Friday, December 4, 2015

Best of The Archives: Using Unique Real Life Experiences in Your WIP

Hello Seekerville,  Sandra here with a popular post from the archives about using real life experiences in your wip. 

I chose this article because it features many Seeker books.  If you read my post last month about The Perfect Place to Write, I got on my soapbox. So here I am again on my soapbox. Christmas shopping season is here and autographed books make delightful gifts. We are writers and most importantly, readers. We need to support our industry. Buy books from your author friends, those in your community and from our bookstores. And I'm not talking about gift cards.  Give a real book. Or ebook that you've enjoyed and want your friends to enjoy. In my family its become a tradition to receive books in our stockings.  

Okay, I'm done. smile

I hope you enjoy this article about finding out how our real life experiences influenced our writing.  

 Our contemporary Christmas anthology, A Heart Full of Christmas, features my story, Holiday Homecoming. In it the heroine remembers her first love who is a surfer in Southern California. This story brought back many fun memories of my surfing days in my teenage years.  

Using Real Life Eperiences in Your WIP:

I want to write about using our real life experiences in our books. This process authenticates what we write in books even though they might seem bizarre to someone who has never shared those same experiences.

Not only does it authenticate what we write, but real life experiences give us depth that we might not obtain in our imagination.

Vince Mooney wrote: “I just finished "Where the Eagle Flies" and I think it is the best 5-sensed story I can remember reading. Obviously you were on location under those same conditions and more importantly you were observant. This story is a perfect case-study in five-sensing. Loved the way the eagle kept playing a part in the story. Great job.

Thank you Vince.

In my novella,Where the Eagle Flies, (which is in the Seeker Anthology With This Kiss) my characters have several experiences that seem a little far-fetched to most people. They are on a houseboat in Lake Powell, Arizona and they barely live through a water spout.

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Vince is correct when he said it was obvious I had been on location. I didn’t even know what a waterspout was until I myself barely lived through one on Lake Powell. My first hand experience authenticated the water spout that appeared in Where The Eagle Flies. I knew the terrible fear you experience as you helplessly watch it approach. I know the sound. And I know the horrific force of wind one produces. All of this I hopefully portrayed in Where The Eagle Flies.

By the way, waterspouts are a tornado that occurs on water. The movement of wind forms a spout of water similar in looks to a tornado and it moves like a tornado. They are rare, so don’t stop yourself from the lovely experience of going out on Lake Powell in a houseboat or any kind of boat actually. And they usually only occur during the monsoon season so if you want to be sure you don’t experience one, go out on the boats when it isn’t monsoon season.

Lake Powell is located in rugged country. Gorgeous country. Isolated and primitive country. Breathtakingly beautiful country.

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The lake was formed by damming the Colorado River. It is huge. It extends into two states, Arizona and Utah.

Hubby and I have been out on this lake many times. One trip (Mind you-we were still in our twenties so could actually do this LOL) we spent two weeks out in the lake. We were not on a luxury houseboat like the characters had in Where The Eagle Flies, but we were in a 14 foot Valcro aluminum boat. That meant we camped on shore every night. We would find lovely sand bars and because it was over 100 degrees, we would spread out a sheet and sleep on top of it. Sid and Melissa did the very same thing in Where The Eagle Flies. And they saw the tracks of snakes crossing the sheet at night.  YIKES.

Does that sound unbelievable? Like Sid, hubby would erase the tracks before I woke up because he knew I would freak out. And on the last morning, he showed them to me. Smart man. If he had shown those snake tracks to me at the beginning of the trip, it would have been one short trip. LOL

I can only say that I was so exhausted each day from the heat, that I slept through the night without a clue that snakes were crawling over me. Thank you Lord.

And because the temperatures would climb to 100 degrees in the afternoon, we would slip through slot canyons and find moqui caves to explore. Compared to the outside temperatures, they were cool and refreshing. And most of them had been inhabited by the Anasazi tribes hundreds of years ago. So not only did we have nice cool caves to rest in, we had fun exploring the ancient habitats. There were drawings on the walls and sometimes we would find a rare artifact.

