Have I Ever Used Any Real Experiences In My Books?

You Bet I Have!

By Jeff Salter

Before I regale you with things that I’ve personally experienced (that I later used in a story), let me tell you about two true incidents in the lives of my wife’s ancestors. One occurred about 600 yards from where we now reside; the other took place at the church those ancestors attended, which is perhaps a mile distant (as the crow flies).

The first situation occurred after the local Civil War Battle of Dutton Hill – some two miles distant – after which a badly wounded Confederate soldier struggled to the Bishop cabin and pleaded for sanctuary. My wife’s ancestors let him in and cared for him the best they could, but he died of his wounds during the night and was buried early the next morning. This was extremely dangerous business, since this area was occupied by Union Forces at the time and any “aid” to the “enemy” – if discovered – could be punished by forfeiture of property and exile to Canada.

The second event, likely decades later (I could never pin down a specific year), was witnessed by that same family (among many others). As Sunday evening church service was letting out, an unknown rider came up to the church, asked for a drink of water, spoke with one or more people, and was – seconds later – shot dead as he rode away. The stranger was buried where he fell and his fenced off grave was undisturbed for decades until a state road crew re-routed several sections of Clifty Road.

I used both of those fascinating family stories in my novel, “Hid Wounded Reb,” and stayed true to the basics of each incident… though I moved the “stranger shot at the church” episode earlier in the timeline… just a few years after the Civil War. I also had to provide (in my story) an identity for the murdered stranger and the reason for his visit. Many versions of the family lore featured a SECOND Rebel soldier, who accompanied the badly wounded man. That survivor took the better horse and rode south the following morning. In my story, he lingered in the area – hiding in a cave – as he healed from his own wounds.


Now for a few of my own experiences.

Likely the most notable – since it formed the basis for my entire seventh novel, “The Overnighter’s Secrets” – was when my friend showed me the contents of an old suitcase he’d obtained in barter, some 16 years previously in California. The items had been recovered by dumpster “divers” who had scooped them into two small boxes. My friend placed the pieces into a small suitcase and he’d shown those items only to one other individual (his wife), all that time. As he and I pored over the pieces, we realized not only were most of them connected to one individual (and her family), but they were the belongings of a Vaudeville actress who later became a star in silent movies. At one time she was in the same company as a young Charlie Chaplin. “Meeting” Lizette Holdsworth Thorne – as I did through examining her playbills, photos, clippings, and other items – I built my entire story around the “secrets” we uncovered, how we connected things that (at first) were not readily apparent, and then I devised a suspenseful plot around how such belongings might affect multiple individuals in modern day Tennessee. To pull it all together, I also had to create a sinister villain, Kaser.

Another example of an entire novel arising from my own experience was when I was strapped onto a compression table in a chiropractic office and gazed out the window to pass the time. Watching a leafy tree move in the breeze, I thought to myself, “my heroine works in a chiropractic office and lives in a tree house.” Thus was born the primary elements of my novel, “Stuck on Cloud Eight.” Several scenes in my story came directly from my own experiences in that clinic.

In my first Christmas novel, “Random Sacks of Kindness,” I borrowed heavily on my own experience with many homeless individuals from my years working in a public library in busy downtown Shreveport LA. Some of my characters were derived from individuals I actually knew. The experience with the dangerously aggressive panhandler – featured primarily in one scene, though that character emerges multiple times – actually happened to me in Shreveport.

Finally, in my W.I.P. – set in a nursing home – I am using many situations I’ve encountered in the 14 months I’ve visited my own mother at Somerwoods Nursing Home here in Somerset. Several of my characters are inspired by individuals I’ve met there. As of this blog writing, I’ve not been allowed – due to the KY governor’s restrictions related to CoVid-19 – to visit Mom since March 10… but I will resume my thrice weekly visits as soon as that restriction is lifted.


What about YOU? Have you experienced any situation or person that you’ve later written into one of your stories? Or, if you’re primarily a READER (rather than writer), have you read scenes which feel like they were taken right out of your own life?

[JLS # 490]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Have I Ever Used Any Real Experiences In My Books?

