Monday, July 06, 2015

Query Question: I've drawn from my own experiences; should I say so?

Can I write in a query that some of my book is based on personal experience?
My main character is a single mother with severe social anxiety, who moves to a new city with her autistic daughter who doesn't talk and their live-in nanny. The daughter is a younger version of my daughter, who is autistic and communicates through baby signs, memorized phrases/song lyrics, and sometimes remembers she has picture cards.
The mother and her struggles with social anxiety is based on me and what I've been through (although when my baby-sitter said she was going to grad school in a different state, I resigned myself to never leaving the house again rather than moving ... I'm only half-kidding. I still have to leave the house to mow the backyard).
I don't want to say semiautobiographical, in part because I'm not 100% sure what that entails exactly, but also because the plot is fiction. There are a few scenes in the book that mirror things that have happened to me and my daughter, but the over-arching plot, the subplots, all the other characters, and the rest of those two characters' personalities - for better or worse, those are all from my head.
Is it a good idea mention in my query that those two characters are based on real people? I thought that would lend an authenticity to my novel, but I'm also concerned I'd be taking up valuable real estate in a query with information that'd be better suited to an "about me" blurb. And also maybe scaring away agents by telling them I have social anxiety.

I always hate to read "this is based on a true story" or "on real people" or worst of all "this is based on my life" in a query.  

I hate it because most people do not live lives that make good stories. Not even really well-known people. Story has a narrative arc, it has antagonists, it has a plot. My life has people who annoy the snot outta me, a to-do list that really needs to get over itself, and a lot of blog readers who make me laugh.  It's a great life, but it's sure not a novel.

And most writers (particularly at the early stage of their career) are not brutal enough to create villains out of the very real people in their lives.  "Based on real people" isn't the selling point you think it is.

Your book can certainly be informed by the experiences you've had. But your book must be able to bring that world alive without a reader knowing anything about you.

If you really want to mention this in a query here's how you do it:

Paragraph One is the same set up we always have: Who the main character is, and what does she want. What's keeping her from getting it? What's at stake if she doesn't? What will she have to give up or lose
to achieve her goal (ie what's her skin in the game?)

Paragraph Two is any writing credits you may have.

Paragraph Three is your bio. You'll say "this story is informed by my experiences with social anxiety and raising a daughter who is on the autism spectrum.

"Thank you for your time and consideration,
"Felix Buttonweezer"

And I'm not sure what semi-autobiographical is either. It sort of feels like hedging. Either it's a novel and you make it all up or it's an autobiography/memoir, and you don't make up any of it.  Very different kettles of fish.



S.P. Bowers said...

Wow, it's not normal for someone in mountain time zone to be first. Go me.

Unknown said...

I don't have much to say, I'm certainly nowhere near an expert on queries, but I must say kudos to Opie for writing from a very personal perspective about what must be intense subjects. So many writers, including myself, write to hide behind the fiction. I could never do anything autobiographical. Or at least I'd have to wait until most of the characters died, in order for me to write honestly.

I hope some of my fellow woodlanders let us know when they are published.

Donnaeve said...

S.P. - definitely go you!

I have it on "authority" however, that QOTKU's blog post this Monday a.m. was late. (authority = only my desktop's clock) There I was, diligently refreshing my page until I finally left a comment on yesterday's WIR. Then I had to get more coffee.

Amanda - I would imagine any publication news will likely be SCREAMED out by any woodland creature here.

I kinda/sorta get what OP is asking. My first book is based loosely on a few of my own childhood experiences. I've always thought of that as the "write what you know" part of story telling. In my opinion, it's okay to do that, but like Ms. Janet says, you don't have to state it.

As a reader, would I care that a story is based on "real" people? No, not really, not unless I was looking for a memoir.

Anonymous said...

"I hate it because most people do not live lives that make good stories." I'll be saving this for future reference.

Bingo! The shark hits the jackpot.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me, you should write my life story, it would be a bestseller. The woman who went to Thailand after the typhoon and helped the natives rebuild then created a cottage industry with paper made from elephant dung had a story, but all she wanted to write about was he done me wrong. I could see that being a very poignant story if written right.

The woman who was dying of cancer and got dumped by her husband, so she decided to drive a race car before she died has a story. She miraculously survived and went on to a successful career in racing and helping others. She's a phenomenal woman.

Sgt. Kimberly Munley talked to me about writing her story, and I visited with Janet, but Janet said it needed to be more than an incident to be a good book. She's the policewoman who shot Hasan at Ft. Hood.

I would think mentioning it in the bio would be enough to perk up an agent if the query were enticing. I'd do as the shark says and just say you draw from you experiences abc in your bio.

Susan Bonifant said...

Once, when I was pitching a novel and referred to the first book I wrote as women's fiction, the agent said, "Right, 'the book of me' in other words?"

If there's a predisposition to think of a first novel of women's fiction as some sort of diary, I wouldn't help it along.

Simple lives can be as remarkable as complicated lives can be boring. It's imagination and what-iffing that blows the relatable life into a riveting story that is NO LONGER based on personal experience.

If it's a disclosure that could help an agent say "no," or an omission that won't make a difference, I'd err on the side of less, not more.

Kitty said...

Nora Ephron's HEARTBURN was called a roman à clef because it was "loosely" based on her marriage to Carl Bernstein. She turned the painful breakup of her marriage, right after the birth of their second child, into a witty story without turning it into a joke. Her mother would have been proud because she often told Nora that "everything is copy."

