I've just finished reading a few somewhat similar books, Holly Black's White Cat and its sequel, Red Glove, and Ally Carter's Heist Society. Both authors must have meticulously researched crime, crime families, and cons.
So on my walk I thought about those books, and what awesome, high-concept premises they had, and how I wished I could write something that fun. And then I thought: Well, why couldn't I?
Obviously not about crime families, Black and Carter seem to have that covered for the moment. But there's nothing to say I couldn't write a fun, high-concept book, nothing to say I couldn't research something really unique and interesting.
Because I'm almost positive Black and Carter do not come from crime families. And look at this bit from Holly Black's acknowledgements: "and [to] my husband, Theo, who not only put up with me during the writing, but also gave me lots of advice about demerits, scams, private school, and how to talk animal shelters out of things."
Isn't that fabulous? That is exactly why I always read books' acknowledgements, all those fascinating little tidbits! Not only is Holly Black probably not from a crime family, it appears she didn't even go to private school. But she knows someone who did.
I think that's the trick. Obviously, we can't only write about what we know forwards and backwards. Otherwise our books would be shallow, one-dimensional. And, just as obviously, we can't write the things we don't know. But I think there's a vast middle ground of things I don't know, but which are part of my world. The things I'm fascinated by, the things my husband knows, my family, my friends, the places I've traveled, the students I've taught. They're things I'd need to research, and I'd need to recruit people to help, but I bet I could pull them off.
And then it occurred to me, I've already done this. A few times. In Project Demo, one of my characters is into car repair. His father is a mechanic. Do I know anything about cars? No. I would be hard pressed to change a tire. But my mother was an engineer for GM until she retired. Plus I listen to Car Talk every week on my walk to get groceries. I used to teach students who studied car repair, and I could get minor jobs done on my car for free (loved that perk!). So even though all those aspects of my life don't add up to being able to change a tire, I imagined a boy who loves and works on cars. I got the sentiment right, and asked my mom (thank you, Mom!) to check the details. And upon reading Project Demo, you might even think I know something about cars. That's the illusion.
And it's those illusions that make books rich and universal.
What have you pretended to know in the course of your writing? Any fun things you'd love to write about?
*The picture is mine, from a walk in Bath*