Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Blogger Debby Giusti: How Authors Translate Fact To Fiction

UPDATE: The contest is closed. The winner of a copy of PROTECTING HER CHILD is Sharon A. Lavy. Please email you physical address to
Wealthy heiress Eve Townsend is close to death. But before she dies, she has to know: what happened to the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-four years before? Did she inherit her mother’s life-threatening disease? Medical researcher Pete Worth is ready to find answers by tracking her down. And when he finally locates Meredith Lassiter, he finds her widowed, pregnant and on the run. The loan sharks who killed her husband want her dead…and Pete is the only one standing in their way.

Fact or fiction? Authors put themselves into their books.

Okay, I’ll admit it. In my case, it’s fact. Not that the story is always about my life, mind you, but my experiences, relationships and core values are often woven into the tales I tell.
No, I’ve never been widowed, pregnant and on the run like Meredith Lassiter, the heroine in my latest book, PROTECTING HER CHILD. Nor did I fall in love with a hunky medical researcher who would sacrifice his own life to save mine, but the story came to light because of a dear friend named Pat Rosenbach.

Years ago, Pat told me about her friend Eva who had Von Hippel-Lindau disease. (In the photo above, Pat Rosenbach (L) stands next to Debby (R) and holds a photo of Eva.) I’m a medical technologist so diseases fascinate me. Strange, I know, but it’s the way I’m wired. I did my homework and soon learned about tumors—actually clusters of capillaries—that appear sporadically in VHL patients. Initially, they attack various organs such as the retina or spinal cord or adrenal gland. The tumors must be surgical removed and sometimes result in debilitation, such as blindness or paralyses. While benign at the onset, once they attack the kidneys, the tumors turn malignant and can lead to death.
Throughout her lifetime, Eva had seven surgeries to remove growths in her body. Physicians at The National Institute of Health followed her and eight other members of her family who had the genetically acquired condition. Medical researchers believe that by studying VHL they will someday learn better ways to treat other cancers as well.
My friend Pat hosted a birthday party--a celebration of life party--for Eva shortly before her death. I met Eva that night and was struck by her courage and optimism in the face of such adversity. Eva’s heroic determination inspired me to write PROTECTING HER CHILD. I hope my fictional tale will increase awareness about the disease as well as honor Eva and all of those who struggle with cancer.
On a lighter note, I set part of the story in Savannah’s beautiful historic district as well as the rural Georgia coast south of the city. Whenever in the area, my family and I always stop at the Sunbury Crab Company, a rustic waterfront restaurant in Sunbury, GA, which was the Dock House Restaurant in my book. While feasting on buckets of steamed blue crabs pulled fresh from the ocean, we watch the sun set over the low country and reflect on how good life is in Georgia. Next time you visit that neck of the woods, head to Sunbury ( for the best seafood in the South. It’s a treat you won’t forget.

If you’re a writer, post a comment and share how much of you own life experiences are reflected in your books. As a reader, do you try to separate fact from fiction in the stories you read? If you leave a comment, you will to be placed in the drawing for a copy of my current release, PROTECTING HER CHILD. The winner will be announced in this post tomorrow afternoon by 12pm ET.
Happy writing! Happy reading!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

Visit Debby online at, blog with her at and
Eva’s sister, Peggy Marshall, started as a source of information and support for those with VHL. To learn more about the work they do, contact Peggy at vhlconnections @ (remove spaces).

Winner of the 2008 Daphne du Maurier Award for Inspirational Suspense, medical technologist Debby Giusti writes spine-chilling Christian fiction for Steeple Hill. PROTECTING HER CHILD, her fifth book and the second story in her Magnolia Medical series, was released in May. CHRISTMAS PERIL will feature her novella YULE DIE in December, and KILLER HEADLINE will follow in February 2010. Her first three books, NOWHERE TO HIDE, SCARED TO DEATH and MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA are available in hardcover by Thorndike. In addition to full-length fiction, Debby has written articles for numerous magazines, including Southern Lady, Woman’s World, Our Sunday Visitor, Army and Family. For over twelve years, she served on the editorial advisory board of ADVANCE for Administrators of the Laboratory and wrote extensively on emerging infectious diseases for that magazine. For more information about Debby and her books, visit her web site at:

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Blogger Dawn Maria said...

Hmm... "write what you know" takes on a new meaning in this context!

