Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What Would You Ask Your Favorite Author?

Chris Fabry





If you could ask your favorite living author any question about writing in order to aid your own writing journey, what would you ask?
I waited too long. I got a chance to ask Pat Conroy a question at a book signing, but I felt my question was too personal, too much about the interior work of an author. I chickened out. I asked something safe.
Pat died in 2016. If I could have that chance again, I think I would be more bold.
I’ve always wondered, given the negative reaction of some of his family members about them showing up in his books, if he ever regretted writing about those he knew—particularly his sister, Carol Ann. In 2011 he wrote on his blog, “My sister, Carol Ann, remains a stranger to my life. I only see her at wedding and funerals—all of which she turns into personal nightmares for me . . .”
If Pat had the chance to write any of his stories again, would he choose differently? Would he protect anyone he used as a model for a character? Would he avoid revealing things that eventually broke their relationship?
Subsequently, in other nonfiction books, Pat gave a glimpse of an answer. For example, his father, at first, hated the novel The Great Santini. But after publication and film, Donald Conroy embraced the role. He would attend book signings with his son and sign right next to him. Pat wrote that there was a change in their relationship and that, in a way, his writing helped heal the wounds of the past. His father transformed into a different man.
Writing can be a healing art.
But what about Carol Ann? Even when their father died, there was such anger and vitriol between her and Pat, as revealed in The Death of Santini.
Let’s say you’re offered a bestselling book and a film deal, but you have to reveal intimate secrets of family members or friends. You know those secrets revealed, those personal insights into an individual’s life, will harm your relationship. Maybe destroy it forever. Do you sacrifice that person for your art? Are the things you experience simply fodder for the stories you tell, or do you as an artist have a responsibility to veil? And even if you hide the identity of the person you pattern this character after, will they see themselves in your story? (This goes beyond any legal question of libel and hits at the heart of the writer.)


In my latest novel, Under a Cloudless Sky, I took a real-life situation with my mother and turned it into a historical mystery. The premise is that Ruby is older and her children are afraid she’s going to kill somebody driving back and forth to the grocery store or the post office. Already several mailboxes have not survived. Her children try to reason with her and she pushes back. Finally, her daughter and son take Ruby’s keys. This is the inciting incident that makes Ruby hatch a plan. The next day when her daughter goes to the house to check on her mother, Ruby is missing. It’s Gone Grandma. Where did Ruby go? Was she abducted?
There are many twists and turns in the story and the reader travels between 1933 and 2004 to learn more about Ruby’s past and the secret she has hidden for seventy years.
But my biggest fear was that my mother (who is feistier than Ruby) would read the book and see herself. And not only that, but would be hurt by my portrayal. Is my “art” worth hurting my ninety-one-year-old mother?


There are voices in a writer’s head that stunt the writing process. If I’m flying along, telling my story, and somewhere in the back of my mind I hear, If she reads that, she’s going to kill you, I’m out of the story, the dream, and into the fear that my mother will be hurt. That gets my mind on myself rather than the story I’m trying to tell, and that is an exit off the fiction interstate you don’t want to take.
So, at the beginning of telling Ruby’s story, I had to wrestle well with all of the possible reactions and consequences. I love my mother. I want to honor her, not denigrate her in any way. But is taking this real situation that, frankly, many people in their middle age are going through, worth the risk? I concluded it was for several reasons. First, I’ve written about my mother in dozens of ways in dozens of books (literally) and she’s never seen herself. She’s never asked, “Did you get that from something I did?” Second, there are many admirable qualities about Ruby and what she’s been through that I knew readers would be endeared to her and would root for her. It’s a loving, well-rounded portrayal of this character that shows not just her foibles and faults, but the depth of her life and story. Third, my mother is the forgiving type.
So I ran into this story with abandon and tried not to think about my fears regarding her feelings. Every few weeks she’d ask about my “coal mining book” and I’d tell her the status. Finally, in December I received my first copies and I sent her a box stuffed full because she loves to give them to family and friends.


For a few weeks, I heard, through my mother, what others thought. I heard how much my cousins and friends in my hometown enjoyed it. Then one day she paused and asked in a little girl’s voice, “Am I Ruby?”
It was her turn to ask her favorite writer a question. And since I do not want to risk writer/mother privilege, I will keep my answer veiled.

Now, if you could ask any living or deceased writer a question that would aid in your own writing journey, what would you ask?



Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. A 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University and a native of West Virginia, Chris and his wife, Andrea, now live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children.

