I often write about aviation history these days and am invariably asked if I’m a pilot. Back in university when I was focused mostly on First Nations history and missionaries, people also made assumptions about my religious background (although interestingly few wondered if I was FN, even though I fit right in at Kahnawake and Kanesatake).
I’ve heard the argument that you need to be an “insider” to write about a topic, and in most cases I don’t agree. My stock answer is that I’m not a pilot, missionary, or a lot of other things that I write about; we also can’t teleport back to the Paleolitic Age, New France, or Confederation, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop us from writing about the past…
Unfortunately one Edmonton-area film-maker decided firsthand knowledge might improve his art. This week the first-degree murder trial of Mark Twitchell began, and very strange details are coming to light about the “Dexter Copycat”: Mr. Twitchell lured men to his garage by pretending to be a woman on a dating site, then successfully bashed one over the head with a copper pipe before dismembering, burning, and disposing of the body parts.
As the Crown Prosecutor said,“[The accused’s] plan was, quite simply and shockingly, to gain the experience of killing another human being.”
Of course at this stage it’s impossible to know if Mr. Twitchell is just very mentally disturbed (my guess would be he is) or if he’s an ardent subscriber of the “experiential” school. Either way, this case is just one more argument for relying on research and empathy rather than a “been there, done that” approach to writing.