There’s a saying that goes, “Write what you know.” Since PERIL: Fast Track Thriller #1 is my first novel, and it’s easier to show something you’ve actually experienced than to make it up or do the research to recreate it, I found myself coming back to this adage many times.
Below is a list of items in PERIL that came from my own experiences. The actual text from PERIL is in quotes.
Photo by Bill Longshaw
1) Joanne experienced a severe accident years before this story takes place. Because I was also in a severe accident many years ago, I included in Joanne’s story some specifics from my own accident.
a) “Her screams had been so long and hard that her throat had become raw. By the time the paramedics arrived, sound no longer came out. “
(Before the ambulance arrived at the scene of my accident, I was in so much pain from my many injuries that I screamed and screamed until my throat was so raw that no more sound came out.)
b) “I found out later that Aunt Jean called my mom right after the hospital notified my parents about the accident. Aunt Jean said she’d sensed a great need to pray for her sister’s family right around the time I was in the ER.”
(This is exactly what happened on the night of my accident, except my aunt’s name is LaVerne.)
c) “It’s considered a ‘dirty wound.’ It needs to heal from the inside out to keep from becoming infected.”
(The wound from one of the many surgeries after my accident was considered a dirty wound. The doctor didn’t stitch it up or staple it. It was covered, and nurses washed it out several times a day with hydrogen peroxide, but they left it open so it would heal from the inside out.)
Photo by renjith krishnan
2) When I needed a minor character to suffer from a serious illness, I decided to give him the same illness my dad suffered through. That way I could add first-hand experience into the story to make it more realistic (and save me a lot of time researching).
a) “An unnatural stillness blanketed the room as Joanne took a seat next to Neil. Padded chairs lined walls hung with large pictures, and a selection of magazines littered several end tables. But the subtle differences thickened her throat. Everyone sat in pairs: the patients next to the loved ones who were suffering from—maybe dying from—their illness. Those who spoke did so in the hushed tones used at a funeral home.”
(This is the feeling I had when I accompanied my parents to any of dad’s doctor appointments.)
b) “It gave her the creeps to sit near people who had poison dripping into their veins, even if it was a type of poison created to harm the cancerous cells more than the noncancerous ones.”
(This is exactly the thought I had when I sat next to my dad during a couple of his chemo treatments.)
Photo by Suzanne Hartmann
3) For four years, I volunteered with Midwest Raceway Ministries at Gateway International Speedway just outside of St. Louis for the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series races. The following activities are things I saw crew members do at the track at one race or another.
a) “As they walked down pit road, Joanne pointed toward two crew members in bright yellow firesuits tossing a football back and forth while the rest of their crew lined up next to their car.”
b) “In the blue and yellow car behind it, a tall crew member had one leg in the car and one leg out as he helped push his team’s car forward.”
4) As I wrote PERIL, a few miscellaneous opportunities came up to include various occurrences from my own experience.
a) Because I have homeschooled my children since they were in kindergarten, I am familiar with that lifestyle and the typical behavior of homeschooled children, so I made Joanne, one of the main characters, a homeschool mom.
b) “Pain crowded her consciousness, but she pushed aside the black dots that swarmed at the edges of her vision.”
(I have passed out due to pain several times. Each time, black dots of varying sizes started at the edge of my vision. They grew and multiplied until I could see nothing, then I passed out. One time I was able to hold the process off briefly until I reached my room and could collapse on my bed.)
c) “Stuart began to tell her about his only experience on an Air Force base—an air show his father took him to when he was young—”
(In spite of having lived only a half hour from Scott Air Force Base, the only time I’ve ever been there was once in college with a friend for the annual air show.)
d) “I’ll even make my special half-white/half-wheat pancakes for breakfast in the morning.”
(At one point, my family decided that we should grind our own wheat and use it to make bread in our bread machine. My husband also created his own special recipe for pancakes made of half white flour and half wheat flour. They were delicious!)
e) “It felt like the time he’d taken a bite of what he thought was pistachio pudding, only to discover it was lime instead.”
(Something similar to this happened when my mom gave me a new mixture of some type of jello salad to try, but I thought she was handing me ice cream. When the actual flavor registered and conflicted with what I thought I was getting, my brain was so mixed up that the first bite tasted like soap!)
Until I started writing, I never really thought about whether authors included their own experiences in their writing. I just assumed that since it was a work of fiction, everything in it was fictitious. Now I know how much flavor and reality personal experience can add to a story and as I read, I wonder sometimes—especially when I read a particularly poignant part—if that could possibly be something the author experienced.