Chris’s novels, which include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and The Promise of Jesse Woods, have won five Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and a 2017 Award of Merit from Christianity Today. His eightieth published book, Under a Cloudless Sky, is a novel set in the coalfields of his home state of West Virginia. His books include movie novelizations, like the recent bestseller War Room; nonfiction; and novels for children and young adults. He coauthored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and the Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. Visit his website at www.chrisfabry.com.


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117 comments:

  1. Good morning, Chris, and welcome to Seekerville! What intriguing questions...what would we like to ask a favorite author and how would we handle publishing a story that could deeply hurt someone we love?

    On the latter, I know for myself I wouldn't write the story unless given their permission. Or was strongly and prayerfully convinced--and godly, trustworthy advisors confirmed--that it was a story God needed shared with the world. That it was confirmed it wasn't all about me using the reality and details of a loved one's personal life to tell a story that wasn't truly mine to tell and where they would very possibly be identifiable.

    But there are cases where I can understand it wouldn't be an easy decision to make one way or the other. A decision not to be taken lightly.

    As far as what question would I ask a favorite author...I'll have to think on that one. :)

    Thank you for joining us today with your thought-provoking post!

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    1. Definitely thought provoking, Glynna! Thanks for your take on the subject.

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    2. Great points about permission or being prayerfully convinced.

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    3. You know, I got over the author awe phase a long time ago because my favorite authors... Francine, Lisa Wingate and Karen White treated me like a peer.... and this was years before I was published.

      THEY WERE SO NORMAL....

      I think that's part of why I just like being me here... online... facebook... People respond to normal.

      I know there are some who still love, love, love the up-in-the-air authors....

      I'm not one of them. I'm happy with my small books and big books... and I just like people.

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    4. Aw, KC.... Right back at you. Thank you, dear friend.

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  2. Chris, welcome! We're so glad to have you join us today. This is such a fun, yet difficult, topic. There are some experiences I might write about (things I share with friends that they say I need to put in a story!), that I'll consider using someday. I guess I'll have to decide the right time.

    As for a question to ask... I'd love to ask some of my favorite authors about their plotting methods. I'm always curious about that. And just like any reader, I'd like to know where their story ideas come from.

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    1. Missy, I love those questions, too! I'm fascinated with the different processes authors have.

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    2. Wouldn't it be fun to sit down with Victor Hugo and ask him how he plotted Les Miserables??

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    3. Oh, Chris.... now that's a conversation I could get behind.

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    4. Yes it would.
      Read it in school and wasn't a fan. Saw the play, still not a fan.
      Know people who are though... People I know and respect their Christian walk.
      I'm obviously missing something major. Drat.

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    5. Great questions. But y'all are making me think too much!

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  3. Glynna's right...

    This is interesting.

    I have avoided some stories to avoid hurting others... but I've been able to tell some great stories where no one knew what was biographical and what wasn't....

    Chris, I loved War Room. I've shared the movie with others, with teens... and it meant a lot to some of the young mothers I've worked with. Thank you so much for that!

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    1. Ruthy, you make a good point that we can use emotions and even situations from real life--and use them in a way that's not recognizable. We can use that good emotion yet not hurt someone.

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    2. You know, with my family history I've had to walk that tightrope several times... I hope successfully. I don't mind folks knowing that my childhood was pretty despairing, but the fingers of blame aren't mine to point. I figure that's between them and God.

      The best part of that kind of writing/story is how it resonates with readers. How they respond to the story, to me, to the situation.... and that they see God's given them so many options... and the opportunity to choose from those options is a wonderful thing.

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    3. I have one story idea that will never see the light of day because the emotions are too raw, too wounding. My conjecture of "what might have happened" would hurt people, and I can't do that on purpose.

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    4. /sigh/

      I think I know what y'all mean.

      There's a story I SHOULD write perhaps, but for now, I don't think I'm supposed to. It makes my heart pound. :/

      (I just responded to CF and it showed it posted, but now it's disappeared?! Should I repost?

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    5. Missy, I think you hit it right. Everything an author encounters is 'grist to the mill.' We can tap into the emotions of a given situation without revealing real-life incidents and risking relationships.

      That being said, there are some folks who want their story told and would be thrilled to have themselves fictionalized in a novel.

      At least at first. Reality might not meet expectations, and some rot can set it...I'm thinking of Michael Oher and The Blind Side. Things seemed to be okay when that movie/story first came out, but now I understand he isn't happy with the way things were portrayed.

