Many old farms contain family burial plots. But what if more than just bodies were buried among the graves? What if one of the plots was a different kind of final resting place—a grave without a body—a place that holds secrets of a former life—a life that those who buried it didn’t want to interfere with their current life? This supposition became an essential element in my novel, Torben’s Fountain.
The adage, write what you know, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep your stories within your expertise. I’ve never hiked over the Pyrenees Mountains like the airmen escaping the Nazis in my novel Night and Fog, but I’ve force-marched miles in army boots with feet so blistered and lungs so burning that even the slightest inclines felt as though I was trudging up foothills in the Alps. So it wasn’t hard for me to imagine what endurance it must have taken escaping airmen who’d been idle for weeks or months to hike over the mountains from France into Spain in only one night.
As writers, we may not have been members of the underground helping downed airmen escape the Nazis, but we can draw on our experiences, the traumas, the patriotism, the compassions and the fears as we bring those episodes that have been dryly recorded in military records and historic narratives to life.
Perhaps instead of write what you know, it should be use what you already know to capture what your character is feeling and experiencing.