Friday, October 04, 2013

How Much of Your Story is Real? (Podcast #5)

OR -

As a guest in a podcast recently, I was asked these questions about my mysteries:

1) Are you Carolina Slade?
2) Is your husband Wayne Largo?
3) Is there a real Savvy Conroy?
4) How much of Lowcountry Bribe is real? (same for Tidewater Murder)
5) Were you ever drawn into compromising situations like your protagonist?
6) Are these real cases?
7) Did you ever investigate real murders?

For those of you who have not read my mysteries, Carolina Slade is the lady of the day in all the books, and she investigates criminal activity within the US Department of Agriculture's purview. Not your standard profession or setting. She has children, which makes  her life even messier. Messy is good in a mystery. The more the better.

But back to the interview. The host hit on many questions that attempted to delve into whether my books were nonfiction spun as fiction, and how much of my life was I entwining in these stories. She asked more than usual, as if trying to make me admit, "Yes, I'm Carolina Slade, and this is my life!"


Why? Because by people asking these questions, they've shown their hand. They are drawn into the details, setting, plot and characters. It all fit together well enough to feel realistic with the lines blurred between fact and fiction. They wonder how much I made up and how much I experienced, and they want to recognize the difference. When a line of questioning goes that far, I want to say, GOTCHA.

This particular interviewer tried harder than most. This is how I answered the questions:

1) Are you Carolina Slade? Carolina Slade and I have a lot in common and we've traveled similar paths. I was involved in a bribery investigation. It got a bit dangerous. It was stressful. It went awry. But there were no bodies.

2) Is your husband Wayne Largo? My husband says he is NOT Wayne Largo, but I modeled a few traits after his, whether he admits it or not. We DID meet on a bribery investigation. Yes, it was crazy. And I still love it when someone asks HIM for an autograph.

3) Is there a real Savvy Conroy? Savvy Conroy is alive and well, and this character is as close to being a real person than any of the characters in all the books. The real Savvy loves her character.

4) How much of Lowcountry Bribe is real? (same for Tidewater Murder) Some of Lowcountry Bribe is real. The bribery was that catalyst for the tale, but of course, the book takes the facts and spins them into the gold and silver threads of fiction that make stories so rich. Tidewater Murder, however, is pure, unadulterated fiction from the recesses of my little brain.

5) Were you ever drawn into compromising situations like your protagonist? I was faced with several bribes, but only reported one. Nope, I never accepted money, just sent them packing with a scolding . . . except for the one which pushed me to call in the badges, the Inspector General. Federal employees who deal with money, approvals and inspections of any kind will eventually be approached by both ill sorts and naïve individuals who don't realize they are crossing a line. We are taught when to say no, and when to call in the federal agents. Both can get messy. Nothing in life is black and white.

6) Are these real cases? Lowcountry Bribe involves a bribe, but the cases evolved in different directions. I did not want to use the exact case, plus the fiction case was much more wild and fun. I worked several cases, and my husband worked many cases. Between the two of us, we use real situations to glean ideas from which I make up cases for my  books.

7) Did you ever investigate real murders? No, I did not. My position, like Slade's, involved administrative investigations. When I sensed cases crossed the line into criminal activity, my orders were to stop and call in the real badges and guns. Death is uncommon in the Department of Agriculture, at least amongst its employees, though there are odd situations with clients, livestock, politicians and more!

When you can suspend people in your story, giving them enough realism to give them pause, give an arm-pumping YEAH and feel proud. You want that more than anything else in your efforts as a writer. So when someone asks you, "Where do you get your ideas," and you can find a way to say "I got the idea from something in my life," be prepared. If the line of questioning delves off on a tangent, with the questioner itching to know where the real and the fake meet, then you were successful.

Regardless the genre (sci-fi, romance, mystery, fantasy, children's, thriller, literary) if you can insert your life in a part of it, the story not only becomes more alive to the reader, but to you as well. You feel woven more into the words, and that emotional connection comes across to the reader.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope--Not only does it become more "real" to the writer when they embed their characters with the writer's characteristics and struggles, but it can also be a way to "work out" some issues. And then, writing becomes a healing process.

Thanks for posting the questions and your answers. I didn't have time to listen to the podcast this morning--have to do some prep work for my 3rd grade students--but I will this evening.

Hope Clark said...

Yes, and I did accomplish that in my stories as well. Better than any doctor. Thanks, Sioux.