My guest this week is a fellow member of the Mid-Michigan chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Kellie Van Horn writes inspirational romance for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense line, and her newest release, Buried Evidence, was released in July. Recently, Kellie participated in a Zoom interview presented by the authors in that line, and I was fascinated by Kellie’s connection to her heroine’s work as a forensic anthropologist. I purchased the book right away and started reading, but unfortunately haven’t been able to finish it yet. I’ll have a review later in the month, but in the meantime, she’s here to give us some details about how she came to write the book. Please welcome Kellie!
Writing What You Know
One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever heard, even before I wanted to be an author, was “write what you know.” Of course, if we only stuck to what we knew, we writers would have very limited scope for our imaginations, but I do find myself applying this advice all the time for a few reasons.
First, it cuts research time. I write romantic suspense, and trust me, there is a lot to look up. What radio codes cops use, the range of a certain type of weapon, components of a pipe bomb… I’m surprised the FBI hasn’t shown up at my door yet. So I apply my own knowledge whenever I can. Like the female protagonist in my newest book, Buried Evidence—she’s a forensic anthropologist. I am not, but I did earn a Master’s degree in nautical archaeology, which falls under anthropology in academia. My experience gave me skills that translate over into forensics, like how to set up a dig, how to record and handle artifacts, and some of the things you can learn from bones. I still had to do more research, but my own background gave me a jumpstart writing her career.
Second, we’re often more inspired by what we know. It holds a place in our hearts or memories that something we’re inventing can’t quite pull off. For example, I’ve very inspired to use places I’ve visited as settings for my books. Buried Evidence takes place in southern Indiana, not far from where I graduated from high school and college. The little details, like the feel of the muggy summer air or the sound of the bugs, were easy to write because I’d experienced them myself. It’s those details that bring a setting to life and make it a vibrant part of the story.
Lastly, writing what we know taps into a deeper part of ourselves. It forces us to put ourselves on the page, which is both scary and exhilarating at the same time. When we dig into our own experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, disappointments, and pain, the words that come out are unique to us. That’s what makes the best fiction stand out—the author’s unique voice. The downside to this, of course, is that emptying yourself on a page leaves you exposed to other people’s opinions, and delving into negative things from your own past might hurt. A lot.
In Buried Evidence, the suspense plot revolves around the discovery of long-buried human remains. Both the main characters believe the victim is someone they have a close connection with, and they spend the novel seeking justice for this devastating crime. My inspiration for the story set-up came from a true case in my hometown. A college girl vanished while riding her bicycle on the two-lane roads outside of town—roads I had ridden alone only the year before. I didn’t know her personally, but I did know her older brother, and even decades later I can vividly recall the search parties and news articles and prayers.
That kind of experience leaves a mark on you. Not nearly to the extent as if she’d been my sister or friend, but it still made writing this book much harder than I’d anticipated. I was forced to wrestle with the grief and uncertainty her family must’ve experienced, along with a bit of survivor’s guilt—why was she the one killed and not me? Sifting through those thoughts and emotions on the page was hard, but it brought a depth of emotion to the story that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I pray that it will be an encouragement to others who’ve experienced this kind of long-lasting, ambiguous loss in their lives.
Ultimately, “writing what you know” should go hand-in-hand with imagination and research. While it can be hard to put yourself into your stories, it’s the only way to write something only you could’ve created. And that’s exactly what the world needs.
Thanks, Kellie! Here’s more about the book:
Can unearthed bones solve a ten-year-old cold case?
Returning home isn’t easy for forensic anthropologist Laney Hamilton, especially when it means examining bones that could belong to her long-missing best friend—the sister of the man she once loved. But now someone wants Laney dead, and her ex-boyfriend, police sergeant Ryan Mitchell, must shield her. As the predator stalks them, can Laney and Ryan finally uncover the tragic truth about their past?
Kellie VanHorn is an award-winning author of inspirational romance and romantic suspense. She has college degrees in biology and nautical archaeology, but she’s always found her sense of adventure most satisfied by a great story. When not writing, Kellie can be found homeschooling her four children, camping, baking, and gardening. She lives with her family in West Michigan.