Welcome C. Hope Clark, author of the fabulous “Carolina Slade” mysteries!
When an author takes the advice of the writing sages and uses a bit of what you know in her stories, people love to ask, “How much of this is true?” On one hand, it’s a huge compliment. The tale is plausible, realistic, and factual enough for readers to wonder if it really took place. The author has baited them, reeled them in, and convinced them to stay and partake of what she’s serving. That feeling never gets old.
But then there are moments where people wonder a bit too hard.
I write The Carolina Slade Mystery Series (Bell Bridge Books) set in rural South Carolina. My protagonist has two children and investigates agricultural irregularities as a Federal employee. She’s involved with a Federal agent with an obscure law enforcement agency called the Office of the Inspector General. Every government branch has an OIG that’s used in lieu of the FBI, which has different duties and operates under a larger umbrella approach to the government. This particular agent in Slade’s life is forever asking her to back away from perilous situations. Of course she doesn’t.
The first book in the series, Lowcountry Bribe, opens with Slade being offered a bribe. She calls it in to the authorities. They arrive on the scene for a sting operation to catch the guy. It all goes terribly wrong. Her world gets crazy insane and dangerous, and she’s forced to operate outside the rules, the laws, even common sense. She develops feelings for the agent but pushes them aside.
I was with the Federal government. I was offered a bribe. The bribe went sour. I married the agent, and I have two children. At first blush it sounds autobiographical, but in reality, the real-life situation wasn’t nearly as traumatic as painted in the story. But when readers and attendees learn that my life served as catalyst for fiction, they start interpreting all my fiction as reality.
“Did you have an ex-husband like Slade who was that horrible?”
Of course not.
“Were your children put in danger?”
“Is Slade going to marry the agent like you did?”
“How did you know all these details…these emotions?”
I tapped what I knew, observed other people, and made up the rest. But as I study the room, as my answers settle in, they never look convinced.
As authors, we fight to nail the details. If we don’t know the answers to problems, we find someone who does. Or we read successful authors who traveled before us. We watch a movie like a writer or read a book like it’s a movie, seeking the moves, wording, and action beats.
A mystery author sees life as adventure and observes her surroundings as if they auditioned for pages in her books. So anything dramatic in her life becomes the perfect fodder for a story.
Family and friends, however, aren’t sure how to take me. My mother has banned me from writing about her. My sister-in-law has begged me to design a character around her, and my husband joked that I might write her in as a crack addict. She said that would be fine. So I did.
My newest daughter-in-law says she can’t read my stories because Slade sounds like me in her head. Her mother secretly asked how much she really knew about her new mother-in-law, because so much of the story might be true.
My neighbors greet me in a new light, as if I hold deep, dark secrets.
My parents are afraid to read the book.
I continue to marvel at how easily people spin fiction into fact. After my first nervous appearance where readers felt the need to make me accountable for clear delineation between what’s real and what’s not, I learned to roll with the experience. I enjoy the mystique now. Because the harder I try to explain the difference, and the louder I profess my normalcy, the more they seem to doubt. As one of my critique partners said one night, after she’d had two wines and peppered me with questions about one scene after another, “Thou dost protect too much.”
“Fine,” I said. “You decide what you think is real.”
She tipped her wine glass at me and said, “I thought so.”
C. Hope Clark is editor of the award-winning FundsforWriters.com, and her newsletters reach 35,000 readers each week. Hope’s manuscript for Lowcountry Bribe made the finals for several awards before finding its place with Bell Bridge Books where it made a grand debut. The second book in The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, Tidewater Murder, is an April 2013 release, and Hope assures readers that none of it is true.