OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “ODD BEAUTY, STRANGE FRUIT,” BY SUSAN SWARTWOUT, “BENEATH STILL WATERS,” BY CYNTHIA GRAHAM AND “DOUBLE IDENTITY,” BY JAYE C. BLAKEMORE, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.
“WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW!”
Most of us who are writers have heard that nagging mantra hundreds of times. And, truth be told, there is some validity to it.
On the other hand, what about all those sci-fi and fantasy authors climbing the best seller lists? Or the myriad novels focused on vampires (does anyone really claim to know one)?
Moreover, the Internet has expanded the definition of “what we know” considerably. I’ve never been to the Amazon, but if I wanted to write a novel about exploring it, I could no doubt find enough information on-line to pull it off.
Still, the Internet can only give you what other people have seen and experienced. It’s not quite the same thing as being there yourself.
Our three books this week all involve writing about familiar and personal subjects. I’ll start with Tim Bridwell, author of “Sophronia L.”
“I like writing about people in foreign environments, far from home,” says Tim, who currently lives in Paris, “yet I’ve been goaded to explore places and characters familiar to me. The place I am ‘from’ is Martha’s Vineyard Island (see photo above). Raised year-round on the Vineyard, it never seemed like a place I would want to write about; there were always more interesting places for me, and they were all off-island.
“Some years away from the States, I began thinking of what makes the Vineyard unique. The first thing that stood out for me was the island’s 19th century deaf community, far larger than anywhere on the mainland. There seemed to be no stigma attached to the condition, with rates of intermarriage between deaf and hearing partners equal to the norm. Their homegrown sign language was widely used by all islanders. Martha’s Vineyard was also highly involved in the whaling industry, from Edgartown, its whaling port to the east, to Gay Head (Aquinnah) on the far western side, home to the Wampanoag tribe with their renowned harpoon skills.”
So Tim built that into a narrative that has a strong ring of authenticity, even though the setting is 150 years ago.
Meanwhile, memoir writing pretty much defines “writing about what you know.” For Joshua Mendel, author of “Hineni,” the subject was, for a long time, too close for comfort.
“Beginning in January 2013,” he recalls, “my internal Guide (aka The Voice) ‘said’ to me: ‘You need to write about your life!’ This was not a casual thought but an ongoing Call that would not leave me. I would hear this throughout my day and later, it would wake me up at night!
“I made up a host of reasons and excuses for not writing; for example: ‘I’m a nobody. Nobody wants to know the maudlin events of my pitiful life!’ ‘That would be a big job.’ This was a big dodge and a holdover from my childhood: ‘We don’t air our dirty linen in public!’ (sigh…)
“As noted in my book, it became excruciating for me not to listen. One day in March 2013, I remember myself opening my arms, looking up to the sky, and saying: ‘OK I give up; so what do I write about?'”
And finally, there is my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid.”
It took me nearly 10 months, but I always knew I wanted to include one of my books in this project — not as some sort of personal payback for having put it together, but because I’m hoping it might give me some insight into how Snowflakes in a Blizzard is working (or not working) on an individual basis.
Moreover, the book revolves around a subject that’s close to me. Although I spent nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, I never took a journalism course in college. Rather, my early education in that regard came from two years with the West Columbia-Cayce Journal, a now-defunct (not my fault) weekly newspaper across the river from Columbia, SC.
To me, weekly newspapers are journalism at its gut level, and incredibly important to the communities they serve. A lot of the news they print won’t appear anywhere else.
I remember once seeing a masthead atop a weekly that said it all: “The Only Newspaper That Gives a Hoot About Jackson County.”
Yet as my main character, Eddie Fogarty, finds out, when an unpleasant story has to be written, there is nowhere in a small town to hide. Everyone knows who you are, and where to find you.
The best part of this book was that I got to use dozens of great stories from my journalism career — some that happened to me, some I heard about from other reporters, all safely “fictionalized.” I moved the venue from South Carolina to Virginia, but Virginia is where I spent most of my time in the newspaper business.
It’s what I know.
UPCOMING ON ‘SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD,” FEB. 15-21.
“SOPHRONIA L.,” BY TIM BRIDWELL.
Sophronia Lambert, a schoolteacher on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, lives a quiet life—that is until Nantucket whaling captain James Folger comes ashore. Realizing he is the man who killed her deaf brother, she decides to pursue vengeance—first at home, then at sea—sailing to the far side of the world as his bride.
As she grapples with madness and morality, Sophronia’s quest mirrors that of her island community: to find a way forward amidst the pressures of a brutal industry, a nation mired in Civil War, and a past darker than the ocean’s abyss.
“HINENI: MY WALK INTO A BEAUTIFUL LIFE,” BY S. JOSHUA MENDEL
Mismatched to the norms and demands of his family, home religion, peers, and society, the author was a depressed, immature, and fearful recluse for 26 years of his life. Contemplating suicide at age 21, he heard a Voice. Learning to listen and follow that Voice, the author set upon a four-decade journey of recovery and healing, employing a range of traditional (and untraditional) religious and spiritual thought systems. In a Vision, this nontheist, birthright Jew realized to his surprise that The Voice guiding him on his journey was Jesus.
Hineni: My Walk Into Beautiful Life is an intensely personal and frank autobiography; an ethical will of how the author became a whole, human being, and what he learned and is still learning on his journey.
“THE KUDZU KID,” BY DARRELL LAURANT
After hotshot investigative reporter Eddie Fogarty overreaches on a story and is fired by his large metropolitan daily in New Jersey, the only bounce-back job he can find is editing a weekly newspaper in backwater Southside Virginia. In that unlikely and alien setting, he finds culture shock, redemption, romance, and the biggest story of his life.