Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Beth Vogt-- Real Life and Writing Life: Don’t Waste the Pain

Life happens.

So much for stating the obvious.

Several years ago, my family went hiking on a picture-perfect Colorado day. Our laughter filtered through the evergreens. Sunshine warmed our shoulders as we balanced on fallen trees spanning a mountain creek.

And then, as my husband, Rob, jumped from one boulder to the next, he slipped and broke his knee cap.

Imagine estrogen-laced pandemonium as my two oldest daughters stepped up to control the situation. Three-strong-willed women in a crisis? Not a pretty sight. While my youngest daughter burst into tears, I feigned calmness and prayed “Dear God, please don’t let Rob pass out until he tells me what to do.” (He’s a doctor). Meanwhile, Rob assessed his knee, which resembled two mountain peaks and one very deep valley.

In the end, our daughters ran down the mountain to alert rescuers. Rob, with the help of two young men, splinted his leg with tree branches and hiked back down the mountain—meeting the rescue teams as they hiked up. I trailed behind and photographed the journey.

A great family story? Absolutely.

Even better? In my debut novel, Wish You Were Here, my hero, Daniel Rayner, needed a “what else can go wrong?” moment. Daniel’s an outdoorsman like my husband. And so, I borrowed from real life and had Daniel (say it with me) slip on a boulder and break his knee cap. 

Write what you know, right? And while you’re at it, don’t waste the pain – yours or someone else’s.

Lest you think I only glean from my husband’s misfortune, here’s a sneak peek into my second novel, Catch a Falling Star (Howard Books May 2013.)

My hero, Griffin, is an Air Force pilot. I’d already plotted one problem for Griffin, but I wanted to add another layer of “why me, God?” to his life. I’m a novelist, it’s what I do: Wreak havoc on fictional people. I only looked as far as my reflection in the bathroom mirror to figure out how to torment poor, unsuspecting Griffin.

For the past year, I’ve ridden the daily tilt-o-whirl of vertigo. Sometimes with grace. Sometimes with tears.

Why waste the experience? Griffin got vertigo.


One thing is certain: I knew what Griffin would feel – emotionally, physically, mentally, even spiritually. When my husband read one of my scenes, he said, “I feel kinda nauseous.”

Mission accomplished.

What about you? I’m sure you’ve been told not to waste the pain in your life. Have you ever used the pain to benefit your writing?

Author Bio: Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.”
 Her contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted this month (Howard Books.) ). Beth is an established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International. She enjoys connecting with other writers as the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy, bestselling author Susan May Warren's writing community. Learn more about her at


Rachel Hauck said...

Great post... So true. Nothing in life is wasted for a writer!


Anonymous said...

I use journaling to put my feelings on the page to go back and review when I need a scene with that emotion. (A tip I learned from Susan May Warren) Congrats on your new release, Beth!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I just enjoyed reading this post so much. Even more, I enjoyed your "Never say never" bio at the end! My mom said she'd never marry a doctor (Yup, she did!). I have a close friend who said she'd never homeschool and she became our homeschool co-op leader for years, and one of its biggest advocates! I love how God sometimes makes us eat our words! So glad we can learn and grow from all these experiences (and incorporate them into our books!).

Patricia Bradley said...

I've learned not to say never. The hard way. Great post and a perfect example of writing what you know. I couldn't put Wish You Were Here down until I finished it. Can't wait to read about Griffin!

Julia M. Reffner said...


You are such an inspiration to so many of us new writers! It was great to read about you here! You are so right about "never"!

Alena T. said...

How very true. I love taking the pain that life sometimes hands us and turning into something useful!


Joanne Sher said...

Yup - LOVE your bio - and this post. And how can you NOT use that kind of thing? It's healing to write it as well. Thanks!

Yesenia said...

What a great post! I'm new here, and I want to say thanks for all the tips. I'll definitely be keeping this one in mind.

I think sometimes, though, we as writers do this without knowing it. I noticed that in my two novels after reading this.

Unknown said...

Beth, I had no idea Daniel's accident stemmed from real life! How cool! Well, no, I mean, not cool that Rob broke his knee cap...but cool that you got to use it.

This made me LOL: "I’m a novelist, it’s what I do: Wreak havoc on fictional people." Hehehe...

Jennie Atkins said...

I learned a long time ago to never ask "What can happen next?", because it always brings something worse.

Great post, can't wait till your next novel!

Lindsay Harrel said...

I love this post! So true. And cool to get an inside peek at what inspired some incidents in your book!

I've definitely used a few of my own experiences in my book. Great technique. ;)

dtopliff said...

This is absolute pay dirt. This makes me want to take a fresh look and come out w/ nuggets! Thanks, Beth

Beth K. Vogt said...