OP's subject sounds heavy. If she can give her roman à clef the Ephron touch, I think it would be more appealing. But that's just me.

Susan Bonifant said...

And what Julie Weathers said. I don't know how many times people have said to me, "(such and such) happened. Go ahead and use that if you want to."

Also, visited with Janet? You make it sound like you sat on the porch and had a beer with Janet. I know you're pals. Now, I think you're related.

Colin, do you think they're related?

Tony Clavelli said...

JulieMW--What if that were all one story?--a woman dying of cancer gets dumped by her husband, takes up racing, wins some huge event and then goes off to Thailand where she uses her earnings to start a dung-paper industry and stop would-be murderers between dung-hunting shifts. A he-done-me-wrong international cancerous adventure! (It sounded better before I typed it out.)

I find "based on my real life" to be unenticing too (squiggly reds? unenticing isn't a word?). Real life is full of wonderful vignettes but seldom actual stories. These inevitably inform writing, but usually they end up all twisted about an so unrecognizable from the truth that it doesn't really matter where they come from. And with fiction, I think we're all off the hook from answering that awful "Why are you the best person to tell this story" question in some ways ("Because I wrote it," I wish I could say). But since OP's life details do answer that, I can see how understanding what it's like to raise a child on the autism spectrum can add some authenticity to your query.

As a reader, I don't care which characters were based on the writer, or on people the writer knows--I want to know them myself. What do the rest of you think? When the book is super famous and fans are begging for more information, then I can see why it can fun to talk about them. But it's the reader's experience that matters the most, and for now, our readers are a bunch of agents.

french sojourn said...

I'm learning, in my old age, that the only thing "that would lend an authenticity to my novel." is good writing.
I imagine what opie has/is going through in real life defiantly adds to her voice and the tapestry of her m/s. But some of my characters are parts of me, so I also wouldn't add that to the soup.
But then again this is from someone who's latest Query had 4 POV and time shifts...Christ on a unicycle!

Good luck on your m/s, Hank.

Dena Pawling said...

My WIP is about a brand new attorney who inherits her brother's teenagers after their parents are killed in a car crash. Her goal is to make the three of them into a real family. One of the teens is trying to enlist in the Navy, which along with running out of money sets up the ticking clock. The other teen is the antagonist. Not that I'm a query expert by any means, but I have the main story set-up part of my query on my blog here:

ALL of the court scenes and ALL of the Navy-enlistment scenes in the ms are modified from my actual experiences. They're modified because I make them (1) more interesting and/or funny, and (2) fit the story line. But the plot, subplots, etc, are all fiction.

I don't include the author bio section on my blog, but here's what part of it says: “I've been an attorney for more than 20 years, and I'm a proud Navy Mom. Thankfully, the rest of the book is entirely my imagination.”

[I also have an autistic boy in the story, who is based on one of my sons when he was much younger, along with other autistic kids I know. I don't include him in the query because he's a minor character.]

Matt Adams said...

The prophet Jimmy Buffett has a song called Semi-True Story, where he sings that "I made up a few things and there's some I forgot. Bu the life and the telling are both real to me. " Some of the crucial scenes in my book are almost verbatim as to what happened when things happened, except I did better in them than i did in real life. I can't speak to anyone else, but that's why I write -- to try to get my own life right. I'm handsomer, braver, quicker on the draw than I really am. I thought that was the point :)

I was at a book signing once, and the author (who really only does autobiographical fiction. Basically she uses her life and makes it better) was asked this:

Q: Do people in your life recognize themselves in your stories?
A: Sure
Q: Does this cause a lot of problems?
A: Sure

One thing I admire about her is that she's always been unafraid to do that, that her desire to tell a story is more important than any relationships she has. I get nervous letting people I know read anything of mine because people invariably put themselves into the story -- if my MC is about my age, attended a souther university, likes sailboats and such, my wife might see his wife as a representation of her. So I have to be careful how she is portrayed, because there are consequences to such things. So the characters who might care get eliminated. I've got a son who's on the spectrum -- nothing serious, but a very quirky kid, prone to missing the point of most things. And I've always thought there could be a character in him, not him exactly, but sort of like him. I'll never write it because I wouldn't want him to read it and be able to think for a moment I thought there might be any unintentional humor surrounding him. Fearless writing is not my forte, and maybe that's part of the problem.

But as to the query, I even doubt Janet's mention at the bottom, because we are informed by those things we've experienced. I'd leave it out all together, and once the book's a bestseller, it becomes part of the interview. But not before.

Craig F said...

Ooh, a deep question. I like deep questions because I can drag that suitcase of elephant dung I have collected from the closet.

There is almost no one whose live is thrilling enough to enthuse others. There are however items in each person's baggage that color the rest of their lives. As a writer it is good to embrace that baggage rather than try to divorce yourself from them. They help form a perspective that makes a story ring true. Even if your story is an attempt to escape that baggage you still color that story with it.

It does not need to go into a query though. A query is to quickly show your writing chops while enticing an Agent to wish for more.

Anonymous said...

"Also, visited with Janet? You make it sound like you sat on the porch and had a beer with Janet. I know you're pals. Now, I think you're related."

