They Write What They Know and They Do It Well #YakketyYak

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Recently, I did an interview and some other posts around a certain author and her series of books.  It got me to thinking.  I pondered about the idea that this author took the old chestnut, ‘write what you know’, to heart.  I thought about how much I enjoyed her books and was struck by the tone of authenticity throughout.  This led to a ponder about why I thought I could trust that it was authentic since it was stuff beyond my own experience or knowledge.  Some of us are moved by characters or genre or setting or tropes, and I am one of those, but I discovered in this bout of thinking I did that I’m also strongly influenced by an author’s background.  I am one who trusts in the authenticity more so when I learn that the author has ‘expert’ knowledge if you will.

I want to put out a disclaimer here and now that by saying all that I am in this discussion does not mean that I think those who write about people, places, and plots way out of their own experiences are producing subpar books.  Not the case at all.  There are some fantastic written works that prove the writer can hit bulls-eye center on authenticity without personal experience being involved.  We do live in the information age and some folks are gifted with strong intuition and imagination.

But that said, apparently, I do feel a stronger tug toward books written by folks who ‘write what they know’.  I’m going to share some examples of this:

Military Romance is probably the biggest example I can think of.

  1. Jessica Scott and her Coming Home and her Falling series.  She was career military and she writes military romance that touches on soldiers dealing with issues on the home front and within the organization.
  2. Jeanette Murray and her Sempre Fi and her First to Fight series. She is married to career military and understands the life that she writes about.
  3. Anne Elizabeth and her West Coast SEALs. She is married to a retired SEAL

Cowboy Romance and Small Town America

  1. Carolyn Brown and her long backlist of stories about ranch life, small ranch towns, cowboys and cowgirls grew up in the heart of cowboy country.
  2. Marilyn Pappano and her Tallgrass series about a small Oklahoma town, cowboys, and military. She grew up there and lives there.
  3. Hope Ramsay and her Last Chance series. She grew up spending summers in small town South Carolina and guess what this lady writes about?

Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

  1. Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series are set right in the lady’s stomping grounds.
  2. Terry Spear and her Heart of a Wolf series. This dear lady studies wolves in the wild and writes mostly about werewolves.
  3. Cari Z. and her Panapolis series. She writes about superheroes and villains with great fight scenes because she enjoys her weaponry and geeks out over comics.

Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense

  1. Katie Ruggle and her Search & Rescue series.  Katie lived off grid in Colorado and also worked S&R.  Guess what she wrote about?
  2. Anne DeStefano and her Seasons of the Heart and Echoes of the Heart series. Anne has strong grief and family issues in her stories and she was a grief and crisis counselor for her day job.
  3. Kim Jones and her Sinner’s Creed series. Kim writes biker romance and she is a biker’s lady.

And I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.  Haha!  Now what about you?  Does an author’s background play a part in you choosing their books or not really?  What is a book/series you read that you know you like at least in part because you know the author ‘wrote what they knew’?  Do tell!

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • I agree, it does make a difference when you have some expertise in a subject. I’ve read books set in a different country but the setting hardly reflects it. Like you can tell it’s just ‘posing’ because the world building doesn’t reflect the background at all. Or sometimes they go down the stereotype route and it just turns me off.

    • Yes, the different setting or the attempt to write about a different ethnic background without a solid knowledge can be discernible and off-putting if not down right insulting.

  • Because I mostly read Paranormal, I don’t really think a background would do much good unless the author knows some ghosts, demons or vampires.

    • Haha! Yeah, that would be tough unless they were writing traditional legend stuff and had a research background in that sort of thing. 🙂

  • I never really thought of it, in a sense I think it matters what the author knows and you do notice when an author knows what they are talking about versus if they don’t. But on the other hand I also think research can compensate for a lot. If an author does their research well it can still feel authentic.

    For example SJ Pajonas writes the most amazing books set in japan. If I didn’t know better I could believe she actually lives there and grew up there. She did visit the country, but she knows so much about it, more than she could have learned from visits alone. It’s obvious she researched this country through and through and knows what she’s talking about.
    Or Karen Rock, whose latest read involved the coast guard, she never did that work herself, but she talked with someone she did and it really felt like an authentic read and like she got that part right.

    I love it when a book feels authentic, but I also strongly believe authors can achieve that through research instead of personal knowledge. And even when writing about what they know the setting or topic can fall flat if they don’t write it right.

    • Those are very good points. Yes, a person who is good at research and knows how to immerse themselves in what they have learned to write a good story definitely has the ability to make a book feel as authentic as the one who has lived it, or at least pretty close.

      And, I agree, just because someone has expertise in a setting, career, lifestyle, etc doesn’t make them a qualified writer or someone discerning enough about what they supposedly know. I do recall reading a romance involving a person with mental health issues and the person writing it worked in the field, but must not have grasped how it was for her clients because she didn’t portray her character well at all.

  • Oh great topic!!!!! I love it when authors write what they know. It makes the stories settings seem so much more authentic. And you listed some great authors here. Carolyn Brown does great with the country themes.

    • Thanks, Renee!

      I remember having a question about something in one of her books and she eagerly shared about her life growing up on a ranch and experiencing just such a situation so she could help me understand it better.

  • Ah yes I think it’s always a plus when you know things and well I know it’s already a lot of work. I can’t imagine starting from the start and doing tons of researches to be right about thing you want to talk about

    • Yes, it would definitely cut down on research time. You’re right, Melliane!

  • i love when authors write what they know also. I think it brings a bit of personal to the story and adds a touch that makes the book special. I didn’t know some of that about the authors listed above.

    • Yes, I didn’t bring that part out, but there is a personal touch many times when they write about aspects of their own lives.

  • Agreed. I’ve read several authors that write what they know. Diana Rowland was a cop and her demon books, the MC started out as a cop. She also has a lot of experience with the morgue, which is where her zombie series takes place. I’ve also read a ton of books set in places where the author lives. Kevin Hearne is quite the advertiser for Tempe area (must go to Rula Bula).

    FYI, I just requested the first Katie Ruggle S&R book on auidio.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

    • Yes, those are good examples. I haven’t read Diana Rowland’s series yet or sadly, more than the first book of Kevin Hearne’s series. Ha, yes, there are now places that I feel I know intimately though I’ve never been there b/c the author writes their settings so well. 🙂

      Oh neat! Hope you enjoy Hold Your Breath. It’s the slow mover of the series, but still fun.

  • True, some authors just do so well when writing what they know! I love the science stuff Gabaldon includes in her Outlander series, because she worked in science before.
    I still think I am most happy when I read about characters I can connect with, though 🙂
    Great topic, Sophia!
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    • I didn’t realize DG worked in the science world. Yes, that makes great sense now after reading her series of books.

      And I agree completely that a connection to the story is the biggest attraction. Whether they know what they are talking about or not, a boring book is a boring book. 🙂