I just did a personal blog about this topic last week. As writers, we know the details of our personal lives better than anything. I tend to draw form personal feelings more than similar experiences in my fiction. I can create a fictional reason for a character to feel scared, but I draw from my own feelings with fear to fill in the details. I do like to have characters in similar life situations as me, which makes this process easier. In my novel, the protagonist is a stay-at-home-mom, which I was until last year.

Great topic!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:45:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous kt711 said...

I put a lot of myself into my heroines. Partly because I become so attached to them, I think. I draw on my own experiences to create their conflicts and often, I want their stories to end differently than mine did--better. So that's where the line between fact and fiction is drawn for me, I suppose. My current heroine, I'm beginning to notice, has sort of BECOME me, which was not my intention. This being my second book, I'm a little nervous about that because I don't want all of my main characters to seem like the same person. Hopefully I can find that balance.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 11:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Sandi said...

I take a similar approach in my writing. I draw from my experiences in places I've visited or lived. Recently, I attended a personal writing class in which we learned to recall all sorts of things from our childhood and then created short stories from the memories. One of my recollections was of my grandfather who used to run moonshine on the back of a Harley across state lines. And later, my father telling me about hearing panthers screaming in the woods at night. I worked their stories into the plot for my YA novel. I was surprised at how something as familiar to me as my life could become something fresh that people would want to read when turned into fiction.

I enjoyed your post and will definitely look for that restaurant when I'm vacationing in the Low Country this summer!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 11:47:00 AM EDT  
Blogger azteclady said...

Hello, Ms Giusti!

As a reader, I prefer it when the facts/research are woven into the story in a way that makes them 'invisible' to me.

Best of luck with the book!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Dawn,
Thanks for sharing how you incorporate your life experiences into your work. I, too, draw on my past fear when I place my heroine in danger. And who better to write about a stay-at-home mom than a stay-at-home mom. Your writing resonates with other moms because you're living what you write. That's one of the reasons I love medical suspense. The lab is what I know and enjoy. Hopefully readers will enjoy the stories as well.

Thanks, Dawn, for stopping by!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

kt7 11,
Congrats on your first book and good luck writing Number 2! Having our characters sound alike is a concern. I like strong heroes and heroines. Sometimes that can be a problem as they try to determine who's in charge! :)

I create flawed characters and then redeem them during the story so they're not drawn from one person per se but from a number of people or personality types. Hopefully, the mix is different is each book.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Loved your comments about taking your life "stories" and adding them to your YA books! If you hadn't done the writing exercise, I wonder if you would have pulled the ideas from your past?

What you did sounds like a good tool for writers ... create short pieces about real life experieces and then work them into the WIP. Thanks for a great tip!

YA is hot now. Any suggestions on how to get started? I know a couple writers who are interested in writing for that market.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Azteclady,
You're right that facts need to be seamlessly added to the story. Info dumps are big no-nos! And so boring to read. My pet peeve is when two subject matter experts chat about basic stuff they already know just so the reader is clued into what's going on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Mary Connealy said...

I never felt like I did include my life much in my books, and maybe I didn't when I first started, but now I look at what I've written and I see lots of stuff.

So yes, I translate fact into fiction, often without knowing it.

The book that's releasing June 1st, though, Nosy in Nebraska, was me being very deliberate in writing what I know.

It's set in small town Nebraska and in the three short books contained within the anthology, I gave each heroine one (or more) of my own quirks.
The first one, the heroine is terrified of mice. The second one the heroine is a shy, insomniac bookworm, the third the heroine is a klutz.
Alllllllllllll me.
Of course the heroine's are young and thing and there's where the fiction comes in. :)

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Myra Johnson said...

Very interesting, Debby! I know I draw deeply on personal experience for my stories. In part, it's a confidence thing. If I've already been through the experience or related emotion, it's much easier to make it come alive on the page.

I'm so excited that later this summer I'll have a chance to visit the lower east coast and hopefully spend time in Savannah and Charleston!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Mary Connealy said...

Oh, and don't include me in the drawing. One of the great pleasures I have is searching for your books on the shelves and buying them, Debby.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, Debby! You know how much the diseases fascinate me, as well. I guess we're both weird. LOL

I had a lot of fun traveling with Debby recently to a Reader Appreciation Luncheon in Alabama. We talked about all kinds of diseases she could afflict her poor victims with! :) I can't wait to see what she decides to do with the next book!

Don't enter me. I already have Protecting Her Child in my TBR stack and look forward to reading it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Mary,
Thanks for stopping by ... did you say sis #2 is shy? Not you, Mary! No way! :)

When you had your heroine fall out of a window and then live in a cave with a guy and his ... how many were there?... 5 sons? Were those true life expereices?