Oh, Lord. Now I sound like I've got high cotton in Atlanta. No. I can't even remember how the conversation struck with Kimberly, but she asked if I would write her story. I contacted Janet because we have known each other for a long time and I value her knowledge. I asked her if there was a story there and if there was how to go about writing it.

I would not presume anything more on Janet than what it is. Though heaven knows I'd buy her a drink anywhere any time.

Theresa said...

A really interesting question that also reveals the difference between queries for fiction and nonfiction. I'm assuming that for the latter, this kind of personal information would be relevant, especially as it could be tied in with expertise on the topic, etc.

Anonymous said...

It seems the common theme is that we often think things are selling points that are not at all selling points in this (at first glance) strange world of publishing... but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.

When I meet someone who has a great idea for a story, my alarm bells start ringing. They double in volume when I hear it's based on a true story.

How many people want to tell their alien abduction story? Or how they are actually a psychic. Or how they still talk to their dead grandmother who has taken up residence in their house cat Pickles?

We think longer books are better when the agent thinks we don't know how to be concise.
We think a 6 book series is better when the agent thinks selling one book with series potential is far more desirable.
We think writing a book based on our life is more real when an agent has to know us to care; and even when they know us, they can't very well introduce us to the world before marketing.

We think a lot of bad stuff is really good stuff. And its not all bad, but its sure as heck not all good either.

In other news, Minnesotans don't do well in 90 degree weather. I believe I've been burnt to a crisp at the cabin over the weekend, which should make me feel right at home when I return to the deserted wasteland of Carkoon.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I understand where Opie is coming from. I grew up in 2 large extended families. Lots of personalities, lots of issues. Plus my education and various jobs throughout life brought me in contact with a wide variety of people with differing lifestyles.

So here's what I do. I slice and dice personality traits, issues, habits, and lifestyle patterns. Throw them into a pot along with some seasonings of stereotypes, genealogy, history, archetypes, psychological analysis, social issues, plot ideas, and narrative threads. Stir it up a bit. End result?

I now have two unique main characters. Each has a history, a narrative arc, antagonists, very human sidekicks, and a situation they do not like. They will find growth and meaning (or not) in their lives by the end of the story.

Very much from Janet's phrase "Your book can be informed by the experiences you've had." The key word for me in this sentence is: informed. Although I like to throw in something unknown. That involves research but I'm curious and a neverending learner.

Elissa M said...

The number one thing is to write a compelling query. If the query makes agents sit up and say, "I gotta read this!" whatever you put (or don't put) in the bio won't matter. That said, some agents want to know why you're the author to write this particular book, and in those cases mentioning experience with social anxiety and raising an autistic child is relevant.

Personally, I think I'm the most boring person on the planet. That isn't to say I haven't seen a lot of things or had a lot of experiences. I just don't see why anyone else would want to read about it. Hats off to writers who can make their lives into compelling stories.

Matt Adams said...

@brian -- that's great stuff.

Kitty said...

I beg to differ with you, Elissa M, I'm the most boring person in the world. But even my mundane life could become a compelling story. I just haven't figured out how, yet.

LynnRodz said...

I can see why OP wants to mention this in her query. It's that whole idea "write what you know" and gives credence to her story. The thing is, it's not necessary.

I think everyone has used a part of their lives in their fiction even if it's just an anecdote and is written as a minor incident in the story. We imagine and create our stories, but there's always an element of truth in there somewhere as well. As Matt said, those things can come up once the book becomes a bestseller and people will ask and want to know.

Hey, don't knock it, Brian. Pickles may have a very interesting story there.

Kitty said...

It's not how interesting the story itself is but how you write it to make it interesting. Think Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist’s Memoir.

Anonymous said...


I think that's exactly the way to handle it.

I have a story on the back burner about a group of lady bronc riders from the '30's, a sort of western League of Their Own. If I ever get it done, I'll mention I used to ride bucking horses and my family rodeos and leave it at that.


Janet Reid said...

oh dear god Julie, I want that book about lady bronc riders. I WANT THAT BOOK.

*fans self to cool flames of desire*

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE write that book.

Anonymous said...


rofl They are fascinating women. My parents knew them well. Dad rodeoed with them.

It's a story that needs to be written.


Anonymous said...

For you Miss Janet. Stupid that I cry when I watch this. So much respect for those who came before. They were tough women and ladies all.

My twitter avatar is Bonnie McCarroll. That photo is a 1915 buck off at Pendleton in 1915. She made what she planned to be her last ride at Pendleton in 1929, an exhibition ride. The horse flipped with her and broke her back, killing her.

Anonymous said...

***starts writing book about lady bronc riders***

And now my quote from earlier comes to mind...

"Julie can write faster than anyone who is better, and better than anyone who is faster."

**hangs head. hangs up spurs. goes back to YA mystery editing**

Anytime QOTKU jumps in to comment, you know whatever was said set her off... but breaking in to comment on a story idea? Well Julie you've struck gold. :) Time to start writing!

Thank you Matt!

And Lynne, I'll have to rethink writing my memoir - Pickles, A Story About Grandma. ;)

Colin Smith said...

"oh dear god Julie, I want that book about lady bronc riders. I WANT THAT BOOK."

Can I post that on Twitter as Janet's #MSWL? ;)

Jenz said...

I hate to be obtuse, but are your writing credits really supposed to be in a separate paragraph from your bio? I thought those would go together.

Theresa said...

