Dana Fredsti (pictured here with her best friend and partner in crime, Maureen Anderson) is the author of MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon. Dana shares with us some insights into using your real life in one of your books.
Dana says, "Write about what you know. It’s almost a cliché when it comes to writing advice. Don’t try to write about running off to join the circus if the closest you’ve ever been to one is seeing Cirque de Soleil on Pay-Per-View. It’s good, sound advice unless you’re one of those writers who does enough hard research and has the talent to realistically recreate all the necessary details of a place/time/situation he/she has never experienced. Or if you’re writing fantasy and have the imagination to create an entire world out of whole cloth. Barbara Hambly comes to mind as an example of a writer who can do both as demonstrated by her Benjamin January mysteries set in 1800’s New Orleans and seven equally engaging fantasy series, not to mention a slew of stand-alone novels.
You’ll also hear truth is stranger than fiction. You know, the type of stuff that shows up in News of the Weird or the Darwin Awards. Or things that piss a person off, like, “Woman is awarded great flipping wodges of cash for spilling hot coffee on herself while driving.” Incidents that really happen, but if you try putting them in a screenplay or novel, the inevitable reaction is, “Well, that would never happen!”
If you’ve read my bio either on my website or at Elysabeth’s Emerald City you’ll know the inspiration for MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon (henceforth referred to as MFH) was my experiences as co-writer/director/producer and actor in an actual theater group called, coincidentally, Murder for Hire, founded by myself and my best friend Maureen Anderson. Maureen was also my co-author on the first draft of MFH. We used our actors and clients as templates for the bulk of the other characters, creating a couple from scratch to fill in the gaps where needed. We wrote that draft in about a month, alternating chapters and POVs between “Connie” and “Daphne,” thinly disguised versions of the two of us.
It’s easy to write quickly when a: you pull incidents out of real life and b: you’re at the age and mentality where you believe everything that comes out of your pen (did I mention the first draft was written long-hand?) is pure gold. It’s not, however, necessarily conducive to a realistic story when the authors are so enamored with using quirks, incidents and you-had-to-be-there moments they won’t consider changing them or taking them out if they don’t serve the plotline and characters. Some of them DID work, mind you. Those that did made it into the 2nd through 6th and final draft. Those that didn’t (a reference to donuts making Daphne’s butt ache, for instance) were excised for the good of the book and of humanity. It only took five years or so for me to acquire the necessary objectivity to do so.
Another issue when writing the first draft was our inability to separate ourselves from the lead characters. I WAS Connie and Maureen WAS Daphne. When I say “thinly disguised” versions of ourselves, I’m talking rice paper thin. Rice paper that’s been gone over with a steamroller a few times. No separation of church and state here, folks! I have vivid memories of writing sessions where the conversation went much like this:
Me: “Dude, Connie would never say that. And she wouldn’t wear pink.”
Maureen: “Well, dude, Daphne would never wear jeans. I’m sorry. She just wouldn’t. And I don’t mean, Daphne doesn’t use margarine!”
Me: “Well, CONNIE wouldn’t let some actor get away with…”
And many more variations on those themes.
In our desire to use every actor we’d ever worked with on every show, the first draft had way too many characters. The reader would need a flow chart to keep track of them so in subsequent rewrites I took out some and combined others. Grant, originally Daphne’s boyfriend, now became Connie’s to add more tension and to clear the field for other things I wanted to add. Based on feedback from encouraging rejection letters I added red herrings and more active sleuthing. The percentage of fiction slowly overtook that of fact.
But the hardest thing I encountered when I went solo on MFH and rewrote the whole thing from my, I mean, CONNIE’S point of view, was taking a huge step back from all the characters based on real people (especially Connie) and figuring out what real life quirks worked for each one and discarding those that didn’t. Once I’d gotten the point where I could say Connie is a character. Connie is loosely based on me. She can do and say stupid things and I won’t feel bad the next day. Bad things can happen to her and it’s not me and really MEAN it, I was able to write a much more effective and (so I’ve been told) scary and disturbing climax. Although some of it still makes my mom cringe.
Bottom line, if you’re writing a book and want to base characters on people in your life (ESPECIALLY yourself), unless you’re writing an autobiography, get over yourself and get on with the story!"
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I hope you all enjoyed the glimpse Dana has given us into the life of a book. When you read MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon, Dana's comments will have even more meaning (and will make you laugh even more.)
Buy MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon
Here is Dana’s WEBSITE.
Go to each of the tour stops and leave a comment within three days of Dana’s posts and increase your chances at winning a free copy of Murder for Hire. Dana is giving away three copies of her book to people who comment. The winners are randomly chosen from all of the people who leave comments.
This is the tour schedule.
Sun, Jan 20th - Elysabeth’s
Mon, Jan 21st - Blog Book Tours
Tue, Jan 22nd - Kat’s Random Thoughts
Wed, Jan 23rd - The Chrysalis Stage
Thu, Jan 24th - Blaize Clement
Fri, Jan 25th - Pointless Drivel
Sat, Jan 26th - Redzilla Attacks!