Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Write What You Know

Good morning, universe! The good folks at Novel Spaces were kind enough to invite me to join this fantastic blog, and I am really looking forward to reading and writing about reading and writing.

My name is William Doonan, and I write mysteries.

Many years ago, I wrote outstandingly bad novels that for some reason, nobody wanted to publish. Then one evening, walking home from yet another meeting with my critique group, I remembered the one bit of advice that writing coaches keep throwing around - write what you know.

I’d spent countless hours in creative writing classes and workshops, and somehow that advice never stuck. But I suddenly realized what I’d been doing wrong all along. Even though I was writing original stories, I wasn’t writing particularly engaging stories because I didn’t really know them.

Looking back, I can see why nobody wanted to publish 'Pinecone P.I.' Notwithstanding the fact that a private investigator who hangs from a tree branch probably wouldn’t be that effective, I don’t really know anything about pine trees.

In 'Shark Orbit', I sent two cosmonauts, a case of Polish vodka, and a two-ton mako shark, to the international space station. I know - it sounds great, right? But I know next to nothing about Polish vodka.

Similarly, 'Bullets for Babes', my crime novel about Harlan and Marlon Babe, cojoined twin police officers who grew up poor in the deep South, might have some appeal. But I’ve never spent much time in the deep South among cojoined twin police officers.

Clearly something had to change. So what do I know? Well, for starters, I’m an archaeologist. I’ve spent years working in Central and South America excavating pyramids and palace complexes. Mummies too. I know a great deal about archaeology. I’m also a college professor, and during the summers I give lectures onboard cruise ships. Over the course of sixteen cruises, I have learned a hell of a lot about cruises, including the stuff that most passengers don’t hear about.

So that’s what I know. Once I started writing what I know, everything changed. My first novel 'Grave Passage' was published in 2009. It’s about Henry Grave, an octogenarian detective who solves crimes on cruise ships. Henry Grave set sail again in 2011 in 'Mediterranean Grave', and this June or July, he’ll be back at sea in 'Grave Indulgence'.

Here’s the hook:

12 million people take a cruise each year.
Most have fun.
Some die.
Henry Grave investigates.

Hey, did you know that most large cruise ships have morgues onboard?

And two weeks ago, my archaeological mystery 'American Caliphate' was published by Dark Oak Mysteries. It’s based on an excavation I worked on in Peru. We found mummies.

Here’s a blurb:

Archaeologists Jila Wells and Ben Juarez are not thrilled at the prospect of returning to Peru; the ambush that nearly cost Jila her life still haunts her. But the ruined pyramids at Santiago de Paz hide an important document that would shock the Islamic world. Professor Sandy Beckham is assembling a distinguished team to dig quickly through the pyramid complex, following clues found in the diary of a wealthy Muslim woman who lived in Spain five centuries ago.

In the diary are details of an illegal expedition to Spanish Peru in three well-armed ships. Convinced that Spain was forever lost to Islam, Diego Ibanez intended to bring the word of Allah to the pagan Americans. Landing on Peru’s north coast, he learned that the fires of the Inquisition burned even hotter there than they did in Spain.

As the archaeologists brace for the ravaging storms of El Niño, Jila and Ben hurry to complete their excavations. But they’re not the only ones interested in this project. Other forces are determined that the document remain hidden. Should it be discovered, a challenge could be made under Islamic testamentary law to the throne of Saudi Arabia. And the House of Saud has no interest in sharing power with an American caliphate that might now awaken from a five hundred year slumber.

So once I started writing what I know, everything came together. I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll be back soon talking about writing, and the business of writing. And if I can figure out how to rocket a book onto the best-seller list, I’ll write about that too.

In the meantime, feel free to visit my blog where I write about undead sixteenth-century mummies - www.themummiesofblogspace9.com.


cleo said...

Great post! I'm loving American Caliphate so far.

William Doonan said...

Thanks, Cleo! It was a blast to write, though not as much fun as the research itself. I miss Peru!

Papa G said...

Since you write what you know, and I either have read or am reading all your novels, I'm waiting for the mystery that takes place during a study abroad program in Europe, with a bunch of young college students and one geezer tromping around Tuscany!

Liane Spicer said...

William, welcome aboard the Novel Spaceship!

I already love your voice, and I have to admit that I love your pitches. As a matter of fact, Mediterranean Grave has jumped my exceedingly long TBR list and has been bumped to number one. Not fair, but that's the power of archaeology, cruise ships, detectives and irresistible pitches.

As for that little tidbit about the morgue... Argh. I just know it's all I'll be thinking about the minute I step aboard a cruise ship. :-/

William Doonan said...

Oh wouldn't that be a great scenario for a mystery? Murder and mayhem in Florence, I like it! The problem is, I can't go around knocking off college students, or nobody would sign up for my clases!

William Doonan said...

Thanks, Liane! Appreciate the vote of confidence. I'm really happy to be here, and looking forward to working with, and learning from, you guys.

And don't worry about the cruise ships. They're really pretty safe. The morgue is more due to the fact that the average cruise passenger is older.


mj said...

Have read the two Henry Grave mysteries that take place on board cruise ships.....absolutely cool and intriguing. What lurks behind midnight buffets!!!! Fabulous imagination coupled with great insight into the cruise world.
And American Caliphate...different, unique, an interesting look at archaeological excavations with all sorts of things that happen.
Great ideas; great stories; great reads. Keep on writing, Bill.

William Doonan said...

Thanks, MJ. Thanks for reading. I'm glad you liked American Caliphate. Reviews are just coming in, and I'm happy to see that people like the story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Welcome. Great post.

William Doonan said...

Thanks, Charles. Looking forward to working with you.