Lunacon 2014 (2b): Write What You Don’t Know

Saturday 12 noon

Panelists: Walter H. Hunt, Laura Anne Gilman, KT Pinto

Sadly, this was not (imho) a very successful panel.  The panelists talked around the topic but never addressed head-on how to avoid the pitfalls of writing about things you haven’t experienced.  Walter Hunt mentioned that he’s spent a lot of time volunteering at a living farm and so sees a way of living most of us can hardly imagine.  The panelists bemoaned the writers who treat horses as simply breathing automobiles.

One thing I hadn’t thought about was, how do you write likeable characters from an unlikeable time?   Historical fiction set in 1802 New Orleans can’t really avoid the whole slave question, and indeed, your hero is likely to know slaveowners or be one himself.  It’s unsatisfying and a little flat to make all your protagonists be modern, liberal, open-minded people who happen to be centuries ahead of their time.  Unfortunately, the panel didn’t really offer any insight into what to do about it.

A different, related difficulty is, how do you avoid having your readers think that you, the author, agree with the objectionable mores of the era in which you set your book?  If your hero does not inveigle against slavery (possibly because he grew up a plantation owner’s son), some might see that as tacit approval on your part.  The published authors seemed to agree, there is no way to avoid this completely.  It just comes with the territory.

I made a personal discovery, to wit, once someone mentions the vampire story they wrote, I just tune them out.  It isn’t fair but I just don’t respect that genre.  In my defense, every single instance it occurred during this Lunacon, my disdain ended up being justified.