1. Kaci, I think this is an interesting post. I tend to agree … and disagree. 😉

    I agree that it takes a lot of self-absorption to go for the gold at the expense of someone else’s pain.

    I disagree that we shouldn’t include that which we know, even about others. The thing is, we need to filter it with our own perspective and create an amalgamation of like experiences, to the point that it is unrecognizable as an actual event lived by a real person.

    There’s one book I started to write but have backed away from, in part because I knew I couldn’t disguise well enough my “source material.” Perhaps someday I can ask for permission and will try writing that story again. For now, I can’t.

    Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on the topic, Kaci.


  2. Ken Rolph says:

    I don’t have any beef with the CBA world either, whatever it is. But you are wrong about the Golden Age. It was the Sixties, definitely. The high point was 1967. It’s been just downhill since then. It was in the tail end of the Sixties that I met my mother-i-law. She was the first truly evil person I had ever encountered. She made me understand what true evil was. Not some assertive, liberating pulse of energy, as it is often depicted. It’s just mean and miserable.

    If ever I write a novel with a truly evil character in it I will embody all her characteristics. There should be no disguise. The world needs to know about this.

    • 🙂 Sounds like I am very blessed to have my mother-in-law, yet of course that’s nothing of my own making. I can only thank God for that. She helped raise my wife to love fantasy and science fiction, and even posts on Speculative Faith sometimes.

      • Ken Rolph says:

        The sixties (which lasted into the seventies) were a turbulent time, but also a time of broadening horizons and coming together. I recall a conference about 1973, just after I got married. It was in Sydney, but involved almost everyone in Australia connected with the youth tsunami which was just beginning to roll. There were Anglicans, Baptists, Uniting (Meth, Pres and Cong), Lutherans. There were school groups, counselling services, staff from denominational youth departments, parachurch organisations. The whole kitten caboodle. For some reason I had to pick up my MIL from shopping and take her home. We called past the conference on the way so I could check how it was going. There was a break, and the participants were all standing around in groups. MIL marched into the middle of the room and announced loudly, Don’t any of these people WORK?

        There’s a while lifetimes worth of stuff I could add. But it did help me understand the grubby nature of true evil. There was a dance program in Sydney once titled Heaven and Hell. In the heaven segment people were floating about, vague and vacuous like they had overdoesd on valium. In the hell segment they were all leaping around full of life and energy. I reviewed this, somewhat acidicly, in a small publication as Hell and Heaven. Some people were upset with my comments. Didn’t I know that evil is about freedom and embracing life? Good is about obeying the rules and never doing anything that isn’t boring. My MIL had helped me realise that wasn’t true.

        I met my wife at university. She had Steve McQueen hair and was sitting on a bundle of anger. I didn’t realise until later that she had changed the form of her first name when she got to uni, so as to reinvent herself. A local state MP had arranged a scholarship for her after her schoolmates had held a fundraising for her fees. She had done well and badly in her HSC. This was related to the fact that her father had tried to strangle her mother in the middle of their street during the exam period. I’ve always had mixed feelings about his lack of success.

        Her mother tried to prevent her from marrying me. I didn’t smoke, drink or swear, so I wasn’t a real man. But her family came to value this in me. My wife and I could be relied on to remain sober at family parties, so we could remove the MIL when she reached a certain point. This was when she would find some men’s underpants, put them on over her slacks and slipped a beer can down the front. She would go around poking at people. So we always got to leave family parties early, but strangely I never regretted this. We’ll skip lightly over the way she used to walk around shopping malls commenting loudly on the stae of other women’s breasts.

        She’s safely dead now, so I am free to appreciate her as a valuable resource for writing. We are seeing funerals about now for people from the early 1900s. Many of them had their childhood during the Great Depression and their teenage years during WWII. Most the themes at these funerals are about how the people overcame these difficult times and made some kind of magnificant life, which they handed down to the rest of us. At my MILs funeral there could be none of this. One wag suggested we sing Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead. She had responded to her difficulties in life by becoming lesser and lesser. Mean, miserable, manipulative. She had worked as a seamstress in her younger days. Among her possessions was found a box of excellent jewellry that she never could have afforded herself. Obviously purloined from people she had workef for. There were also a bunch of wills. She had little to leave, but the wills specificed what certain people would get if they never spoke to certain other people, or other conditions. All different of course, written at various times and reflecting who was “in” or “out” at that point. Several local solicitors had finally refused to process these wills for her.

