Mark Terry

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Worth A Smack in The Face

February 6, 2009
Okay, it's none of my business, really, but I'm going to say what I was thinking. Yesterday my blog friend Stephen Parrish wrote a fantastic essay about working as a kitchen manager in a restaurant. I commented that he should write a nonfiction book about his experiences ala Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential."

Erica Orloff chimed in that she agreed. So did someone else.

Stephen's probably thinking we're all full of, er, excrement, or kicking himself wondering why he never thought of it.

You know, that old write-what-you-know.

Granted, I think Stephen might need to build a platform for it by writing some articles about his experiences--but that can be an interesting and lucrative end of writing--Bon Appetit, The New Yorker, the list goes on, because he provides background and insight into something we're all interested in--eating and how restaurants run. But still... "Kitchen Confidential" sold a boodle of copies and launched a big alternate career--hell, I've actually read one of Bourdain's novels--"Gone Bamboo" before.

The reason I was thinking about this was because I'd been working for 7 years or so in genetics before someone suggested I actually write an article about it, which essentially was the first step toward what is now a successful freelance writing career. One baby step, but I kept ignoring it. It was right in front of my face, but I never bothered to look at it. In fact, I was carefully NOT looking at it. We do that a lot. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I have a friend who wanted (or wants) to be a novelist. He showed me his manuscript and he was a pretty good writer and he was writing about stuff that I knew interested him--maybe the novels were a sort of fantasy vacation for him (I know some of my earlier novels were). It didn't quite work, but the basics were there. We were having lunch one day and he told me about being a Navy brat from like three generations of Navymen, that he spent time in the Navy, visited Hong Kong while in the service, and I wondered why he didn't write a novel based on that. (Hell, I was thinking last night a murder mystery on an air craft carrier would seem pretty exotic).

We write and don't write for a lot of different reasons. I avoided writing about medicine and genetics for a long time because I was trying to escape from it. But I was ignoring a fact that I had insider knowledge and experience that other writers don't. And I bring a different perspective--a unique perspective--to my writing when I write about it.

So my question is: are you ignoring your unique perspective?

Cheers,
Mark Terry

21 Comments:

Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Hmmm. Thought provoking. I suppose if I capitalized on what I knew best, my next project would be The American Heritage Book of Choking the Chicken.

Your story is similar to mine (except for that pesky money-for-what-we-do thing): I didn't find my way until I started looking at where I'd been.

10:04 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I know SO many writers who resist writing about what they know. It must be some writer trait. It is SO common.

The "real" novel I'm writing in March has lots of music in it. I'm sorta pretty excited about it. I can remember living and breathing music for 24 hours a day--God, I loved that life--but I'm not doing it now. I don't know. But it's the closest thing to my experience I've ever written. (Or will write, LOL. It's just in my head, now.)

10:54 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Stephen,
Sorry for picking on you, but this comes up a lot. Hell, I LIVED it. I don't know if there's a book in it, but I could definitely see a market in magazines for that sort of here's-a-story-about-the-restaurant-business, which, you know, could build a portfolio and put cash in your pocket.

Every writer's different, so their journeys are different. I find it interesting not only what we CHOOSE to write about, but what we choose NOT to write about.

Choking the chicken. Is that what they're calling it now? Strangling the Smurf? Spanking the monkey? I could go on.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Spy
I know I recommended Jack Higgins' "Solo" to you. A classical pianist who is also an assassin. Seems to me there's a lot of possibilities to write thrillers about music in some way. Not The Da Vinci Code, but The Amadeus Manuscript...

(Which reminds me, you might like the kids' books, The 39 Clues. The first one is by Rick Riordan, and the second one is by Gordan Korman, called "One False Note" and involves Mozart having left one of the 39 clues that will lead to whatever it is that will give the winners of the treasure hunt the power and riches.

4:42 AM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

I totally agree ... My own example: I've been a pretty enthusiastic gardener since 10th grade (I was a weird kid). Now I collect tropical plants and raise rare orchids. I would do this no matter what, but it's also turned into a fairly lucrative percentage of my career ... I've had articles on tropical plants appear in Better Homes & Gardens, Chicago Trib, LA Times, Newsday, Sun-Sentinel, and I maintain a site on houseplants for About.com. I never really thought about it much -- I was just happy that someone was willing to pay me to look at gardens, shop for plants and then write about it.

When it comes to fiction, I have to work to keep plants out of my books or they end up creeping in where they don't belong, as in, "He turned on the light and admired the blooming nodosa in the corner. This exotic white orchid is a frequent bloomer that only releases its heady, slight spicy scent at night. It's more cold tolerant than many other orchids ..."

5:54 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Lurker,
Maybe your next book will be about an orchid thief.

I know what you mean, though. In the last 4 years I've gotten into weight lifting and biking and recently running. And I write about healthcare and medicine, so I keep telling myself I really need to start thinking about writing about health and fitness. One of the personal trainers at the gym where I workout has a Master's in exercise physiology, so I wouldn't even have to hunt too hard for a quotable expert.

And I started getting seriously into guitar about 18 months ago and I'm thinking, you know, it might be fun to write about guitars and music...

6:21 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hi All:
If any of you read Esquire regularly, or are a fan (!!!!!!!) of David Sedaris, my future gay husband, then you know how much of a talent I think it is to be able to write humorous essays that are equal parts poignant. I think it's an art form every bit to be honored as novels.

I myself am working on a Demon Baby book in my "spare" time (HA!). "Ten Lessons I Learned from the World's Naughtiest Toddler." I am an expert.

I have other areas I think I could write on pretty well, too.

E

6:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"...my future gay husband..."

It's official. That's the sentence of the day.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
Put it on a T-shirt.

:-)
E

P.S. When I went to see him, if I could have gotten away with both stalking him and tossing him the trunk of my car and bringing him home, a la Misery, I would have. Minus the sledgehammer. I just want to hang out and have a few cocktails with the guy. And then maybe marry him.

9:57 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

My husband had the greatest idea for a parenting book called "Keeping Your Cool."

It's dual-themed--keeping calm in the face of all kids do and say while also keeping your cool--maintaining who you are, your essence, your coolness. (We can dream, can't we?)

I keep thinking I should go back to that project, outline it, etc. I'm a parent and I have a degree in Education, so I have a slight platform, and occassionally people think I'm cool (at least right to my face.)

I even have a family psychologist/mom of three adult children who agreed to co-write it with me.

If I could just pull myself away from my fiction long enough to write an outline...

10:07 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Erica,
A stalker is just a private eye without a client.

Sex scenes
--start with an article...

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

An orchid thief--that's brilliant!

When I was deployed to Kuwait in 2004 for a year, I thought my writing career was over as I knew it. My first novel had first come out. How was I going to market it from halfway around the world?

Trying to maintain my sense of humor about being in a relatively quiet warzone, I started writing weekly missives home to friends and family. By the time I got back, I had a book worth of memoir about being a female battalion commander. Honestly, I never would have thought to write about my military career until that point.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
You need to put that on a T-shirt and sell it. I'll wear it when I go to my next David Sedaris reading.
E

2:25 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

hmmm, sometimes. Let's just say I tone it down mostly for what I write as "Zoe Winters." I've got a whole other pen name where I can share my perspective.

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