Whether fact of fiction, they made for great reading enjoyment!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Charleston and Savannah? Oh, Myra, those are my favorite cities. We'll have to talk about what to do and see!!! Don't forget Sunbury's south of Savannah. A hefty drive from the historic district, but you can't beat the crab and shrimp!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Missy!
It's always fun talking about microbs with you! If people heard us, they'd think we were loco. Maybe we are! :)

The Heart of Dixie Readers Luncheon Missy and I attend each year is fantastic!!! If you're in the southeast, head for Huntsville, AL, in early May. More than 200 readers and about 25 authors join for a delightful day you won't forget!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 2:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Julie Lessman said...

Debby -- GREAT blog today!! And, YES, I think most authors draw from their own experiences when writing a novel. I certainly know that I do! In fact, there is so much of my life and personality in my books (A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed and A Passion Denied) that sometimes it gets a little embarrassing ... at least for my husband!

Like the time a friend of mine came to dinner and was chatting with Keith in the kitchen. "I really loved Julie's first book," she said, "but the fight scene between the mother and father? I don't know, it just didn't seem believable to me. What wife (especially one as nice as Marcy O'Connor) would react that way, with all that scratching and drama?"

My husband calmly took a drink of his Coke and gave her a narrow look. "Believe it," he said in a dry tone. "Because other than the husband coming home from a bar, it pretty much happened." :)


Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 3:38:00 PM EDT  
OpenID lynnrush said...

Wow, great post. I enjoyed reading that!

Yeah, I've never been able to heal someone by touching them, or lift a ten - ton truck over my head like my characters can....But many of their emotions, yes, I've experienced those for sure.

I just put those emotions into my characters along with their supernatural abilities. **smile**

Okay, yeah, and some of the dumb things my characters do......yeah, I've done them too. **Lynn blushes**

It's kind of fun, actually, putting my own stuff in these characters...because then I can re-write the outcome. LOL.

Thanks, this was fun.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 4:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

I've always known Keith was your inspiration, Julie! He's a doll!

Interesting that real life is sometimes more unbelievable than anything we could create. I'll hear something on the news and shake my head, thinking, "I could never include that in a story. The editor wouldn't believe it could happen."

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 4:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Lynn,
Supernatural powers? Now those sound like fun!!!

I'm with you on changing the endings and making them better. Embarrassing situations? Oh, yeah. But in my books, the heroine always comes out on top! :)

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 4:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deanne Gordon said...

Debbie, Thank you for writing this post.

My book club had this discussion last week. I was told that the "great" books are ones where the author can completely remove themselves from their manuscript!

I am happy to find out other authors add bits and pieces of themselves to their books. I think it gives reality to the story.

Since most of the authors who wrote the greats lived long ago, we can't ask them, but I would bet they also put bits of themselves and their experiences into their books.

That is why they are known as the Greats.

Thanks again

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 7:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Sharon A. Lavy said...

I would enjoy the book, so please enter me in the drawing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 7:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I'm a beginning writer right now. The stories that I've written have some element of my life in it--whether it be an actual experience that I've gone through or a partial reflection of who I am as a person (or of others who are close in my life). I also find myself writing in settings that are familiar to me. Maybe as I write more, I'll break away from that. As for now, that is what feels most comfortable to me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 8:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Pam Hillman said...

Debby, your story about Eva gives me chills!

I'm not sure how much real life I put in my fiction, other than farming, and ranching, and usually a few litters of kittens, puppies, or a baby calf or two.

Maybe I need to dig deeper for some real-life drama, huh?

BTW, I picked up Protecting just this weekend. Haven't had a chance to read much yet, but the opening is riveting!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Deanna,
Glad you stopped by the blog. My bet is even the Greats of Old added bits and pieces of their lives into their work. Authors have to come up with ideas and those spring from the sum of their experences. At least that's my humble opinion.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Sharon,
You're entered in the drawing. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

You're doing everything right! The first rule is to write what you know -- that includes settings and personalities. Feeling comfortable about your writing is so important. Sounds like you're on your way to publication!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Debby Giusti said...

Hi Pam,
Thanks for stopping by the blog. I know you always dig deep and write beautiful prose, Pam. Farming and ranching are areas I don't know; yet you turn them into the perfect backdrops for your stories.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger azteclady said...

Congratulations, Sharon!

Thank you, Ms Giusti, have a great weekend!

Friday, May 29, 2009 at 3:48:00 PM EDT  

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