        I’m trying to think of any fictional villains I could compare her to. But they are all either tragic or cartoonish. My MIL was real. She didn’t obey the rules and truly expressed her inner self. In the movie Bedazzled (the older, proper one) the devil arranges for a pigeon to poop on someone. Dudley Moore says this is mean. The devil agrees. He says he thought up the 7 deadly sins on his first afternoon, but his ideas are just running down lately. An astounding insight because Pete and Dud had probably never met my MIL.

        Stephen, your MIL sounds boring by comparison. But here’s a tip for the future. If you MIL ever throws a frozen chicken at you, don’t get upset. Just catch it, take it home and have it for dinner. That’s what I always did, and it seems a more excellent way. It has a more positive outcome than just ducking.

  3. Justin says:

    good question. I do wonder that often, if it would be in any way good to write the deeply personal parts of my life, in a semi autobiographical story. At times I think God gives us stories cause he wants us to tell them. It’s like how we relate life experiences to a friend who is going through something similar, to help them heal.

    But there is a line…and i think it’s when those experiences involve other people.

    My dad wrote a book that very detailed laid out how he fought and dealt with the death of my mother and sister, so i kinda think he’d be okay with a novel, or nonfiction book laying out his story and life.

    but not all people are such open books. permission should be asked. and there’s parts of the story i’d have to ask other people about.

    Ken…I think you got some wounds you need to heal. Read East of Eden. It helped me. 1967 was cool though, just not as cool as The Garden.

    • Ken Rolph says:

      I don’t have any wounds, though the MIL did give it a good try. I should say, I’m not the one with the wounds. My wife has chipped and crooked front teeth from when her mother knocked her down the front steps when she was about 10. She’s never got them fixed. I thnk they are a kind of anti-sacrament. An outward and visible sign of some inner disturbance.

      I want you to picture a child of about 3. He has blond hair and is lying back in a patch of clover under a polished, cloudless blue Australian sky. His grandfather is well enough off to have bought the block next door and left it as a playground for the 3 dozen grandkids. The child has his hands under his head and one knee crossed on top of the other. He is enjoying the warm sunshine and listening to the bees buzz about his head. He doesn’t expect the bees to sting. They don’t.

      That’s me. I don’t take wounds, however tough things get in life. The bees never sting. But I seem to have a capacity to remain calm and absorb the suffering of others. Yet if that is all I had I would only ever be capable of writing about senseless beauty. So I regard the gift of my MIL as of inestimable value to me as a writer. If I had never met her I think I would be a lesser man.

  4. Zoe says:

    I tend to think when it comes to other people, you should get their permission to write about them. And I also think that in order to change a situation enough to make it unrecognizable, you have to do exactly that – you have to basically not use the situation. People are hard to fool when it comes to their own lives. If a person I know writes a story or a character that even remotely resembles me or something I’ve experienced, I immediately assume it is about me, and that’s happened on multiple occasions.

  5. Kaci says:

    Just to clarify, I am not limiting this to “villains.” I’m referring to the specifics of the ordinary, hence my use of the word ‘foolishness.’ These things are not necessarily sins, but things that would be completely mortifying to the persons involved.

    Becky – Your example would be a case in point. As there was no doing justice while maintaining anonymity, would it have been appropriate? In the event a source must be concealed, is it good to use the material?

    Ken – I’m not sure how to comment.

    • Becky – Your example would be a case in point. As there was no doing justice while maintaining anonymity, would it have been appropriate? In the event a source must be concealed, is it good to use the material?

      Kaci, my example was related to the part I agreed with. No, it would not have been appropriate which, as I said, was part of why I set it aside. And no it would not have been good to use the material. Not good at all. It would have been very hurtful.

      And in that case there was no way for me to create an amalgamation that would have disguised the parties. It had to remain unwritten.


  6. Kaci says:

    I guess I don’t understand which part you disagreed with, then, as we both concede there are times it’s inappropriate to reconstruct events. Events, once disguised, are no longer the original events.

    • Hi, Kaci, I guess I didn’t realize you were classifying an amalgamation as a different thing. For me they aren’t. For example, I drew heavily on my emotions of losing my mom in one particular scene. It was real–still seems so to me, but I doubt if anyone would connect what the character went through with what I went through. The two seem very different though both were people responding to death.