In celebration of Shark Week, Janet weighs in on a manuscript she really, really wants to see. Stay tuned for episode 2......

John Frain said...


Not to beat a dead bronco, but I think it's time to get back on your, um, horse and write that book. That's about as strong a hint as I think I've ever seen, but a nod is as good as a wink to a blind bronc and maybe you have reasons for not finishing that tale.

I think a proper fictionalized ending for the story is if you have the Bronc League of the Own Ladies retire to Beverly Hills and open up shop on Rodeo Drive.

(To save further embarrassment, I edited out en entire paragraph about leading a bronco to water and wild broncos dragging Julie away.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie W, Janet said MOST, not all. You are definitely NOT a most.

Anonymous said...

"Can I post that on Twitter as Janet's #MSWL? ;)"

Now fifty eleven people on twitter are dashing to write this book. *snickers*

I need to get back to Montana and interview the families. I want to do the ladies justice. Anyone can slap together a half way story, but they deserve better.

Well, they're going to put in a parking pad in front of my place, but they have to take down my fence. grrrr.

And this is the second time I've gotten cakes. It's a sign.

Elizabeth Estabrooks said...

For once I feel I might have something of value to add. Coincidentally related to autism. Though, that is not really the point.

When my mother was doing her Masters in Education back in the early 90s (before the term 'autism spectrum' existed), she had to choose a thesis topic. She chose education support for special needs children (or something along those lines) particularly where autism was concerned. She told no one that the motivation behind her choice was my brother's autism and the lack of support/knowledge in the school system available to meet his needs.

Perhaps she kept it to herself because she didn't want people to think she was using the class as a sounding board for her personal problems. Mostly, I think she just figured her personal life was no one's business. Either way, the result was people coming up to her after her presentation and saying things like "Wow! That was amazing. How do you know so much about this?" Would they have been so impressed if they knew the majority of her research came from observations of her own son? Maybe, maybe not. She certainly lost nothing by keeping it to herself and letting her work speak for itself.

On another note, I made the mistake of sharing links to one of my earliest stories with friends on facebook. My protagonist was female--so am I--leading to the immediate assumption she must have been based on me, to the point that one friend commented with something like: "That's not how I would describe your hair." Really?

I'm sure all my characters end up with aspects of myself, but I found this direct comparison irritating. Particularly considering the character wasn't based on me at all, and the story had nothing to do with my life (it took place on another planet for heaven's sake). From that experience I learned there is something to be said for the audience not knowing too much about you.

Leah B said...

Hi, everyone, OP here. Thanks for the comments and, of course, thank you Janet for your response. I've been sitting on that email for several weeks now, and only finally hit send this weekend. If I had known about Google's new retrieve sent mail, I might've done that. Only found out about it this morning. Oh well.

I thought my experience might be good to mention, because there is no explicit "bad guy" in her main plot. It's the nagging voice in the back of her head getting in her way and causing her biggest problems. I hoped mentioning my own anxiety would make it come across as 'I know what I'm talking about', but now reading responses, it'd probably actually come across as preachy. Nothing makes me close a book faster than discovering it's really an after school special. I will not do that.

And trust me, I am not crazy enough to think anyone wants to read about my actual life. It's super boring. Because of our Wonder Twin Disorders (form of: Never Leaving the House!), my daughter and I have our day scheduled in thirty minute chunks, some activities down to ten minute chunks. It is the same thing almost every day of the week. The closest I have to a nemesis is Pizza Hut. I schedule pizza delivery for 5:30, and they deliver it at 5:15, 5:20, or even 5:40. What is so hard about being on time? Or at least a consistent wrong time? And the last time I told anyone that story, my mom literally fell asleep and dropped the phone from boredom. So ... that's not a thing that would happen. Apologies if anyone falls asleep at work reading this. Maybe you needed a nap though.

Thanks again everyone, I really appreciate your comments.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well boys and girls, July 6, 2015 we can all say we were here, the moment Janet convinced Julie to write her bronco buckin' babe book. (Although, I sure as shootin' wouldn't call them babe to their faces). Buckin' and shootin' this pathetic New Englander is already working on the lingo.

I will sell my soul to get a ticket to the opening of the movie. Save seats for all of us because we are going to have a hell of a party riding your coat tales. (Yes, tales is spelled correctly). If you don't do this you are either insane of afraid. Get over it and do it...babe.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OP, you are one brave woman. Good luck with your query, your book and Pizza.
From boredom comes the greatest stories, why the hell do you think we write, we're bored.

Have at it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie, "or" not "of".
Hangs head in shame because I feel the need to explain my error to people who probably get what I mean anyway. Lunch time finally.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Hmmm . . . . lady bronc riders . . .

Seriously, when I see the words "based on real life . . ." I immediately think heart-warming Hallmark Channel Afterschool Special and then I put it back on the shelf.

One of my trunkers follows and adapts a very real and unbelievably brutal and horrific murder. When I go back and read it, I am reminded just how damn tedious the real practice of law is. I wrote myself into a legal corner and bored myself to death.

Think about it. A TV series that shows the REAL life of lawyers and what they do every day! Based on lawyers and their stories. WOW! This could be a winner!

All that potential and "Law and Ordering Pizza" never made it off the ground. Go figure.

I made fun of it in my book: [dire situation] "What do you expect me to do? File a motion? Schedule a conference?"

