Good day, book divas and divos. I hope you’re having a fantastic week so far and have gotten some reading time whilst enjoying the warm weather. I’m currently participating in my local library’s “Summer reading challenge” or at least I’m trying to participate. Sadly, I’ve been residing in migraine headache central for the past week, which is somewhat apropos since June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Despite the severe migraine headaches lately, I’ve been steadily adding to my TBR list (no, you don’t want to know how long it actually is at this point). I keep telling myself that I really need to get started on a few of the series I’ve marked to read just so I can read the latest releases in the series. One such series is the Third Chance Enterprises series featuring Molly McGill by Jeff Bond, including the most recent release, The Begonia Killer. (I’ve fallen in love with the pulp fiction style cover.) I’m incredibly honored and pleased to welcome back to the blog, Jeff Bond. Mr. Bond (I really love saying that) will be discussing the concept of “writing what you know” with us today. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to say and add The Begonia Killer to your ever-growing TBR list. Good day, Mr. Bond, and thank you for today’s visit.
Writing from Personal Experience
I finally got around to starting Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s a book some people swear by, but at 1088 pages and with a heavy post-modern reputation, it’s been more than I’ve felt like biting off. I’m enjoying the book. The language and characters are dazzling. The scenes are very readable and don’t drag the way you might expect from a book that long.
Still, certain riffs have such an encyclopedic feel that I found myself speculating about how Wallace came into so much knowledge. He’s particularly voluminous on the topic of the Enfield Tennis Academy — the interpersonal dynamics of the young athletes training there, details of their games, minutiae about showers and sweaty laundry and admissions procedures.
He must have played growing up, I thought. A quick Google search confirmed that, yes, David Foster Wallace was a fairly serious junior tennis player.
There are plenty of advantages to following the old adage, “Write what you know.” You’re likely to have a reservoir of well-developed ideas about the topic. Any details your story needs are right there in your brain, ready to fall out onto the page. Often when you’re writing a character outside your experience — a neurosurgeon, say — you’ll have to do some homework to craft them believably. How much of their time is spent performing operations versus talking to patients versus reading X-rays? What sort of practice is most typical in their field? Private? University-affiliated?
All these answers are immediately available to a writer working in a field they know.
I set a recent book, The Pinebox Vendetta, at a twenty-year Yale reunion, not long after I attended my own. I didn’t have any grand wisdoms to convey about reunions or Yale. I just liked the setting for the plot I had in mind. Pinebox is book one of a series about rival political clans locked in a perpetual power struggle. I wanted to begin the series in a non-political setting to emphasize the consequences of the clans’ fighting beyond just votes and Senate seats. Because so many recent political figures have attended Yale, it felt natural for a backdrop.
In the end, I was happy with the choice. The Ivy League setting suited the centuries-old feud, and as an added bonus, I had an easy time with street names and building descriptions, and imagining the alumnae emotions during reunion weekend.
The flip side of familiar settings is that they can distort your perspective. Authors generally strive to write for the reader who’s naïve about their subject matter, and being very close to a particular industry, sport, or profession can make it hard to strike a balance between accessibility and authenticity.
I struggled with this writing my second novel, Blackquest 40. It starred Deb Bollinger, a software engineer with attitude forced by foreign commandos to solve an impossible coding problem — a Silicon Valley Die Hard. In my twenties, I’d worked some as a software engineer in San Francisco so I knew Deb’s turf. The plot required many intricate technology explanations, and I had Deb lay them out in the plainest way possible.
Except, as it turned out, my “plain” wasn’t plain enough. My first round of beta readers found the book’s technical passages cumbersome and byzantine. I revised away much of the coding talk, but those sections were still giving people trouble. It took five or six rounds before I finally wrangled the book into a form that typical readers felt comfortable with. In the final version, I even tossed a line into chapter one where Deb, after a character misunderstands her, gives a clear wink to the reader by remarking in narrative voice, “I don’t expect non-techies to understand every word I say, all the nitty-gritty.”
