The Truth as Fiction: Creative Personal History
By Madge Walls, Personal Historian

As Personal Historians we work with real people whose lives are full of tragedy and triumph; failure and achievement. Many of us have come upon a story — our own or a client’s — that cries out to be turned into fiction. That’s what I did with my first novel, Paying the Price, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

I got the itch to write fiction about 25 years ago, but couldn’t think of anything to write about. Aside from an exotic childhood in Hawaii, my life had been pretty boring.

So I played at it for years, scribbling bits and pieces of stories here and there, hoping that someday a good idea would come along. Then one day I picked up a murder mystery in which a Realtor sauntered in on page two, overly dressed, overly made up, and shod in dangerous four-inch heels. She was NOT a nice person, and she got nastier as the story went on. You guessed it — she was the murderer.

I was insulted. I was a Realtor, and most of my friends were Realtors. We’re hardworking people, good parents, contributors to society in many important ways. Suddenly, I realized I had my subject. I knew the business, and boy, was it interesting! So I sat down to write—but exactly what did I want to say?

At about that time I closed a sale that was more challenging and downright frightening than anything I could have imagined. Lives were threatened and property wasted. The scarier it got, the more my buyers wanted that house. My voice went hoarse trying to talk them out of it, to no avail. When I finally gave them the key, I said to myself, “Here’s your plot, and you won’t have to exaggerate to keep the reader turning the pages.”

A turning point? You bet. I bailed out of the real estate business, which I had come to hate, and became a teacher of high school dropouts studying for the GED exam. Best job I ever had. Meanwhile, I was leading a secret life, shackled to my computer for an hour every morning before work, spinning a tale of mischief and mayhem on Maui, all based on my own experiences. It was like having a Mai Tai for breakfast, a natural high that set me up for the rest of the day.

I took a very personal incident in my life, changed the names, genders, occupations and places to protect the guilty as well as the innocent, added a heartbreaking subplot of mothers and daughters in conflict, and crafted a novel that won an Award of Merit for Fiction from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association in 2006 and the Honolulu Advertiser’s People’s Choice Award in 2005.

On the day Maui Realtor Laura McDaniel makes the most difficult sale of her career, her 19 year old runaway daughter Annie returns, distraught and pregnant. When Annie disappears again after giving birth, Laura faces the overwhelming possibility of raising her granddaughter alone while trying to stay afloat in an all-consuming profession. As the surprises keep coming, you’ll cheer Laura all the way to closing!

So although my intention was to simply write a spellbinder that is both an insider’s look at a business that affects us all and a touching tale of mothers and daughters, it set me on a mission: to show the reading public what my life as a Realtor was really like. To portray the hard work, the caring, the drama, and the human conflict that was my every day bread and butter.

Writing from my heart, I also portrayed my life as member of a Caucasian minority amid swirling cross-cultural currents — not always pretty. It’s a unique slice of American life that I wanted to preserve for my children and grandchildren in the best APH tradition, yet reach a commercial audience via fiction. My favorite reader comment came from my middle son:

“Wow, Mom, I learned more about your life reading Paying the Price than I did in thirty-three years of being your son!”

The truth as fiction — a creative way to write a personal history.

Read more about Paying the Price on Amazon.

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