That said, experience and expertise can be critical and add the all-important tang of authenticity. Consider the Criminal Minds episode where the only witness to a horrific crime was an autistic boy. Our intrepid heroes had to interpret the boy's messages, delivered in his unique way, to solve the crime. To make that believable, an intimate knowledge of the secret and inner world of autism is critical.

Now, deliver up a mystery, where the only witness and clue is an autistic child who can only communicate through song lyrics and that's a whole different kettle of proverbial fish.

Now team up an autistic child with a group of lady bronc riders turned crime-fighters and we have a series.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Julie: Put me on the lady bronc rider preorder list!

somewhat related, there was a fabulous short story in....Lightspeed? Fantasy Scroll Mag? within the last couple of months about a lady dragon bronc rider. Queen of the Rodeo, I think it was called (I couldn't post it just guessing, obviously: Dragon Rodeo Queen, Fantasy Scroll Mag. I have received only forms from them.)

I'm somewhat drawing on general life experiences for my current WIP: takes place on the Jersey Shore, in environs I've frequented my whole life, but other than who died in the story before Act One begins, it isn't autobiographical. And even then, sometimes, it's a little bit like the too-soon peeling of a scab. I don't know how people do it sometimes.

And, because I'm a strange outlier, I don't tend to care if somebody's fiction is based on their life. Also, because of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror I tend to read, it's probably best if it isn't! Though the most disturbing book I ever read was totally true, Helter Skelter by the recently deceased Vincent Bugliosi.

(but if you want "any publication news" at all at all, I had a super short published in Daily Science Fiction: <a href=">Adventuring</a>. My first! Still waiting on my full)

Apologies if this comment is all over the place. Passed 10k and am halfway to the 11k mark.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think Julie Weathers thinks she's found a reason not to put her life in writing.

I also think that Julie doesn't realize that she's not 'most people'.

Now Julie just needs to decide which to do first - her life or lady bronc riders. Both, I think.

For the OP:

It seems to me that the OP is drawing on life experiences, NOT making her life into a story. Two completely different things.

"There are a few scenes in the book that mirror things that have happened to me and my daughter, but the over-arching plot, the subplots, all the other characters, and the rest of those two characters' personalities - for better or worse, those are all from my head."

This is what folks have been commenting here: using a few scenes that mirror true events does not make for a 'story of my life'.

Autism is a pretty hot topic these days. A lot of people are including autistic characters in their stories. Some understand autism, some don't. Some readers understand autism, some don't. And autism is so complex that not many people understand it well enough to write about it. Autistic characters written by people who don't understand often come across as stereotypic or just plain false.

Sometimes, when reading stories about a topic like this, the reader might think something doesn't ring true, even if it is true. So knowing that the author knows and understands the trials and joys of a child with autism can belay the 'she doesn't know what she's writing about, this feels false' criticisms.

I'm not sure social anxiety is as hot a topic, so I'm not sure how important it is to mention this as early as a query.

As the OP says, it is fiction. She's used her knowledge of her child to inform (as Janet said) her story. That informing is important when dealing with a hot topic like autism. So I would mention that in the query, the same way a doctor might mention his profession when querying a medical thriller or a rocket scientist might mention his work at NASA when querying science fiction.

LynnRodz said...

Damn, Julie, if you don't write that story, I will. And I know as much about bronco riding as...well hell, I'd probably have those ladies sitting sidesaddle for all I know. I'm sure Janet won't be holding her breath for my manuscript. So, get going or rather giddyup!

Dena Pawling said...

Terri - real life of lawyers. Lol. Yep, long stretches of tedium, punctuated by occasional bouts of jaw dropping hysteria and other exclamation points. (I only include the good stuff in my book, modified to make it even better.) Today's judge is putting me to sleep. Janet can use this quote as a blurb for her blog - interesting, informative, funny, helps lawyers stay awake in court.

Anonymous said...


What I have long struggled with is this could easily span several books. The lady bronc riders were in force for fifty years.Gene Autry put them out of business in 1941 believing their place was in square dancing, not rodeo. My focus was on the end of the era because those are the ones my parents knew, but the other ladies were magnificent also.


Julie said...

One often hears the question, "Is he/she based on YOU!?" as book tours round the country. Inevitably, at some point, the exhausted author looks with baffled exasperation at the camera and replies, "They're all me!"

This was my feeling reading this question. If I had to sidebar "This book is based on my own experiences" for everything I wrote, I'd be writing it on every query I haven't yet sent! I honestly believe that we cannot write without drawing from our own experiences. The difference lies in how much of our history we inject into the plot and characters.

And then there's the query itself and its purpose. If the query's purpose is to take your manuscript and sell it to an agent, then it should not be apologetic. If you are already feeling apologetic about your manuscript, then I suspect that there's possibly something going on with the manuscript itself that needs to be fixed other than the fact that it drew upon your life. A query is your chance to present your story in an enthusiastic, confident way, and if you're worried already that there's something wrong with it, then it should probably be repaired before querying.

And with regard to the bio, saying things such as, "My eighty years in Egyptian Brick-Laying gives me a unique perspective on the building of the pyramids" might be a better way to put it than "My main character Razulla is based upon my life of lies, lewdness, and despair as an Egyptian slave."

