It Can Get Personal

Nancy J. Cohen

Readers often want to know if writers use personal experiences in their stories. “All the time,” I answer them. Anything that happens to us becomes fodder for a novel. We could be inspired by a character we meet or by a situation that happens to us.

In Hanging by a Hair, Marla and Dalton Vail move into a new house and attend their first homeowner’s association meeting. There they argue with the president, who happens to be their next-door neighbor. A few days later, the man is found dead in his home. What instigated their conflict? The man tried to build an illegal fence between their properties.

Hanging By A Hair, a Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen

This happened to us when new neighbors moved in. I noticed the fence going up, and it appeared to be on our side of the boundary. The workers had no license plate on their truck, nor had our neighbor done a survey. Meanwhile, we’d gotten other neighbors angry when we trimmed their tree branches hanging over on our side of the fence. So I combined these grievances and created Marla’s neighbor, Mr. Krabber. Plus, I’d noted a number of package deliveries at another house on the block. I gave this attribute to Alan Krabber as well. So he’s essentially a fictional composite of several people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had. Once I determined his status as the victim, it was time to create the suspects. Who, besides his fellow board members, might want him dead? And so the mystery developed.

Because Marla’s husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, is personally involved, he is removed from the case. Marla aims to clear his name and make her neighborhood safe again. Join her adventure by watching the book trailer and ordering the book:

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Have you ever had a disagreement with a neighbor? Do you attend homeowner’s meetings?

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Comments

  1. The winner of my drawing is Natasha Raulerson. Please contact me with your email address.

  2. No one has yet mentioned the great dialogue one gets from eavesdropping. Last night Bill and I went to dinner at a local catfish place. Our conversation stopped when the people in the booth next to us noisily ran into old friends. The verbal exchanges were plum inspiring! Bill grinned mutely, knowing I was mentally recording the colorful conversations. Like Karla, I have another little habit. When I write a sniveler, I name him after a whiner I’ve known. When I write a miser, I do the same. Not only do the names help me keep the character in character, they serve as private pay-back for the originals I found so annoying. I name an obnoxious character after a nemesis, a repulsive neighbor or tacky boss. I find it terribly satisfying. Maybe I’m just vindictive.

    • It’s okay to name nasty characters after people we’ve met as long as those folks don’t read your book! As for eavesdropping, I think all writers are listeners in that regard. A phone conversation I’d overheard became the premise for Perish by Pedicure.

  3. Barbara Mealer says

    If we wrote and didn’t use ourselves or the things around us we would run out of ideas pretty quick. Considering I live in a condo and just retired, it is an interesting area. There is this mysterious man we only see after dark, the 85 y/o who is dating a 62 y/o biker, the friend of my husband whose mother is a Brooklyn transplant who is demanding and a tyrant, Then there is the man who keeps hitting on me each time I go out for a walk (I swear he watches for me to leave no matter what time of day it is). I also love the lady who is still driving but can’t tell how close she is to a car until she hits it and her bumper shows it quite well and then the lady on the end of the building who has three lawsuits against the condo association for injuries from three separate falls…hmm, guess I have enough there for a couple of stories. Observation, experiences and a good imagination is the fodder for our work.

  4. Jan Washburn says

    I don’t have a homeowner’s association, but I am secretary of our civic association. A lieutenant from the sheriff’s office comes to our meetings and brings us up to date on the local crime situation. Unfortunately (or fortunately) his reports are mostly simple burglaries, but I’m waiting for him to bring us some dramatic event.

  5. I’ve never really used a neighbor as the basis for a character, but I did use the guy who stole my identity. I doubt that my character is anything like the one who brought such havoc to my life, but it was fun conjuring him up and giving him his ultimate payback. Even virtual revenge is very sweet!

  6. In Maryland, we had a situation where the neighbor’s garage was very close to our bedroom window. The husband and wife commuted to work, so they left very early. Hubby would back the car out of the garage and leave the car running with the door open while he walked down the drive to get the paper. Trouble was his radio was cranked up loud enough to hear the entire way. Talk about frustrating! I definitely need to work that into a book. Thanks for jogging my memory.

    • That must have been really annoying. Our daughter once lived in a house with a bunch of roommates, and their neighbor used their garage like a family room–kept the door open, watched TV in there.

  7. A writer probably could not function in a vacuum, without neighbors and friends to raise our hackles occasionally. Reading sometimes produces gut reactions, but a walking, talking person can prompt livelier effects more quickly.

  8. I live in an apartment complex. I get along with 99% of the people. There are a few people that I don’t get along with and we just avoid each other. But THEN, there’s The Evil B in 118. She is so rude and nasty, and every time she see’s me walking my dog she says she’s going to report me for doing it on the property. 90% of our building are dog owners, and everyone walks their dog on the property. However, for some reason she just likes to scream at me and my 12lb dachshund. My dachshund is 10 btw. Degenerative disc disease. Can’t walk far because her back legs are weak. This lady is just old and lonely I think, and has nothing better to do with her time.

    • I can understand your grief. We’ve had a neighbor in the past be nasty about our dog, too. Your poor pet. It’s difficult when they can’t walk well as they get older.

  9. I live in a small, rural community so no homeowners association. I haven’t had any disagreements like the ones that inspired your book and I really hope it stays that way! I would hate to take matters into my own hands…

  10. My favorite “let’s get personal” moment (or not favorite, as the case may be) was a really nasty boss who I wrote into one of my books (and subsequently killed off).

  11. Our Homeowner’s Association is voluntary, and I let my husband go to meetings. He’s on the board. It keeps him occupied now that he’s retired, and he loves getting the ‘inside’ scoop on what’s going on. So far, no murders.