I Never Understood “Write What You Know” Until Lillian Holmes

I started writing about 10 years ago. I can barely believe it. I started writing what I now understand to be fan-fiction. A now (deservedly) defunct company called Triskelion published it– The Princes of Anfall. Can anyone say blonde elf? Yes, I knew a lot about Orlando Bloom in a wig.
Hey, everyone has a fantasy they wish would have stayed under the bed. I did get a lot of help with it and it became a better book with Samhain Publishing, thank God!

Then I wrote about some other things I know about. I got my doctorate in archaeology a long time ago, studying Greek prehistory and a bit of Mesoamerican stuff.
That’s the Franchthi Cave in Greece, where I lived for a year and several summers. And I spent a lot of time amongst Mayan ruins.

So I wrote a few books like this one:


I also did martial arts for a decade, and used those themes in a book called Lords of Ch’i. 208714

Getting the idea?

It gets worse…I mean better. I know a lot about baseball…no, really. So I wrote “Fish Out of Water” in which the hero is a baseball player.


And my husband and I have a yarn company, so one of my works-in-progress takes place in a yarn store. Hmnn, that does not sound very exciting, but there’s murder and mayhem galore.


So, I was dabbling in writing about things about which I know something, thinking all was good. And it was fine. But I didn’t care quite enough about the people in those books. Well, except for the dude in the Legolas wig. I’d given up writing a dozen times, taken up other hobbies. I tend to change course every decade, so this was no surprise. But I could always say “I’ve written what I know.”

Then the unthinkable happened. My dad had been gone for years, but in the space of three years, I lost my last three nuclear family members. My mom, my brother Bob, and my brother Tom. I felt like an orphan, anchorless and lost in my grief. They had been my support system, and they’d always cheered on my writing, even if it wasn’t their cup of tea. My brothers were just about sixty, give or take. That’s the sort of thing that happens later in life, right?

At the time I discovered Boroughs Publishing, I didn’t know much about anything anymore. My hometown, Baltimore, meant more to me than it ever had. My ancestors took on new life. In about 2 days I sat and wrote a short story that I subbed to Boroughs’ contest, and I won!


I actually had a ball writing this book and working on it. I didn’t know at the time that these characters would play a role in a larger series. And it put me back in my hometown, and an era I love. It also gave me the opportunity to get a manuscript in front of Chris Keeslar, an editor with an amazing reputation. What I had knocking around was a YA about the niece of Sherlock Holmes.

After my losses, that felt so hollow to me. My brother Tom and I were great Holmes fans, and he’d nag me to finish that book. He’d even come up with some of the names and given me pointers. When I read my manuscript before submitting to Chris, it became clear to me that I needed to make it very different. I needed to be the heroine. So I wrote my feelings of loss, brokenness, and longing into the book. I come from a long line of strong females who longed for something more–my mom wanted to be an archaeologist, my grandmother a businessperson, and so on.

What did I want? Adventure, love, and a chance to heal some very old wounds. Every character in this book is a member of my family; a few are combinations of family members. The Orleans brothers are my brothers. The missing mother and child are my missing mother and damaged childhood. My lost father who I never knew well. No! It’s certainly not a dreary book, for there’s adventure and sensuality, and a fair deal of fun! But the characters became real to me.

And I finally understood that “write what you know” isn’t about the city, or the time period, or the subject matter. Those are things you can research. It’s about your personal, psychological journey. So breathe some of yourself into your books. You know what pain and joy feel like. We’re waiting to read what you come up with! And in the meantime, I’ll see what Lillian and George have been up to as I write the sequel… See you back here in… set your watch…


2 thoughts on “I Never Understood “Write What You Know” Until Lillian Holmes

  1. Very true, Ciar; it is so much more than just knowing your story’s time and place and having a solid grasp of the subject matter.Thank you for sharing this helpful post with us.

  2. OMG! I think we must have been twins at some point in our past lives, Ciar! I studied anthropology in undergrad, I went into grad school studying archaeology, but they told me I couldn’t study vampires in that so I got switched to Cultural Anthropology! I’ve lost my mom, dad, and sister (I still have a brother, but we don’t really talk). I do write what I know. Each of my main characters (the heroines) all have me in them. If someone ever wants to know about me, all they have to do is pick up one of my books- especially Dead to Bites. Kat has SO much of me, of my life, my attitude I can get. But somehow they are all different, ya know? I love this piece!

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