Whatever you do, make sure you have a tight, clean plot and a manuscript that is interesting to readers other than those familiar with your story - it has to be a worthy story with a beginning, middle, and end, including a climax all its own, whether it was based on your life or not. And truthfully, if you aren't comfortable "fudging" some of the more boring aspects of your life, then your life probably isn't gonna be interesting enough to hold the average reader's interest (realizing that it is largely fiction - just make sure that the fictional parts have some "bang" to them).



I tried beef broth last night.
The sky outside was glorious.

Gorgeous Sunset from my hospital Solarium

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Julie: well why not? You have the moxie and panache to write this. If it's a series, let it be a series. If these women and their lives are where your passion lies and, it seems that it does, bring those characters to life, will ya?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Julia: good to see you again on the blog. Beautiful sunset. Shades of the 50 Saskatchewan fires? That's what happened here in the Midwest over the weekend, neon sun as it rose and as it set for the past couple of days.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie I'm jealous, Janet loves you more.

I feel like the girl handing out the "hello my name is" stickers.
I'm the girl ladling the punch at the dance.
I'm the one that hung the welcome sign and sweep up after the party.
I hand out the pencils and paper and tell people to write.
I'm the one reading.
I'm the one not read.

(Well, that's depressing)

Julie, sometimes opportunity only knocks once. It's at your door pounding, twice now. For God's sake open the damn door and let it in. Many of us would kill to have Janet say she wanted our book.

And that's the last you will hear from me regarding your magic red carpet ride.(Yeah right)

Anybody need any punch, stickers, writing material or a rah, rah, rah? I'm here for ya.

Christina Seine said...

*Puts lady bronco rider into novel about Alaskan earthquake*

*Decides that can't possibly work*

*Instead puts little girl sitting on rocking horse during earthquake and makes her fall over*

*Decides that doesn't work either*

*Puts horse figuring on lady's fireplace mantle and has it fall over during earthquake*


*After earthquake happens, has someone say, "Holy cow!"*

*waits for agents to come knocking down her door*

Seriously, two things:

1. What K Esta said is one of the main reasons I would never publicly admit that anything I write is based on me. Years ago I wrote a short story about a woman who commits a horrific act and submitted it for a college creative writing workshop, and even months later I had people tell me I was a very brave woman for doing the horrible deed because "the guy deserved it." A friend of one of the people in that class wanted to give me a list of "resources" to help me work through the emotional fallout I would surely one day experience because of what "I'd" done. NONE of it was true. However, as much as I denied it, people figured the story had to come from somewhere, right? I was judged accordingly. Since I had zero emotional investment in the story (other than the usual blood, sweat and tears that went into the writing of it) I shrugged it off. If any of it had been true, though, the resulting critique of the character's actions within the story probably would have been too much to bear. It's one thing to see people shredding the actions of your character, and another to have the general public weigh in on the story of your life, pointing out in infinite detail how you messed up and what you should have done better. I might tell an agent *privately* that I know my stuff because I've lived it, but not for any amount of money would I admit publicly that anything I write is about me.

2. At a writers conference I attended once, during a group pitch session, someone pitched a semi-autographical novel/memoir about an insider's view of the financial collapse of the 80s, or something like that. Because they were there, dammit. The agent passed, and (with a lot more patience that I would have had) tried to explain what Janet said here about most peoples' lives not making good stories. The author insisted. It was beyond awkward, and the author finally left in a huff. I learned two things that day. A) group pitches suck, and B) a generally exciting situation (even a very exciting situation) is not enough to make a book.

Julie said...

What Carolynn said.

And Lisa, I have sole occupancy of The Solarium. I can write all I like. True, I'm writing impaired, but...

Me: (Peeks into hallway - notices shark swimming down the hall guided by my nurse. Panics. Rapidly closes up laptop but forgets to shut down.)

-Enter Agent Sharkattack and Nurse Vampire Slayer with Vampire Slayer's COW (Computer on Wheels)-

Me: Idly doodling on Book of All Books. Glances up at Vampire Slayer and Sharkattack as if just now noticing their presence. "Oh! Hi!"

Sharkattack: "Ma'am, I have good information leading me to believe that you have been not only writing, but EDITING under the influence of pancreatitis medications."

Me: (Eyes dart nervously to Vampire Slayer, who stands with COW open to my chart, looking somewhat apologetically toward me). "Um. No! No, I haven't. I've been thinking about writing and editing. Considering my plot!" (Offers Book of All Books as Evidence along with Bic Pen) [SB: I keep a "Book of All Books" for each MS, a blank book where I write all of my ideas, things that need changing, character timelines and bios, sketches, room layouts, etc.]

Sharkattack: "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I'll have to see your laptop. Would you open it for us, please?"

Me: "Gladly!" (Opens laptop, which happily displays "Password?" on front page.) (Grins at Sharkattack.)

Sharkattack: Is not amused.

Sharkattack: "Ma'am, would you kindly enter your password and show us your files, including the date and time of last update?"

Me: (turns to Vampire Slayer) "Can I please have something for nausea?" (Opens files)

Sharkattack: "Ma'am... this... is Godawful. How... Nevermind. What... really? This is why we have laws against this kind of thing!" (Straightening) "Ma'am, Under Statute DoesNotExist 7615 (DNE 070615), I hereby blacklist you under the charge of writing and editing under the influence of pancreatitis-altering medications."

Me: "NOOOO!"

Sharkattack: "You are hereby banned from participating in legitimate blogs or from submitting query letters to any Literary Agents recognized by the Association of Authors' Representatives."


