“Write what you know.” unknown
“You have to live it up before you can write it down.” Robin Moore.
Those two lines are well known, but sometimes not so well understood.
Write what you know is about more than remembering places and event. It is about recalling your emotions and reactions, the reactions and words of others, taking your life experiences and grafting them into your writing.
After three decades of ‘living it up’, it is now time for me to write it down. Not as a dry travelogue or memoir, but as realistic novels based on real life experiences. My experiences, which still run technicolour through my mind.
Since ’79, I have been collecting people and places. From the polluted dust bowls of the Sahara, to the pristine ice floes of the Antarctic, I have gathered and filed them away. Some have recently pushed through the bars of insecurity and are now at large in the pages of my first three novels. Others await their future fates.
Some of those most deeply etched into the fading grey of the past are the outliers, strong characters who stood apart from the herd. It is those outliers that form the basis of many of the dominant characters. Others are composites built from the more memorable slices of many acquaintances and friends.
One of my recent favourites is Matti, who lives under this tree with her husband and some of her twelve children, one of which you can see on the beech dressed in pink. Matti has that quiet strength that comes from enduring hardship with a heart full of love. She lives simply and smiles constantly.
Another recent character that springs to mind is a taxi driver in Colon, Panama. This guy was straight out of B movie complete with gold chains, and a mouthful of ebonics and gold teeth. Imagine a thinned down Luis Guzmán.
“You like Panama?” he asked.
“Sure,” I lied, “it’s great.”
“Wha’ you like abou’ it?” he asked with an oily grin wider than The Joker’s. I knew it was coming but my mind was blank. I grinned back at him waiting for an epiphany that didn’t come.
I finally blurted out, “The beaches,” hoping he would look back at the road instead of me. I’d never been to a beach in Panama. Probably never would. It was all I had.
His grin widened. “Oh yeah man! Beaches are my beezness,” he drawled wide-eyed, in his good but heavily accented English.
“Oh?” I said innocently, immediately regretting opening my mouth and dreading an inquisition on the playas of Panama.
“Yeah man. Panama beaches, Colombian beaches, Costa Rican beaches.” He looked briefly at the road then fixed me with another killer grin. “Bu’ my favourite are the Japanese beaches with their wonnerful skin and slanty eyes.”
I grinned back, determined not to say anything. It proved unnecessary anyway as he filled in the remaining twenty minutes with an endless stream of tales of conquest.
I didn’t ask his name, but something tells me he’ll show up in Leave it Alone.