Writer T.W. Fendley on Write What You Know

T.W. Fendley writes historical fantasy and science fiction with a Mesoamerican twist for adults and young adults. Her debut historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME, was voted Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel in the 2011 P&E Readers Poll. Her short stories took second place in the 2011 Writers’ Digest Horror Competition and won the 9th NASFiC 2007 contest. Teresa belongs to the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, SCBWI and Broad Universe.

In Fendley’s book ZERO TIME, Philadelphia science writer Keihla Benton joins an archeological team at Machu Picchu and learns the Andean prophesies about 2012 have special meaning for her—only she can end the cycle of Darkness that endangers Earth at the end of the Mayan calendar.


For many years, I read a lot of horror. I eagerly awaited the next books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The draw of the macabre and the twist of the unexpected kept me hooked since I first read Edgar Allan Poe in my youth.
So I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when an agent said the first novel I wrote was horror, not mystery. (Sadly, in the late 1990s, horror wasn’t selling if you weren’t King or Koontz.) My novel, Little Sisters, was about a murderess who telepathically controlled black widow spiders. In one scene, spiders flowed out of a car’s air vents and swept over their victim. I had trouble getting into my car for months!

You see, I don’t turn my imagination off when I log off the computer, and even one spider is frightening to me. At that time, I was still in my “spider-attractor” phase. For whatever reason, I’d wake up and a spider would be on my pillow, or I’d be outside and feel something crawling in my hair–a spider. There are many, many more examples, but you get the picture. It was terrifying for me.

Which brings me to the point of my ramblings. A familiar piece of advice for writers is to “write what you know.” If you write speculative fiction, you can’t take that literally (for instance, I haven’t been to the Pleiades lately like the characters in my novel Zero Time). But when it comes to emotions and sensory details, I think it’s especially good advice.  So if you’re scared of spiders, use it!

Another time this technique worked for me (and turned a sci-fi story into horror) involved migraines. I started having them when I was 25, in the days before any of the new drugs were available that can take the edge off the pain. I generally spent six to eight days each month in agony. That very real pain fed into a scene in my story, “Origins of the Species.”

Take what you know and create something different from it. Use it to fuel your imagination. That’s exactly what some of the new horror writers are doing. Yes, in the past year, I’ve started reading horror again. I just finished ARCANE, an anthology edited by Nathan Shumate with “thirty weird and unsettling stories.” Indeed they are! In one of my favorites, “God of the Kiln” by Eric Francis, the god reveals to all who dare pass what a priest’s “humble pride” wrought. Another, “Lady of the Crossroads” by Christine Lucas, shows how only a village woman’s mutterings can spare the men of Samothrace from the ravages of war. I also highly recommend Bram Stoker Award-finalist Fran Friel’s MAMA’S BOY AND OTHER DARK TALES. After reading her creepy collection of fourteen short stories, you’ll never look at dust bunnies and mashed potatoes the same way again.

While I think it’s important for writers to get in touch with their emotions and senses, I’d like to encourage you–as readers–to also be bold. Try a genre you never thought you’d like, and see if there isn’t something that resonates. To get you started, if you’d like to check out a sci-fi story about longevity pioneers, The Fourth Treatment is available free on my website. It’s the prequel to that award-winning horror story I mentioned–“Origins of the Species.”


To celebrate the release of Zero Time, T.W. Fendley is giving away a Maya-Aztec astrology report, a Mayan Winds CD, Zero Time tote bag and fun buttons. If you’re interested, you can enter below—deadline is April 30, 2012.

3 ways to enter

1) Leave a comment on any of the PARTY POSTS listed on the book’s Virtual Release Party Page here: http://twfendley.com/?page_id=510

2) Tweet about the Virtual Party or any of the PARTY POSTS (with tag #ZEROTIME2012)

3) Facebook (tag @T.W. Fendley) about the Virtual Party. (NOTE: tag must have periods to work)

You can find ZERO TIME at:

Ebook $4.99

Paperback $16.95

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of the New England Horror Writers. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.

Posted on April 26, 2012, in News and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Thanks for being a great Party Host, Kristi! And I wish you great success with your soon-to-be-published book.

  2. Great post T.W.! I’d have to say, although when I first heard the “write what you know”, it made sense but I didn’t use it. Silly me, now I’m rewriting to put it in. Thanks for the guest post, not only here, but on many other blogs, and thanks for holding the party. 🙂

  3. Great twist/fresh take on the “write what you know” – I think this version is dead accurate. I watched a conversation/debate recently between writers about whether or not one can write sex scenes if one has never had sex. Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think you can write about the taste of peaches if you’ve never had one or the look of ocean waves in a light breeze if you’ve never seen them. And, too often (I know this is a huge fault in my own writing) authors tend to glaze over the sensory details of the story – how things looked and felt, and tasted and smelled – which are what make a story rich and real. Now I will be careful to keep those things in mind when I write – those are what are unique to me, what I can bring to the story. Thank you!

    • Awesome, Terri! And right on. I couldn’t have agreed more! I often, as a writer, have to go back to places I’ve been if I want to set a story there. Unfortunately, sometimes, it gets expensive…but it’s always worth it. Hey, do you use music and photos to help you? Or watch a movie over and over because somehow it connects you to what you’re writing? I’ve often wanted to talk about this on this blog, but haven’t yet.

  1. Pingback: Guest post on Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s blog! » T.W. Fendley, Author

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