The guest post and giveaway for the upcoming Crime Cafe interview comes from Paul Heatley.
If you click on his name, you’ll see the most awesome photo at the top of his blog. Twin Peaks! Love it! 🙂
Coming to you straight from the Black Lodge. That should be a blog name. Maybe I’ll start it! 🙂
But enough of that. Paul is giving away copies of his short story “Candy Cane”. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this blog before Dec. 11, 2018.
The winner will be randomly picked from among the entries.
And now, without further ado, here’s Paul Heatley.
Why I Write American
So, y’know how people tell you to write what you know? That is the single worst piece of writing advice I’ve ever read/heard. I genuinely hate it, and let’s be honest, it’s not applicable to a broad range of genres. JRR Tolkien knew Orcs and Elves, right? George RR Martin knows Wight Walkers? Iain M Banks was well-versed in interstellar travel? I could go on, but there’s a few examples. Fantasy and science fiction authors, they’re making stuff up. They’re using their imagination.
THAT’S what writing is. It’s making stuff up. It’s using your imagination.
Honestly, ‘write what you know’ held me back, and that’s why I hate it. Because what I ‘knew’, what interested me, had nothing to do with the life I was living. I want to read about stuff I DON’T know, stuff that has nothing to do with me. I want to read about Harlem in the fifties, LA in the sixties, I want to read about samurai and superheroes and a whole broad range of other things you’re not likely to encounter on the north east coast of England.
Primarily, though, I read American.
That’s where my interest lies. That’s what I enjoy. When I sat down and thought to myself, what do I KNOW? I knew I had to disregard that stupid ‘rule’. I read American authors, I watch American shows and movies – hell, the vast majority of the music I listen to is American.
My personal trinity of crime writers are James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, and Chester Himes. These three men have had the biggest impact upon me. I mean, if you wanna go a little further, let’s say a top ten in no particular order, you get James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, Stephen King, James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Zadie Smith, Yukio Mishima, Don Winslow, and Harry Crews. Only two on that list aren’t American, and only one is actually a fellow Brit.
So I started setting my stories in America, despite the fact I’ve only ever been there once.
Florida, in case you were curious.
You know what happened next, right? Yup, I got some success with it. I’ve had over fifty short stories published, and most of them have been American-set. I’ve got six books out in paperback, with two more coming in the new year, and yup, most of them are American-set, too.
Three aren’t. Three are set in my nearest city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. They’re An Eye For An Eye, The Runner, and Violent By Design. Newcastle is probably most familiar to people as the home of the Tyne Bridge, for Newcastle Brown Ale (featuring said Bridge on the label), and the classic gangster movie, and one of my favourites, Get Carter. Get Carter was a big influence on my Eye For An Eye series. And you know what else? Mike Hodge, who directed the movie, said he envisaged it as a north-eastern Western. The stranger comes to town cowboy trope, with Michael Caine in the cowboy role.
Once upon a time, crime was so bad in the north east that southern newspapers and news reports described it almost as a lawless, wild-west wasteland.
My point? That even when I write British, I’m still writing American.
Let’s take another movie set in Newcastle. Stormy Monday, starring Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, and Melanie Griffith. Already, off the bat, half the cast are American. The story has a strong American influence, not to mention the fact it centres round a jazz club – jazz being the most pure of all American musical art forms.
Okay, one more movie – Zulu. There’s that Michael Caine, again. And again, this was envisaged as an African Western, in the mould of the ‘cowboys and Indians’ movies, except in this case the Welsh Guardsmen were the ‘cowboys’ and the Zulu’s were the ‘Indians’.
My point to this? I’m not the only Brit writing American. I’m not the only Brit proud to do so, and I doubt I’ll be the last.
So, whatever you do, don’t feel confined to ‘write what you know’. Hell, no. Write what you want.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Heatley is the author of The Motel Whore & Other Stories, Fatboy, the Eye For An Eye series, and Christmas Stockings. More than fifty of his short stories have been published online and in print at a variety of publications including Thuglit, Spelk, Horror Sleaze Trash, Crime Factory, and Shotgun Honey. He lives in the northeast of England.