Every writer has been asked the question, “How much of what you write comes from personal experience?” I’d be willing to wager that romance writers get asked this more often than, say, writers of spy thrillers. Further money gets laid on erotic romance or erotica writers getting asked this exponentially more frequently, especially by people who want to date them. Just saying…mention on your OKArmedCherub profile that you write romance or erotica and see how many “have u ever done a 3some?” emails you get.
Author interviews are full of people saying that very little or none of what they write about comes from their personal experience. That it’s all imagination or research or divinely inspired after sacrificing a pile of Doritos to the Cheese Product God in the Sky. And I believe them.
This is a good answer. Cool. I could roll with that. And did.
When asked “How much of this comes from your experience?”, I was happy to shout, “Nothing! It’s all made up!”
This is totally not true.
TONS of what I write comes from my personal experience. I may have chopped it up into such itty bitty pieces that no one who witnessed them would recognize the moments I’ve stolen, but it’s everywhere and I can see it, all the time.
Correction: I usually see it.
I worked in bars and restaurants for years and I use details from that industry all over the place. Whether it’s knowing how to pour a proper pint of Guinness or what a pain in the ass it is to get lipstick prints off martini glasses or what it’s like to make out on a co-worker’s lap in a dark, deserted bar an hour after close when your feet hurt and your back aches but you just can’t keep your hands off each other in a kind of survivor’s surge of energy, I’ve put all of that in books.
In my release from last week, CALLING HIS BLUFF, Sarah’s not-so-secret love of all things Vegas and poker comes directly from the time after my parents’ divorce. For several years, the weekends that my brother, sister, and I spent with my dad took place at his parents’ home. My Grandpa Ed taught us how to play blackjack and seven card stud, that roulette is a game for suckers, and to always wear a watch in Vegas because they don’t have any clocks. He drew a craps table on a piece of poster board and taught us how to shoot dice while telling us stories of high stakes poker games in the boxcar that transported the horses from his cavalry days. “Jacks or better to open” is still my favorite rule on poker night. Putting in even a little bit of my grandpa’s joy in card-playing into CALLING HIS BLUFF made me happy beyond words.
Sometimes I straight up grab events from stories I’ve been told. There’s a scene in that CALLING HIS BLUFF where Sarah and J.D. attempt to rescue kittens from a narrow flooding crack between two buildings during a thunderstorm that was stolen from the lives of my old bosses at a karaoke bar. As soon as I heard that story from them, years ago, I thought, “I am so putting that in a book.”
I’m putting the acrylic sweaters with animal faces that friends of mine bought over the holidays on a trio of dart throwers in the background of a lesbian bar in an upcoming novella and I hope they will read it and smile when they recognize that detail.
And yes, I do occasionally wonder if someone from my past will shoot me an email after reading one of my books and ask, “So, when she/he does that naked thing/makes that dirty move in bed/on the floor/in the car, did you get that from us?”
I think I’d be honest enough to say, Yes.
I mean, it was a helluva move in real life. Just the memory of it gets me all squirmy. How could I not put that in a book?
But occasionally I do catch myself off guard.
I was deep in edits on CALLING HIS BLUFF when I realized that the hero’s name, J.D., was the same as the nickname of one of my exes. I never actually called the ex J.D., although I knew people who did. But it still made me giggle when I spotted that.
I was more jaw-dropping WTF and less giggly when I realized, weeks later, that J.D. and my eponymous ex are both photographers.
The hero is both named after my ex and pursues the same vocation?
Apparently I had some issues I needed to work out. In print. For everyone to read.
And of course my ex was not a wildly successful Hollywood documentary photographer who I’d crushed on in my formative years because he was my brother’s best friend, BUT STILL…
Sometimes my brain decides to use these details without going through the trouble of alerting me in advance.
By far the largest portion of what I write does come from my imagination. Or research. Or that Dorito Deity. But enough of it comes from me, from my life, that I’m only beginning to realize how lucky I am that I didn’t really get going as a writer until I was thirty. Because if I’d spent my twenties sitting at a table in front of a laptop for twelve or sixteen hours a day like I do now, I would have missed out on many of these random details and fascinating characters. And the smexy stuff.
Let’s not forget the smexy.
*I lose track of time for a while…*
So tell me, writers. How much of what you write is made up? How much is borrowed from that thing you did with that guy behind the Amoco station when you were nineteen? Am I just an oddball? (This would not be unexpected.) Am I right to be worried that I am spending less time living my life these days than I am writing about someone else’s? Is my ex ever going to pick up CALLING HIS BLUFF and ask me why I never did that in the shower with him?
Or is this all just too embarrassing for words?