  1. claycormany says:

    Many of the competition sequences in my YA novel Fast-Pitch Love are based on things I saw happen in my son’s little league baseball games over 20 years ago. Rather than have those events befall a boys’ baseball team, they instead happen to a girls’ softball team. Some of the book’s events are also more dramatic and more prolonged than they were in “real life.” For example, at one point in the story, a dog rushes onto the field, snatches the softball, and has to be chased for about 10 minutes before the ball is recovered. I have seen games interrupted by loose dogs running onto the field but only for a minute or so, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a game stopped because a dog stole the ball. I guess I could still say Fast-Pitch Love is “based” on true events; that’s a lot different than saying it is a “true” story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I’ll bet that’s a funny scene. In church league softball, I’ve seen all kinds of strange happenings, though no balls stolen by dogs. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Many, many incidents have found their way into my writings, and I better get them to readers! I can’t believe that I have skipped over Hid Wounded Reb! It is a fascinating story and I applaud the courage and compassion of Denise’s family.It is amazing, though, treehouse and all, whence inspiration will appear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Absolutely. The Bishop family were compassionate and brave to help that man as they did. The family lore goes on to say that they hurriedly buried the body before dawn so there was less chance of any Union soldiers finding him as they patrolled the vicinity of the battle for stragglers. It was a frigid March morning, and the ground was mostly frozen, so he was buried “shallow” up in the woods. Later, the woods around that grave were cleared enough to add more graves — family and neighbors. Eventually it became the cemetery it is today, with hundreds of graves.


  3. jbrayweber says:

    I can’t say I incorporate true incidences within my stories…yet. I may one day write a book using some of the stories from my dad and grandpa. Maybe someday. I do, however, siphon off high emotions that I vividly remember during certain experiences to help capture the moment.

    Gotta ask, though… No one knew who shot and killed the man riding away from the church? Or why? What a mystery!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      The story of the murdered stranger at the church house was already two generations old by the time I heard it. My father-in-law remembered the grave, because the kids would dare each other to run up and touch the fence. But his mother was alive and a member of that church when it happened. Since that family never missed a service, Grandma Jesse Fisher Williams was almost certainly a witness to the murder. In my novel, I’ve contrived a solution to the identity of that stranger, why he rode up on his horse, and who recognized him, and why he was killed. But that’s all conjecture.
      One thing seems fairly certain from the original lore — whoever shot the stranger was among the congregation exiting the church. And that adds an extra layer of mystery!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I knew you’d come up with several examples of real-life experiences in your books! I’m surprised that nothing from the Amanda More or Less books made it to this list. Jason sounds a lot like you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      LOL. Jason certainly has some of my characteristics. In an earlier draft, Jason does some things that I took from our son’s behavior… but I don’t think those survived the editing process.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jeff, I love Stuck on Cloud Eight. That was my favorite of your stories that I’ve read so far. And I can see how it would have come about. LOL

    I’ve already answered this question about scenes in my own books coming from things I’ve experienced. A great many of the scenes in my books revolve around hospitals and doctor’s offices and are first hand experiences of mine. Some were given to me from my co-workers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Sharon, for that kind remark and for your on-going support and encouragement.
      Yes, I read what you posted earlier this week.
      There are so many “routine” places and experiences from which we can draw inspiration for stories… even if the original incident/event needs a little tweaking to work into a fictional context.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Denise Salter says:

    Jeff has used other real life situations in his writings of Possum Trot Psychs on Face Book. However, I reserve the right to disclaim some of the information he shares!!! 😄
    The stories my dad told of the Bishop family and his own childhood growing up in the same house and land kept me on the edge of my seat. Would the family be able to keep the secret of the grave hidden in the woods on top of the hill? To help disguise the disturbed soul of the soldier’s resting place, a local soldier was buried next to the Confederate soldier. In the next years the Bishop family’s house was often used to lay out the local loved ones because of the location of the new Bishop Cemetery and the fact the Bishops built coffins.
    In the last century and this new century, Bishop Cemetery has collected tears, screams, and laughter of family and friends of the Bishop descendants. Hmmm, will Jeff use some of those stories in his next novels?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks for filling in those details. I had forgotten about the Bishop cabin being involved in those funerals, but I had a vague memory that the Bishop WAGON was used to haul the bodies / caskets up that steep hill.


  7. Carla Hostetter says:

    One of my best books, A Trashy Affair, was based on my very own garbage collection problems. It will make you laugh. Others like Mardi Gras Madness was based on my real life experiences of a young Yankee librarian who moves to Cajun Country to take a job. But no, I didn’t marry a plantation owner. These are all Lynn Shurr novels as I see I am Carla Hostetter below.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I well remember your daily travails with the local trash pickup. We all knew — as those events were unfolding — that they’d be featured in one of your novels. But I never guessed it would be the CENTRAL theme of a novel of yours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s