I subscribe to several literary agents' blog feeds and today's feed from one particular agency was a disheartening sucker punch to science fiction and fantasy authors. Though I'm sure it was not meant as such.
"Write what you know" the agent proselytized. The agent posed questions similar to these: How can a suburban housewife write about firing an M16? How can a garbage man write a novel about being a cop? The advice was more or less: "Don't even go there." But the agent added a disclaimer "unless you do thorough research."
But what about fantasy? What about worlds which live within Imagination? After all, who really "knows" magic, and dragons, and unicorns, and time travel? Can a suburban housewife write about princesses, and talking cats, and castles? Can a garbage man convincingly portray dragons and were-creature-infested swamps?
That's why FANTASY, good fantasy, anyway, is relationally driven. (My opinion.) Because although it would be AWESOME if a giant, wingless lion took me for a flight on his back in order to save the world as we know it from Evil, it's really about trusting the lion--about relating to the lion, snuggling the lion without fear. But with fear.
Yes, relationships are tricky. This I know.
I don't believe that C.S. Lewis ever took a flight on the back of a lion so he could write about it, but I've read much of his nonfiction and it is clear that, through the beauty of relationship, Jack flew with The Lion.
Write what you know.
Yes. Do that.
But keep in mind that "what you know" isn't always translated into tangible experience. It's often something less definitive--like the moon's reflection on the ocean.
Do your research, yes. As much as you are able. Then put away your stamped passport (aka: library card), dive into the ocean and chase the moon. (Or moons, depending on your genre!)
Whatever you do, in whichever genre most taps your passion, don't come up for air until you've reached that mystical island where Fiction Mirrors Truth.