Stranger Than Fiction

Lord Byron. Mark Twain. The Beastie Boys’ Mike D. Over the years, these artists, and so many others, have made the observation that truth, or life, is stranger than fiction. I was recently whapped upside the head by this concept as I lightly revised and prepared the books in my Underbelly Chronicles series for indie re-release.  

Have you ever noticed similarities between your own life, and what shows up in your fictional world? Familiar settings, plot points, jobs and expertise? Characters whose interests, concerns, challenges, internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts, might be…strangely parallel to yours, or to someone close to you? 

I’ve long suspected this was true, but…geez. Nothing like revisiting previously published work to reveal that what you thought were fairly random dots actually have straight line connections! 

I’ve written here at the blog before about the event that catalyzed my first book – watching middle-aged women flash their bare breasts at drummer Tommy Lee at a Motley Crue show. I was…baffled. Amazed. Astounded. I couldn’t figure out why women would possibly want to do this. I remember thinking, “Geez, is he half-incubus or something?” (An incubus is a mythical sex demon.)

Hmm. What if he was?

The next morning, I went to the coffee shop with a spiral notebook and pen, and started to build the Underbelly Chronicles world. 

One thing I’ve realized about world-building? A world developed from scratch, with all its rules, laws, ceremonies, practices, beliefs, and conflicts, reveals much about its creator. Anyone who reads my work can easily discern my fascination with the possibility that humans aren’t alone in the universe; my paranormal creatures’ ancestors are extra-planetary, marooned here when their spaceship crashed.

There are also, in retrospect, some glaringly obvious recurring themes in my work, based on my personal interests and experiences:

  • Exploration of family, both birth and chosen
  • Issues of health, and living with chronic illness
  • Technology, pro and con
  • Work/life balance
  • The sometimes uneasy boundary between public and private life 

I find pieces of me in my characters’ closets, on their bookshelves, in their music collections. My friends tell me that they enjoy looking for these “Easter Eggs” in my work. “I was with you when you bought Bailey’s boots!” (Yes, you were!) “That scene where the power went out in the ice storm. Is that my cabin?” (The main floor, yes. The bedroom? No.)   

Seriously, my books are veritable Rorschach Tests: 

Taste Me – My interests in music and personal security converge; I plot a bodyguard tale with a twist. After being threatened, burned-out siren rock star Scarlett Fontaine and incubus security guru Lukas Sebastiani are forced into close proximity. As a siren, Scarlett can influence emotions with her voice, but Lukas is a sex demon, and has some skills of his own. However do they cope? 😉 Hospital and cabin settings are based on composite personal experience. (Sorry for setting that sex scene in your sauna, Grandma and Grandpa!)  The emotional intelligence classes I was taking for my STEM job definitely helped with crafting my paranormal species’ abilities. 

Chase Me – Set in both Minnesota’s remote northwoods and “The Cities” to the south (I’ve lived in both locations),  were-shifter Gabe Lupinsky, who has macular degeneration, finally comes to believe that he and buff, fit Valkyrie Princess Lorin Schlessinger are a perfect match. Let’s just say my growing frustration with corporate politics informs the plot. (Yes, Council member Krispin Woolf is based on a real person.) But that scorching love scene set in the overflow parking lot of one of Minnesota’s busiest roadside restaurants? Nope, that’s fiction…though my friends still give Mark and me a side-eye.   

Tempt Me – Reformed human hacker Bailey Brown desperately needs to regain some semblance of work/life balance. (Tammy looks at sky, whistling innocently.) Sounds like a perfect job for hedonistic incubus sculptor Rafe Sebastiani – or does it? Exploration of the rural/urban cultural divide continues, with a specific focus on how technology dependence can create some unfortunate blind spots. (If you lose electricity during a northern Minnesota winter, you care a lot more about heat than lack of internet access. Believe me.)     

Big life changes ahoy! I tapped out of corporate America in late 2015 to write, edit, and teach full-time. My longtime dude and I also got married.   

Enthrall Me (Coming in Fall 2017)  – Straight-laced vampire Council member Wyland is attracted to a completely inappropriate woman – Tia Quinn, a young investigative journalist whose work might inadvertently expose the secret of the paranormals’ existence to humanity. Being Tia’s also a vamp, it’s Wyland’s responsibility to rein her in – and you can probably predict how well that goes. May/September hijinks ensue. Explorations of health issues, and that blurry line between what’s public and what’s private, continue – this time with a political twist. 

GULP. Holy unconscious recurring themes, Batman. Talk about writing what you know!!  And now you know, too, because I’ve left pieces of me all over the damn place.  😉

Thinking about your own writing, are there any topics or themes you’ve consciously or unconsciously plucked from your own life, then puked on the page? Which pieces have YOU left behind?  

We won’t tell.


Tamara Hogan is the award-winning author of The Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series. An English major by education and a software developer/process engineer by trade, she recently stopped telecommuting to Silicon Valley to teach, edit, and write full-time. Tamara loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her husband and two naughty cats.

Her debut, TASTE ME, won a Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense, was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award®, and won Prism Awards for Best Dark Paranormal, Best First Book, and Best of the Best.

