When Fiction Is Inspired By Real Life

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

We’ve got a copy of Marybeth’s new novel, THE BRIDGE TENDER, up for grabs today, along with a sea shell inspired necklace. See the entry form below for details.

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

The Inspiration Behind The Character of Emily Shaw

It might sound strange, but I have what I would consider an abundance of friends who are widows. There’s Amanda, whose soldier husband died following a tour in Afghanistan, leaving her with four young daughters. There’s LeAnn, whose husband died of cancer, leaving her with a young son. There’s Kitty, whose husband died of a massive heart attack on a summer afternoon, while playing in the pool with their four young sons. There’s Robin, the supreme widow, who lost two husbands– one due to a horrible crime, the other due to a freak accident.

These women– and their stories– have changed my life, shaped my worldview, and adjusted my perspective. The simple truth is that they loved their husbands. They lost their husbands. And that fact has shaped the women they have become: Brave, courageous, admirable, determined, gutsy women who didn’t stop living just because the person they loved most in the world did.

It was that transformation– from grief to hope, from “my world has ended” to “I’m learning to live in this new world” that inspired the main character, Emily, of my new book THE BRIDGE TENDER. Watching these women face, and overcome, so many challenges and go on to support their families, mother their children and still eke out some joy each day informed the kind of woman she is on the page. Any part of Emily that seems real is because I had real inspiration. I have watched and learned and recorded their brave journey on the pages of my heart. And I hope, in some small way, I have paid homage to what they’ve faced, and who they’ve become. They are, each of them, my heroes.

The old Sunset Beach bridge. Photo credit: http://www.seatrailownerrentals.com/

The old Sunset Beach bridge. Photo credit: http://www.seatrailownerrentals.com/

The Real Old Bridge

I’ve written several novels set in Sunset Beach NC: THE MAILBOX, THE GUEST BOOK, THE WISHING TREE and now THE BRIDGE TENDER. Each novel is centered around a real object that draws two people together over time and against the odds. In this new novel, the object is the old pontoon bridge that used to connect Sunset Beach– an island located at the lowest part of North Carolina’s coast, just before you cross the South Carolina state line– to the mainland. The quirky old bridge worked sometimes and then sometimes, it didn’t. Fraught with problems that included broken parts, damage from passing boats, and even the tides, the bridge wasn’t exactly dependable. Stories abound of the bridge breaking and citizens of Sunset either stranded on the island and unable to get off or trapped on the mainland with no way to get back. There were practical issues to consider, to be sure, but there was also some significant safety issues.

So it wasn’t surprising when the state started talking about taking the old bridge out and putting a new, reliable bridge in. And yet the old bridge, in all its quirkiness, was part of the history and culture of Sunset Beach. Would Sunset still be Sunset without the bridge that served as its only access? Would the heart of the place be lost with the bridge? These questions nagged at all of us who love Sunset Beach as the debate over the bridge waged on and plans for its replacement were made. Eventually, as with many things in life, progress reigned and we who loved the old bridge prepared to say goodbye.

But the story doesn’t end there.

I wanted to capture this debate within the community but I also wanted to pay homage to a little band of citizens who found a way to save the old bridge. These folks rallied to find a final resting place for the bridge, to take something that could’ve been a sad ending and make it a new beginning. They arranged to have the old bridge carefully removed and reconstructed on a piece of land not far from its original home, a spot that has become a gathering place for the community complete with festivals and programs and a museum. Without these people the bridge would’ve been destroyed and history would’ve been lost.

In the end, that’s what my novel is all about– taking loss (the main character Emily is a widow who returns to Sunset Beach to fulfill her husband’s last wish for her) and turning it into something hopeful: Not letting the death of something be the final say. The old bridge has turned into something new, thanks to the devotion of a few people who did what they could. And that has made all the difference.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

32 Responses to When Fiction Is Inspired By Real Life

  1. Amy Sue Nathan July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Marybeth, how wonderful to be inspired by such strong women and to write a story steeped in hope. Sounds like a fabulous read!

  2. Kathy July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    The new book by Mary Beth Whalen, The Bridge Tender, sounds like a wonderful read. I love books about the south and then a relationship that is being mended as well as the old bridge makes it even better. I look forward to reading this book and hope many will pick up a copy as well.

  3. Sheri July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I love Mary Beth Whalen’s books! I am so looking forward to reading this one as well.

  4. Carl July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for the insightful post. I personally prefer when fiction is linked up with real life. I enjoy reading about places that I’ve been or people and events from history mixed in with a fictional story. It makes the whole thing more plausible to me. Thanks.

  5. Nicki July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I like fiction that I can identify with, in one way or another. I’m actually from NC (Marybeth’s area, even!), but I’m writing this from a California beach I’ve known my whole life. This is inspiration for some fiction, that’s for sure!

