Today we Chicks share our (mostly) humorous experiences from real life that inspired an element in our writing: books, series, characters, scenes–you name it. Read on and feel free to add a few of your own!
Years ago, my mom moved into a condo in a lovely assisted living community in Florida. I spent a lot of time there, helping her move, fix the place up, and later visiting. I soon discovered the place had a lot of rules. One of them was not to be late for formal 5:30 pm dinners in the dining room. I was in the elevator coming from the pool, soaking wet with no chance of making dinner, when a spry 80-something jumped on, still buttoning her Talbots blouse. “Appearances,” she said to me with a sigh. “It never ends.” Then she stepped off the elevator, with a last pat to her hair, completely composed. I knew right then I’d found my sleuth Dorothy Westin for the Ladies Smythe & Westin series.
We were visiting my Nonna in Astoria one day when my mother shared a story with me that I’ve never forgotten. Apparently, the late spouse of one of Nonna’s friends appeared to his widow in a dream to complain he’d been buried without shoes. So, when the next pisane shuffled off his mortal coil, they put an extra pair of shoes into the casket with him to deliver to the poor, barefoot soul.
Cut to me writing Long Island Iced Tina, my second Catering Hall Mystery. (Maria DiRico, my pen name for the series, happens to be my late Nonna’s maiden name.) I could think of no better B-story than one where my protagonist Mia’s grandmother keeps crashing funerals in Astoria to find one where she can discreetly drop a pair of shoes in the casket in order to help a friend who had a dream about her footwear-challenged late husband.
Excited, I told my mother I’d used the story in book. Her response? “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
My newest book, The Fragrance of Death, finds Sally waking up on page one horrified to discover that she’s completely lost her sense of smell—not a good thing for someone who cooks for a living. You may suspect that this plot device is based on the plight of the myriad people who lost their sense of smell as a result of Covid, but it was actually inspired by personal experience, something completely unrelated to the pandemic. For I suffered through my own horror story when, some years back, after having a particularly vicious sinus infection, I thought I’d recovered—only to wake up one morning unable to smell a thing.
It’s an exceedingly bizarre experience to brew your morning pot of coffee and then suddenly realize you can’t detect any aroma whatsoever from those beans you’re grinding. And then to have my ENT inform me that my sense of smell may never ever return? That it all depended on whether or not the nerves regenerated on their own? Horror of horrors!
I almost balked at throwing such a traumatic experience at my protagonist. After four books, I’d grown quite fond of her, and it seemed somehow, well…mean to saddle her with such a plight. But it is a murder mystery, so I figured she could take it—Sally’s a tough gal. And, after all, my sense of smell did thank goodness eventually return—though not for six long, miserable and excruciating weeks. But you’ll just have to read the book discover what happens to poor Sally….
My inspired-by-real-events contribution isn’t ha-ha funny, but it is well-that’s-odd funny. My first book, PROTOCOL, features a storyline in which my protagonist receives messages intended for someone else on the used phone she purchased. This was inspired by an accidental hard drive switcheroo that happened when we sent our laptop to the manufacturer for repair. It came back with someone else’s hard drive, which contained all manner of sensitive information. Our hard drive suffered the same fate. It took a while to get to the bottom of the issue–and, fun fact, we never got our hard drive back. But I did get the idea for a plot driven by a powerful technological snafu.
In Death By Bubble Tea, there’s a reference to a long-ago Disneyland trip taken by the two cousins that did not turn out as dreamily as Yale envisioned. Yale shares about the teacup ride, which made her insides squirm. Yes, that was inspired by real life!
We went to Disneyland as a family, and I got on that glorious ride. Afterward, my parents asked me how it went. “It was dizzy,” I said. They thought I’d replied with “It was easy.” They were ready to send me back in line for round two!
Readers, have an inspiring story to share? Or one you think should be incorporated into “fiction”? Tell us in the comments!