SHANNON MUIR’S THURSDAY THOUGHTS on THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF are weekly observations from the site administrator on her writing life, or the industry at large. Anything Shannon Muir thinks about goes – check the blog every Thursday!
I’ve been asked how I got into writing stories when I’ve been previously known for my involvement in animation. This week’s thoughts work on answering that question.
There’s the old adage about writing what you know. For me, that small phrase became key in helping me set foot into the world of crime and mystery writing. In college, I studied both Radio-Television production and performance and Creative Writing in English; however, I came to learn quickly that (at least then) the university only encouraged a select type of writing. The workshops I took for my degree all focused in poetry, and I filled my electives with classes that would help me work on my basic prose skills. Given my interests lay in more genre-based fiction, and given a lifelong love of animated television and the fact I gained a skill set I could easily apply in the workforce, I ended up moving to Los Angeles and have worked in facets of entertainment for two decades.
I still wanted very much to be able to write stories, but never found an outlet that matched up. Even when I did find outlets, they wanted topics I felt I couldn’t write about because I didn’t know anything about them. It looked like nothing might ever come of that part of my dream. Then, something I didn’t expect happened – my own entertainment background and my muse started lining up with opportunities.
The first story sale I had that I can define as being a mystery was in a print book was for an anthology; in fact, to date they’ve all been for anthologies. This speculative fiction future universe designed by the publisher where a reporter, acting as an amateur sleuth, goes undercover to get the details. It would be years between this first opportunity and what came later, but I never stopped looking. Persistence is key.
My first short story for Pro Se Productions, “Pretty as a Picture” in the anthology NEWSHOUNDS, again went with the investigative reporters and a cast of characters designed by the publisher, but set in the 1950s. Like the anthology prior, both had a pre-established set of characters and world to pitch stories from. This is very similar to how pitching for a television series works, so it made it easier to make that initial step doing a process with which I was more familiar versus completely pitching my own cast of characters.
My next story, marketed as a stand-alone short story e-book by Pro Se Productions, titled “Ghost of the Airwaves” keeps the theme going with a Golden Age radio actress solving her husband’s murder with a little unexpected help. This storyline took some inspiration from a script I wrote and was produced in college about a modern-day radio request DJ dealing with a stalker; I wondered how the idea would translate to a period piece. Also, the female lead of this story is more pro-active than her male equivalent in the script. I really enjoyed the challenge. Here, I worked with my own characters and plot, but since I found inspiration in another of my past works, it didn’t feel like coming up with a completely new pitch.
Then, I got a little braver by leaving the media outlets out of the story but keeping the entertainment. The lead character in “Tragic Like a Torch Song” from THE DAME DID IT anthology is the daughter of a private investigator killed on the job, who also works as a torch singer in the post-Prohibition era. It also served as a great way to challenge my poetry skills from college as I wrote the “song” that appears at the story’s climax. I really enjoy the challenge of working syllables and rhyme to approximate lyrics that could be sung. The other key thing here was that the pitch for THE DAME DID IT only meant that the stories needed female leads; the pitch for “Tragic Like a Torch Song” would be the first where I created all of the characters and their world on my own.
Now I felt I’d reached enough of a comfort zone to throw the entertainment angle away, but I still went back to what I knew. The only aspect of my personal background in “Tropical Terror” leading off CRIME DOWN ISLAND is that I really lived through Hurricane Iwa in the Hawaiian Islands, which is the backdrop for this story.
So, that might leave the question, what about a story like “Hidden History” in the anthology EXPLORER PULP? At that point, I’d begun to build confidence to not pitch stories I already inherently knew, but ones that I wanted to go learn the details in order to go write them – at which point I would know a lot more. So, never let what you don’t know deter you from writing something, if you’re willing to learn.
So what do you think? How important do you think it is to write what you know? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment and get the conversation going, but note all comments are moderated.
Until next time…