By Tim Smith
Did I ever tell you about my career in government service? I worked in the intelligence community, and one of my assignments had me going undercover to infiltrate a cartel in Cartagena, Colombia. My investigation helped close down a major drug pipeline. If I divulged more than that, I’d have to kill you.
If you believed any of that, we should play poker some time. Actually, some parts are based on fact. I did work in government service, but as a case manager for adults with disabilities. I gained some detailed knowledge of drugs, but they were prescribed by a psychiatrist. And I did conduct investigations, but they usually involved allegations of abuse, neglect or theft.
We all include little bits of our lives or personal experiences into our stories whether we realize it or not. I know I’m guilty of it. I may not use an experience for an entire story or book, but I’ll often drop in something that happened once upon a time. It could be anything from a brief encounter with someone, to a conversation I had or an incident during one of my travels. It keeps things real.
When I create a lead character, I tend to weave my personal beliefs and morals into their fabric. Someone once said “We are all the heroes of our own stories.” I live my life vicariously through my fictional characters because they get to do the things I can’t. My former spy Nick Seven lives in the Florida Keys with his Barbadian lover, Felicia, and owns a waterfront bar and restaurant. He gets involved in adventures that are straight out of my overactive imagination. My private eye hero Vic Fallon does the same thing. He meets interesting people, many of them attractive females, and gets to play the tough guy with a conscience, ala Peter Gunn or Mannix. Those are very far removed from my own mundane existence.
Sometimes, an incident may happen to me and I’ll play the “What if…” game. I’m reminded of the 60s sitcom “Get Smart.” When Mel Brooks and Buck Henry pitched the concept, they said “What if James Bond and Inspector Clouseau had a child together?” The result was bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart. I used that ploy when I wrote “Mistletoe and Palm Trees.” I had taken a vacation to Florida alone because my traveling companion had to cancel at the last minute. I thought “What if a guy went to the Keys by himself because his girlfriend dumped him and he meets a woman who is there under similar circumstances?” Lo and behold, I had a story concept.
My last failed marriage and the adjustments I had to make to being newly single became fodder for a couple of stories. In “Anywhere the Heart Goes,” I did an exploratory of a divorced middle-aged guy trying to cope with modern dating. “Who Gets the Friends?” was practically a blow-by-blow of my own experiences when many of my so-called friends stopped taking my calls after the divorce. I’ve also explored the cliched gal-that-got-away theme a few times.
Some of the previous posts on this topic revealed that I’m not the only erotic romance writer who has endured the question “How much of those sex scenes are based on your personal experiences?” Being a private person by nature, my first instinct is to say “None of your damned business!” Instead, I seized the opportunity to create a little air of mystique. I’ve found that a grin and a wink can go a long way when that question arises. I have to admit, though, that it gets tricky when the person asking the question actually knows you. I’ve had awkward encounters when a female friend reads one of my sizzling scenes then gives me funny looks the next time we meet.
There have been occasions when something seemingly insignificant ended up as a story idea. I was lunching at a waterfront restaurant once and noticed some strange activity going on with a yacht that was docked nearby. It was probably nothing, but my crafty devious mind concocted a wild story about why the servers from the restaurant took food for four people to the yacht, but I could only see three. Who was the person inside the cabin with the curtains closed? Were they sick, or in the country illegally? Was it a celebrity hiding from their fans or the press? The possibilities were endless. And yes, I did use that one.
I’ve discovered that writing fictional adventures can be not only a good stress reliever, but therapeutic when dealing with personal demons and trauma. Writers tend to draw on personal experiences and channel them into what their characters are going through. There’s a lot of real-life emotion to use in those scenarios, and in my case, it helped me to cope by imposing it on my characters. If I couldn’t come up with a solution to the problem, maybe they could.
Living your life through your character’s fictional lives might not be a bad thing.