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    6. Erica, good point. The minute we put fiction on the label... and Hollywood gets a shot... there's more truth to the fiction label by degrees.

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    7. Regarding Jan and May above--stories that will never see the light of day--the question I struggle with is, am I spiking this story idea because it will hurt someone else, or is it because it will hurt me? I don't want to go there. I've nibbled around the edges of some hurts of my own story that haven't been fully told, not because of hurting someone else (though it probalby would) but because it's just too painful to admit or reveal. That's why I love the idea of writing being the process of joining your own story.

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    8. Missy, I've read that too.
      What a beautiful story it was (The Blind Side), but I didn't live it myself nor do I know anyone who did...

      That'd make things different wouldn't it?

      Great point about process, Chris. We frequently read how authors put themselves into the story. Some of that I'd think would be "voice" but then again...

      Obviously this is a meaty topic!

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    9. Yep, I have a few personal stories that are too painful to write. I'm pretty sure I will ever write those stories.

      As far as telling someone else's story... I'd be horrible about that because I'd have to throw a wrench in there with a big dose of fiction completely ruining their real story. lol

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  4. Welcome to Seekerville, Chris!

    What a great, make-us-think post today! Over the years, I find my writing's evolved. I'm more inclined to examine tougher issues than a decade or so ago. Perhaps, it's the climate in which we're living. Maybe, it's simply an age/maturity thing. Regardless, it's an exciting, albeit challenging, time for authors.

    I don't know that I'd sacrifice a relationship with friends or family members for the sake of my art. Tastefully done, though, we can craft a great story with memorable characters and still make an impact on readers.

    Best wishes on your continued success, Chris!

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    1. Cynthia, it's tough to know how much to use in our stories. So far, I haven't used anything from people I know. Although, for one character, I based an action on something my mom did years ago. She didn't notice it. :)

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    2. Thank you, Cynthia. You put it well--sacrifice. Do I sacrifice on the altar of art this episode, this scene from life that includes others? Sure helps when it's a shared sacrifice, when others see the reason to light a fire.

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  5. It's sort of funny. My dad always tells me he can see a lot of real life instances and people in my writing, but most of the time I don't think I realize I have put what he found in there. I think I would love to sit down and ask Jane Austen a ton of questions. As hard as it is to get published now, I know it was so much harder for her.

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    1. Amy, that's so true! I think voice has a lot to do with that. My college roommate says she feels like I'm there talking to her when she reads my books. So even if events aren't exact incidents from my past, she feels like it's really happened.

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    2. If you get Jane Austen for your writing seminar, let me know, I'll be there. :)

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  6. Welcome to Seekerville, Chris!

    I love your books, and now I have to read "Under a Cloudless Sky." You told us just enough about Ruby to make me want to search her out and spend a few hours with her.

    And that brings me to the question I'd want to ask my favorite author...how do you market your books in a way that gives readers that feeling that they just have to read your books?

    As far as including people I know in my stories... In my March release from Love Inspired Historical, I loosely based the story on my grandfather's young adult years. He passed away before I was born, so his children (including my dad) knew him, while I only had stories and his diaries to go by as I developed my character.

    I was afraid of stepping on toes, and portraying the character inaccurately, but the feedback from my dad has all been positive. *whew!*

    But would I have portrayed my grandfather in a way that might have placed a wedge into the family dynamics? No, I couldn't do that. Family - people - are always more important than art.

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    1. Jan, I think that's so cool to have that past to use in a story! I know that must have been a bit scary when the book first came out. I'm glad everyone liked the way you handled it!

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    2. LOL, Missy - the book isn't out yet! I sent my dad a review copy. :-) We'll see what the rest of the family says when they read it!

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    3. Oh, I read your comment too quickly! :) Hope they all love it! Of course, I'm sure they will.

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    4. Marketing. I wonder if, in the past, great writers really considered it much. I know we can't go back to that, but I've always felt that I need to focus on what I do well, which is spinning a good yarn with meaningful characters, and if it's good, someone will notice. I know that's not the real world today--but I've read enough novels that hooked me on the plot synopsis to know that focusing on marketing can make the tail wag the story. You've touched the third rail for me, Jan.

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    5. Jan, how special to have "told" your grandfather's story. Even more special is that your father approved. Good for you!