  6. Katherine Jones July 18, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    “It was that transformation– from grief to hope, from “my world has ended” to “I’m learning to live in this new world” that inspired the main character, Emily” –it’s this that makes me want to read this story. Thank you, Marybeth, for writing another story to inspire and encourage us all.

  7. Bonnie K. July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Many styles of writings appeal to me. I like books based solely on imagination, some that draws from personal experience, love memoirs–main factor is how well the authors draws me in and hold my attention.

  8. Brooke July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Can’t wait to read, just finished the guest Book and ready to read this one! Great story telling! Thank you!

  9. Susan Gruener July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    They must be young as well…such hard things to go through in life at such a young age… My 35 yr. old daughter also became a widow last year when her 37 yr. old husband died, from a life of poor choices… I pray comfort for your friends and especially the children, who seem to have it the hardest of all. My 10 yr. old grandson and 15 yr. old granddaughter as well as our daughter, live with my husband and me, so I have seen how they have dealt with this firsthand. God has been so faithful to them!
    What a great tribute you have written to your friends. I can’t wait to read the book.
    Thank you!

  10. Marla July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I know Robin. Love her testimony!!!!! I’ve read THE MAILBOX, and THE GUEST BOOK. They were great! Looking forward to this read as well.

  11. Joni Gerking July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I also have several friends who unexpectedly found themselves widowed, all within a 3 year period. They are truly courageous. I’ve had the gift of learning so much from them and of standing with them in the hard times.

    I look forward to reading your book.

  12. Margo Crane July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I am a Gold Star widow, and love truth with fiction because I like to read fiction that I connect to, and that perhaps can have a happy ending, is uplifting, or depicts us rising up from the bogs of death to live among the flowers and butterflies of life once more.

  13. DinT July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Love both fiction with truth and from the imiginations of the author.

  14. Denise Duvall July 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    It matters not if a story is fresh from the author’s imagination or has strands of truth. What matters is that the story is well written and holds the reader’s interest.

  15. Debbie D July 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds wonderful and inspiring. And the necklace is beautiful!

  16. Vicki July 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I love both fiction fresh from the author’s imagination, and with strands of truth. Both can be equally interesting, but if I had to choose one over the other, it would be with strands of truth.

    So sorry your friends had to go through the loss of a spouse. Many hugs to them all!

  17. Rebecca Booth July 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I love reading books where the author uses their own imagination!

  18. Lauri Smith July 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    This is my introduction to you. A friend forwarded me your blog post and I was intrigued by the book and how it came about. I like some truth in my fiction, especially biblical truths woven in throughout the storyline. But I also think it’s cool that you base characters on real people. I am a writer of sorts myself and have had several friends encourage me to write a book. I’ve been a blogger for a little over a year and this was totally a God orchestrated undertaking as I would never have launched a blog otherwise. I write about my personal experiences and what God shows me and how He grows me through them. Anyone reading this who is interested – laurismith88.wordpress.com

  19. Bonnie Walker July 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Being a widow I am interested in all things written about widowhood. Especially Fiction.
    It would be a delight to read such a positive approach to surviving as a widow in a ’cause’ that effects a whole community. A very interesting and most likely great read for all widows. I certainly will be telling my widowed friends, and if a winner of a copy, then I will read and then share by passing it on.

  20. Paige Carroll July 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds wonderful. I am a huge historical fiction fan so I guess I like BOTH ways for an author to write! The creative telling of stories surrounding historical events, places, or people is facinating to me!

  21. Becky July 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Can’t wait to read this one!

  22. Susan C. July 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Real life or imaginary, I like them both. I think you need both to make the book believable.

  23. Paula Dolin July 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I would love to read this book – thanks for the chance to win!

  24. Judy McMillin July 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    So far I have loved all the recommendations from She Reads. I look forward to Marybeth Whalen’s book too!

  25. Kristy Woodson Harvey July 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds like a wonderful book! I love reading things set in my home state!

  26. Mary July 22, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds like my kind of novel. I love strands of truth that also inspire me. This sounds like that kind of novel.

  27. Stacy (The Novel Life) July 22, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    being from the south I am especially drawn to books about the south and I love having a thread of truth woven into a novel…..thank you for hosting this wonderful giveaway!

  28. Britney Adams July 22, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I love fiction filled with strands of truth and can’t wait to read THE BRIDGE TENDER!!

  29. Josey Bozzo July 23, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Strands of truth!!!! always makes for great fiction. Can’t wait to read this latest Sunset Beach story. I really want to visit this place someday.

  30. Lina July 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I am intrigued and I have liked her books in the past.

  31. Gayle Lin July 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Being a misplaced North Carolinian, I would love to read another book that includes the beach in my home state.
    The necklace is gorgeous, and would be a welcome prize for anyone.

  32. Kris July 25, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Adding to my must read list. Can’t wait to find it!

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