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I loved sitting in the caves and imagining what life was like for the original inhabitants. Guess that was the writer in me—the writer that hadn’t yet been formed. smile

On our last night, we pulled into shore and guess what greeted us there?  A rattlesnake, all coiled and ready to strike. So Melissa and Sid’s experiences with the rattlesnake are real. We did not eat that rattlesnake, nor kill it like Sid and Melissa did.  We just moved to another part of the beach. But we have eaten rattlesnake tacos and they are quite tasty.

Because of all of these experiences, I was able to put them in my novella with such detail that allowed the reader to see, taste, smell, hear, and feel all the elements of this unusual setting. And I was able to write about some unusual experiences that might be new and different to most of you.

This story was rejected by traditional publishers because they thought the circumstances were too bizarre to risk putting within their traditional parameters.

The fun thing about writing and publishing indie, is you can include some unusual and different experiences.  Most traditional publishers don’t like to take the risk of “rocking the boat” and giving their readers something outside of their framework.

Seeker sister Audra Harders has an indie book that traditional publishers thought was a bit risky for inspirational romance because of the experiences of the heroine. She shared her experience with me:

In my book, Second Chance Ranch, Jennifer O'Reilly discovered she was pregnant just as she was entering her freshman year in college. Can you hide such a thing from your family? Apparently, yes you can. While I was a Resident Advisor in college, a freshman on my floor - the second week of school - confided in me that she was pregnant. Though her reasons were different from my character, this student didn't want her family to know and abortion was out of the question. Her roommate, a complete stranger at the time, turned all mother hen on this girl. Our little mother continued classes with her roommate's help and even told her family she wanted to go home with her roommate for Christmas since she lived locally, rather than fly back to Wisconsin. For some reason, all the pieces slid into place throughout the year. She took her finals early and went into labor the next day. Since I had said my goodbyes to her and left for home before she had her baby, she wrote to me later and thanked me for respecting her life decision and for all my support through the year. She'd had a little girl and though she didn't meet the adoptive parents, she said it felt right. Tell me, how could you not put something like this in a book???

An unwed mother is not what most traditional Christian publishers want to feature in their novels, but Audra’s experiences with this unwed mother were so powerful that she wrote an engaging and powerful novel. Second Chance Ranch has wonderful and deep characters because of Audra’s experiences with her classmate.

Other Seeker sisters deepened their stories and characters with real life experiences and those books were published by traditional publishers. Mary Connealy shared her experience.

The Kincaid Brides Series was inspired by a long-ago visit to Carlsbad Cavern.
Years before I started writing, I was so struck by that place that my imagination caught fire. I felt like I could BE the first guy in that place. I really felt transported...and I don't mean in a literal sense but a powerful imagination bringing the feelings to life as I walked in the super safe cave, all well lit and safely fenced off.
What would it be like to go in there with a lantern and no other light?

I was so powerfully struck by the beauty and the danger. The beauty would draw you on, especially if you could only peak at it, just the small area lit up by your lantern. The danger would hold you back. Cliffs and sharp stones and steep slope, so many ways to die.

I felt that tug of that first man...drawn forward...scared back.
That's what I tried to capture in my books, that tug. The lure and the revulsion battling in each brother's heart.

You definitely feel that when you read the books in this series. Good job, Mary.

In Pam Hillmans novel, Claiming Mariah, the account of Yellow, the half-wild tomcat and his precarious beginnings after being born in the woods, is an almost exact retelling of a cat that Pam befriended several years ago. Pam had to work for that cat’s trust, just as Mariah earns the trust of both Slade and Yellow in Claiming Mariah. The entire true-life account of Taming Yellow can be found here.

I love this article Pam. You got multiple uses out of this experience—a novel and an article.

Missy Tippins used a real life experience. She wrote: What was really fun for my Love Inspired book titled The Guy Next Door is how the idea for this book came about. It started in the 1980’s. As my daughter would say, that makes me sound REALLY old! But it’s the time when I was working as a microbiologist in a hospital lab.

