I’ll Never Tell – Will You? by Sherrie Hansen

Night & Day When Night and Day, my first book, was published, I felt absolutely naked. Thoughts and deeds I’d been taught to keep private were suddenly on paper, exposed for all the world to see.  Since I publish under my real name, there was no screening process involved. Anyone and everyone who chose to, could read the words I’d penned, knowing full well that I’d written them, imagining as they went which of the scenarios I’d described were purely imagination… and which really happened.

How much of yourself do you put in your books? Do you live in fear that an old lover, an estranged friend, an ex-employer, or a quirky relative will read your book and see themselves in all their thinly disguised, renamed-to-protect-the-not-so-innocent, glory?

I was somewhere with my mother a couple of weeks ago and a family friend was asking about my book, and the family legend upon which the historical part of the book is based. I told them the story… my great-great grandma, Maren Jensen, was a very beautiful woman. She was married, living happily and prospering in Denmark with her husband and three children, when my great-great grandfather suddenly packed up everything and moved the entire family to America. Why? To get his wife away from another man who was in love with her.

We don’t know the rest of the story… may never, but we do know that whatever happened changed the entire course of my family’s history.

This true tidbit of history certainly got my imagination going, and while what happens in the book is simply one scenario of what might have happened, compliments of my wild imagination, this grain of truth, as told to us by our Danish cousins, was the seed from which my book grew.

Here’s the funny part… When I finished relaying what we know of Maren’s story, my mother said twice, very adamantly, that the part about Maren was the only part of the book that was true.

Well… she can believe that if she wishes… really, it is better that she does… but I know that there is more truth contained in the book than I will ever divulge.  Of course, I didn’t say anything, not particularly wanting to draw attention to myself or embarrass my mother.

A few days later, a customer at the Blue Belle who had just purchased a book, after learning that the book includes a steamy internet romance, leaned in with a co-conspiratal  look on her face and said, “So, it this story about your life? Didn’t you meet your husband on the internet?”

Well… I can truthfully say that the original draft of the book was written some time before I met my husband, so he is off the hook, but… To my chagrin, I could feel myself blushing. I’m sure, by the time five or ten seconds had passed, I was ten shades of red.

Yes, I’ve personally lived out some  of the scenes in Night and Day – in one form or another.  Others never happened – never will.  It’s fiction, right?

She pressed for an answer. So, parts of the book are true?

“I’ll never tell which ones,” I finally stammered.

People have wondered the same thing after reading the book.

A friend of mine, a multi-published, award winning author, recently read Night and Day. Because her thoughts were relayed in a personal note, and not a public review, I will not use her name. She said that she had trouble reading the sensual scenes between Anders and Jensen. In her words,  “I actually had gotten so close to your characters that I couldn’t invade their privacy. Kind of like peeking in the window when you and Mark are together.”

When Susan Barton of Romance Readers at Heart, who does not know me personally, reviewed Night and Day, she said “I actually had to shake myself quite frequently and remind myself that Jensen and Anders are not real people because their emails, phone calls, chats and finally, in-person conversations, are entirely genuine… This is a romance of the whole self.”

I take it as a compliment that my characters seem so real. All I’ll say is, in some cases, it’s no accident.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting another Second Wind author, Christine Husom, who  attended a Writer’s Retreat at the Blue Belle Inn. While visiting, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the background story of her first book, Murder in Winnebago County, loosely based on the somewhat mysterious death of her own father. I had read and known the premise of her book was riveting, I never dreamed parts of it were true.

I can’t speak for Chris, but for me, writing about real life incidents – whether heartbreaking, embarrassing,  confusing or comical – can be very therapeutic… a catharsis of sorts…

My world is full of “characters”. How about yours? How much of your book is based on real life people and experiences? Is there a danger that people from your past may recognize themselves in your books?

At the beginning of each book published, there comes a disclaimer, “This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations and events are either a product of the author’s imagination, fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any event, locale or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The truth – or a stretch?

I’ll never tell – will you?


Filed under books, fiction, Sherrie Hansen

12 responses to “I’ll Never Tell – Will You? by Sherrie Hansen

  1. I loved this piece. My first novel – still playing rejection round robin – has way more of me in it than I’d have liked. To be fair, the main character did end up telling me “Hey I’m not you,” so it’s her story, not mine. And like you, if I ever get published, I’ll not be telling.

  2. I use people I know all the time. Sometimes it’s obvious; sometimes a character is a composite of several people; sometimes I use bits of the same person in several characters. This is always done in such a manner that the friend being used should be flattered, or at least amused, to see him- or herself in the book.

    Every so often I use someone from my past I didn’t like as a template for a character. These are much more subtle.

    • Sherrie Hansen

      Hi Dana – I just hope my uses of character templates drawn from real life people are as subtle as I think they are!

  3. Sarah McDermed

    I enjoyed this a lot! I draw more on real events than real characters in my writing, although real animals I have known and loved are the inspiration for many of the animal characters in my books.

  4. Even if a writer denies using real people or incidents I don’t see how reality doesn’t creep in. With “School of Lies,” I referenced a lot of real life. Don’t you love that “reference” word? Heard a filmmaker use that term recently. I think it’s perfect.
    Someone told me that they’d written a long piece in college and even used the professor’s character traits and when she read it in the grading process she didn’t recognize herself. This person told me their theory: no one likes to see a less than rosy portrayal of their own behavior and will therefore never recognize it on paper.
    I suppose most of us won’t take whole character from real life or a whole situation because it seems like copying. But sometimes a writer just can’t resist taking the whole person. In the play, “The Rivals,” the famed Mrs. Maloprop (sorry to misspell that name) was taken from a real character and that playwright must have been very gutsy to write her in. Maybe it was copying but in that case, I’m glad he did it. What fun! I don’t know if he got into trouble but in those days, the libel suits were probably less common?

    • Sherrie Hansen

      Thanks, Mickey. My characters are mostly as scrambled as eggs, and hopefully, therefore unrecognizable. I have a few conversations in one book or another that are almost word perfect. Scary.

  5. I’m not yet published, so I cannot imagine what it feels like to have people pry into your personal life like that. I attended a conference, where Cynthia Lord, who wrote, Rules, loosely based on her autistic son, said questions posed to her and her family, were incessant.
    As far as writing about my life, I only use the smallest parts, but feel that it’s more the emotions and insecurities that I share on paper. Sometimes, that makes me feel more vulnerable, so when I’m rejected, it can feel like they’re rejecting my feelings, along with my ideas.

    • Sherrie Hansen

      I know just what you mean, Theresa. I think sharing your honest emotions, and then having the opportunity to see how people react to them, is one of the scariest things about being an author.

  6. christinehusom

    Now I’ll be wondering where you are in your book! Just kidding. You infuse great emotions in your writing– seems realistic, like you experienced them. It does get personal, but that’s what makes your writing so good.

    I have a lot of people who ask me about my dad–people who remember how he died, others who have heard my first book was born through his death. I think readers feel a connection to writers who are able to use real events in their stories.

    My niece (my husband’s blood niece) told me she’s trying to figure out who Smoke is–assuming I’m Corky. I guess she thinks I have an unrequited love from my past. One of these days I’ll tell her Smoke really is a ficional character, but I’m not sure she’ll believe me. Funny!

    Thanks, Sherrie.

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