Many of my fellow authors here have been sharing their thoughts about how and why they write, so I thought I’d chime in, too. Sometimes, when I speak to writing groups or classes, an individual in the group asks me how they should decide what they want to write about. Frankly, that question usually astounds me, because I often have at least a dozen ideas competing for attention in my imagination. In my opinion, it all begins with passion.
“What are you passionate about? What do you think about every day?” I ask. One man’s face lit up and he answered that his passion was music. He had been writing about his grandfather using his ham radio, memories that were pleasant, but not really connected to his passion. He was inspired to develop a story about a musician right at that meeting. Another person started musing about the pioneer history of the area.
I have three passions, and those are always the basis of my stories. First is my passion for justice. I worked as a private investigator for a decade, and nobody hires a private investigator when everything is going well. Someone is always being cheated or threatened or mistreated. And as anyone in the law enforcement or legal profession would tell you, justice does not always prevail in real life. I worked on multiple cases where a crime had obviously been committed, but there was not enough evidence to charge the perpetrator, or in some cases, not enough evidence to even find the perpetrator. The sad real-life case of two murdered hikers in my area was the inspiration for my novel Backcountry. I had to fictionalize what might have happened, but the frightening, ugly fact is that the real killer is still out there. But in my novels, I can make justice prevail, and that feels good.
My second passion is for wilderness and wild animals. I spend a lot of time hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, scuba diving in wild places, and I want to share my enthusiasm for our public lands and fellow creatures with as many readers as I can. So each novel in my Sam Westin Wilderness Series is set in a wild place, and each features wildlife. And yes, humans are nearly always the villains of my stories, because that is nearly always the case in real life. Humans kill wild animals a million times more often than any wild animal ever kills a human.
My third passion is for animals in general. I couldn’t live without animals in my life. I am constantly fascinated by their physical abilities and their intelligence. I love the fact that they are not human, I celebrate the special powers of their species. Imagine being a bird, living in a world of air where moving in any direction is possible. Imagine being able to dive to great depths in the ocean and swim through clouds of squid and fish like a whale. Imagine being able to jump to the top of a refrigerator like my cats, or find people by scent like a dog. So my passion for animals comes out not only in my wilderness novels, but my fascination with animal intelligence is the basis for my Neema Mysteries, which feature signing gorillas.
So, my advice to aspiring writers is always: Find your passion. And then share it in your stories.