with C. Hope Clark
We are delighted to welcome mystery author C. Hope Clark to Omnimystery News today.
Hope's latest entry in her Carolina Slade series is Palmetto Poison (Bell Bridge Books; February 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats), in which the agriculture department investigator is caught in a web of lies and murder. A typical question we often ask of authors is, How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books? Her response, and the title of her guest post today, is, "This is Real, Right?"
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Photo provided courtesy of
C. Hope Clark
Writers write what they know. At least that's what springboards us off the mat and into a story. Whether we know the character, the setting, a funny situation, or a crime, we point our writing pencils on the familiar and branch out from there.
When I released my first mystery, family and friends devoured the book, pointing out which character was which relation, or instead, asking why I left someone out. My son asked why I made him a girl. My sister-in-law wondered why I didn't include her. The assumption was I had to be the protagonist and my husband the romantic interest. They pointed out "errors" in the story that never took place in real life.
"It's fiction," I'd say, and said it often. Winks and snickers ensued, as if a secret hovered in the shadows, only known between me and whoever thought they knew better. Lines definitely blurred between fact and fiction in the minds of many, many folks.
• Is he real?
Seems that readers have heard about "write what you know," too. And they often read too much into it. I've actually stood behind a mike, before several hundred people at a conference, and had someone ask me was my ex-husband really like the one in the book. What am I going to say? "Yes, my ex was evil. He beat puppies and ate children for breakfast." It's fiction, people. The fact I have an ex-husband doesn't mean he's like the ex-husband in my story.
Of course what makes things confusing is the fact that some of the story indeed may be based off reality. My husband was a federal agent. As a federal employee, I was offered a bribe. We opened an investigation but didn't catch the bad guy. Things were creepy, even dicey, for a few months, but we wound up dating. We ultimately married. Want to see my husband blush? Let people find out at a conference that Lowcountry Bribe's first chapter was based upon how we met. They instantly think that everything Wayne Largo did in the book, my husband did as well. It's comical to watch a normal looking man become sexy in the eyes of readers who've read the novel.
• I know where that is …
Same goes for setting. Each of my books takes place in a different rural, agrarian community in South Carolina. I use real landmarks for my stories. As I write a book, a highway map hangs on my wall, highlighted with key roads, landmarks, rivers and bridges. But they won't take you to the barn where someone died, or the river where a shootout took place. Those end game locales are fiction. One lady approached me at a signing and said she followed the routes in Lowcountry Bribe but couldn't find Jesse's farm. Would I pleased tell her where she made a wrong turn? I've heard "I know where that is" a hundred times, when "that" is a made up spot from my imagination.
We use our experiences as catalysts. But we avoid exact facts for obvious reasons … hurt feelings, misunderstandings, lawsuits, and the potential for misrepresentation. Still, what is it about people fearing they are, yet want to be, subjects in a book? And why do people want to stand in the place where the bad guy dropped dead?
• Here we go again!
Palmetto Poison is Carolina Slade's third story, and this time she is full-bore investigating the most complex case of her life. Enter her boyfriend, his ex-wife (also an agent), his sister, Slade's sister, kids, and a complete feuding cornucopia of families she investigates for murder, drugs, and political favors. The governor's involved, as well as his peanut farming brother who donates all the peanuts for a festival in Pelion in South Carolina. And guess what?
Not only is my family dying to see who I've added from the family tree (I've already been asked if the sister character is my own sister), but the librarian in Pelion happens to be the chair of the local peanut festival. I've been invited to speak at the library and present at their annual Pelion Peanut Party. They're eager to see who shows up in the story, and how I depicted them. Just what gossip did I spread about the town?
I've given up trying to say it's all fiction. I like stringing readers along, making them believe so much of the story is real. The fact that they're drawn in to that degree is flattering to me. I let people think what they like now, because there's something enchanting and exciting to them about being written about — even if it's not true. It makes for great conversation, plus it actually sells a few books.
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C. Hope Clark graduated from Clemson University in agriculture and worked for US Department of Agriculture for what felt like forever before she left to write the books in her head … after she snared her secret agent husband. Today she lives on the banks of Lake Murray in South Carolina, when she's not walking along Edisto Beach on the coast. She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com, a website chosen by Writer's Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 13 years.
For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at CHopeClark.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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C. Hope Clark
A Carolina Slade Mystery
Are peanuts capable of murder? Carolina Slade will bust this shell game.