Yes, That Really Happened

what you know Mtwain

Our question for this week is, “Have you used something that happened to you in real life in any of your stories? Did you change it at all?”

I’ve often remarked that each of my female protagonists shares something with me, whether it’s a hobby, a strong belief, or an experience. So, when I sat down to write this week’s post, I made a list of events that made it into my stories – and it became a long one. So, for those of you accustomed to my shorter posts, please forgive me. I tend to avoid scrolling through long-windedness, too. But here’s my list.

Let’s start with my profession: teaching music. For much of that time, I taught elementary age students, and part of that job entailed putting on Christmas programs each year. And while my daughters were in grade school, I led the children’s choir, so I helped put on programs there too. Christmas Wishes and Christmas Journey both drew heavily on those experiences. In the first book, young Sophie Gardner dealt with troublesome and uncooperative students (one of my reviewers referred to it as “cat-herding”) while learning what young children are capable of. Then in the sequel, Helen DeGroot deals with older students who didn’t really want to be involved in a Christmas pageant. In both cases, I included actual events and dialogue, but simply changed names. Another character who taught music was the male protagonist in The Friendship Star Quilt. Brad Carmichael is a high school band director, the sort of leader I’d imagined myself becoming when I studied instrumental music as an undergraduate. Some of the events in this book are based on things I experienced as a student and during my time student teaching – plotting out marching routines, designing costumes for auxiliary units (flag corps, rifle corps, etc), and dealing with the endless personal issues that crop up in high school groups.

I also spent twelve years teaching in a regular elementary classroom, so I learned a lot of tricks for helping students learn to read and write. That came in handy when I wrote The Partridge and the Peartree. Lady Amelia Partridge dedicated herself to teaching the poor children in London whose families could not afford to send them to a proper school or hire a tutor. I did a lot of research to find out what kinds of materials were used in Regency England, but some of the other activities – reading aloud to students, and reminding them of good manners, for example – were things I did as an elementary teacher. Then, in Two Tutor Doves, Jeanne employs some of the techniques I used in my first grade classrooms for teaching students how to form their letters, such as tracing them in the air, in the sand, and identifying them on signs.

Since my normal routine includes participating in musical groups, I’ve had a few characters who played instruments. In Love’s Refrain, both Laura and Andrew are amateur musicians. I’m currently working on a story in which the female protagonist is an orchestra musician, studying in New York City. I’m drawing from my experiences as a college student, but this character is a violinist rather than an oboist. I have several good friends who are very helpful when it comes to violin technique, but the scenes that take place during orchestra rehearsals include compositions and conversations that I’ve experienced.

I may have mentioned that I like to sew. Before world events required us to stay apart, I met twice a month with ladies at my church to make quilts for hospitals, the Veterans’ Home, and various shelters.  The Calico Heart and The Friendship Star Quilt both include ladies who meet regularly to sew quilts. The ladies are of various ages, professions, and experiences, but they share a love for their craft and each other. I did change a few things when creating the ladies in The Stitching Post series. First, these ladies meet at a quilt shop rather than at church. Second, these ladies all work on their own projects rather than the assembly line process at my church, and our quilts are all donated. And third, many of us see each other only on quilting days – although several of us would go out for lunch afterward. But the many of the interactions between the quilters did actually happen as described. Another part of The Friendship Star Quilt that I drew from personal experience was when Anne sews flags for the local marching band. When my daughters were in their high school marching band, I joined the moms who created the flags and costumes for the color guard. Knowing the process behind those tasks made it easier to add action to the scenes when Anne and her quilting friends help supply the local high school band with the flags and costumes they need.

About a half dozen of my stories are set here in Michigan, and that helps me describe the setting through the things that happen. I know what it’s like to drive through a heavy snowstorm, so the driving scenes in The Christmas Phoenix were based on some of the trials I’ve experienced, including sliding down an icy hill and nearly hitting another car at the bottom, feeling cocooned in my car as I drove alone, and turning into the wrong driveway. I earned my master’s degree by commuting to a university about an hour away, so I described that drive and some of the challenges of doing it in the fall, during deer hunting season in Autumn Vows (a short story in the Autumn’s Kiss anthology).

