Combined Knowledge: The Author and the Subject Matter Expert

There’s a maxim fiction authors hear all the time: Write what you know. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But does it go far enough? Not for me. But sometimes I need help.

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 If authors stick only to what they’re personally familiar with, they will be severely limited in what stories they can tell. But when we want to branch out into less familiar territory, how can we be sure we don't misrepresent events, facts, or—worst of all—the genuine experience of people in a life situation that should be treated sensitively and represented accurately?

 My resource is the SME. The subject matter expert. Sometimes that's a one-way resource, in which I research online or in other media (books, documentaries, etc.) for information. Other times, I need to be able to interact with someone who has direct experience or acknowledged authority on a subject.

My February 22, 2019 blog post on Hidden Gems describes where I find both types of resources. Take a look; authors might find some useful pointers, and readers will get a window on the work that goes into the stories they love.


Here are a few examples to give you a sense of how (and where) I’ve included subjects that were (initially) out of the scope of “What I know.”

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ON CHOCORUA: The story behind the story

There’s a mountain in New Hampshire called Chocorua. It’s not terribly high—doesn’t even qualify for the four-thousand-foot club, which many hikers attempt to join. But it’s a special mountain. I know this, because—just like Nathan—I climbed it. And, just like Nathan, the first time I climbed it was for all the wrong reasons.

NAME THAT SERIES: Thanks for participating!

The good news: You had lots to say about your choice as well as about alternatives.

  • The bad news: Not everyone can win a free copy.

  • The weird news: The number of votes for each choice was exactly the same.

  • The surprising news: The series name will not be one of the choices I gave you to choose from, and I'm still giving copies away.

“NAME THAT SERIES” and win a free copy of the first book!

I’m close to completing the first of three books of a series featuring a young man named Nathan Bartlett. And I need your help to select a title for the series.

*** The first ten people who choose the series title that gets the most votes will receive a free digital copy (epub or mobi, your choice) of On Chocorua! ***

Trans girl uses girls’ bathroom. Sky falls.

Your average CINO (Christian In Name Only) digs into scripture just enough to figure out which verses actively conflict with their personal belief system. They disregard those, and what’s left is all true. And when one of the CINO's verses aligns powerfully with one of their phobias, and someone goes against it, all hell breaks loose and—well, the sky falls. This time, it fell on a 12-year-old girl.

Every life is a story. What's yours?

Each of us lives within a story: our families and other loved ones; our experiences; our successes and failures; our hopes and dreams. And all of that affects, and is affected by, who we are at our core.

Joe Biden wants to hear your stories. Do you want to share them with him?

SCOTUS to Gays: No cake, but you can eat some more s**t.

In the June 4, 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), baker Jack Phillips has been exonerated for refusing to offer his professional services to all citizens equally. He now has permission to discriminate against gays. What else is new?

School kids ask: Am I the next to die?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... inalienable… This founding document for the rights of U.S. citizens tells us that the right to life is something that cannot be taken away.

And yet, in mass shooting after mass shooting, from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Orlando to Parkland and in far too many places in between, people claiming their right to bear arms are rendering the right to life moot.

The Smoking Gun

It took the U.S. a long time to force the tobacco industry to admit that their products were killing people and even longer to convince people that they would die from using tobacco. Some people still aren't convinced.

Guns in the wrong hands are more dangerous than cancer, so is it now the gun industry that has some 'splainin' to do? Well, it would do no good to put danger labels on guns. So we need to neutralize the virtual weapons the industry is using. And the primary weapon, wielded through the industry's proxy (the National Rifle Association), is money.

Denying Gay Couples Art

Cathy Miller of Tastries bakery in Bakersfield, CA can refuse to sell to anyone who displeases her, according to the California Superior Court, because it's "art," and that makes it free speech. According to this Feb. 7 Washington Post article, Judge David R. Lampe opined that “Miller is a practicing Christian and considers herself a woman of deep faith.”

Miller evidently claims to have faith in her God. But if that faith doesn't outweigh this commercial transaction in her own heart, it is paltry indeed. And she shouldn't look to the courts to strengthen it; she should look to her God.

Are you out of your mind? It's all about love!

There is a delightful podcast called WROTE, hosted by two great guys who write—and support writers of—LGBTQ literature. And they interviewed me!

The episode, "Are you out of your mind? It's all about love," was great fun to record. I just hope I don't sound as cray-cray to everyone else as I sound to myself. In my defense, Vance Bastian and S.A. Collins are very good at getting people to reveal their inner truths.

A.C.L.U. vs. the Spirit of the Law

The ACLU needs to get better at understanding law—not just the letter. It needs to understand the spirit.

As ex-ACLU board member Waldo Jaquith puts it: What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. 

Facebook Says: No Christian Cross Emoji

On June 9, in honor of Pride Month and not long after the death of the man who created the original LGBTQ Rainbow Flag (Gilbert Baker), Facebook introduced a rainbow flag emoji, available alongside the usual icons that appear for responses to posts and messages. I used it many times, myself. Before the month was out, a Facebook user began a movement to add another emoji to the list: a Christian cross.

Throwing Shade on the Women's Marches?

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, likes to teach dog owners that preventing their dogs from focusing on trouble (a letter carrier, another dog, a trash truck) is to give her a sudden, physical distraction as soon as that focus seems likely. This might be a gentle push on her backside, or it might be a sharp tug-and-release on her leash.

After reading the January 24 New York Times article by Jenna Wortham, I think what I got was a less-than-gentle push on my backside. For sure, the tone of this article distracted me from the enthusiasm I have felt since leaving the Boston Women’s March.

This is war.

For over a decade, I've written novels about gay teens. I'm a cisgender, straight advocate, and I write these stories because I hate injustice, I hate fear-driven paranoia, and I'm distressed at the vulnerability of LGBTQ teens.

When I began writing, I was certain that I would not see marriage equality in my lifetime. I knew very little of the hell that trans individuals go through. I knew nothing at all about what intersex means.

And since I began writing, I have celebrated win after win after win for LGBTQ people.

Then came Trump.

Electoral College Needs an Appendectomy

Every day since the November 8, 2016 election, we’ve seen the number of citizens who cast their presidential vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump increase. That lead is now roughly TWO AND A HALF MILLION VOTES.