“Write what you know.”
Anyone who has ever seeked out advice on pursuing a writing career has had that gem fired back in response. To me, that answer can be interpreted in two very distinct ways.
The first, is at simple face value. The writer should base subject matter on what he or she is most familiar with, and subsequently use the written platform to pass that knowledge on to readers who are trying to learn more about that particular subject. This falls under the old, “If you want expertise, go to an expert” rationale, and you find it plainly in use in home-improvement books and blogs, business pieces, sports articles and many, many more outlets.
It doesn’t have to be just found in non-fiction platforms, by the way. We have seen former lawyers and police officers write crime novels, and historians write suspense novels based in a period of time or location that draws from the author’s expertise — think Civil War-era or ancient Rome as common examples.
The second way in which to use the “write what you know” philosophy is what I personally see most on a day-to-day basis in general-assignment-style reporting — the “learn-it-and-share-it” piece. Particularly with a small staff like ours, reporters have to disperse information on a breadth of topics — most of which they have no immediate aptitude for or understanding of before they start compiling research.
For example, one of our reporters might write stories on police staffing, algae blooms, a fundraiser for bone marrow-mining efforts, an audit of a volunteer organization and the approval of a zoning change on a farmhouse, all in the same week. They have to collect as much information as they possibly can on each subject, then break it down in a way that will best explain it to our readers. No, these articles don’t make the reporters “experts” on any of these subjects, but they have to learn as much as they can, so the readers can learn as much as they can.
Nancy Crampton-Brophy is the self-published author of romantic suspense novels, and also has written for various blogs, according to a story on npr.org. The Portland woman explained on her website that she featured books with “rugged men, strong women and a good story.”
In 2011, she stepped out of her romantic-suspense norm and wrote an essay for a blog called “See Jane Publish.” Her essay was titled “How to Murder Your Husband.”
“As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure,” her no-longer-available-to-the-public post read. “After all, if the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail. And let me say clearly for the record, I don’t like jumpsuits and orange isn’t my color.”
Police in Portland recently arrested Crampton-Brophy and charged her with “writing what she knows.” No, wait... sorry. She was officially arrested for murdering her 63-year-old husband, chef Daniel Brophy.
On June, 2, according to the NPR story, police responded to the Oregon Culinary Institute after receiving a call that students and instructors had arrived for class, only to find Brophy suffering from a gunshot wound. The first-responders attempted to revive him, according to the story, but were ultimately unsuccesful. In a press conference that day, police reportedly said they were investigating the death as a homicide, but had no immediate suspects.
Perhaps if it looked like the proverbial “crime of passion,” they’d have known right away to look for someone close to the victim. I once again refer you to our author’s previous blog.
“Most of the time there is a trail that leads directly to you,” wrote Crampton-Brophy. “Each type of murder leaves clues. A crime of passion does not look like a stranger was involved.”
One neighbor was a little suspicious of her after hearing about the murder. Don McConnell told the Oregonian that he had an odd interaction with the widow.
“She never showed any signs of being upset or sad,” said McConnell. “I would say she had an air of relief, like it was almost a godsend.” He said he asked her if the police were keeping her updated on the progress of the case, and she answered, “No, I’m a suspect,” without any emotion, according to the neighbor.
“I don’t want to worry about blood and brains splattered in my walls,” wrote Crampton-Brophy in the infamous blog. “And really, I’m not good at remembering lies. But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.”
According to Portland police, Crampton-Brophy was pushed far enough. Two weeks ago, a judge approved a request by prosecutors to seal the documents that outline the case against her, so we don’t really know what they do have on her in regards to evidence or motive.
We don’t know if there was a weapon recovered. We don’t know if they believe she committed the murder herself or hired someone else. And we don’t know if there was a witness who can place her there.
But we know she wore a blue jumpsuit for her arraignment — so at least we know she wasn’t stuck in that awful orange.
And it appears she wrote what she knows.