Growing up a middle-class white suburban male to parents who wanted only the best for their children, I was sheltered.

I’ve never been proud of that, but it’s the truth.

As such, the standard advice to writers acted as a chain around my neck.

“Write what you know,” we are admonished. But what do I know about excitement?

I’ve never been in a fight. Never been in an accident. Never broken a law, only rarely disobeyed. Never been divorced, arrested, discriminated against.

As such, early in my career I focused on writing fantasy. Fantasy I knew. I loved the history and trappings of the European middle ages and Renaissance, the threadbare backdrop against which most fantasy is based.

None of my fantasy work got published. (Of course, none of it should have been.)

When I began writing horror set in the modern world, I realized “Write what you know” is only half the truth.

While writing the Idolwood series for The Edge of Propinquity, I knew I’d need main characters who were different from the protagonist of Vorare.

Gordon had a lot in common with me, naturally. It made him easier to write. But for Idolwood I’d need characters who were more worldly, less intellectual. The magic system of Idolwood required them to be obsessed by some routine or collection – to have something which pushed their buttons in a way that demanded their energy and time. Having three sheltered scholars who focused on books and fantasies would be … well, not unbearable in the right hands, but I’ve never claimed to be Umberto Eco.

So they had to have deep knowledge of things that drove them. I knew those things would have to be things I could push myself to learn more about. Things I was interested in, if not applying to my own life, at least theoretically of interest to me.

I developed my own saying then:

Write what you are passionate to know more about.

“Write what you’re passionate to know more about.”

For Idolwood, I picked three things: Bodybuilding, gardening, and the stock market. I pored over muscle magazines and horticultural websites. I wrote dozens of full workout schedules, the kind only hardcore muscleheads would love. I got my hands dirty with celery root and cilantro, studied the planting schedules for my region, spent hours weeding through the raised beds my wife had created. While I was on the treadmill I watched nothing but CNBC – Mad Money, Power Lunch, The Closing Bell.

Those three characters – Alexei Pajari, Edie Allaway, and Grey Jordan – were my most fully rounded creations yet.

My antagonists got the treatment, too. The art of doll-making, the tradition of “handles”, and the S&M subculture were things I could wrap my attention around with little difficulty. The Hanged Man and Gamine were not as well rounded as the protagonists – the blame for which lies on me – but they were still much more well-realized than any of my fantasy cutouts.

Next up: How this affected the writing of FAMISHED: THE FARM.