In my latest book, The Begonia Killer, I borrow significantly from my own experience balancing writing against the work of raising children. Molly McGill, my single-mother private-investigator protagonist, deals with stuffed animals being peed on by the family cat, a kindergartner obsessed with cellphone games, and a teenage son who expects snacks on demand. These are all close to situations I’ve encountered myself, though never quite like Molly does. My daughters don’t actually crave the phone like Molly’s. They aren’t teenagers so I wouldn’t expect them to help themselves to snacks. In fact, I prefer they don’t, since that line between granola and candy bar keeps shrinking.
When using a personal experience as a writer, it’s important not to shoehorn the source incident too perfectly — but rather to massage until it fits your character and plot.
Another example from Begonia comes when Zach, Molly’s teenage son, yells at his mother for putting away his laundry with two left socks folded together. That’s something that I actually did myself sometime in middle school. Now I didn’t have much in common with Zach — of the long bangs and skateboard tucked in his armpit — but that one episode felt perfectly apt in portraying Zach’s adolescent entitlement and cluelessness about the world.
Starting out as an author, I had no sense for this. A few of my early attempts featured characters drawn fairly close to real-life counterparts, and this made for some dicey encounters with friends who volunteered to read. Some would immediately try guessing which character went with which of our mutual friends. It didn’t help that I was also lousy with naming back then. More than once, I started drafting with a name too similar to a character’s real analog, then had to go back using my word processor’s find-and-replace and swap the original for a less recognizable name. Invariably, I would miss a contraction or some apostrophe-s version and give myself away.
Maybe because I set this precedent early, I still have friends who’ll insist on matching up real people to characters in my books. If I’ve borrowed a single anecdote or trait, it may appear that the entire character is adapted. I can understand that. In fact, I’ve rejected plot ideas that too closely mirrored actual events for just that reason: I didn’t want somebody to read and believe the story’s events reflected on them. It’s always possible to find a different way, plot- or character-wise, to create the effect you want. It just takes some shifting around of other elements.
I’m still working on Infinite Jest — readable or not, 1088 pages is 1088 pages. Sadly, David Foster Wallace is no longer with us, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a former teammate or two squirmed reading about a certain mannerism or vocal tic of one of Enfield Tennis Academy’s pupils. I hope they keep in mind that if Wallace borrowed from them, it was because he had good artistic reasons for doing so.
At least I think he did.
The Begonia Killer
by Jeff Bond
June 1-30, 2021 Tour
You know Molly McGill from her death-defying escapes in Anarchy of the Mice, book one of the Third Chance Enterprises series. Now ride along for her first standalone caper, The Begonia Killer.
When Martha Dodson hires McGill Investigators to look into an odd neighbor, Molly feels optimistic about the case — right up until Martha reveals her theory that Kent Kirkland, the neighbor, is holding two boys hostage in his papered-over upstairs bedroom.
Martha’s husband thinks she needs a hobby. Detective Art Judd, who Molly visits on her client’s behalf, sees no evidence worthy of devoting police resources.
But Molly feels a kinship with the Yancy Park housewife and bone-deep concern for the missing boys.
She forges ahead with the investigation, navigating her own headstrong kids, an unlikely romance with Detective Judd, and a suspect in Kent Kirkland every bit as terrifying as the supervillains she’s battled before alongside Quaid Rafferty and Durwood Oak Jones.
The Begonia Killer is not your grandparents’ cozy mystery.
Genre: Mystery — Cozy/Romance
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Number of Pages: 195
ISBN: 1734622520 (ISBN-13 : 978-1734622522)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters. The Pinebox Vendetta received the gold medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and the first two entries in the Third Chance Enterprises series — Anarchy of the Mice and Dear Durwood — were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best 100 Indie Books of 2020.
Catch Up With Jeff Bond:
BookBub – @jeff_bond
Instagram – @jeffabond
Twitter – @jeffABond
Facebook – @jeffabondbooks
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Enter the Giveaway:
This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be one (1) winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2021 and runs through July 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.