Fact or Fiction?

Probably the most common piece of advice a new writer learns is “write what you know.”

I was thinking about that recently while working on my twentieth revision of a novel manuscript called Impractically Yours. It’s a love story about a middle aged man and woman who become best friends but are afraid of spoiling their friendship by actually falling in love. They both have trust issues, and Robbie nearly wrecks his relationship with Maria by playing an unfortunate practical joke she has promised to take well but fails to do.

Many non-writers are familiar with “write what you know” as well. No wonder they sometimes ask whether I’m the protagonist in my novels.

The answer is no. Not really. Or at least not completely. But Robbie and I do have some characteristics in common:

  • Robbie is a Christian–and a Baptist; me, too
  • He’s middle-aged; I was middle-aged when I wrote the original version of this novel
  • Robbie considers himself average-looking, and even Maria describes him as nondescript; that’s how I see myself
  • Robbie has played guitar for many years and has at least a passing familiarity with some other instruments; me, too
  • Robbie has a beautiful old Martin guitar; I have a lesser, more recent one
  • Robbie’s musical style dates back to the folk fad of the 1960s and he’s never outgrown it; boy, is that me!
  • Robbie writes Christian songs; I do, too
  • Robbie is big on home recording and happy to make the move from analog to digital recording; that’s me to a T
  • Robbie is a practical joker, a joker, and a punster; I’m a punster and joker, but definitely not a practical joker
  • Robbie had a very limited social life in high school; ditto!
  • Robbie and I prefer for a woman to have long, straight, naturally colored hair and almost no makeup–especially not the heavy eye makeup that he and I describe as “the raccoon look”
  • Robbie overcomes his fear of old people and visits a local nursing home regularly; I’m part of a weekly nursing home ministry

I could probably go on for pages, but no need to bore you unnecessarily. The point is Robbie and I are similar in many ways, but we’re not the same person at all.

There are similarities in my other novels as well. Several are about Preacher’s Kids who would rather have fathers with “normal” vocations. Several take place in Virginia and at least one is in an actual Richmond suburb. One is about fighting a weight problem and part of it takes place in a Target store. All of those relate in some way to my background.

If anything, I hope this blog post will make you curious about the next novel you pick up. Is it totally autobiographical or at least partially so? Or does it bare no resemblance to the author’s life circumstances?

Is it fact or is it fiction?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment.


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Best regards,

4 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction?

  1. Well I certainly felt I glimpsed a bit of you in the novel the Devil and Pastor Gus. Of course, you’re not a pastor, you’re not named Gus. You never actually met the devil, etc. But I couldn’t help mentally toying about which personality quirks were actual autobiographical splurges bled into the story.
    ”Write what you know” could be reshuffled into ”write the way you think, or feel” even if it is the antithesis of your actual self: you could be writing how you do not like to be.

    I think this is the big sticking point with my writing. I definitely traffic in autobiographical stuff. I can’t imagine writing any other way. I’m sure it shows. I cannot distance myself too much from my beliefs, desires, loves, history. Nope. So I am stuck with a raw nerve exposed because there is only so much of me I wish to reveal.

    Writing a book like ”Poland” or ”The River of Doubt” is more to my liking because a lot of it is really reporting on history. Writing a novel of pure fiction is completely out of my league. Can’t do it. I normally do not read fiction either because I feel time is too short to watch t.v., read fiction, sit around and drink beer. I do not do those things. I’m an information monger. I see purpose in the world. I like practical things. Maybe this is unusual. I couldn’t care less.


  2. I feel honored that you took the time to read Pastor Gus. I did enjoy the non-fiction parts of James Michener’s novels, but I don’t think I’d have the patience to read his novels now at all. *sigh* Practical is good, Tom, but the world needs dreamers, too. I like your restatement: “write the way you think or feel.” And the “how you do not like to be.”


  3. Pastor Gus was one of the few times I indulge myself in reading for the fun of it. and it was good. I am planning a reread in the coming weeks.

    I believe in dreams and I consider myself a dreamer of dreams. But I contrast that with fantasy. A dream is a vision of something that is attainable, real, tangible. Fantasy is, well, Alice in Wonderland stuff.

    For some reason I have this unquenching thirst for information: not just any old tidbit of knowledge, but facts that help me see the world better. It’s an empirical voyage into the known.

    Some folks use writing as a sort of therapy. For me, it helps me to choose, decide, commit to a certain idea. I like to break open the bone and search the marrow of ideas. on this basis I am able to hold forth an opinion which I feel certain is rational, not just an opinion or feeling or mood.

    Hopefully I will be able to put together something convincing, illuminating and at the same time interesting and fun. This is how I judge your Pastor Gus book to be.


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