Today I was a guest on Samantha Stroh Bailey’s blog, and in case you didn’t see all the leads to it through social media, I’m reposting it here.
Welcome Martha Reynolds!
Write what you don’t know about what you know
Elan Barnehama is a straight male who wrote a book (Finding Bluefield) about two lesbians in 1960s Virginia. How did he write about a situation so different from what he knew? We’ve all heard the mantra: “write what you know.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? But the story can be so much better by writing what could happen, perhaps what should happen, instead of what did happen. And it doesn’t mean you can’t use what you do know. Ann Hood’s first novel, Somewhere off the Coast of Maine, involves a teenage girl, Rebekah, who believes her tortured high-school life would be so much better if she could just get a nose job.
Readers thought Hood must have gone through the same trauma. She didn’t, but her memory of wearing too-thick eyeglasses, and having to constantly repair them in class, evoked the same kind of feeling that Rebekah knew. For me to write about my character Bernadette’s experience of an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent decision to carry the child to term and give it up for adoption was sometimes challenging. I don’t have children, and writing about a young woman who makes the decisions Bernadette made provided opportunity for me to dig deep for emotions that would help me to write these passages. Yes, online research is available, but it’s tapping into the inner emotion that will help you write your story.
Elan Barnehama says that all his writing is autobiographical – in that it comes from him – but it’s not biographical, because it’s not about him. Connecting with the essence of the characters’ humanity is what the reader wants, and it’s what propels me as I write about what I don’t know.
Martha’s second novel, Chocolate Fondue, is a continuation of the story told in Chocolate for Breakfast, her award-winning début novel.
Twenty-three years ago, Bernie Maguire, a young student in Switzerland, delivered a son. Giving him up for adoption was the right decision, she knew, but Bernie always wondered about the boy who was now a young man.
Back in Fribourg, Switzerland for vacation, Bernie is stunned when she sees the man she knows is her son. Now she must decide whether to identify herself to him and hope for a connection, or say nothing and leave the young man to live his life. The matter is complicated by a hotel employee who discovers the truth, and who intends to get in the way of Bernie’s plans.