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Tracey S. Phillips asks Do you write what you know or what you want to know?

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,, 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!)’

The Client by Karissa Knight

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.

Tracey S. Phillips

Tracey S. Phillips is the founder of Blackbird Writers and the author of Best Kept Secret. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. joyribar

    Tracey, reading about YOUR experiences gives ME an adrenaline rush, and reading Mina’s diving escapades does as well. I love being able to do hands on research for my characters’ antics whenever possible (despite the expense). It’s great to do new things in the name of writing and character development. I cannot wait to read all about your Greece adventures. Best wishes!

  2. tracey64p

    Thanks Joy! And I love reading your books about making wine and bakery, too. Can’t wait to see how your experiences infuse your latest work.

  3. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    I love the concept of facing down your fears and doing that kind of research. I’m not going to be scaling cliffs any too soon, though. Too chicken and fine with that.

    1. tracey64p

      I didn’t sell it? Just kidding. You have a research mecca at your fingertips with those historical archives.

  4. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    What fun adventures! Thanks for sharing them and best of luck with the new books in your future!

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks Christine!! You inspire me.

  5. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    You did both! You wanted to know about climbing and facing fear, and now you know! Mina’s dives are so terrifying to read that I want to scream at her to be safe 🙂

    1. tracey64p

      Safety is my middle name. That’s what the initial stands for! Seriously, I would not have done it if I didn’t feel somewhat safe. Extra thanks to the climbing team at Devil’s Lake that day.

  6. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    I loved reading about your adventurous research, Tracey. Have a wonderful trip to Greece and I also hope the terrorists stay away! I look forward to reading about your adventures when they’re transformed into scenes in your new books. Best wishes!

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks for your encouragement, Margaret. Though I want to go to Greece this year, the trip may be postponed for family. And that’s okay too. The book on the other hand, I write daily. I can imagine that I’m there.

  7. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    You have way more guts than I do. But what I want to know is how much of that other stuff…nah, TMI.

    1. tracey64p

      LOL! Enough said.

  8. Avatar
    Jacqueline Vick

    I admire your willingness to expose yourself to scary situations for the sake of the story. I’ll stick to shooting guns!

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks Jackie. Scary enough it its own right.

  9. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Tracey, you are truly an adventurer. I applaud your courage. Enjoy your trip to Greece. (Tax deductible if it’s for work, you know!) I’m the timid type and tend to research by watching a movie, Googling info, reading, and asking questions. I do usually write from topics I love, then happily learn about what I don’t know to add authenticity. I suppose I somewhat take after my beloved Bronte sisters who wrote little of what they knew or personally lived but dreamed of. Growing up in a remote Yorkshire parsonage, they used their imaginations and managed to write some of the most memorable romantic stories of all time (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, etc.). So many books and articles have been written about how they managed to do that!

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks for the info! I do plenty of reading and asking questions of experts. Google is an excellent alternative to travel and will find the answers to almost anything you ask. I still find that in person experiences give me perspectives I’d never think of without them. I can’t wait to read what you’ve been studying lately, Sherrill.

  10. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Tracey — I admire your go-get-’em spirit and willingness to try new adventures so you can write about them authentically.

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks Laurie! You seem like the type of person who would do the same.

  11. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    I can’t wait to check out such an authentic story! That’s what I call research!

    1. tracey64p

      Thanks Avanti!

  12. Avatar

    Fascinating exploration of how fiction and reality come together in a book.

  13. tracey64p

    Thanks Saralyn!

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