Monday, February 27, 2012


“Write what you know” has always made me cringe.

Because, really, isn’t one of the beautiful things about writing is that you get to write what you DON’T know? What you’d like to experience? Or just write a story you really want to tell?

The idea for Night Sky came when I was wondering what happens to the guy who’s in love with his best friend, doesn’t tell her for too long, and then doesn’t get her.

This is the jumping off point for my book.

I had to find a love interest for this guy. Someone interesting, complex, who would challenge him more than the friend ever could.

I tossed around ideas for a while, and as I was writing, just as he noticed her, I thought – hey, I could make her a part native Alaskan girl (I had this particular girl in mind who is a million kinds of awesome) and then I almost didn’t do it because it felt TOO easy.

I knew immediately what she’d be like. A history for her practically created itself as I started writing their meeting. I took problems from several people (as well as cases from my prosecutor husband who has always had an Alaskan village assignment) and it just fell together – because it was all so familiar.

And that’s when it hit me – THIS is when writing about a culture I know well, that other people might NOT know well, is going to help this character come alive.

And so Sky, with her need for honesty, her love of totems and drums, and a past she doesn’t like to talk about, came to life. And I think she turned into probably the sexiest character I’ve ever written.

All because I used what I already knew.

And for those who care – here is their first meeting:


I slow down through the stoplights, and there’s a girl by the side of the road walking in a scandalously short jean skirt, flip-flops, five layers of tanks in different colors and long, black hair. Wow.

I’m stopped at the light next to her, and she’s staring at her phone, looking lost.

“You need a lift?” I offer. How brave am I?

“I don’t think so.” She glances at her phone chuckling while shaking her head.

“You look lost, and I live just around the corner so…”

Her head snaps up. All I see is her huge brown eyes. She looks exotic, maybe half Indian with a beautiful straight nose and high cheekbones only girls from the reservations seem to have. The car door opens and just like that, she gets in. She doesn’t even pull down her skirt, which is barely covering…

I can’t believe this girl is in my car. Well, Dad’s car. But still…

“Green light.” She points as her eyebrows go up.

“Right.” I hit the gas and the car jumps out from underneath me. Okay, take a deep breath. Don’t make an ass out of yourself.

“Whoa, warn a girl, will ya?” She smiles. “I never do this sort of thing…so promise you’re not going to cut me into a million pieces and scatter my body across the desert.”

“I promise.” I smile back. “And that was a rather specific request.”

She shrugs. “You can never be too careful.”

“Then why are you riding in a car with a total stranger?”

“Good point,” she admits with a grimace.

“I don’t scatter bodies across the desert anyway, too far for me to drive.” I wait for her reaction.

“And…where would you put the body?” She looks around. “Only one seat and I’m sure I wouldn’t fit in the trunk.”

I glance up and down her lean frame.

“That was not an invitation to check me out.” Her lips pull into a scowl, but there’s too much tease in her eyes for me to take her seriously.

“Sorry.” Only, I’m not really sorry. This is better than any distraction I could have dreamed up tonight.


So, how do you use your life experiences in your writing – and more than that, do you wonder, like me, how much of the author’s experiences end up in their books?

You can find Jolene on the web at her blog HERE, and her books, including Night Sky, on goodreads, HERE.


  1. Woo - how's that for an introduction??? LOL - love it. Can't wait to read Night Sky. :) Thanks for stopping by YAtopia, Jolene!

  2. What a great introduction to a character. She seems like a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to reading your book!

  3. I love this book! Can't wait for everyone to read it.

    Thanks for blogging with us, Jo.

  4. Jolene, thanks for the twist on writing what you know. It's great to learn more about the development of Sky's character.

  5. That is such a fun excerpt. I totally want to read that book. I've been writing what I know in a hippie novel, but I managed to annoy my sister while doing it. Arg. Sometimes when you write what you know, it hits a little to close to home. Is that the price a writer pays? It's weird because others loved it.

  6. Shell -
    I think no matter what you write about, if you write something that has meaning, not everyone will like it. Part of the process I think.

    Hey Nicole!! *waves

  7. Night Sky sounds wonderful, Jolene!

    I know what you mean about the "write what you know" phrase! I like the advice to "write what you care about" much better. But I think "write what you know" is more broad than it implies. If you know something about love or friendship or estranged family or skydiving or a forklift accident, write what you know about it. Then use your imagination to make it unique!

    Congrats in your 2nd book release!! Wahoo!!!