Tracey S. Phillips is the founder of the Blackbirds and is the author of Best Kept Secrets and the Mina Green romanitc suspense series, under the name Karissa Knight. You can find out more about her on her website, www.traceysphillips.com, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.
I’m a firm believer that stories written from experience hold more verity and authenticity than stories written from the imagination. “Write what you know,” is a mantra heard all across the writing guru blogs. I’ve had experiences—haven’t we all? –that I tie into the threads of my stories. Isn’t that why we love books written by people who walk the walk? If you’re an observer of humans in the world, you’ve seen things, too, and those experiences end up in your books. I haven’t experienced everything that I want to write, but I’m willing to try things in order to get the motions right on the page. (And oh my, there’s so much I want to write!)’
Obviously, some things are impossible to experience. And with virtual walkthroughs and video tutorials, drawing from other’s experiences is a wonderful alternative. Imagination also comes in handy for writing scenes. However, once I embarked on this rocky ship of a writing career, I sought out the education and experiences to help me write the best possible books. In twelve years, I’ve attended more writing conferences than I care to count, both online and in person. I’ve taken martial arts and self-
defense classes, and learned to shoot a gun. Each class and conference has given me valuable craft knowledge, and some have even given me practical, hand’s on experiences that will someday end up on the page.
I’ll never forget the five Writer’s Police Academy events I attended. Though I wasn’t able to attend this year, WPA has been the most valuable conference for writing policing and emergency responder details. (Thank you Lee and Denene LofIand!) At these conferences, I learned how to intubate a realistic replica of a human head and torso. I put an IV in a dummy’s arm, and watched how first responders approach a car accident or deal with terrorists. I drove a police car and did a PIT maneuver. I’ve even
touched a helicopter. You can bet these details will end up in a book that I write.
Last month when I embarked on revisions to the third book in my romantic suspense series, The Cliff Diver, I decided that Wilhelmina Green travels to Greece. Overseas, Mina will have to climb a rock face to save her lover from the deadly grips of a terrorist. Now we’re planning a trip to Greece for the author and I’m looking forward to absorbing the sights and smells. Feeling the Mediterranean breeze on my skin. No terrorists involved, please.
Mina’s fatal flaw is she’s an adrenaline junkie and a daredevil. She is a criminal defense lawyer and a tombstoner which means she dives from very high cliffs. (By the way, there’s a reason it’s called tombstoning. Do not try this without extensive research about the area, and specifically, the water’s depth.) Mina is a lot of things that I am not, and never will be. In college Mina was a competitive diver. She’s no virgin when it comes to standing on the edge of a cliff. But I love writing about her adventures,
so the story goes on.
She has done things that I could never do, like diving from sixty-foot cliffs near Acapulco, Mexico. Though I jumped from a twenty-five-foot cliff in Negril, Jamaica, I won’t attempt anything higher. Not even for the sake of getting it right in fiction. I’ve been to climbing gyms and watched videos, but for this book, I wanted to experience a taste of what climbing an actual crag is like. I wanted to feel the ropes, and experience belaying another climber. I wanted to walk the approach, hold the carabiners and harnesses, and cling to a rock face by my fingers and toes. During my online research I was surprised to find rock climbing classes for all levels less than an hour away. So, I made arrangements for a private climbing group at Devil’s Lake Park and met the guides and my family at the park at dawn.
First of all, I have only climbed a tree and that was back when I was nine. Second, ladders give me the willies. I learned more about myself at Devil’s Lake than about my character. I learned to trust the ropes and my guides. I learned how far my tired muscles could take me. And I experienced real fear when my legs gave way and gave out from under me. I learned what it was like to be shaking with fear, vibrating all over, breathing shallow and fast, while overcoming the physical to do what needed to be done. To get myself safely down a 60 foot rockface. That’s something to write about.
Write what you know? Ha. Absolutely.