It is so much fun to be visiting at The Writers Alley today. This is one of my favorite writers blogs. Thanks, Alley Cats, for letting me hang out here today.
I'm enjoying all the comments and love the fact that I'm not the only one who has discovered good things behind the door marked "Never."

Carol Moncado said...


We have to wait a YEAR for your next book?

Can I cry now?! ;)

Let's see.

This year, I've had skin cancer on my nose, a crater the size of a nickel left in it for 5 days, plastic surgery, 11 days on narcotics [the really good ones], Bell's Palsy and the scar from the plastic surgery lasered.

Nah. I got nuttin to use.

Oh wait.

I already have ;).

Or am planning to. In fact, Pepper used the beginning of the Bell's Palsy one the other day.

And, yeah, I've used lots of other stuff and I'm sure I'll use more in the future.

So sorry your hubby broke his kneecap. So glad some good came of it ;).

Casey said...

Ah, Carol, you've been through the ringer! But you've got story ideas. ;-)

Hmm, how about the time I bike raced from the top of a gravel and dirt road, all the way down the driveway where the dog decided to come join my front wheel and we both went sprawling. I still have the scars on both elbows to show for it.

I'll have to use that eventually. ;)

Jane Myers Perrine said...

All the time. However, when I had the dog die, my readers got mad.

Lisa Jordan said...

Good thing you didn't have to look far for a doctor. ;) When my mom had open heart surgery last summer, I channeled those emotions into my character's Black Moment to create a believable response. And I agree-no pain goes wasted.

Embrace said...

I didn't even realize using your own life experiences was a writing skill when I first started. In each of my early novels there are huge chunks of my life. Who knew?
So glad to see you here Beth. Loved your story. How convenient you had your camera handy:)

Krista Phillips said...

LOVE this post Beth!!!! So true about using our experiences... I have a ton of them I've built up, and certain things have definitely helped. Someday there'll be a heart story out of me yet... not sure what though!

Beth K. Vogt said...

I appreciate the encouragement about Wish You Were Here & that some of you are already anticipating Catch a Falling Star. ;o)
Jodi -- I took the photos initially for our son and daughter-in-love, who weren't on the hike. Then I thought: No one is going to believe my husband did this! I have proof -- even that he had to climb some sheer rock faces to get back down the mountain.

Jeanne T said...

Beth, I tried to comment here earlier, but the school melee and cries of, "Mommy, mommy" distracted me from knowing what I wanted to write. :)

Now it's quiet. I loved this post, and I LOVE your bio! :) I think I am writing some of what I know in my current story. I have emotional history that will possibly come out in another story. The taking the pain and writing what you know--priceless.

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Beth! I used the pain in my life for my first novel ever...messy messy writing, but it was good therapy! :)
We have a lot in common...four kids, my husband wasn't in the Air Force, but my dad was an Air Force physician...flight practices solo..and I was really involved in MOPS, not an editor though! HA! Can't wait to read your book!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh my goodness!!!! You are a
Bwahahahahaha-er too!!!!!!!!!!!

I love it!

I haven't read your book yet, but it is definitely on my TBR list! I have heard soooo many good things about it.

And your bio...I love it! NEVER is a dangerous word, isn't it? Someone told me once that I should only have one child because of my personality. Well, I showed them. I had FOUR! Humph! :)

Thanks for being here at The Writer's Alley! We love you!

Roxanne Sherwood Gray said...

I get the first photo taken as Rob's hiking down. But, he actually stopped and posed??? Oh, my!

For tender-hearted authors it's sometimes hard to wreck havoc the characters we love so much. But it's what we've got to do.

If I didn't use my own pain, I'd have no way to write believable characters.

BTW, Loved the "Bwahahahahaha." ;-)

Great post. Thanks!

Pepper said...

Pooh, blogger just ate my very cute response.


The cover of your debut is FANTASTIC.

Great post. Non-fiction is the best food for fiction, I think.
Like Angie, I've found that writing about real-life into my fiction is therapeutic. I've done that in a few of my historicals.

But I save the funny stuff for my contemps. Crazy family stuff, mistakes - and some of the best - KID HUMOR!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Standing up applauding this post. So true. I tend to stay away from the tragedies 'cause I don't want to relive them. But what better to sprinkle a buwahahahah on a stinky memory.
Love it.
Thanks, Beth
Thanks Krista for having Beth for a guest.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Sherrinda: love the noun "Bwahahahaha-er!" I shall use it from now on.
And, yes, Roxanne, that's Rob posing with the rescue teams (plural). I made him do it.
Applauding all you wonderful Alley Cats. Expect hugs at ACFW in September!

Paula Boire writing as Sara Jameson said...

Great post, Beth! Also enjoyed the sneak peak at your next release!!