This story also makes me think of a comment Hannah Mosk said on Twitter. She felt the phase should not be "Write what you know" but "Write what you've read." She felt that reading on a subject was just as good as experiencing something firsthand. This is a complicated argument to respond to because she's right and wrong at the same time.
"Write what you know" is not "Write what you've experienced" or we wouldn't have a lot of books written in a year. It means to know your subject. Know it, don't just wing it or half-ass it. Reading enough books, like she suggests, will give you the information you need to write on the subject. At the same time, a first-hand experience will always trump whatever you've read. Mork from Ork describes it best in "Good Will Hunting." You can read a book on the Sistine Chapel, but it won't compare to the experience of standing there and smelling the air. You can write about your experience at the Sistine Chapel or you can about how someone else wrote about his experience at the Sistine Chapel. It has a generational dilution effect. At some point, it will become a stereotype or a cliche and not an experience at all.
The reason why I went on that rather long tangent is because WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? is a fairy tale noir set in Brooklyn. I've never been to Brooklyn. And while I can try to translate what I've seen from other media (movies, TV, books), it will not be the same as if I went to Brooklyn (to which I'll have to arrange a trip next year). Seeing things first hand will make it a thousand times more real than if I just try to paint what I've seen in other people's paintings.
And with that, an excerpt from WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? Same caveats as before (caveats I make with every excerpt--I post first drafts. I like comments, but don't freak out on the quality of the writing).
WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR
I met a woman named violet.
I bought us drinks; we drank our drinks,
Then we had sex most violent
I said farewell; I did not fare well,
I had no idea what else was in store.
I stumbled out; I passed right out,
Then awoke at the crooked door.
“Knock it off, Tommy.” I waved my hand back and forth, trying to smack the four-year-old away. I should never have given my sister a key. More importantly, I should ever have showed my nephew where I kept all my Nerf weapons.
“Tommy!” My voice cracked. I couldn't remember the last time I had that much to drink. Well, yes I could, now that I thought about it. My first year after college. I fell down the stairs and met that Greek girl. God that had been a good time.
Violet's passionate screams slapped me harder than Tommy and my makeshift Nerf broadsword. Slapped me right in the crotch. The audio came with blessed video, and I saw her clear as day. Rich brown skin, long black hair, curves to die for, breasts to kill with. She sat on top of me and rocked as hard as she could.
“Tommy, go to mommy,” I said. Better get the kid out of here before he got an impromptu lesson on anatomy. Yes, it's supposed to get hard like that. Yes, that's as big as it gets.
I was wet. Wet all over. Not an, 'I got so drunk I pissed myself,' which I have thankfully avoided to date. More a 'You're lying in the gutter and a crazy homeless guy is peeing on you.'
My eyes shot open. This wasn't my bedroom. This wasn't my apartment. This was an alley. This was the gutter. I really was lying in the gutter.
“Oh motherfucker!” I shooed the dog away. Too late. My pants were soaked. I could already smell it. I gagged on the overwhelming scent of urine. I breathed through my mouth until I was certain I wouldn't vomit.
Not that there was any guarantee. My head still pounded. I'm not what one calls a big drinker. I'm a social drinker to be sure, two-fingered Scotch on the rocks or a pomegranate martini.
Hey, don't judge. That shit is delicious.
I'm thirty-five years old, and this is my first hangover. If I could, I'd pull off my head and leave it on a shelf until this passed. How do people do this kind of thing every weekend? Why do people do this kind of thing every weekend? I didn't understand it in college, and I don't understand it now.
My roommates used to compete to see who had gotten the more drunk that particular weekend. My roommates were fucking stupid. This was nothing short of masochism. Might as well wear a studded leather thong and put a ball gag in my mouth.
“Good god,” I muttered as I stood up. I had to admit that was the best sex I had had in—ever. If getting drunk and waking up in the gutter while a dog peed on you was the price, it was a price happily paid. I would never have agreed to that beforehand, but hindsight was 20/20...
Well, right now, more like 20/80. Where the hell was I?
The alley was dark, just before dawn dark. There were no street lamps and nothing came from the end of the alley or from the windows above. There must have been a blackout. I looked around for sparks shooting from a transformer. Why the fuck I thought I'd find the transformer in that alley, I had no idea, and it wasn't like I could have fixed the thing even if it was there. I just wanted a definite explanation as to why everything was dark. When you can't remember how you got somewhere, even the most basic hard fact is reassuring.
A cloud passed away, and the full moon came out. It was huge. I don't think I had ever seen the moon that big. After making sure no one was around to see, I reached up and tried to grab it. Nope, still out of reach.
There was a door in front of me. I stood maybe three feet away from the side of a nondescript building. It could be any New York building. There wasn't a lot of diversity in this part of Brooklyn.