When I was writing She Lies Close, my debut psychological thriller, I was feeling desperate for the first time as a writer. I hadn’t felt it before in my twenty years of writing (countless short stories, a horror novel, a romance, a PI novel, and three tech thrillers). Out of nowhere, a terrifying thought hit me. Wait. Wait. What if I never get published?
That desperation I was experiencing in my writing career? I gave that to my main character, Grace Wright. Grace wasn’t worried about her writing career, but she was worried about, well, pretty much everything.
My desperation didn’t just work its way into Grace’s psyche, it weaved into the novel’s plot. I threw the kitchen sink into this novel. I wanted She Lies Close to be a car crash where you (and first, an editor) couldn’t look away. Grace is running; she’s crying; there’s an attack. Put her on stimulants. She can’t sleep. Her neighbor might be violent. She’s sleepwalking. What about the missing girl? Oh my god, who just ran across the lawn? Did her menacing neighbor give her three-year-old candy?
Some of the feelings Grace has all the time, I have experienced briefly. Most of us have. Anxiety. Deep love. Rage at the world. Anger at the kids. Fear of being caught as incompetent. Irritation with our partner. Shame. So much in here is honest. But the story and events are all make-believe.
So, what parts of the book are real?
Writers get asked that a lot, and this question is demanded, especially from women writers (which is another article altogether).
Did I take anything specific from real life? You bet. Here are a few things in my book ripped from real life.
- Riddles. I like to do riddles with my kids.
- Wheel of fortune. My partner watches it with the kids.
- When a character says, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the house burned down?” My brother-in-law said that to my sister-in-law once, joking about the mess of stuff they’d accumulated from life with three kids.
- Psychiatric drug shame. Mine was antidepressants from Postpartum depression.
- I had a friend run over her foot with her car.
- The guy who told Grace he divorced his wife because she didn’t go to church enough. A guy told my sister that once. The moment she told me, I knew it would end up in something I wrote.
Everything I use from real life is minor and not too personal. I would never use anything from my friend’s and family’s lives that would upset them.
I have read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing a dozen times. It’s an entertaining book, and within the pages, there are many writerly gems. My favorite passage deals with what he learned from his struggles with an addiction that nearly cost him his family and his life. He says, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”