Guest Post: A Perspective on ‘Write What You Know’

This is a guest post by Hyacinthe M. Miller.

My protagonist, Kenora Tedesco, is not your typical Toronto private investigator. She’s mixed-race and has always identified as Black. Her late mother was Black, from Quebec. Her father (at least that’s what she thinks in Book 1), is southern Italian. A while back, someone asked why I put a picture of Kenora on the cover. It was a gentle question, but I knew they meant why that picture. My answer was this: I’ve been a Person of Colour all my life. That’s my reality, so that’s Kenora’s reality as well. As writers, we’re expected to be creative but to me, making up a whole new construct for Kenora’s life would have been inauthentic. And a lot of work.

There was a thread on Twitter about readers being disappointed that the people of colour featured in some novels written by writers of colour were too…ordinary. The characters weren’t gangbangers, collecting welfare or spouting jargon. They grew up in conventional neighbourhoods, got an education, found employment and formed households. Regular activities.

A reader from the U.S. asked why I hadn’t included more racial conflict or identity issues in my novel. That made me wonder what people asking those questions think my family or my protagonist do. I’m a third-generation Canadian. My father and grandfather were war veterans. My brothers and I were athletes and attended university. Quite ordinary. That’s not to say we were shielded from racism, inequities or discrimination. My point is that those events may have been part of our lived experience, but they haven’t defined who we are. Or how the characters I write go about their days.

One of the many lessons I learned along the way to publishing my novel was to be skeptical about ‘experts’. I’ve taken more masterclasses and seminars than I can count. Some were helpful. After a while though, I dreaded sitting at my keyboard because I had so much conflicting information about what I was supposed to do. Not so much writer’s block but author’s inertia.

Today, with easy access to 24-hour news feeds (it’s called ‘Doomscrolling’ for a reason) and social media, writers have plenty of access to posts covering weird and wonderful stories from around the world. Become an eavesdropper. Even with social distancing, there are always folks in public spaces having conversations. The details are often personal or off-the-wall. And they make for good fiction. Learn to discreetly jot down notes.

My final advice is to write something every day (short, long, bullet points, paragraphs, etc.). It won’t always be good, but it will be good practice. Read plenty of fiction and non-fiction. Collect nuggets of story material. Pay attention to story craft in TV programs and film. Write what’s called a ‘logline’, a one or two-sentence summary that hooks you and the reader into the central conflict or dramatic narrative. Netflix descriptions are good examples. List your plot points. Get to know your characters. Set up a work routine. Then write!

Hyacinthe M. Miller

Hyacinthe M. Miller is an award-winning author of short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, contemporary women’s fiction and non-fiction. Her fiction has been published in Herotica 7, Whispered Words, and Allucinor, The Elements of Romance. Her debut novel, Kenora Reinvented, Book 1 of the Kenora & Jake: Investigations, Mystery & Seasoned Romance Series, was published in September 2019 in ebook format.

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