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  7. Good Morning Chris. I once did a blog post on what I would ask certain authors. I know I would tell Charlotte Bronte I loved Jane Eyre, but ask why she ever would have written something as awful as Villette. I would ask Jane Austen how she ever came up with those famous words that make every girl's heart swoon, "you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love… I love… I love you. And I never wish to be parted from you from this day on." Laura Ingalls Wilder, why did you include "Lazy Lousy Lizzy Jane" in your book when this person was your sister-in-law? And so it goes. I once got a chance to talk with John Erickson (author of Hank the Cowdog) when he called me one day to thank me for a letter. I asked questions of Beverly Lewis and Kim Vogel Sawyer when I went to book signings. And that doesn't even count the hundreds of questions I've asked authors on social media or web pages. But in the end, it all comes down to this: "What happens next?" Don't you love it when a favorite book becomes a series? Isn't it great when the author includes an epilogue? In an author's mind, the story never ends. That's what I love about writing.
    Thanks again Chris. Looking forward to reading Under a Cloudless Sky.

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    1. Cindy, I love those questions!! How fun that you've gotten to ask a good many of them. :)

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    2. What great illustrations of EXACTLY what I'm talking about! Thanks, Cindy.

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  8. Wow, Chris! This is so thought-provoking! I have worried that people might see themselves in my books, but so far they haven't. I remember seeing an interview with an author who wrote about some famous people who were her friends in Hollywood, put them in a "fictionalized" story, and they didn't recognize themselves. She said people don't recognize themselves, especially if they're portrayed negatively. LOL! But I think those people were narcissists, so that's a little different.
    I have some characters in my books who have been inspired by people I know, but they're not exact replicas. I take what works for my story and change the parts that don't. The end result is not recognizable as the person who inspired that character.
    If I could ask a writer a question I'd ask Jane Austen . . . all the questions. So many questions! I'd ask her about her faith and if she ever wanted to be more direct about her characters' thoughts and feelings about God and the Bible, etc. I'd ask her how much her own experiences influenced her stories, and I'd especially ask her if anyone inspired Mr. Darcy! People claim he was Aspergers-y, but I don't see him that way at all. I'd like to ask her about that. Lots and lots of questions I'd like to ask her, about every one of her books!

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    1. Melanie, I love your questions, too!

      I just remembered one incident I used in a book that was partially taken from real life. But I asked my friend permission to use it, and changed it enough so it wasn't recognizable. It really added a lot of emotional punch to the story, I thought, because I had lived through the angst with her.

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  9. Now that I think about it . . . I have used incidents directly from experiences. No one ever knows, mainly because the people who committed the act would never read my book. LOL! Or I change the details so no one recognizes it. Mainly my writing is "inspired by" real people or incidents, loosely based, if you will, not exact re-enactments.

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    1. The very first book I wrote when I started back writing is almost more fact than fiction, a snapshot of my life. But I'd have to wait for some people to die before I could publish it. LOL!

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    2. Yep. That's sort of where I am with one too...
      No way at this point...

      But likely a story that would minister to others.

      BTW, Just finished Silent Songbird. WTG Melanie! And no wonder it won! Congrats again! :)

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    3. Melanie, I've had those type story ideas! They'll have to wait a few years. :)

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  10. CHRIS FABRY! In Seekerville!
    Woot!

    It was truly an honor to meet the man behind the voice and watch you in action at the 2017 Art of Writing Conference and Christy Award Gala in Nashville.

    From a bit of distance I watched you interact with my dear friend, Bev Schwind. What a joy!

    You are authentic and humble, so rare these days.

    Thank you for being here, and as per your usual, with a thought-provoking message. ;)

    Interesting aside on Pat Conroy. My Dad (veterinarian, now retired) had a client who nearly always brought a book to the waiting room. One day he asked her, "Why do you read Pat Conroy?"

    "Because he writes such beautiful sentences."

    It changed the way my Father viewed his own writing and he's pounded that idea into me too. :)

    I'm in agreement with what others have said, it's a fine line to include personal relationships, even if "the names have been changed to protect the innocent." (Did I just date myself?! HA!)

    Through middle grade adventure, I endeavor to offer hope and opportunity to kiddos, and prepare them for some of today's real world challenges too. As such, I've included some personal relationships but nearly all in a "pawsitive" light.

    Have toyed with several ideas for a more mature audience, which would lift the veil somewhat on negatives and how characters wrestle. But that's where those ideas sit so far. It surely takes courage! For now, it's not what God's calling me to do. I think.

    Surely with your deft handling of topics, those you know can trust you with aspects of their stories/character you choose to share. You've proven worthy of that trust on many occasions it seems. How precious of your Mom... They ARE extra-special!