Other stories are set in places where I was fortunate enough to spend time. Going to Japan helped me understand some of the rituals and customs of the characters in The Samurai’s Garden. My trip to Greece gave me an authentic taste of the foods that Alex cooks in Aegean Intrigue. Also, the drive that Francine and the other archaeologists take around the island echoes the road trip my friend Rose and I took around the perimeter of Paros. During a week-long vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey I actually strolled on the boardwalk, like the characters in Searching for Lady Luck. I’ve traveled to England twice, so I was familiar with the settings for several of my regency romances, although I had to do a lot of research to discover what these places were like over two hundred years ago. Fortunately, the internet gives me access to floor plans and maps from that period.

There’s a saying that appears on t-shirts, mugs, and online memes: “I’m a writer. Be careful, or I may kill you in my next book.” I don’t write murder mysteries, but I do tend to have my characters take situations that I’ve bungled and handle them in a way that I wish I had. It’s sort of a do-over. Your characters are always more clever, more talented, and more of the person you wish you could be. At least they are in my experience.



About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page:
This entry was posted in author's life, characters, Christmas books, creating scenes, experiences, Fantasy vs Reality, hobbies, inspiration, Music, Patricia Kiyono, teaching, using talents, writing, writing from experiences and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Yes, That Really Happened

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    First of all, I’m in awe of your MEMORY. As I’m reading your account, I’m struggling to remember any of my own experiences that later appeared in my stories. Yes I know they exist, but I’m hard pressed to recall what they were or which story they appeared in.
    Secondly, your life has been filled with a wide variety of rich experiences… and it’s terrific that you’ve been able to weave many of those into your stories.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      You’ve got three more days to think about it, so I’m sure you’ll come up with several things. You could always ask your family to help! And yes, I’m thankful to have led a very full life.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia, I have that T-shirt. Along with the one that says, “I’m a writer. Anything you say or do may wind up in a novel.” And it does. LOL One of my favorite T-shirts says, “I’m a writer. You’re not safe with me.” Now everyone will understand why. hee hee 🙂

    My stores are filled with my real life experiences, and most of them may have a minor detail changed to fit the story, but for the most part, they are written the way they were experienced. The most unbelievable one was a vehicle accident my characters were involved in (or I should say nearly missed being involved in) on a highway where a small cattle trailer turned over, allowing the cows to escape (unharmed, as it turned out – honest, real story). The road was tied up in both directions while the Highway Patrol and some drivers played cowboy to get them corralled. It was fun to write about that experience since no one, not even a cow, lost their life.

    Reality is very important to me in my stories of romantic suspense. In scenes where I didn’t experience the action myself, I gleaned it from someone else’s memory, changing the names to protect the innocent, of course. LOL Even in my one spooky story, a lot of it comes from memories of what my storytelling uncle told me. Now whether those things were true or not…who knows.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I would love to have one of those t-shirts. But then I wonder if people would be afraid to talk to me. The cattle incident sounds hilarious, and I’m glad you were able to incorporate that into a book. Thanks so much for weighing in!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. cynthiacleaver says:

    Writing from your own experience gives some sort of grounding to your work. It’s not all out of the imagination. The book I’m working on has some elements from my life. Scrapbooking, my work in a nursing home, and what it’s like to raise a child with a disability. Raising children with special needs put many hedges around my life. It also brought focus. I had one primary goal.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      You’ve had so many life experiences that we would all benefit from reading about. I’ll be eager to read your book when it’s done. Thanks so much for visiting, Cynthia.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Great read! One of my favorite authors offers a contest where you can nominate someone to be a victim in her next book!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think any experience enriches any life, but certainly helps a writer. Authenticity even in the simplest things really helps a story. I tend to get hung- up when a writer obviously knows nothing about something they put into a story and they really don’t have any idea of how to do it, what is there or the nuances of the workings of it. I have always admired your diversity and your appreciation of your experiences

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I get a little annoyed with that too. I stopped reading a book in which the main characters were musicians when I got to a scene taking place during an orchestra rehearsal. In the book, the conductor gives a signal to the first violinist, who plays a C for the tuning note. Uh, no. The first violinist (concertmaster or concertmistress), gives the signal to the first oboist, who plays an A for the orchestra to tune. There are plenty of other books with better attention to detail for me to waste my time on those that don’t.


  6. trishafaye says:

    It’s funny how often real-life ends up in our tales! Loved your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved this! I know there are things that have gone into my stories, but I’m like Jeff, struggling to remember them! Loved learning more about you, Patricia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks, Alina! I suppose it’s a little harder with your historicals. But I’m sure some of your characters are based on people you know, and the things they say and do are probably reflective of that.


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