Write What You Know? By Lois Winston

(Originally appeared on Fresh Fiction Blog – March 10, 2008)

“Where do you get your story ideas?”

“Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know?”

The above are the two most frequently asked questions I hear from readers. The third most frequently asked question is, “How do you research your sex scenes?” This question is never asked by someone who has read my books, always asked by a male, and usually is asked each year at my husband’s company Christmas party. The question is always preceded by over-imbibing on the part of the buffoon asking the question (usually to the embarrassment of the long-suffering wife at his side) and is always followed by a wink-wink, nudge-nudge from said buffoon. Depending on my mood, I will either glare, scowl, look down my nose at the fool (not an easy task for this vertically challenged writer,) or offer his wife a sympathetic eye roll.

But I digress (Can you blame me? What are those dimwits thinking???)

Anyway, there’s a writing axiom that states, write what you know. To some extent this is a sound guideline to follow, but it’s also extremely limiting. I have a very good friend who writes stories populated with vampires, werewolves, selkies, and other assorted weird creatures of the paranormal world. My friend is neither a vampire, a werewolf, nor a selkie, and I have it on good authority that she’s never met any such creatures, either. So obviously this very successful author is not writing what she knows from first-hand experience.

In LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION I wrote about secrets and revenge and the lengths some people will go in order to bury the former and achieve the latter. The plot is ripe with scandal. Drugs. Violence. Blackmail. Political machinations. Attempted murder. My heroine is a wealthy widow whose abusive, cocaine-snorting, deceased husband was about as low as a low-life can get.

Write what you know?

Hmm…I’ve never done drugs (sinus and headache meds don’t count), never blackmailed anyone, never tried to kill anyone, never been involved in politics except to vote, and my husband is the complete opposite of my heroine’s husband. The guy even still helps me on with my coat and opens doors for me after all these years! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m also far from wealthy. Very far. As a matter of fact, if the economy doesn’t pick up soon, I may be facing retirement living in a cardboard box, but at least I’ll have my darling husband to keep me warm.

So no, the characters in LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION are neither based on me nor anyone I know, and the story line is far from autobiographical. However, some of the plot lines in the book are loosely based on actual events, just not ones involving me.

I get my ideas for my characters and my plots from the world around me. I’m a die-hard news junkie who has always believed that truth is stranger than fiction. That belief is reaffirmed every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. I’ll hear a news byte or read an article, then give the event a “what if” spin. The voices in my head take over from there, and the next thing I know, I’ve got the plot for another book.

I do have a confession to make, though. In TALK GERTIE TO ME, Connie, my heroine’s mother, develops an outrageous craft project involving plaster of Paris and a certain body part (No, not that body part! My, you all have dirty minds!) Many years ago I knew a woman who came up with the idea and wanted to demonstrate it on The Tonight Show. Unfortunately, Johnny Carson’s people weren’t interested. But in TALK GERTIE TO ME (with proper credit being given to the creator of the concept on the acknowledgements page,) David Letterman’s people are. Connie winds up demonstrating the craft on Late Night, using a certain sexy movie star from Down Under as her guinea pig assistant.

Write what you know? Hmm…to some extent — with a little help from those voices in my head.

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Award-winning author Lois Winston writes humorous, cross-genre, contemporary novels and romantic suspense. She often draws upon her extensive experience as an artist and crafts designer for much of her source material. When not writing or designing, you can find Lois trudging through stacks of manuscripts as she hunts for diamonds in the slush piles for the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com.

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