How Much of Your Fiction is True? by Heather Weidner
Recently, I was asked if any of my mysteries are based on real events or contained real people. I do mix in some real life in my short stories and novels. All of my city settings are actual places. I tend to set my works in Virginia locales. If a crime occurs, I make up that location’s name. I wouldn’t put a horrific event at a real restaurant or store. But if you’ve been to the cities, you’ll recognize landmarks and street names.
Sometimes, I get ideas for crimes and capers from real cases, but I usually take liberties with the details. In my short story, “Washed up,” (Virginia is for Mysteries 2014) a beat up suitcase washes up on Chick’s Beach, and it’s filled with some mysterious contents. Back in the ‘80s, there was a real case where suitcases filled with body parts did wash up on beaches along the East Coast. In my story, I thought it would be interesting for beachgoers to find something old and sinister in an unexpected place.
For some of my characters, I blend characteristics of several real people to make a fictional person. And phrases that family and friends say frequently appear in my stories. I have two co-workers who keep asking me to make them villains. I haven’t done that yet, but I do hint from time to time that unruly team members will end up in a dumpster in a future story.
I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and always jot down names and interesting tidbits that might one day make their way to a story. I use friends and family member’s names for minor characters. In Secret Lives and Private Eyes (June 2016), my sleuth, Delanie Fitzgerald, gives herself all kinds of aliases during her investigations. These are usually names of friends and family. And every once in a while, you’ll find police, EMTs, or FBI agents named after my favorite authors, rock stars, or actors. Delanie Fitzgerald is named for F. Scott Fitzgerald, and her company, Falcon Investigations, is in honor of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
I did have an odd author moment when a woman with the same name as one of my main characters followed me on Twitter. It was a fun surprise.
Even though mysteries are fiction, a great deal of research goes into the project to get the details right and to make it plausible. And surprisingly, there can be quite a lot of truth in fiction.
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Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in Virginia is for Mysteries and Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II. Currently, she is President of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, and a member of Guppies and Lethal Ladies Write. Secret Lives and Private Eyes is her debut novel.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Follow Heather at www.heatherweidner.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Secret Lives and Private Eyes Synopsis
Business has been slow for Private Investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose career purportedly ended in a fiery crash almost thirty years ago, still be alive?
And as though sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed, strip club owner, also hires Delanie to uncover information about the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz, is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out why landscaper Tripp Payne, keeps popping up in her other investigation. Can the private investigator find the connection between the two cases before another murder – possibly her own – takes place?
Secret Lives and Private Eyes (June 2016) is a fast-paced mystery that will appeal to readers who like a strong, female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations.
Guest Blogger: Kay Kendall – Do Fictional Characters Make Demands? How Two Holocaust Survivors Entered My Book
Do Fictional Characters Make Demands? How Two Holocaust Survivors Entered My Book by Kay Kendall
Authors often assert that characters can take off on their own and run away with their stories. One writer said, “When Jim told me he was the killer, I had to change my plot.” But such remarks have made me dubious. Nothing like that happened when I wrote my first mystery, Desolation Row (2013). Yet, when I wrote the sequel, Rainy Day Women (July 2015), I experienced the phenomenon.
This realization hit me when someone asked why I—a Methodist—included two Holocaust survivors in my mystery set in 1969. My characters had simply demanded to be survivors because they had an important story to tell. After all, I grew up with versions of my characters Mr. and Mrs. Spektor in my head. As a child of the sixties, I cannot recall the first time I heard about the Holocaust. I have always known. Those horrors are as much a part of my upbringing as the Cold War and JFK’s assassination.
History fascinates me. I always want to know why things happened the way they did. What makes people behave irrationally? I recall clearly the moment I learned about Stalin’s blood purges in my Soviet history class. How were these atrocities allowed to happen? I quizzed my professor hard, and he smiled gently at my naiveté. Through years of studying Russian history and earning degrees in the subject, I learned to make sense of the plague that was Stalin.
However, try as I might—reading lots about the Holocaust and Jewish life back to Moses, plus watching documentaries and dramas—I still cannot understand the antisemitism that gave rise to Stalin’s contemporary, that other scourge called Hitler. I have gained some insight into how Hitler came to power, but the societal crush of the Holocaust remains beyond my comprehension. Yet today, despite discovery of the historical facts of the Holocaust, antisemitism again stalks the globe.
But back to my two characters, Mr. and Mrs. Spektor. They are the parents of Shona, the first murder victim in Rainy Day Women. I made them Jewish because European and American history tells us that many Jews were activists in progressive causes, and in my mystery Shona was a leader in the women’s liberation movement of 1969. Someone killed her. Her parents wonder if antisemitism had anything to do with it. Or, was it anti-feminism?
Historical mysteries provide a way for readers to refresh their knowledge of a time period, or learn about it in the first place. The 1960s gave rise to issues that are still relevant today, and in my books I seek not only to entertain but also to give gentle history lessons. I wrote my way through half of Rainy Day Women before, all of a sudden, the Spektors insisted they were Holocaust survivors. I paused only a moment and then agreed. I can only conclude that their demands sprang out of my subconscious.
All the history I studied combined with the outrage I feel over growing antisemitism. With the world becoming increasingly hateful, non-Jews like me also must speak up. Using my book as their conduit, Mr. and Mrs. Spektor step forward to remind us, “Never again.”
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is also an award-winning international PR executive who lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Desolation Row is the first.