featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Karen McCullough is the author of eleven published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, and A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover. Coming soon is the electronic re-release of her Christmas vampire story, A VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series.

Karen is offering a copy of
A GIFT FOR MURDER to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week.
-- AP

Crafty Writers
Writing What You Know?

Any author who’s gone to a writer’s conference or workshop, or read a couple of books on the craft has heard the advice. “Write what you know.”

It’s a common-sense piece of writing advice.  You can create a deeper, richer, and more engrossing story when you draw on your own training, background, travels, employment, or other actual experiences to tell your story. It’s often the details, the kind you can only get from being there, that make a story ring true and pull the reader into the world you’re creating.

I followed that advice when I wrote the first book in my Market Center Mysteries, A GIFT FOR MURDER. This series is set at a large convention center/exhibition hall. Although I’ve never actually organized a trade show, I’ve attended a number of them, and covered others as a member of the trade press. I’ve talked to trade show organizers, listened to their stories, and heard about some of the challenges they faced. Of course none of them ever had to deal with a murder at a trade show, but it’s not a huge leap from the smaller problems to a really big one.

I made a few assumptions, of course, but most of them were grounded in my knowledge of how trade shows work, who comes to them, and the reasons they happen.  I just had to up the stakes a bit, and attribute fewer inhibitions to a certain individual to bring it off. Plus, you’ve got a rich background canvas. Those other, relatively more minor issues don’t go away just because our heroine had bigger problems. She still had to deal with all of it.

But my most recent release, MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS is a different kind of story. It’s a mystery, too, but a paranormal romantic mystery, with protagonists who are powerful wizards.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually met a real, live, magic-slinging wizard. That hasn’t stopped me from writing about them. What do I know that let me do that?

Well, I have read a LOT of fantasy literature. I began reading science fiction and fantasy in my early teens. After I worked my way through what I could find at home, I raided school and public libraries. In the nineteen sixties and early seventies, there wasn’t a huge amount of fantasy being published, until THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy changed everything. I found and devoured it while in college, and it was actually a life-changing event in many ways. One of the best ways was that fantasy became popular and publishers started putting out more of it. I slurped up all I could. Some of it was decent, some if bad, and some of it blatant rip-offs, but I met lots of wizards and wallowed in a nice variety of magical systems.

As a result, even though I’ve never met a wizard in person, I feel as though I’d known a number of them pretty well. I have a rich well of material to draw from in formulating my own system of magic. 

I also have something else that came into play when writing this story:  a basic knowledge of physics. Don’t get me wrong. One college course doesn’t make me any kind of expert. But between that and subsequent reading, I’ve maintained a grasp of some of the main principles of mass, gravity, acceleration and momentum.

Somewhere in the depths of my undoubtedly geeky mind, fantasy and physics mated to produce a system of magic my heroine describes as a sort of “subatomic psychokinesis.” Of course it’s not really as simple as that. I want there to be some actual magic involved as well.

But at least I’ve grounded it to some extent in what I do know.  I’ve also heard someone respond to the “write what you know” advice by saying you should “write what you want to learn about.”  That works for me!

Thanks for joining us today, Karen! Readers, if you’d like a chance at winning a copy of A GIFT FOR MURDER, leave a comment. And don’t forget to either include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP


Jane R said...

Yet another book I'm adding to my reading list. I'm intrigued by the setting of this book. I know very little about trade shows, but it sounds like a great place for a murder mystery. Thanks for the review!

Suzie Tullett said...

If I had pound for every time I've heard the phrase 'write what you know' I'd be a very comfortably off woman...

But as you say, doing so allows an author to give depth to their writing.

Great post, Karen x

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks, Jane and Suzie! I've also heard it said, "Write what you want to learn about," which I actually like a bit better. Research can be fun!

Liz said...

Not an entry, just a comment that I've read and enjoyed A Gift for Murder and thanked my stars for never having had to organize a trade show.

P.A.Brown said...

The first thing I tell any new author asking advice is to ignore much of the advice you get from published authors. But especially the canon, Write what you know.

I started out writing science fiction which of course is all made up, though grounded in real science. Then I switched to mysteries. I'm not a cop, I've never been arrested. I've never seen a dead body outside of a funeral home. But almost all of my books are about those things, and I do them from the cop's point of view so it has to seem like I know the inner workings of the LAPD and the way cops think.

It's research and more research.Now that I'm writing historical fiction that's even more so.

But write what you know? Read the kinds of books you want to write.

Karen said...

Liz: Thank you. You're right, it's not a job for the faint of heart.
Pat: Excellent advice!

traveler said...

An interesting and informative post. Having attended and exhibited at trade shows this book would be lovely. Many thanks and best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Would love to win

boots9k at wowway dot com

lisekimhorton said...

Incredibly cool how you have illustrated both the "write what you know" and the opposite side of the coin as well - to a degree. Are you a Gemini by any chance? You seem so at home with the dual thing. Congrats on these latest releases Karen, I'm definitely checking out these books.

petite said...

A great and unique setting for a novel which interests me. thanks for this chance.

Kathy said...

I've been to a couple of gift shows at the Javits Center in New York and I can't even imagine orgainizing and running that show. A Gift for Murder sounds like another book I have to add to my list of must reads.

Tiffany N. York said...

I agree that writing what you know does lend a certain air of authenticity, and many authors do incorporate this into the details of their novel. But I also agree that much of what is written has a lot to do with research on the writer's part.

Can you imagine if the author of a murder mystery took the "method" acting approach and actually committed a murder just so it would seem realistic? Yikes!

Cathy Shouse said...

I understand and agree with the idea of "write what you know." However, I've noticed some cozy mystery writers will write two different series. I you are going to be a professional writer, it seems like eventually you'll have to research to keep writing.

I do think it's almost impossible to depict something accurately unless you have done it. I'm a former insurance person/financial planner and even minor characters in that role are often depicted in accurately.

This book sounds intriguing.

cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks for all the great comments!
Lise--I'm not a Gemini; I'm a Capricorn - my birthday is this month. I think of myself as a multi-tasker with a wide-ranging imagination.
Tiffany and Cathy -- Yes, research plays a huge part in writing books. Fortunately I love research. I just have to be careful to know when to put it aside and start writing. Also no one should underestimate the extent to which writers have to give their imaginations free rein.

Irene said...

Write what you know...amen, sister!
That's my mantra for beginning writers and those long published.

Leslie said...

Our father read The Lord of the Rings to us while we were traveling and living in South America in 1962. The pampas of Uruguay were our vale of Rohan.

I just finished my first mystery m.s.--a foodie cozy--based on my own experiences in culinary arts school and as a lawyer. So thanks for the post!