    My question: When you tackle a project, are you mindful of audience impact and if so, how does that influence you as the author and the story you're creating?

    Congratulations on your successes in print, on film, on radio... May the Lord continue to bless your ministry, and you and your family of course! Was honored to meet some of them too!

    Thanks again for being here.

    (For some reason, Blogger showed it was published, but it's not visible. Operator error now doubt. /sigh/ Please delete if this is duplicated.)

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    2. Yes, I see your comment, KC! Thanks for stopping by. I think you're right about it taking courage to delve deeply.

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    3. Ok - definitely operator error.
      Figured out how to delete the duplicate.
      (Sorry!)

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    4. I think the "Bev" you mentioned above needs her own novel. What a character, what heart she has. I treasure the picture we had together "all dressed up." But your question is so good--how much do you think of the audience? I go back to the spoken word stories i heard as a child. WHen you sit in the kitchen and tell the joke/story/true event, you gauge the reaction of the person you're speaking with. I always want to be aware that someone is reading this and I'm not just writing in a vacuum. But I also don't want to listen to the voices that whisper, "Oh, don't have them say that, it's too mean." Or, "What will your mother think if your character does that?" Those voices can stifle the creation process. There is tension in all part of this endeavor--which spurs us on, of course.

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    5. Don't you know it, Chris.

      I want to be Bev when I grow up! But that's just it, right? She refuses to "grow up" and I admire that in a person. ;)

      Appreciate your answer to the question.

      That's true about spoken word stories and reactions as a starting point. Hadn't thought of it quite that way before.

      I've HEARD that voice you speak of! Do my best to keep her quiet with Freya hazelnut crunch chocolate until the idea is on the page though. HA!

      Thanks again!

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  11. Hi, Chris. I'm a big admirer of yours... and just picked up Under a Cloudless Sky at Barnes and Noble. Looking forward to reading it!

    My question to an author: have you ever experienced a friend distancing his or herself from you after publication of a novel and how did you react?

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    1. Great question, Elaine. THanks for finding my book, way in the back, in the religious fiction section which is about 2 shelves now. And that's if you can find a real bookstore. :(

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  12. Hello Chris and Seekers! Such a thought provoking post!

    Blessings!

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  13. I model a boy at church when I am writing a child into a story. He is one of those special kids that is so precocious and speaks his thoughts. I love him but he can be a challenge when teaching in Sunday School. I have his mother's permission to use him as a model. Some of the illustrations I use are exactly what happened in class. Others I can just picture him doing what I have the character doing.

    I have a deep secret I have kept for 45 years. Sometimes I really struggle with this but know if I sought counseling it could destroy family members so I plod on talking to the Lord and keeping it hidden. About a month ago I thought about writing a story around this secret, Not for publication but for a way of helping myself in dealing with it. As a way of counseling myself. So far I haven't written a word other than to come up with a title. I am so afraid if I write even under a different name that the secret will come out and destroy someone I love.

    What are your thoughts on this?

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    1. Wilani, that's such a tough place to be in. I'll pray that God directs you on what to do.

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    2. Prayers along with Missy.

      I've never kept a diary for just this reason. Not that there was anything in my younger life that would've destroyed family members but just the thought something would be misconstrued if shared or whatever.

      I'm a SUPER private person...

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    3. Wilani, look at what you did--you just shared that you have a secret that's been holding you back and even though you didn't tell us what it is, you've kind of put it out there. I love your heart that you don't want to hurt someone. But I also know that these kinds of secrets can shackle us and make us run in circles in life or be caged rather than flying. I like the line in Braveheart--William's father speaks to young William in a dream. "Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it." That, of course, can get you into a lawsuit. But it's worth considering how the hidden things can squelch or shackle. Proud of you for even going this direction--this personal reveal. Thank you.

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    4. Wilani, I've disguised a few of those secrets in stories that helped a great many people... And I wrote it in such a way that it wasn't obvious who it was about... and I put it in a totally different setting... and that story has blessed so many.

      BE of courage as you go. And even if you only write it for yourself, what wonderful therapy that could be.

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    5. Thanks for the encouragement. I ended up in the ER late afternoon into evening for an irregular heartbeat, They sent me home but it is flaring back up again. Hopefully it will settle down during the night. The Lord is so good and gives encouragement and strength.

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    6. Praying for your heart as well, Wilani!

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    7. Prayers for you, Wilani. So sorry.

      I don't know that all of Ruthy's stories have some of that... But the ones I've read do. And they blessed me for sure.

