The People You Know are a Well of Knowledge

If my current hobbies end up informing my writing, it’s mostly on an accidental basis. For instance, I started out the last novel with the idea that I wanted to write a cyberpunk retelling of a fairy tale. That didn’t really happen, once the novel was edited to focus more on what it actually was. Instead, it turned out to be a sci-fi novel that was influenced by a lot of my thoughts on Internet culture and computer use.

It makes sense; I pretty much live on my computer. I love the inside of it — I love the outside of it. I have a lot of feelings about it, and the way it shapes us as people. I don’t have nearly as many feelings about fairy tales.

But you know whose hobbies I do like to use? Other people’s. All of my friends and family have interesting, varied hobbies (and lifestyles) that work as a knowledge base. Sure, I could Google information that’s relevant to my characters, but I would rather make a phone call or send off an email. For instance:

  • My father worked in the restaurant business for all his life.
  • My mother was in the Air Force; one of my fathers-in-law2 was in the Army. Speaking of him — he has an actual vault in his basement of antique guns and weaponry.1
  • One of my fathers-in-law2 was a lawyer. He will tell you all about the sort of trials he worked, and the other lawyers he dealt with.
  • My mother-in-law runs a farm3 and a fiber studio; she makes yarn. My mother can make pretty much everything with yarn.
  • My son’s godfather is a nurse and a medieval nut; he not only owns a full suit of armor3, but he can also shape his own armor and talk medieval and fantasy weapons all day long.
  • I know several different artists: my son’s godmother does medieval manuscript painting and henna, while my best friend from college is a graphic artist.
  • Two of my best friends from high school are in the military, and the other is a teacher.
  • One of our friends has a degree in religious studies (or theory) and will answer pretty much any question on pagans, gypsies, and witches that she knows the answer to.
  • Her girlfriend is a programmer-in-training (like my husband), who not only can answer those questions but also offer a different viewpoint. (Often more logical than mine.)
  • My husband’s boyfriend is a writer too; we can sit and jaw about writing styles and storytelling. He can also tell stories about growing up with a vastly different childhood than my own.

That isn’t even the bulk of the people I know, not really. I have grandparents and cousins and friends about town. The writer’s group is about a dozen different people with different experiences: every single person on this blog has something they know a ton about. It also doesn’t account for the places my friends have lived and travelled; my husband can describe the red-light district in Amsterdam, my mother can talk about what Paris looked like in the mid-80s.

Every single person I know has some sort of weird or unexpected hobby; some of them are the same hobby, but from a different viewpoint. They can all offer a more detailed and personal opinion than a Google search ever will. But more important for me: they offer hands-on, tactile, personal experience that I wouldn’t get if I didn’t know brilliant, nuanced individuals willing to share their experience so I can bastardize it for my writing.

Two men in Armor

The outside of a personal gun vault.

Ann Warren Doing Henna

Two SCA Dudes Fighting


1. It’s a whole room — seriously, that image is just the outside of the vault. If I need to look at an old-school weapon, I can drive up to this dude’s house any time I want. So long as I bring the grandchild.
2. Both my fathers-in-law are fantastic storytellers, too, which means questions are usually answered not only to the letter of the question, but also the spirit.
3. She has chickens, goats, horses, angora rabbits, peacocks, turkeys, other birds — it’s wild. It took me years to get used to the fact that people live on a farm.
4. I always get this wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s 14th century. I know it’s Italian cavalry armor; he has a lance rest and everything. And that’s not even his only suit — just his favorite.
5. Images used are either mine, or used with permission.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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