I like to write stories with an element of fantasy or supernatural. I’ve tried to write “normal, real world” stories, but I always end up throwing in a ghost or something. I just run with it now.
It may sound like I basically disagree with that old adage, “write what you know.” But I don’t. Not entirely. I love coloring my stories with my own life experiences.
I was an actor in Chicago for seventeen years. I enjoyed it, loved it—until I didn’t—and have no regrets about throwing my stuff in a trailer after graduating Louisiana State University and moving to the cold north, basically sight unseen. I did a lot in Chicago aside from acting. I ran the marathon twice and got super into martial arts, even competing on a world championship level. But in the end, it was too cold and the cold was too long. I came back down south—though not quite as far—to Nashville.
I still miss those trains though.
Perhaps that’s why I had a nightmare, just a few years ago, about riding the train with a friend after an improv class and the elevated train flying off the rails. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s the first scene in Ghost Tamer. Although I decided my main character should survive the crash and decided to throw some ghosts in.
I weaved the paranormal world that I built around my real world experience. Raely and Casper ride the trains and buses that I still miss. I made Raely an aspiring comedian, just a little step sideways from an actor, and sprinkled those experiences in. And I made it winter.
February to be precise. Which is, in my opinion, the worst month to exist in the city of Chicago. But one of the best to write about.
If you’re going through a crisis of self and running from a soul-eating demon while you try to sort out your new-found ability to see ghosts, you need an uncomfortable, bleak backdrop as far as I’m concerned.
I even pulled in a major character from New Orleans and had fun melding elements from a voodoo shop I went to near the French Quarter with Chicago’s typical storefront architecture when I created her space.
There’s nothing like authenticity. And yes, if you want to write something you know little about, of course you can get help. I’m writing a prison story right now and know nothing about being in prison. I am definitely tapping outside sources. These stories are great, you learn more yourself as you research and you get to bring something new into your writing.
But have you ever read a book that takes place in a city you’ve lived in and you just know that the writer has been there? It gives it an extra boost! I read a book where a character was from Nashville and he mentioned a trail that I run on daily. It was a random line, just to color the larger story the character was telling, but I was ridiculously excited.
I have a book coming out in the spring of ‘25 that takes place in space—never been there, doubt Elon will be extending an invitation—and on an entirely new planet, but I made my main character a martial artist. I am super excited to get those fight scenes out in the world.
Write what you know, but have fun with it, I say.
Meredith grew up in New Orleans, collecting two degrees from Louisiana State University before running away to Chicago to be an actor. In between plays, she got her black belt and made martial arts and yoga her full-time day job. She fought in the Chicago Golden Gloves, ran the Chicago Marathon, and competed for team U.S.A. in the savate world championships in Paris. In spite of doing each of these things twice, she couldn’t stay warm and relocated to Nashville. She owns several swords, but lives a non-violent life, saving all swashbuckling for the page, knitting scarves, gardening, visiting coffee shops, and cuddling with her husband and two panther-sized cats.
Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @meredithrlyons or check out her weekly blog each Friday: meredithraelyons.com/faster.