      Takes skill but if the Lord is bringing you to this, perhaps it's time to take the plunge. (Mind you, I'm likely pointing to myself as well.. YIKES!)

      Prayers for you. Keep us posted how ya are.

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  14. Chris, I wouldn't sacrifice a family member for my "art." Christian writing is different. I think we can mine the FEELINGS and emotions from something like a difficult past and use them. For example, my father was a perfectionist and I never quite measured up. The hero in my contemporary Christmas romance had a similar experience growing up and it scarred his adult life -- but he is not me, and his father is not my father. The heroine had a chaotic childhood and built a wall of perfection so nobody could get in -- but her wall is not my wall and she is not me. Writers need to mine the emotions and not the specifics, which is part of turning life into art so it can reflect life again. Or something like that. Anyway, it's not worth it to me. But that's just me, and that's fiction. Maybe the Lord is laying it on someone else's heart to write about past hurts or abuse that could make ripples in the family, but they're writing it to help someone else. This is just the way I've worked it out for me.
    Late to the party today, secular job, but great to be here even for a short time.
    KB

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    1. Great points, kaybee.

      And I like that concept: Mining. It fits.

      Enjoy the day job, that's a blessing too!

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    2. Well, I'm later to the party than you, kaybee. :) Thank you for sharing this.

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  15. Hope Blogger doesn't swallow this one. Pam, are you nearby? Can you help if it does?
    KB

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    1. I found it in spam! I just released it.

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  16. Chris, what a unique post! the whole idea of using people I know in my stories . . . I haven't come to the place in my writing where I had to worry about others seeing themselves in my stories. Mostly because very few people have read them.

    That said, I think I would not sacrifice a relationship for my art. The relationships I have are important to me. But, I can definitely see myself changing real-life situations to use them in my stories.

    You've given me a lot of food for thought today!

    And, your story sounds like a fascinating read!

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    1. I've often thought that perhaps God has protected me in some ways by keeping my stories/books from being bestsellers. If few read them, I'm not as much as risk. But that's my small mind/heart getting the way. If God wants me to write, why wouldn't I want more people to read what I write? Which gets back to the relationship thing, which seems to be really important. Thank you!

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  17. I just released some comments that were in spam from this week! Kathy, yours was in there.

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  18. Welcome, Chris, to Seekerville. Thank you for such an interesting post!

    Like you, I waited too long to ask questions of my favorite authors...Dick Francis and Essie Summers and Elizabeth Peters have all passed on. :(

    If I was going to frame a question to a current author I would ask Lee Child regarding his character Jack Reacher, "How did you create a hero who is basically a sociopath, and yet, readers root for him with a tenacity and fervor that borders on the rabid?"

    As to revealing family or friend secrets to secure a book or movie deal? No. Those secrets are not mine to tell. When faced with something like this, I have to ask myself if the roles were reversed, would I be 'the forgiving sort' if someone in my family wrote my secrets out for the world to read and profited from the telling?

    I feel that "For the sake my art" isn't an excuse to do whatever I want and expect folks to be fine with it.

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    1. Thoughtful answer and great question, Erica!

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    2. That's like the Jason Bourne question... why do we love the guy? And want to fix him??????

      We are whack jobs. (easy answer)

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    3. I've got tickets to see Lee Child in the spring. He's coming to Omaha. I'll see if there's a q & a, Erica. HEY! You should come down and go with me!!!

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  19. Hi, Chris! I was delighted to learn you'd be in Seekerville today. June Bug was my introduction to your wonderful stories, and I definitely need to do some catching up!

    This post really struck a chord with me. My work-in-progress, though fiction, explores difficult issues that began in childhood, and I find myself being cautious about drawing too much from what really happened for fear that certain readers might recognize parts of themselves.

    And yet, it's the emotion we bring to our fiction that makes it resonate with readers, so we travel a fine line. Maybe the key is to just write the story we need to write and then worry about disguising characters and facts during the revision phase.

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    1. Hi Myra! Oh, good old June Bug. I got that title in a writer's conference when I was doodling and the speaker was talking about sense memories and all of a sudden I remembered June bugs and smiled at the thought and then KNEW I had the title. I hear you on people recognizing themselves--and yet, if you don't write it true and to the heart, you don't really connect. It's the specificity of the lives you're painting that ring true with readers and I'm always afraid if I hold back that some of the impact will be stunted. Hope you dive in and tell things well and deeply!

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    2. Myra, I think it could be good to write it all out without censoring yourself at all. Then go back and make it so others can read it.

