Writers’ experiences turn into stories

While most fiction is not factually true, it contains bits and pieces of the author’s experiences. Those pieces are usually well disguised, meaning that they probably aren’t recognizable to readers who were there when they happened.

Many Glacier Hotel appeared in "The Sun Singer," "The Seeker" and "Emily's Stories."

Many Glacier Hotel appeared in “The Sun Singer,” “The Seeker” and “Emily’s Stories.”

Long-time readers of this blog know, for example, that my novel The Sun Singer takes its name from the sun singer statue in Allerton Park, Illinois. Like my protagonist, I saw that statue and felt a psychic connection to it when I was a child. The novel is set in Glacier National Park where I worked as a seasonal employee.

Some of my experiences in the mental health field made their way into my Kindle short story ‘Moonlight and Ghosts,” things that happened in and around me while I was growing up in Florida ended up in my novella Conjure Woman’s Cat, and experiences aboard an aircraft carrier ended up in my novel The Sailor.  So did my experiences in a sailor town bar, written about in the post I Knew Suzie Wong.

I’m certain that most writers do this. Usually, it’s nothing earth shaking like being a spy and then writing a novel about being a spy.

Most people went to the park for the beach. Even so, most of the park was woods and high grass.

Most people went to the park for the beach. Even so, most of the park was woods and high grass.

For example, when I lived in the small town of Zion, Illinois on the shore of Lake Michigan, we heard on the local news that two kids were missing in Illinois Beach State Park. My landlord and I joined many other volunteers and swept through many areas of the park in long lines of people.

We found nothing. Later, the teams split up and many went home, but Brian and I continued to look. We drove up to the main staging area late in the evening and found out that both children were dead, having drowned in a small lake.

This had a huge impact on me, though I never knew until now how to put it into a story. Now, bits and pieces of it are appearing in my work in progress.

Personal experiences are such a treasure trove to the novelist, for s/he not only has the factual details, but the emotional highs and lows s/he and others felt while the real life moments were unfolding.

Almost everything I write has a personal component: a re-purposed experience, a character who has traits in common with a real person I knew, or a setting I know well. Yet none of my stories are historically true because everything is turned upside down and inside out before it gets to the printed page.

But they are all true in spirit.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novella with a character named Eulalie who has traits in common with a real-life lady named Flora.