Write What You Don't Know, Damn It!
"How do you tell someone that their life sounded boring?"
And that's a very good question. Of course, often it's not the life that's boring -- it's the writing.
There's much commotion right now abou SPADE AND ARCHER, Joe Gores' upcoming prequel to the stone-cold Dashiell Hammett classic THE MALTESE FALCON and much hype about the fact that Hammett was a real-life San Francisco private eye, and Gores was a real-life private eye (well, a repo man).
Oh, the synchronicity!
Oh, the absolutely perfect suitabilty!
Oh, the bullshit.
Fact is, the reason to look forward to SPADE AND ARCHER (and make no mistake -- I AM looking forward to it) is not what either Mssrs. Hammett and Gores may have done before they became writers. It's not what they were -- it's what (and how) they wrote that matters.
I mean, what picklehead would dismiss Chandler or Macdonald (or a slew of other great P.I. writers) simply because they weren't private eyes in a past life? In fact, in many ways Marlowe and Archer are far more "real" -- or at least more believably developed -- than Spade (or even the Op or Dan Kearney) ever was.
Because when it's just you and a book, the real-life experiences of the author are vastly overrated. It's what's on the page that counts, not how it got there. You ask me, talent and creativity and research (and a genuine understanding of people) trump mere experience any day. Gimme a good honest writer with vision making it up over a bad writer without a clue rehashing "reality" any day.
"Write what you know" is possibly the worst advice to give a new writer, particularly if -- experience aside -- they don't know shit.
Go ahead, write not just what you know. but for god's sake write what you can find out or imagine or feel as well and you may be a writer yet. If you can't do that, and only have "what you know" to lean on, don't bother wasting our time.
So look forward to SPADE AND ARCHER because Joe Gores is simply a great writer -- not because of anything else.
(By the way, it's sort of funny to watch the Fedora Brigade lick their lips over the outcoming SPADE AND ARCHER -- many of these same "purists" were jumping all over Robert Parker for daring to finish off POODLE SPRINGS, claiming he had "no right.")