3 Things In My Novel That Happened In Real Life

Like it or not, when drawing fictional characters the writer must look to the real world for ways to make them ring true. If two characters are arguing, you might take inspiration from how a real person pulls at their ear during an argument, then use that as a jumping-off point to layer in the textures and nuances unique to your story.

But sometimes, you end up with something on the page that straight-up happened in real life — and by God, it works. While writing The Blue Iris, three such instances occurred (all deeply embarrassing for yours truly), and because the real events served the story better than anything I could make up, in the book they stayed.

  1. The Screen Door Spectacle

My main protagonist, Tessa Lewis, is a klutzy empath who consistently makes a horrible first impression. Most notably, she crashes through a screen door during a party one night, triggering the backyard motion lighting as she tumbles over said door and barrels across the lawn in spot-lit view of all the guests.

Luckily for Tessa, she’s used to such gaffes (and so is everyone who knows her). She brushes it off, unconcerned — instantly capturing the heart of the gorgeous, brilliant William Westlake (who has always found the women around him to be much too preoccupied with appearances).

In real life, it was me who crashed through the screen door. Friday night, senior year of high school. My best friend was having house party, and kids from a bunch of schools besides ours showed up as the crowd spilled from the dark basement to the even darker yard. Unlike Tessa, who mistakenly thought the screen door was open, I was fully aware it was closed — and was reaching to slide it open when the toe of my mile-high platform shoe got there first.

The door popped clean off its track, landing on a forty-five against a white plastic chair as momentum carried me through the opening. I tap-danced on the screen for what felt like forever, limbs flailing, as the metal frame clattered against the patio stones and motion lights flooding the spectacle for good measure.

I did not brush it off like Tessa does.

No wealthy, handsome lawyer-to-be fell in love with me on sight.

My friend’s poor dad had to spend his whole weekend repairing the door.

And on Monday, the top-tier “cute boy” posse was overheard saying they were soo drunk on Friday night they couldn’t remember a THING . . . “except that St. Joe’s girl busting through the screen door.”

2. The Wrong Clock

In The Blue Iris, a wrecking ball in coveralls named Darryl must figure out how to buy inventory for the flower market he works at after his brother Sam disappears. Darryl refuses to admit he hasn’t a clue what he’s doing until Tessa catches him bidding on the wrong grower’s auction (also referred to as the Clock). It’s a turning point in their fractious working relationship and a breakthrough for Darryl, who begins to process the awful secret he and his brother have been carrying for decades.

On my first trip to the Clock (23+ years ago) to buy cut flowers for the market I worked at, there were two keypads in front of me: one for entering bids on the auction to my left (“Clock A”) and one for bidding on the auction to the right (“Clock B”). I kept my eye on Clock A, where the cuts were, swiftly bidding on snapdragons by the bunch and roses by the stem, proudly keeping within the prescribed profit margin.

Afterwards, we went to collect our purchases and found no yellow roses waiting, no soft pink snaps. No cuts at all, really. Instead, there were three skids’ worth of items I’d never seen: massive trees with pineapple-like fruit. A thorny tangle of potted plants that were ugly as sin. Spectacularly showy six-foot trellises that looked very expensive.

While I was doing a bang-up job bidding on cuts from Clock A, my fingers had been pressing the Clock B keypad.

I’d accidentally spent hundreds of dollars of the store’s money on large, specialty items we had little hope of selling at the store. I’d be lucky to work enough hours the rest of the summer to pay it back.

In the end, my boss showed mercy and after two weeks of hawking daily blowout specials up and down the sidewalk, we managed to sell off most of it at cost — but I never again entered my own bids at the Clock.

3. Staff Appreciation Night

Rowan, owner of the Blue Iris Flower Market, treats his faithful crew to a night on the town in appreciation for slogging through the busy season. There’s a party bus, a steakhouse so fancy the toilet seats are heated, a swanky rooftop bar and a surprise stop at a tattoo parlour. Some on the crew find closure. Others, irrepressible chemistry.

There was a Staff Appreciation Night at the flower market I worked at, too. Ours took place at the race track, and one year the youngest in the group (just shy of legal age) nearly got himself arrested trying to follow the rest of us into the adjacent casino

(In his defense, he was trying to impress a girl).

He got carried out by six large men wearing earpieces, banned from lotto and gaming facilities for two years, fined, and ordered to vacate the property immediately. Except he couldn’t leave; the car keys were in another co-worker’s pocket — and that coworker was ignoring the loudspeaker’s repeated requests to report to the security desk (in his defense, he’d just won thirteen hundred and sixty dollars — and seventy-five cents — on a slot machine, and had been told to stay put until someone fetched his claim ticket).

But the night wasn’t a total wash. A different coworker did report to the security desk, and though she was far from impressed with the boneheaded antics of the red-faced boy being held there, she discovered that her level of concern for him far surpassed your typical co-worker camaraderie.

They still tease each other from time to time about that night — her because he made a fool of himself, and him because she fell for him anyway. Like just the other day, for instance, on their fourteenth wedding anniversary, with seven months to go until the release of her debut novel The Blue Iris.

4 thoughts on “3 Things In My Novel That Happened In Real Life

  1. Enjoyed reading these so much!

    Wishing you great success with your new novel and look forward to reading it.



  2. I enjoyed reading the “true life” happenings and the sneak peak into some of your characters. Your writing style is witty and insightful so if this is any indication of your writing abilities I am super excited to read your book!

    Liked by 1 person

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