Sharkattack: "Further, if attending any upcoming conferences, you must wear the WUI Cone of Shame throughout the conference and are prohibited from rubbing elbows, networking, schmoozing, or otherwise interacting with, individuals whom you might later consider colleagues or friends within the field."


Sharkattack: "And take out that bit about Henry VIII and his pink dolphin. I mean, really. Here's the Cone. G'bye, now."

Me: THUDs head upon table.

Vampire Slayer: "How's your pain doing, on a level from one to ten?"



John Frain said...

OP: Just one thought.

"The closest I have to a nemesis is Pizza Hut. I schedule pizza delivery for 5:30, and they deliver it at 5:15, 5:20, or even 5:40. What is so hard about being on time? Or at least a consistent wrong time? And the last time I told anyone that story, my mom literally fell asleep and dropped the phone from boredom."

Your last line moved this instantly from boring to funny and entertaining. I laughed out loud. It reminded me of the Groucho Marx anecdote where he says a guy falling into a manhole isn't funny. A guy stepping over the manhole and then slipping on a banana peel, now that's funny.

You did the same thing, except substituted pizza delivery and mom for the same payoff as the manhole and banana. Nice job!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

So ... that story about pixies with wings. totally true. my real bio. But i'd never confess to it.

AJ Blythe said...

One thing Ive learnt is every writer uses elements of their life when writing whether they admit it or not. It's our life experiences that let us make our characters come alive on the page.

Anonymous said...

Lisa: 50 fires? Try 110 (the last time I checked, anyway...)

JulieH: Hope you're feeling much better. And I think pink dolphins are an interesting addition to any story (but then, I write science fiction. Pink dolphins in outer space would be just plain cool.)

Tamlyn said...

I wish people would sometimes put less of themselves in a story. In old writing groups, there were people whose stories would always be about themselves, so they'd be offended when you tried to point out the problems in the work (or, worse yet, that the character - them - wasn't likable).

I don't put myself strongly in my stories. Of course my experience informs the writing - it would be impossible to keep myself entirely out - but I don't often pull from real life events or anything. The one time I created a character based very strongly on my own experience, he inspired a rant from a reader about what a horrible person the character was, how he deserved to have the crap beaten out of him, how the only way it was acceptable was if he was autistic, but then he wouldn't be capable of anything like getting kissed. Maybe if I'd made him female people would have associated him more with me. Regardless, obviously I do not make a good character and should stick to more interesting people :P

Lisa Bodenheim said...

bj: I looked after I'd posted as the last I'd heard was 40+. Obviously I was not keeping up-to-date. This afternoon I was out for an appointment and we had heavy haze/smoke here in the Twin Cities again. And, for the first time, I could smell that it was smoke. I imagine you're getting worse haze and smell as you're closer? Prayers with all of the folks who've had to leave their homes. And for the woodland critters.

Julie said...

This has been the story of my life....

Amal and the Night Visitors. Or Julie and the Night Visitors. Tonight, my kids came and we played poker with M&M's as poker chips. Henrietta the IV pole stood guard.

I cheated and ate an M&M.

You know, it's funny... in our family, we have a saying. Take what you want and/but pay for it.

I took what I wanted.
Now, I'm paying for it.


M&M Poker During Visiting Hours

LynnRodz said...

Julie MW, the link you posted is incredible. That video even has me wanting to know more about those ladies. It doesn't matter if one book becomes several. I'll buy the first, second, and third. I think it's a story that needs to be told and who better to tell it than you?

Christina Seine, there's a story there with the little girl falling off the rocking horse during an earthquake. Maybe you can collaborate with Brian and she can be Pickles the cat's grand-daughter.

Now I'm off to dreamland. No bronc riding for me, please, not even on a rocking horse.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lisa. :)

The smoke's actually let up a bit - the last week, it's been awful. And there are thousands of evacuees - mostly women and children and the elderly, due to the smoke, more than danger of fire. We've never had a year this bad.

There are four or five dog rescues at work in the north there, holding dogs for families, finding foster homes for the strays. I can't tell you what's happening with the woodland creatures. I know the dogs because I work with rescue, and I know the people because a friend of mine has been helping the Red Cross, but no one talks about the actual forest.

JulieH: Sometimes those M&Ms are just asking to be eaten. *glares at the bag that's daring me to start*

Anonymous said...

I agree with what BJ said. There are a few sensitive/misunderstood topics (and I do think autism is one of them) where knowing the writer has personal experience with it, and can therefore speak with a degree of authority/authenticity, might be beneficial at the query stage. But life experience in general? Nope. Kinda goes without saying.

And I'm cringing on behalf of all those who've had readers assume characters or stories were autobiographical. Good grief. That's awkward.

Julie W and Janet: If anyone ever puts together a highlight reel of awesome moments in publishing history or writer/agent exchanges or whatever, that one is going in the top ten. I'm going to be smiling about it all week. Maybe move that one off the back burner, Julie. :-)

Julia H, I was all set to cheer that you actually felt like eating something. But maybe not... Happy to see you had some lovely company, though. So good to hear your voice over here again.

Julie said...

@Sharkbites @Everywhere

I'm horribly, awfully socially anxious. (Does it show, maybe, just a little?) And I'm the mom of a wonderful little boy with ADHD and Asperger's. [SB: Asperger's is a part of the Autism spectrum.]