“Friends Showing Silence Sign” by David Castillo Dominici courtesy

12 responses to “Stranger Than Fiction”

  1. Hey, Tammy. Congratulations on the releasing of all your books and you have a new one soon too! Awesome. It sounds very intriguing.

    As far as me in my books, yeah, I can see that. I always have a character that is quick to volunteer to help and a quiet/shy one that comes up with lines at the perfect moment. I also tend to write a life lesson into the stories as well.

    Great post and congrats on jumping into authorhood full time!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Autumn! It feels great to have reacquired the rights to my first two Underbelly Chronicles books. I feel as though I’m starting my career from scratch, but at least it’s all in my hands now!

  2. Lara Archer says:

    Yes, congrats on having the Underbelly Chronicles in your own hands again!! How exciting! And how fitting, given how personal the stories really are.

    In graduate school, I often noticed how people’s academic projects reflected their own psychological needs and issues (“Sexual Anxiety in the Works of Jonathan Swift”?….right. You can leave Jonathan Swift right out of it, Bob.)

    My books are mostly historical romances (Regency), so physical connections to my own life are a bit tenuous (I WISH I could have some of the clothes, and a carriage, and an English estate), but personality types and emotional issues…those are definitely familiar.

    Some writers talk about having a “core story,” and I definitely think those “cores” come out of our own psyches, and the aspects our our own personalities and lives we feel a deep need to work on and resolve. I tend to circle back again and again to characters who keep a lot to themselves, and have to learn to open up and trust another person who scares them. Trust-building and intimacy, often achieved in the face of danger. Not sure what that says about me, but I seem to enjoy returning to it over and over.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —> In graduate school, I often noticed how people’s academic projects reflected their own psychological needs and issues (“Sexual Anxiety in the Works of Jonathan Swift”?….right. You can leave Jonathan Swift right out of it, Bob.)

      Yeah, that’s not subtext. That’s TEXT. 😉

      I think you’re right about core stories.

  3. Fascinating topic, Tamara! Novel writing has always been a therapy of sorts for me, a way to explore and muck through big, scary feelings or ideas or personal challenges.

    When two of my three daughters were getting ready to leave the nest, one for college and the other for a trip around the world, I channeled all of my worry and fear and hopes into the novel I was working on, THE BLIND. Not unexpectedly, my heroine in THE BLIND, an FBI bombs and weapons specialist, is hands-down the strongest, most powerful female character I’ve ever created. She’s capable, confident, and kicks ass. Yep, that was Momma-Bear Me channeling all I wanted for my girls as they headed out into an often cruel and ugly world. Take that!

  4. Nicole Terry says:

    Congrats on the re-releases of your books!

    My first book was a deliberate choice to put myself on the page. The character has my name, she lives in my small town, etc.

    They say write what you know…and the one thing I know ABSOLUTELY is myself. Oh, not everything’s about me, there are snippets I’ve changed to protect the guilty *wink*. But like you, friends and family will read it and see me in every page. If you’ve ever read The Perfect Neighbor Nora Roberts, its like when her character Cybil uses her everyday interactions to fuel her comic strip.

    I’m doing it in the next books as well. Except, in those cases I’m exploring other sides of my own personality.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> The Perfect Neighbor Nora Roberts

      Ooh, Nicole, thanks for the reminder! I enjoyed that book immensely, and should read it again. All it would take is walking over to my Keeper Shelf, but…so many contest books to judge first!

      My family and friends sometimes get confused, because they try to pick out a single character in my series who they think most represents me. They won’t find one, because there are pieces of me in most of them – even the villains. 😉

  5. Vivi Andrews says:

    I love this post, Tammy. I definitely leave traces of myself in my books. Always a Bridesmaid was littered with snippets picked up while running the Maid of Honor gauntlet for my BFF. I think those bits of self definitely make the books feel more real – and I’ve always felt your books feel incredibly real (even if they are littered with things that go bump in the night). 😀

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Vivi, I love things that go bump in the night. Might be a villain, might be a husband. 😉

      Oof, the Maid of Honor gauntlet is right! I have definite (and probably unpopular) opinions about unexamined ‘shoulds’, rules, the patriarchy, and the bridal industrial complex, but when your BFF asks you to be her Maid of Honor, it’s about what SHE wants, right? Turns out that what she wanted was a kick-ass project manager, so win-win!!

  6. Liz Talley says:

    Well, not the sex scenes. Um, not really. I mean, I guess we all have to use our experiences there at one time or another.

    I usually visualize my hometown or a town I visit and suddenly I realize I’m describing a room I’ve actually been in or a park I’ve played in as a child. One of my most recent texts with a friend pretty much went like this –

    “You made me a character in your book!”

    Me: Kinda. you and another person.

    Her: I can’t believe I’m a character in your book”

    Me: Well, I love how bold, fun and awesome you are. I sort of morphed you and another person together to make one perfect character.

    see? Sometimes I do it and I don’t really realize I’m doing it. And sometimes I take two people I know and mash them together. I thin we all do this to some extent. Great post, Tammy!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —> sometimes I take two people I know and mash them together.

      Right?!? This, to me, is one of the most satisfying aspects of ‘writing what we know.’ It’s so much fun to pick and choose physical traits and personality characteristics from any number of people, then cobble them together into an entirely new person…one who does exactly what you want them to do. 😉


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