Friday, July 12, 2013

So You Think You Know

Sorry, I couldn't find the one with the goat.

I was involved in a conversation with other authors a while back and we got around to authors criticizing other authors about the authenticity of their work. These were writers who had used the lives of their parents or grandparents as the basis of their stories. My question is why did these critics think they knew more than the writers?

The US is a large country with many cultures merged into the over all American one. Our politics are full of it, so are stereotypes. Within cities as well as throughout the different regions of our nation areas have their own subcultures. I think it is safe to say that no one knows everything about every area and subculture there is. Different regions progressed into modernity at differing rates due to many factors, climate, resources, education, poverty, location, etc.

To me reading about other living styles and ways is part of the joy of reading. I know little about the ways of the deep south, the west, urban living today let alone how it was in the 1960’s, 1930’s, 1880’s. It takes more research than I'm going to do in order to learn enough to comment on the authenticity of someone else's writing of a specific place and time.

We all have general ideas of other cultures and eras. We all also have concepts of how people live within those. Our understanding of historical eras or cultures etc. maybe no where near what the people who are living or lived experience. Remember the social studies book when you were a kid that had the picture of a soddy with the goat on the roof? That has always stuck with me. Maybe they don’t use it anymore, but it can illustrate my point.

I’m married to a farmer. We live in western Illinois. No, not Chicago. That’s four hours away. We went to one of the suburbs to visit friends one summer. They had a party where we were the only ones not from the burbs. As I stood in a group of women who weren’t familiar with agriculture in the 1980’s, the question came up as to wether I had to cook for threshers and what I did all day. The image of that picture came to mind of them thinking I lived in a soddy and had goats mowing the grass.

Surprise was written all over their faces when I said we didn’t have threshers, we had huge machines called combines and that I put my kids breakfast in the microwave and actually had a washer and drier as well as a computer. I’m sure they would have been less surprised that a girl I went to college with in the ’70’s came from a farm with no running water. That would have fit their idea of farm living better.

The point of all this is to be careful when you criticize others writers. Realize you don’t know it all and they will be much more familiar with their topic than you are. They may have lived what they are writing about.

We are told to write what we know. When critiquing or reviewing, be careful you might not know what you think you know.

“It seems some people are just looking for something to tear apart. Craziness.” Sheila Hollinghead

Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction. She lives with her husband and cat on a farm in western Illinois. Her Cottonwood Series novels have been Indie Book of the Day and Healing Love received first place in the genre in’s 2012 contest and a second in eLit 2012 contest.
Sophie blogs one a week on her website as well as in edition to
She has recently released her fourth and fifth books, Leah’s Peace and Chasing Norie.
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  1. Seriously? People do that. I don't think I'd have the nerve to. Sad. Thanks for a great post. I grew up in Kansas and we are well-versed as children in sod houses. :-)

  2. Hysterical - I can relate. And that's why I won't write Amish: cuz we live next to them at the farm. Sheesh.

  3. Thanks for the comments. It's surprising who some people think they know more than the writer. Unless there is a glaring error, that sort of thing shouldn't be.