There are certain well-defined arenas in which I can speak comfortably, and I know what they are; and because of this, I understand my son very, very well. They didn't talk about things like Autism or Asperger's when I was a kid, but I suspect I'm somewhere in there on the low range, and I'd be very surprised if others in my family don't floridly, wildly meet the diagnostic criteria (although they change all the time, and now simply discuss it under "Autism with Asperger's Features" or something like that).

But my point (concise as always - this is why I only poke my head out in very well-defined arenas) is this - it's really tough in certain situations to avoid letting those situations define at least a large part of your writing. Maybe it's better to embrace it. I've read several enthralling novels featuring Autistic characters, and many of these novels have made me wonder how much - or to what degree - the author has had personal experience with it. That kind of closeness can yield a degree of connection with the reader that can be very attractive - the very vulnerability of it can make for wonderful storytelling, from the comedic to the traumatic, if done correctly.

All of which just goes to say...

That I agree (as usual) with...
@KDJames. :)

Now, it's 10:25, and this ridiculous evening won't let me alone. I'd love some peace and quiet, but it seems that tonight may not be the night for that. I seem to be driving the Home drama from the hospital. This... is not ideal. Neither is it easy.

Thing 1: "Tell Daddy to..." and "Thing 2 just bopped me onna nose!"
Thing 2: "Hey! Thing 1! That was mine!... Oh, crud... wait, Mommy... Sorry I said 'Crud,' I thought I broke something..."
Thing 3 (that would be Daddy): "I can't get the wifi to work, and I've tried being sensitive, but it's not working."

Me: Sigh. (Considering writing new "Man Of Dreams" character. Certain this is a 'novel' idea.) (See what I did there?)
Man of Dreams: "Don't worry about a thing, honey. I've got it all under control. And, by the way, I bought you passes to the spa for when you get out of the hospital."
Thing 3: "Who was that?"



Anonymous said...

For Lisa and anyone else interested in the fire and smoke situation in Saskatchewan:

Situation very critical as crews battle northern Sask. fires

Now, just to let you know how bad the smoke is: the most southerly fire I can see on the map is approximately (big approximation) 450 km (about 280 miles) away from Regina, which is in the south part of the province. That's the most *southerly* fire. The northernmost fire is several hundred kms north of that (probably another 200 or so miles). Yes, that's still in Saskatchewan.

And we're getting smoke here in Regina (280 miles away) that is thick enough to cause respiratory problems.

Today was actually kind of clear, here in Regina, but the wind's shifting again and the smoke is supposed to hit us hard tomorrow.

We have over 800 evacuees in Regina. These have trickled down from the two more northern cities, which have taken in thousands of evacuees each. The evacuees are mostly women, children, and the elderly - those most affected by the smoke. They don't know if they will have a home to go back to once everything's contained.

Where I am, we're in no danger from the fires. If we can stay indoors, we can avoid much of the smoke. But I'll thank everyone on behalf of the province for prayers and good thoughts for the evacuees and the people still in northern Saskatchewan, including the firefighters.

Anonymous said...

(And before anyone wonders why women can't handle the smoke... the 'women and children' I meant were actually pregnant women and women with their children. It's the children at risk. Other women are still up there with the men, wondering if they're going to have to leave their homes, too.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's way too early (eastern US) to be up, dressed and ready for work. I hate my job, I love my job, I hate my...blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, Julia funny how your fellow poker players handle their M&M poker chips. DON'T EAT 'M. Love how one stack is all lined up and the other is just sitting there waiting to be gulped. DON'T EAT 'M. My husband says to never count your (M&Ms) chips while sitting at the table. DON'T EAT 'M. Hang in there. We're thinkin' 'bout cha.

And, to our friends up north, may the winds and flames of evil dissipate, with clear skies (and rain) washing it all away. Wait, you can't have clear skies and rain, right. Well you know what I mean. Gee, you guys have had it tough. Makes the winter we had last year look pretty good. What a summer this is turning out to be for many of us.

OP, the best of success.

CynthiaMc said...

My only experience with bronc riding was with a recalcitrant Shetland pony whose patience wore thin with all of us kids pestering him.

Julie - write that book!

That reminds me - I have an outline of a novel about WWII lady pilots around here somewhere. Adding it to the list.

Linda Strader said...

I've read novels not knowing they were inspired by true events or about real people. If I loved the book and found out later that was the case, I have thought "Oh, that's cool." I think it doesn't matter upfront, though.

Nadre said...

"a to-do list that really needs to get over itself" - that made me lol. Ain't that the truth?

Julie said...

@Carolynn - How we organize our M&M's says an awful lot about our personal neuroses. DON'T (gulp) EAT 'EM!
I, myself, am a color organizer and stacker. Always in rainbow order. In this way, Skittles are far more satisfying, but M&M's taste better. DON'T (chomp) EAT 'EM!

Anonymous said...


I have to admit watching that video and seeing the two bareback riders and the bullrider made me wish I was young again. My stars that is a rush to ride.

One of the groups was on a tour of Europe that performed for kings and queens. When they got to Spain, the bulls they were furnished to ride were Spanish fighting bulls, but the women rode them. Then the Spanish Revolution broke out and they barely escaped.

JEN Garrett said...

The Author of "Oranges are not the Only Fruit" said something like, isn't every book somewhat autobiographical?

You're writing what you know, so write it well.