the retailer's website. I'm in the process of doing this for all of my books).
As a reader, my favorite genres are urban fantasy, fantasy romance, paranormal romance, space opera, etc. Given that the stories I write are populated with immortal goddesses and beings with magical abilities – including the ability to shift their human form into dragons, owls, otters, wolves, etc. – you might wonder how it is I can “write what I know.”
Calliope Jones is the heroine of my first fantasy novel, MAGIC REMEMBERED. Like Calli, I’ve been divorced and I’m the mother of sons (she has 2, I have 4). She lives on Salt Spring Island, BC, as do I. She inadvertently encounters the love of her life after just having made a gruesome discovery. I, too, encountered the love of my life after… well, actually, there was nothing gruesome at all involved in finding Mr. Moss (but I imbue many of my male love interests with the best and most endearing of his qualities).
Clementine, Beryl, and Alderose Brodeur star in my 5-book Sister Witches Urban Fantasy series. In a way, their stories are an homage to my sister and the love and respect I have for her, as well as to my females ancestors.
Jake Winslow and his 3-book dragon shifter series was written for my four sons. It’s also an acknowledgement of all the precious, priceless hours I spent curled next to my boys, reading them story after story – most of which were fantasy, and most of which were read many times over.
Digging deeper into my past, I’ll share that I’ve had complicated relationships with family members. I get to work through some of what I’ve been through – and might still feel – through my characters (the good ones and the not-so-good ones). I’ve had romantic relationships that didn’t fit the “norm” I grew up to think I would have, and I write some of those into my stories.
And when it comes to themes, I think what's at the heart of every book I write is setting the main character on a journey to find or recover their truest *self.* That journey often includes them finding, acknowledging, and accepting their power.
Then there is writing about *magic*… I’ve encountered magical places and people. I’ve had enough prophetic dreams, past-life experiences, synchronistic events and inexplicable things happen to me to believe there’s more to life than what we know through our most commonly used senses. Expanding those experiences through character development, worldbuilding, and designing systems of magic feels… natural. Inevitable.
Bringing this back to Katrina Jackson’s post, I want to acknowledge we all come to stories looking for different things. Whether you’re looking for escapism, or validation, there’s an author out there writing what you’re looking for and I, for one, embrace wholeheartedly the notion that “Romance” books – and books with romance in them – can, and should, include as wide a range of human emotions and experiences as the author sees fit to include and is comfortable with writing.
It’s our job as readers to pay attention to content notes and book reviews, especially if you’re particularly sensitive to topics life grief, divorce, billionaires, etc. And while you’re sinking into a book that’s perfect for you, remember that writers (some, not all) often write the stories they want to read, too.