Guest Blog: Using personal stories in writing: do or don’t?
Yes, I use personal stories in writing, but they’re usually heavily disguised or simply a jumping-off point for working out the plot. For example, my dad told me lots of stories about his youth, and many of them served to inspire story ideas—especially the ones about old-time ranchers and the rodeo circuit. A particular favorite concerned one of his employers, a bachelor farmer whose hay crop was ruined by a sudden hard rain, with some hail mixed in for good measure. This man was outside his cabin when Dad saw him from a wisely-chosen hiding place nearby, stark naked except for work boots and socks, shaking his fist at the heavens and challenging God to “come down and fight, you so-and-so.” Modified, this became the opening scene in my historical romance, “Memory’s Embrace”, in which the hero is arguing with God. In Keith Corbin’s case, though, his anger was tied in with a deep spiritual belief, since he was a minister. Another favorite came from my mother, who was raised in Choteau, Montana. It seems there was an elderly bar-fly who rode his horse to town every day of his life and tied him up in front of the saloon. The old man eventually died, but the horse came to town anyway, for days on end, and stood there patiently waiting. I used that one, too, in “The Man from Stone Creek”. Any writings about story-telling and its effect on my writing would be incomplete without the fabulous tales my honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, told about her childhood outside of Coffeyville, Kansas. She actually remembered hearing the shots the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in town. Later, the dead outlaws were strapped to boards and displayed along main street, to show the wages of sin is death. Fortunately, grandma’s parents were forward-thinking people for their time and didn’t take the kids in from the farm to see the grim exhibition, but plenty of others did. On another occasion, a man rode up to the gate and stood talking with Grandma’s pa, who was working in the field. The man slept in the family barn that night, and his name was Jesse James.