Now, skip forward a couple of decades. I was thinking of story ideas for a series that could involve characters who work in the hospital in my fictional small town. And I immediately thought back to a scenario from my pre-stay-at-home-mom days. At that time, I was able to tentatively identify the bacterium that was making the mother of one of my co-workers very sick. And the reason the unusual bacteria looked familiar under the microscope was because I'd had to identify it on an exam when I was in graduate school. Also, the only way I could do so in such a small lab where we didn’t have the capability to run the needed tests was to rig up my own “test.”

It was so fun to recall that event, and I wanted to write about it. The Guy Next Door included a scenario with my heroine in the microbiology lab that really happened to me. It spurred the idea for the book (in my early versions, I opened the story with that scene). However, most of the medical aspects of that true event had to be edited out for the general reader (my critique partner got grossed out! LOL).

Myra Johnson shared this with me:

My best example is from one of my first published novels, Autumn Rains. The idea for the story was sparked by something that actually happened to my brother-in-law, now a retired Lutheran pastor. Several years ago, an ex-con fresh out of prison was on his way through Houston by bus to follow up on a job opportunity. During a layover, the man secured his money and possessions in a bus station locker and then lost the combination. When he asked around for help, someone directed him to my brother-in-law’s church, so in the middle of an extremely hot summer, he hiked the 25 or 30 miles from the Houston bus station to the church.

My brother-in-law was glad to provide the ex-con enough money to continue his journey. Then he and another church member drove the man to a location where he could catch a local bus back downtown. Only after they were on the road . . . late at night . . . in the dark, did the man admit he’d been in prison for murder. The good news is that the man later wrote to thank my brother-in-law and to say he’d found a job and was getting his life back on track.

I knew I had to write about this experience somehow. The challenge was finding a way to turn an ex-con into a romantic hero and then create a heroine who could bring out the best in him. And that’s how Healy Ferguson and Valerie Bishop took on the starring roles in Autumn Rains. After serving his sentence, Healy heads to Missouri in search of an old friend whose faith and encouragement helped him survive the prison years. Instead he finds Valerie, his friend’s widow. After witnessing her husband’s violent death five years prior, she became a prisoner in her own home, afraid to venture outdoors farther than the backyard . . . until she meets Healy.

Tina Radcliffe’s Love Inspired Home on The Ranch novel The Rancher’s Reunion was based on her real life experience. Tina says, “Long ago I had the opportunity to work through the ranks at a residential care facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I began as a nurse aide and eventually went on to become Director of Nurses. It was there that I met a young orderly willing to face the incredible odds of Huntington's disease with the woman who loved him by his side. When they shared their engagement news with me, my first Love Inspired release, The Rancher’s Reunion was born.”

Julie Lessman wrote: As far as “real life experiences,” I actually had several I put in my books. They are relationship issues I dealt with. Two come to mind that came straight from my life — the argument Marcy and Patrick had in book 1 A Passion Most Pure when he comes home from the bar (I had the same scenario, except it was work, not a bar) and the two-month silent treatment Patrick gives Marcy in book 3 A Passion Denied when he sleeps at the Herald. 

See all the many ways our different experiences can inspire and impact our writing? If you’ve had some unusual or emotional experiences—use them. They will enhance the emotional impact and they will deepen the use of all five senses.

I have a steaming pot of Chocolate Velvet coffee, some assortments of tea and hot cider. For a snack, I have the huge crystal bowl full of fresh fruit and a the large crystal platter full of meat snacks for those of you on low carb plans.  And in Yankee Belle earlier this week, Mindy Obenhaus shared this delightful table of Christmas cookies. She brought them back for us. Thank you Mindy. 

Sandra Leesmith writes sweet romances to warm the heart. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. She lives in Arizona with her husband and during the hot sumers she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motorhome where she enjoys the outdoors and finds wonderful ideas for her next writing project. You can find Sandra's books here on Amazon. Three of Sandra's most popular books are also audio books at Audible.  

You can read more posts by Sandra here.