Monday, June 8, 2015

Stranger Than Fiction - Bringing 'Real Life' into Your Stories

I don’t know about you, but I LOOOOVE a good story. How many of you have wonderful memories of someone telling you a story – a fairytale or maybe reading you a good book. The best kinds of stories are those that make us feel like we’re experiencing the action, like it’s part of our lives.

Well, what if it is? Or at least, what if someone in your past, your family history, is telling a story about their lives and it’s too amazing to imagine.

That’s what happened to me about eight years ago – and sparked the creation of several of my novels.

Family history. Truly – stranger than fiction.

As part of my eclectic family history, there are horse thieves, accused murderers, a possible witch, and at the top of the unseemly characters list, my great, great grandfather, John. He was heralded as the meanest man in the mountains. John did many horrible things in his life, but one story is that he traded his wife for a hunting dog. Since he was said to be the meanest man in the mountains, perhaps we should feel sorry for the dog.

As a product of the unique culture of Appalachia, I benefited from a granny who kept a long oral history. I can tell you stories of my ancestors that go back about seven generations, a few maybe longer. And I’ve taken those tales, those memories, and incorporated them into various novels I’ve written or am writing.

As a matter of fact, my novel Just The Way You Are takes the idea of a young woman searching for the mystery her ancestry and makes it into a fun adventure of romance, discovery, and second chances.

So, how can you discover the stories of your past?

First of all, I suggest you write down the stories of the present. We get so busy that we forget our stories might be interesting someday, and because we have a tendency to forget various parts of the story, we should jot it down along the way. Keeping a journal is a fantastic way to do this.

For example, just a few years ago I had one of those HILARIOUSLY unbelievable moments happen to me. I’d been kind of depressed about some things for a few weeks and was driving to work and praying (as a mom of 5 that’s about the only time I have to be alone ;-) About five minutes into my drive I felt something on my leg. I reached down to swipe it off and felt…FUR. Then the ‘whatever’ scuttled up my leg to my knee. When I glanced down I saw a MOUSE sitting on my KNEE!!!!!

Long story short – before I crashed the van into the ditch along the road, I found a place to pull over and proceeded to beat my purse around the inside of the van (with all the doors open) until that mouse jumped out and headed for the nearest SANE woman :-) Anyway, that story didn’t just get me out of my funk, but it also inspired a scene in a story which then inspired an entire book.

NEXT, Find old…er….well-seasoned people in your family and spend TIME with them. Stories and culture comes from starting a conversation. I’ve been taking notes on my granny’s stories for fifteen years. The tales of her life in Appalachia, being raised by an unpredictable alcoholic father and strong-spirited mother are the inspiration for my YA WWII historical series – kind of like a cross between Anne of Green Gables and Little Women set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Va.

Daydream! Yes, I'm giving you an assignment. I have my great, great, great grandmother's china salad plates from Ireland. She left her home to move to America when she met my great, great, great grandfather. When I pull out those plates, I let my mind wander through what it must have been like to be her. Did she HAVE to marry him because of the famine in Ireland, or was it a love so great she was willing to leave her homeland for him? What kind of guy would inspire that sort of commitment?

 (The picture to the left is Peveril Castle Keep in Castelton, Derbyshire, UK - my ancestor, William Peveril built it in the 12th century)

Genealogy sites are great, but the REAL stories come from PEOPLE. It’s not just about dates and names, the people become three-dimensional when you have a flesh-and-blood person recounting the tale. The REAL challenge is finding the right people.

Do you have some stories in your family’s past that are stranger than fiction? Ones that would be the start of a great book? Or maybe some that have INSPIRED a novel you've already written?
Share with us.

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in April 2015. Her first contemporary romances is slated to release in December. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at

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