RJ: I’m happy to welcome Tracee de Hahn back to MurderBooks, today, where she shares her thoughts on the often-stated, often-debated advice to writers: “Write what you know.”
TD: I tune in to Murder Books to hear from ‘those in the know.’ The men of Murder Books have been there, in the thick of crime and investigation, from a variety of perspectives. When they say that’s how an officer of the law, or an attorney, or a PI would react, I trust them.
This fits with the trope write what you know. That said, it is commonly acknowledged that there are limits to this advice. After all, we hope no author tests the waters of murder in order to create a compelling villain. Write what you know is often modified to write what interests you. Genuine interest brings the author into the space and place of the story.
RJ: You started your fiction-writing career with mysteries set in Switzerland where you got an inside view of life and culture there. What was that like?
TD: I write a mystery series set in Switzerland, a place I know well having lived there for several years with my Swiss husband. When I think about Agnes Lüthi and her life and the lives of the people around her, I focus on what intrigued me. As a non-native I remember what stood out as particularly novel or iconic. I know the native habits that made me laugh (or tear my hair out). These are the details sprinkled in to bring the places to life: fondue as a real meal (check), extreme interest in everything the neighbors do (check), obsession with timeliness (double check). Luxury watches, fabulous art collections, ancient castles, picture postcard scenery and international boarding schools. All there.
RJ: So, what’s coming next from the pen of Tracee de Hahn, and does it fit into the write-what-you know universe?
TD: Right now, I’m working on a mystery set in Kentucky, where I grew up, attended college, and lived for many years afterward. This is as near to write what you know as I can get. What have I learned from the experience? First, that many things that are regarded as interesting and distinctive by ‘outsiders’ are so much a part of the everyday fabric of life in Kentucky that it is easy for me to gloss over them. When you truly know a subject it is easy to presume others are as familiar. I’ve learned to slow down and fill in the pattern. What is background to me, is foreground for a reader less familiar with the place and its people: thoroughbred race horses and bourbon distilleries blending tradition with modern life, the cosmopolitan culture of the city of Lexington sharing state borders with the isolated mountain culture of ‘bloody Harlan.’ And I haven’t even touched on the state religion, basketball. Writing about Kentucky has been a lesson in examining the details of a life I know well.
I hope the Kentucky series will find a home in the publishing world. I’m anxious for this part of my past to see the fictional light of day and promise to paint a picture that is just enough reality mixed with invention to satisfy the natives and the arm chair travelers equally. (This is where I add: Go Cats!)
Tracee de Hahn is the author of the Agnes Luthi mysteries set in Switzerland where she will spend this fall, testing the fondue and sampling local white wine. For more information visit her at http://www.TraceedeHahn.com.