Do writers always write about things they know? Should they write about things they don’t know? These are intriguing questions. It has been said that all stories are autobiographical. I believe there is some truth to this. Without experience, there could be no psychological basis motivating the tale. And personal histories provide raw material as well for the details of a story. Colum McCann, in his new book, ‘Letters to a Young Writer’, asserts that writers do and should write about those things with which they have no direct experience. (As a matter of disclosure, I have not read, but plan to read, “Letters..’, but have drawn this observation from an interview on PBS Newshour with Jeffery Brown). In this way writers learn more about the world around them.
I’ve tapped both deep springs in my writing. Almost by definition, as a Fantasy writer I couldn’t possibly have experienced those things I’ve written about–giant spiders, Rock Cats and, in my new book, ‘The Girl from Ipanema‘, North Korea. Some things are drawn from pure imagination and some from learning about a subject indirectly, as with combing through Wikipedia! So if you want to write, use your experiences to provide an emotional launchpad for your theme and then teach yourself something new.
In ‘I Married a Butterfly‘, both elements were in play. Of course, I’ve never seen, let alone married, a giant butterfly. But the incident in the cornfield did happen when I was in high school (although I was not dumped immediately, but shortly thereafter), and I haven’t forgotten how I felt. And the evening in the New York apartment also occurred, although it didn’t last a year!
Hopefully you will enjoy ‘Butterfly’ and something will resonate with you.