      I really hope the story goes well for you.

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    3. Ding ding ding!

      Agreed. Prayers as you walk the fine line.

      (This discussion today is SO encouraging to me. Thanks all)

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  20. Welcome to Seekerville, Chris. This was such an interesting post. Most of my stories have memories from my childhood sprinkled throughout, as well things I remember my grandmother saying and doing.
    My question to an author would be if they enjoy writing as much now as a published author, as they did prior to getting their book out into the world.
    I enjoyed your recent visit to Southern Writers...you're making your rounds! Congratulations on your release...it sounds like a great story.

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    1. Such an insightful question, Jill. What you're getting at is whether or not the yearning inside to write and be published is still there when a published author sits down again. In those early years, I had no earthly idea if anything I wrote was any good. Was worth anything. And when I finally was published I wondered why the publishers had such bad taste--couldn't they see I didn't have any talent? And then you start to believe you have some talent and can string a sentence together and a paragraph and then a whole story. So now I sit down to write and I don't think as much about whether or not I'm good enough, I just wonder if I can call up the good stuff or if it's the bad that will come out. I get a lot of joy out of a well-written chapter--the dialog in chapter 27 between Hollis and Juniper--I went downstairs after that and said to my wife, "I don't know that I can write a better piece of dialog than what I just put down." I was really moved by it. I had that kind of joy early on as a child. It's still there when I paint these words well. Sorry to go on so long.

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  21. Chris, such a delightful post! Under the Cloudless Sky sounds intriguing. I'm sure I'd love to read Ruby's story. Will introduce it to my book club, as well.

    I haven't written stories about my family, but I have -- in my earlier writing days -- included nationally known figures in tales. Of course, those stories are buried in an old computer and will never see the light of day.

    So glad you could be with us today. Wishing you continued success in your writing and ministry!

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    1. Very kind of you, Debby. Hey, your name reminds me of a Pittsburgh Pirate named Dave Giusti. I always thought that was such a great name.

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    2. Same spelling but different pronunciation...and no relation! :)

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  22. You know, I have so many secrets...I'm like a VAULT!!!!
    The only ones I'd tell are about.........she-who-shall-remain-nameless. And I've killed her off in a couple of books.
    I have no doubt at all she never reads my books....and she doesn't have enough insight into herself that she'd ever recognize the character as her.

    Which gives me a lot of freedom.

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    1. LOL! Love it, Mary! I have a FEW of those people from my past.

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    2. Ha1 I have a few of those in my life, too. :)

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    3. Mary, now you have me curious! haha

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    4. Typical Mary, which is why we enjoy her stories so. :)

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  23. But for the most part the people I know just aren't crazy enough to be in books.

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    1. I wish I could share some with you, Mary! LOL

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  24. As for asking a question of a favorite author........wow. I got to talk to Francine Rivers once. But I didn't ask her questions. I gushed. (missed opportunity there)

    But I do have a lot of questions for my grandma...who's been gone now for 35 years and, I could have asked them of my dad...who passed away in 2002.

    My mom can't answer them. Stuff about my grandma and grandpa's love story. They had a weird relationship that might make a great book. I've already done that with my other set of grandparents who also had a weird love story. Why did I always know about one set of grandparents...how them met and married...but not the other set.
    It makes me wonder if it was just routine and boring....or really mysterious!!! (bet I could make it mysterious)

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  25. I've actually got tickets to a Lee Child speech in Omaha in the spring. I can try and ask him questions if you want me to, Erica.

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    1. Yes, please, Mary. And record it, and breathe his air, and get his autograph for me!

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  26. I would probably ask J.R.R. Tolkien where he got his ideas for all the various races in Middle Earth, I know he got lots of ideas from mythology (mainly Nordic) and the idea of the Sheeloob from when he was bit as a lad, but what about the orcs and such?

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    1. Have just started reading King's Folly, a Christy nominated book and was thinking along YOUR lines too.

      Where did she come up with this world and situations, characters, races...

      Same with Legend of the Guardian King. Just amazing.

      Maybe we can assemble in Heaven and ask Tolkien some day? And Lewis!

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  27. Hope it's okay to share this? The Great Expectations contest has extended the deadline through midnight tonight. They’re one contemporary entry short of it making a category so they extended the deadline for ALL categories.

    http://ntrwagreatexpectations.blogspot.com

    Nancy C

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  28. Delightful post, Chris! My concern has always been people thinking I'm writing about them when I'm not :-)

    But oh my, to ask a favorite author a question. I think if I had the chance I would ask if they enjoy writing as much after being published as they did before. I've often wondered if it becomes more of a job, so to speak.