      The way I approach writing is as an amalgamation of everything I know—whether I know it by experience or by observation or by study. I draw it all together and make it a new thing. Consequently, I think what I observe in other people is valid material to draw from.

      If I only related an event as it happened, then I would feel as if I cheated. I wouldn’t be creating.

      The particular book I won’t write at this time is different because the people I would hurt know I couldn’t be drawing from personal experience. No matter how much I change things, they would know I was drawing some portion of my ideas from their lives. Even if I leaned hard on research or observation of others or my responses to comparable circumstances, in the end the ones who know are the ones so close, the ones I wouldn’t want to give any offense to.


      • Kaci says:

        That’s the “emotional recall” thing I mentioned. Emotional recall, at least the way I’m using it, is the ability to assume the exact same depth, breadth, and mixture of emotion in one situation and reapply to something else. (Sorry, I spent too many years on a message forum getting into convoluted theological debates to not define my terms.)

        And I didn’t say “relay events without any emotion,” either. I was referring to reconstructing the entire situation (much as I did with a friend’s story to me about the time he surfed Hurricane Ivan). Had he done something grossly out of character (say he beat a guy, which he didn’t, especially for a short story with a five-page limit, I would have left it out because it’d be misleading as to his character and embarrassing. And I might not have written the story, depending.

        I’m still not sure where we’re in disagreement. This post was mostly a question, anyway. And it seems we’ve both reached the same conclusion: Yes, at times it’s inappropriate, be it for whatever reasons.

  7. Not sure why this seems to have become a debate, Kaci. I guess I thought I was answering the “what do you think” question when I said I agreed and disagreed.

    Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by “Emotional recall.” I assumed you meant what Brandilyn Collins describes in regards to writing scenes from a killer’s perspective: she uses the rage she’s felt toward a fly that bugs so much she picks up a fly swatter and chases it about the room.

    That is a way of using one emotion to understand the emotion of someone else in a different circumstance.

    What I’m describing is similar, I suppose. But it departs in the sense that I am staying much closer to the actual event from which the emotion is drawn. In my life a parent died. In my story someone else’s mentor died. My mom lived a long life and died in her old age. In my story the mentor died from violent means at the hands of an enemy. I doubt if readers will say, Oh, the poor author has experienced the death of someone close to her.

    Yet I am directly drawing on a real event.

    I’ve seen some writers use events that seem all too close to their own situations, as if their story is somewhat autobiographical. In fact I’ve commented from time to time that I don’t like that kind of writing. It seems self-indulgent to me. And yet, we know our own circumstances and those around us best of all. So I think it is clear we will draw from what we know, and I think that’s fine. I got the idea from you post that you only think it’s fine if the writer gets permission. I don’t think I need permission if I write in such a way that the person from whom I’m drawing my ideas would never guess he or she was the source.

    If I misread your thoughts, I’m sorry. I really was only trying to jump start the conversation.

    I’m confused by this line: And I didn’t say “relay events without any emotion,” either. Did I suggest this was your position? I certainly never meant to give that impression. I’m truly sorry for the misunderstanding.


    • Kaci says:

      Let’s just chalk it up to the insufficiency of the internet as a prime communication device, Becky. No harm no foul. 0=)

      • Kaci says:

        You know, Becky, I may have figured this out. When I said:

        One thing that’s always been a matter of principle for me is that I refuse to insert real people – whether I love them or despise them – into my stories. I guess part of it’s my confidentiality peeve. That which is said in confidence, stays in confidence. You know? So one thing I’ve always struggled with is the idea that we “write what we know.

        I sort of mixed two ideas together here.

        First idea: For some weird reason in high school I refused to use the names of anyone I knew. I knew some people who would, say, literally put their ex-boyfriend in there or something. For whatever reason, I had an aversion to putting real live people as cameos in my stories. I still don’t know that I’d try it beyond the personal amusements of myself and some friends, but I finally started deciding it was okay to use someone’s name, or a variation of it.

        Second idea: Some things are a matter of appropriateness, which we already discussed. So yeah.

        Anyway, hope that helps.

  8. Kaci, I love your writing. Just love it. You’re welcome to borrow “my” themes anytime you like ;).

What do you think?