Write about what you know, the experts say.

If I only wrote about what I knew, what a limited scope I’d have to choose from. Instead, my motto has become, Write What I Imagine.

How can a woman write from the viewpoint of a man when she’s never been a man in her life?

How does a conservative classical-music lover get into the head of an aspiring rocker?

How would a web-footed Northwesterner know about life in San Francisco?

Only through imagination. And lots of research.

If I wrote only what I know, I’d write of a boring, white, middle-aged, single, female writer who lives in Oregon.

I can see the title now. “Single White Female Seeking a Life.”

I’m quite sure J.R.R. Tolkien had never been, or met, a hobbit in his life. (Unless it happens to be a well-guarded secret.) And I would bet Stephen King never practiced telekinesis, or knew anyone who did.

So I had to allow my imagination to soar when I wrote my two novels. I loved “stepping into the shoes” of people considerably different from myself, people with different values, speech patterns, lifestyles, beliefs. I, the grammar geek, learned to “speak” in ghetto slang. I learned how to think and talk like a man. In real life, however, I still speak and think like me.

It’s like being an actor. Like a woman playing a male role. A white woman playing the role of an inner-city Hispanic.

Whenever I look back on my handful of experiences playing a role on stage, I mostly cringe. But the word processor is much more forgiving. If I don’t get it right the first time, there’s not yet an audience to boo me off the stage. I can keep cutting and pasting until I get it right.

And it has stretched me tighter than a rubber band.


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