    Thanks for your post!

    Nancy C

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    1. Nancy, no one has ever asked me that! I had to let go of that fear early on. It's important to be fearless when you write, so give yourself permission not to worry about this. That's my advice, even though you weren't asking for advice. Sorry! :-)

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    2. What I meant was, no one ever asked me if I was writing about them in one of my books. Sorry! I'll be quiet now! LOL!

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    3. Loved your replies, Melanie! :-D Thanks!
      Nancy C

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    4. Maybe it's success that makes it a job. Maybe if you don't become a success and struggle, you're better off. Or, perhaps success gives you the opportunity to write what you really want.

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  29. Okay, since I'm a reader and not a writer....I'd be too busy fan-girling and gushing over meeting any of my authors to be cohesively forming any questions, lol! IF...and it's a big IF...I even had the courage to approach them that is ;-)

    Seriously, I have no idea what I would ask them....maybe how they got started writing, if there was anyone who inspired them along the way, who supported them and played a big part in their writing career, what kind of research did they do in their books, what's the best thing about writing & the worst. I mean, I could go on I suppose! LOL...I think writers are fascinating :-)

    I think Ruthy hit the nail on the head when she said that they are just normal people like you and I. That would surprise me....really! Because writers are huge in my world :-) That's just my take in it anyway!

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  30. Chris, I'm sorry I never did get back by this afternoon. I had a family commitment and then Wednesday night activities at church. Thank you so much for visiting with us!

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  31. Hmmmm... yes, this is thought provoking. My first reaction to your first question was "Of course not. Not if it would hurt someone." But then I read Ruthy's comment about changing the story so it wouldn't be recognized and decided that yes, if I were capable of doing that, I just might.

    As for your second question, I wouldn't get to ask them anything...I'd be too tongue tied ha!

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  32. I so appreciated this honest and thought provoking post, Chris, as I do your writing and unique voice--always a great pleasure to read. I feel I could meet your characters in town and know them.

    Your thoughts reminded me of something I never expected in my own writing:
    Often I have taken experiences from life as springboards--for emotions or events in stories. Rarely do people "see" themselves, especially those who've been cruel or unkind. Though I've never shared their real life events, I've often garnered the hurt left in their wake to show what that kind of hurt looks like. There are, after all, villains in our stories and we write best what we know.

    That being said, I was once astonished when someone I love and deeply respect backed away from me for a time. When I finally asked this person why, they replied that they were hurt that I'd told their secret in a book and they were certain readers would recognize them and their secret would be exposed for all the world to see and judge. I was astonished. I didn't know what they were talking about--which book? What secret? When they explained to me I assured them that was not them--it was me, not in the circumstances I'd written, but in the emotions of the character. The only thing that I'd taken from their life was something very complimentary and redeeming in the quality of that character. Once I explained, our relationship healed. But it was truly enlightening for me. Readers bring what they know and have experienced to stories they read, just as writers bring what we know and have experienced to our writing.

    There are stories I hope to write one day that include some details from my family--not for the sake of art, but because I believe my family member's experience will resonate with readers and be truly helpful. Yet, I know I will not tell those stories until those family members pass for desire not to hurt them in any way. Their stories are truly redeeming, but like all of us, they may not see the beauty of their actions or even the redemption their journey can bring others for their pain in that journey.
    There are questions I'd love to ask writers long dead--Victor Hugo is one and I loved that you mentioned him! I'd also love to have a good natter with Charles Dickens and Mark Twain on issues of social justice, how they wove stories through and around them, and how much they took from personal relationships to pen their stories.

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

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    1. Wow.

      Isn't that something?

      As others have mentioned about waiting until people pass to write X or Y, me too. This post has encouraged me to not toss out the idea completely but to let it wait.

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  33. Interesting post, Chris. I'm not sure I can think of a question I would ask my favorite author. As for characters, I have loosely based characters on people I know, but if I were going to use a relative's story, I think I would ask them first. That is, IF I thought they'd be apt to read the book. Or that someone else might recognize them and mention it to that person.

    Okay, let's just put things on a case-by-case basis. :)

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  34. I really can't think of a question but I suddenly realized that once it is known that you've written a book your story will be open to serious scrutiny by those who know you. Is that character me? Is that the way I acted when....? Do I really affect people that way?
    Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

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