Write (verb): to live, to make a difference

Archive for November, 2012

Write What You Know?

“A novel is a confession to everything by a person who has never done anything.”–Mark Twain

 What aspiring writer hasn’t heard the adage (or even been solemnly instructed by the teacher of a creative writing class) to “write what you know”? Every time I hear that, I invariably think, “But what if you don’t know anything?” Which then reminds me of what Will Rogers said: “It’s not what he doesn’t know that bothers me; it’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.” Which then makes me think of Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh or George W. Bush, and then I just get depressed. Or nauseated.

 But to get back to my point (yes, I do have one) …

 Should writers write only about their own personal experiences? I doubt that Agatha Christie ever really murdered anyone (at least I hope not … but then again, that might make a good novel and perhaps already has, for all I know) or Sue Grafton or Nevada Barr or Marcia Muller or Sara Paretsky or for that matter, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also unlikely that Ray Bradbury ever visited Mars or Tolkien ever visited Middle Earth. And as far as all the many, many, many novels about plucky young heroines who have vampire/werewolf/werewhatever boyfriends–seriously doubt the authors really do. But if writers were limited to writing only about what they have experienced themselves–the world would be an awfully boring place.

 What if you really don’t know anything? Not saying I don’t. No one can survive this long without picking up a thing or two. I hope. But if you write only about your own life, what do you have to draw from? Most of us go to school, grow up, get a boring job, get married and have kids or don’t, love a series of dogs and/or cats, buy stuff, watch too much television, and eventually die. Many people actually write novels about things like that and even do it well. Fair play to them. But like the song says: Is that all there is? Thank the gods and goddesses–no. That’s what research is for. And almost anything can be research. (Or at least you can use that as an excuse, if you need one …)

 Years ago I wanted to write a novel that had some swordfighting in it. Don’t remember now how I got on that kick. Maybe it was watching “Highlander” or “Zorro” or “Scaramouche” or “The Three Musketeers” or “Robin Hood” or “The Court Jester” or “The Princess Bride” or “Star Wars”… come to think of it, there’s an awful lot of swordfighting in the movies, isn’t there? Thoughts on why will have to wait for another day. Anyway, I knew I really wanted some good swordfighting scenes, but I had no idea how to describe it. Watching it doesn’t tell you the terminology, and you can’t really even tell what’s going on just by watching, because it all happens so fast. So I took a beginning fencing class in a salle in Seattle. It was fun, but about the only thing I really learned was that I should have started decades earlier, when my knees were younger. Didn’t help me write about swordfighting.

 So to the library I went. And the bookstore. I found more about swords and the art of using them than I ever dreamed existed. I read. I took notes. I read some more. And I wrote a novel called A Night Devoid of Stars. The novel isn’t about swordfighting, but those scenes are my favorites. They were fun to write, but I don’t claim that they’re accurate. I mean, I hope they are. But I’m no expert. I did the best I could with what I had to work with at the time, and I loved doing it. Someone else, who, you know, actually knows this stuff could no doubt do it better.

 So. Write what you know? Absolutely. Or write what you learn. Or better yet, write what you can imagine. Isn’t that what fiction is, after all: an entire universe of the imagination? You can write nonfiction, certainly, if you’re so inclined, but if you’re not, you can always do research and you can also make stuff up. The world is a grim place: We need stories to take our minds off real life. And as Liza Minnelli once said, “Reality is something you rise above.” Fiction can help you do that. If you write what you imagine.



Little Red Book

For many years, I’ve had a very small red notebook. I’ve no idea now where I got it or why. Or why it has a unicorn on the front. (Not a big fan of unicorns. Or even of the color red.) It started out empty, pages blank except for faint blue lines. At some point, I don’t remember when, I started copying into it quotes that struck a chord with me. About writing, about freedom, about Irish nationalism, about feminism, about animals, or about nothing much at all, just things that made me laugh. I’ve used that little red book often in writing my novels, especially the first one, The Rising of the Moon, which was all about Ireland and feminism and freedom. Whenever I needed a quote by Patrick Pearse or Bobby Sands or James Connolly, I dipped into the little red book and found just what I needed for one of Nuala’s speeches. I started this little book so many years ago, I didn’t realize at the time that I might one day need citations for these quotes. So there aren’t any. Sometimes not even the names of whoever said these things. I wish now there were citations, of course, so I could give credit where it’s due. But it is what it is. If I know who said it and where it was published, I’ll say so. If not … well, wise words should live on. If someone stumbles across this blog and knows who said something I quote, please let me know, and I’ll update the post. For now, here’s a little something by a poet named Louise Bogan that sums up why I write:

“No woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.”–Louise Bogan

I try to live up to that. And I treasure that little red book, my own collection of the wisdom of others who use words better than I do.

Welcome to Flynn Connolly’s page

This is my first blog post. (yay, me!) The whole point of this is: I am going to try to self-publish the novels I’ve written, since I’ve had little luck getting a second novel published by a “real” publisher after my first novel, The Rising of the Moon, was published by Del Rey. Moon was hardly a best-seller, in spite of good reviews and nominations for awards. Consequently, Del Rey had no interest in the sequel.  I managed to find an agent, but she wasn’t thrilled with my third novel (A Night Devoid of Stars), and then she disappeared. I wrote a fourth novel (Blood Kin), and found another agent, who loved it. (Really, he did.) He submitted it to the only publishers he apparently deals with, all of whom rejected it. (Sigh) He had absolutely no advice on what I should do next with Kin, so time passed, and I wrote another novel (The Curse of Macha).  My agent wasn’t as fond of that one: He thought there weren’t enough straight, young men in it (I kid you not!), and he basically dumped me. Since then I’ve been wondering what to do with these already-written novels. Forget them? After all that work? Yes, I loved writing them, but as much fun as writing is, it is still work, after all: my heart and soul and blood on the page. Then I bought a Nook tablet and discovered e-books. I love my Nook: so easy on the eyes and so many books, only a click away! So now I’m researching how to self-publish e-books. I figure, what have I got to lose? If publishers aren’t interested in me or my novels, why not become my own publisher?

Apparently, if you want to self-publish, you have to first have these things called “homepages” on the Interwebs, and tweety things, and Facewhatevers. Who knew? So this is me, wading in, wondering if anyone, anywhere, will even notice. First, I create a blog (this is it!), and a website (this is it?), then figure out what to do on/with Facebook, and what to do with Twitter (besides just following Celtic Thunder and Nancy Lee Grahn). Assuming I figure all that out, I’m hoping to self-publish A Night Devoid of Stars. Don’t know how long it will take to get that far. But that’s my plan.

So stay tuned–assuming anybody’s out there. Hello? Is this thing on?