Risignshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Michael Pogach.
Michael Pogach grew up outside of Philadelphia where he began writing stories in grade school. He doesn't remember these early masterpieces, but his parents tell him everyone in them died.
A graduate of Penn State and Arcadia University, Michael is a popular English professor at Northampton Community College where he teaches various literature and writing courses. He is also the founder and faculty advisor for NCC's literary magazine The Laconic.
Michael returned to his authorial roots in the mid-2000's, and has published stories in journals such as New Plains Review, Third Wednesday, and Workers Write. He is also the proud author of Zero to Sixty, his first chapbook. The Spider in the Laurel is his debut novel.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
GUEST POST: You Don’t Have to be an Expert to Fake it Like One by Michael Pogach
I’ve received a lot of advice on writing over the years. Most of us have. Some comes from creative writing classes or workshops. Some we seek out in blogs or Facebook posts that promise “4.7 Ways to Sell 8.2 thousand Copies.” And much is tossed at us by people who begin with, “Oh, you’re an author...”
But one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to fake it. “You don’t have to be an expert rock climber,” a professor told me, “to write about rock climbing. You just need to know enough to fool 90% of your readers.
What about the other 10%? Hey, there’s always going to be someone who calls you out on the fact that Chuck Taylors didn’t come in women’s half-sizes in the 1930’s (I have no idea if this is true or not) or some other random crap. Worry about the 90%. Do your research. Know the difference between a gun, a rifle, and a pistol. Between a ship and a boat. Between slang from the 1840’s and the 1880’s. Whatever. Pretend you’re back in high school writing essays. Know enough to make the rest of your bullshit seem legit.
I held onto this advice for a long time, clutching it like a talisman that would keep me from making a fool of myself on the page. It worked through four short story publications and a chapbook. But I didn’t stretch my research skills too much on those pieces, other than some simple fact checking for a World War II story.
Then I decided to write my first novel, The Spider in the Laurel. A science fiction thriller. My first thought was that it would be easier on the believability scale. Readers of sci-fi already accept what’s impossible. So I went full bore at it. Indiana Jones adventure. V for Vendetta dystopia. American Gods style fantasy. I sat back in my cushy office chair and grinned.
Then I took a few chapters to my writers group. For the first time, my talisman failed.
How come in your future novel, the smart phone thingy they use still has a numeric password? My iPhone uses fingerprint.
Why do their cars still run on gasoline? It’s like fifty years in the future. Shouldn’t at least some of them be electric or something?
Wait, so the new government made everyone atheists in only ten years? How’s that work?
The questions kept coming, and I had no answers. I knew I had to make it more realistic. But how the hell do you research the future? Sci-fi and fantasy are all guesswork. I was lost. In over my head (insert Guardians of the Galaxy quote about my reflexes here).
As an author, when you find yourself in this situation you have two options: quit or push ahead, stubbornly writing what might be a Death Star sized wreck.
I pushed ahead.
The first draft took a year. It was so disjointed, I was convinced it would never be publishable. But as I began the revision process, I went back to my talisman. I learned the difference between guns, rifles, and pistols. This knowledge led to the invention of a line of firearms: the Republic Tactical series. I explored half a dozen electric vehicle engines. From these came the e-cell and magna-drive vehicles that keep America moving in my vision of the future. I studied the progression of smart phones over the last fifteen years. Behold, a new generation of portable communication devices: the Citizens Port. I researched tyrannical and oppressive governments in the last hundred years. Now you can step into The Spider in the Laurel and the Citizen’s Republic of America, a militantly secular regime and its terrifying secret police, Relic Enforcement Command.
The great thing about sci-fi and fantasy is the freedom. Once you understand the basics of rock climbing, you are free to invent new forms of mountains, equipment, strategies, and even gravity. And so long as the foundational knowledge is sound, the 10% who get giddy about finding errors in authors’ work will be forced to move onto someone else’s. Someone who can’t fake it as well as you and I.
The Spider in the Laurel combines elements of Indiana Jones adventures and Jason Bourne thrillers with a V for Vendetta dystopia, and an American Gods fantasy.
The Spider in the Laurel is the story of history teacher, Rafael Ward, in a world that has outlawed the basis of most of our history: religion. When Ward is forced to take a job destroying the relics he cherishes, it will take the uncompromising faith of an outlaw as an ally, and the acceptance of his guilt for his mother’s death, to help him break free of the government’s yoke. If he’s lucky, he might just prevent the coming apocalypse, for which this secular future is completely unprepared.
The Spider in the Laurel straddles the line between simple adventure fun, and the kind of novel which can force a reader to question his or her own beliefs.