Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

True Life Experiences in Fiction

by Nancy J. Cohen

“How much of your books are true stories from your own life?” Writers are often asked this question. In response, I’d say that many of our personal experiences inspire our stories. For my current work in progress, our problems with bathroom renovators inspired the tale. The job took forever, and we wasted many days waiting for workmen to show up who didn’t arrive until several days … or even weeks … later. The foreman wasn’t good at communicating with customers and this caused us a great deal of aggravation. Then again, I asked a lot of dumb questions. The finished job was worth the annoyance, however, and we got past it. Not so in my 17th Bad Hair Day mystery, where Marla’s mother finds a dead guy in her partially renovated shower. The foreman has met one irate customer or colleague too many.

Other stories find inspiration from past events. Hanging by a Hair came about after we had an altercation with a neighbor. Marla’s poodle, Spooks, has a tick problem in another book that we’d encountered with our pet. A car accident that I was in made it into another story, although this one was a deliberate attempt to wipe Marla off the road. In Died Blonde, she visits a medium in Cassadaga and gets a spiritual reading, similar to the one I got when we stayed overnight in this Central Florida town.

Our travels have also taken us to many places in these stories. It’s fun to write about sites we’ve seen and adventures we’ve had. This was especially true in Killer Knots, my Caribbean cruise story, and in Peril by Ponytail, my award-winning Arizona tale. I’ve been to every port described in the first book and to every tourist attraction mentioned in the second one. And yes, I had mysterious orbs show up in my digital photos from down in the copper mine similar to what Marla finds on her camera.

We can’t help infusing our stories with our personal life experiences. Of course, we twist them to serve their purpose in a fictional tale. But the basis in reality helps you live through this adventure with us.

Do you like authors to talk about their research and what experiences in a story were real? What’s the best one you remember?

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Comments

  1. Lois Crockett says

    Yes and no… I’ll have an experience then let my imagination fly with it into the realm of the extreme. Roll it around in my head a bit, tone it down some and simmer for awhile. Eventually, the event might make it into the story. I love watching people and take notes if I see something good going on. Some of the characters Harvey Wallbanger were based on a couple I saw in a local casino lounge. Then other events are pure delightful flights of fancy… what if? …and let it rip. Cheers!

    • It’s fun when we meet a character that we can alter to use in a book. One of the neighbors in our new community takes a walk everyday wearing a fireman outfit complete with gas mask and hauling a tire on a rope. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask if he’s a real fireman getting his exercise, although our street seems an odd place to parade around in that getup.

  2. Just about everything in my books have been influenced by my own experiences, those of people I know, or what I’ve seen/read in the news. I’ve found that readers love to hear how we authors come up with our ideas.

  3. Even though I say I don’t, I do. If the lifetime humor moment or whatever doesn’t end up somehow in a book, it usually finds its way into one of my blogs.

  4. These types of behind the story pieces of information are exactly why I started asking the questions I do when I do author interviews on my website. For me, a story is always a confluence of several events. It’s usually three and they’re hardly every closely connected, until the triggering event occurs. For instance, in On the Take in Waikiki, I’d recently finished a book about corruption in Hawaii decades ago. I’d also been following the development of a project called Kahauiki Village, which uses a return to plantation style values to create a community (or village) to support homeless families. The third triggering event was the number of homeless we saw during our previous trip to the islands. In this case, the second and third events were related, but they occurred two years apart. I like using those types of events to make the story come alive.

  5. maggietoussaint says

    I use real life events as sources of conflict in my mysteries and romances. In addition to the interest I have in restaurant fires, buried treasure, and so on, it makes it fun to write about these things in a way that suits my story and brand. I think readers enjoy it when writers are really jazzed about the story. And I’ve also found that it’s a good talking point for local signings etc to talk about the real event and how I changed it for my book.

  6. Yes, I definitely enjoy hearing the “behind the scenes” of authors’ works. I don’t crib a whole lot as far as events from my personal life, but I do borrow from places I’ve been to IRL.I used a waaaay off-the-beaten-path locale in one of my short stories. The place was called Rattlesnake Crafts and was a couple of miles into the desert off a deserted two-lane highway somewhere in Arizona (my version of it appears in “Snake in the Grass” from my “Who’s Behind the Door” anthology).

  7. cherylhollon says

    I enjoy learning about the real-life inspiration behind events in books. I put plenty in my books.