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June 15, 2018

Write What You Know ~ by guest @RuthKaufman

“Write what you know.” If all authors followed that supposedly sage advice, there’d be no historical or paranormal romance novels. No books set anywhere but the author’s hometown or places she’d lived. That is, unless some of us were reincarnated, have time-traveled or inhabited worlds the rest of us don’t know about.
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My first four novels and a novella are medievals. Because I’d read so many over the years and love castles and knights, I enjoyed extensive research on topics ranging from the last battle of the Hundred Years War (a scene in my first book), stained-glass painting (the heroine’s occupation in my second book) and tournaments (I needed to know the actual rules so I could put a twist into my third book) because I wanted to incorporate not only actual facts about what people in those times wore, ate and did, but real historical personages and events.

To help me WWYK, I visited Castle Rising, the castle the heroine in my first book lives in...and took the picture that’s on the cover. Though hundreds of years separated us, I saw the building’s scale and its surroundings. I also stayed in a couple of castles. Though of course, the plumbing was up to date, Amberley Castle was the more medieval of the two, with a narrow spiral stone staircase (picture me lugging my large suitcase up that). I bought a gown at a Renaissance fair (yes, that period was decades after mine) to get the sense of what it was like to wear multiple layers of clothing, a bodice, and heavy skirts. I looked at hundreds of pictures and art and portraits from the time. And, I actually own a knight in shining armor! I haven’t tried it on, but I get the sense of the weight of the pieces and how they attach. Not the same as living in medieval times, but the best a modern author can do.

My Life as a Star
For my fifth novel, MY LIFE AS AN EXTRA (humorous women’s fiction), I did write what I know and what I lived for years: I worked as an extra on more than 80 films and TV shows. Now I pursue speaking roles, which helped me write the sequel, MY LIFE AS A STAR, which releases today!

My first experience as an extra was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’m in the parade scene, though you can’t see me. I was close enough to the Danke Schoen float to get fabulous pictures of John Hughes and Matthew Broderick. One of my last extra outings was the ABC TV show Betrayal (as a juror, you can see me briefly). I can be glimpsed or actually seen in assorted features such as Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (where John Slattery’s character gives a speech).

I set the book in Chicago, where I live and the vast majority of projects I’ve worked on have filmed, though I traveled to Lithuania to be an extra in Highlander 5: The Source (as a homeless washerwoman when the villain arrives). And, since I’m over 40, I decided the heroine should be, too. I did my best to incorporate accurate details, but even in a city I know quite well, things change, such as beer prices at Cubs’ games. 

Figuring out how much to include that’s actually true, how much to base on truth and how much would be pure fiction was a challenge. Only my hairdresser knows for sure what the final blend is. Another challenge was finding the balance between making a day on set seem believable and real vs. overloading the reader with information and facts or making the book’s scenes too long, because many days I worked more than 12 hours. Finally, though I’ve filmed with many famous directors and household name stars, since it’s a novel and not a memoir, I wanted to be careful about how many I mentioned and for what purpose. Bonuses included not having to look up many words to see if they were in use at the time (as I did with my medievals) and not needing to double check historical details.

For MY LIFE AS A STAR (romantic comedy), I did have to do some research, because that hasn’t happened to me…yet? 

Other ways to WWYK are:

1. Write characters that you know. Many of us have had, say, a difficult boss, so the characteristics and behaviors of that person can be transferred to the antagonist in many settings, whether that antagonist be a duke in Regency England or a dictator in an otherworldly realm. Most of us have had best friends, assorted family members and co-workers, and have met with professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc. One idea is to take a character from your life, say, your first boss, and write down as many aspects of him/her as you can recall from appearance to mannerisms. Then you’ll have a list to draw from for the boss figure in your novel.

2. Write emotions that you know. For example, most of us have experienced some form of grief or loss, and we can draw on those real feelings to fill our characters’ minds. We’ve been on first dates, so can incorporate the anticipation and/or awkwardness. We’ve gotten or not gotten a great job.

Think about the situations your characters face and recall details about how similar situations in your life made you feel. If you felt sorrow or anger, for example, what parts of your body ached or tightened? How exactly do you cry or laugh? If you were joyous, miserable, frustrated or hopeful, how did you behave? Who did you share these feelings with, and how?

3. Write settings that you know. If your characters visit a place you’ve lived in, been to, or even viewed online, the city, town or location can be described more realistically and you’ll probably find specific details that will add to the uniqueness of your scenes and maybe even the plot.

About the Book:

After summoning the courage to quit her lucrative day job, Marla Goldberg is determined to be a full-time working actress in Chicago. Her biggest gig so far is a national TV commercial directed by hot, famous Scott Sampson. But portraying a tap dancing zucchini isn’t acting or success to her disapproving family. Maybe they’ll be impressed if she gets cast in a major film, also directed by Scott. How does she stop caring what they, and others, think?

Scott, aka Great Scott, finds himself falling for quirky, smart Marla despite his vow to never date another actress. The pressures of their profession and the glaring, ever-present public eye threaten to tear them apart as she learns to be careful what you wish for when her career and feelings for him suddenly skyrocket.

Buy My Life as a Star at Amazon

About the Author:

Ruth Kaufman's MY LIFE AS AN EXTRA, a humorous novel in which EAT, PRAY, LOVE meets LA LA LAND in Chicago, received an Honorable Mention in The Tracking Board’s 2017 Launch Pad Manuscript Competition. Other accolades include 2016 Booksellers' Best Award double winner (Best Historical and Best First Book) and Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® winner.

Three standalone novels comprise her Wars of the Roses Brides series: AT HIS COMMAND, FOLLOW YOUR HEART and THE BRIDE TOURNAMENT.

Ruth is also an on-camera and voiceover talent with a J.D. and a Master's in Radio/TV with 16 years of sales, training and marketing experience. Credits include independent feature films, short films, web series, national TV commercials and hundreds of voiceovers including e-learning courses and medical narration.

She presents a variety of workshops for authors and actors, is a comedic storyteller and sings in a symphony chorus. Learn more at and

Connect with Ruth: Website  *  Facebook  *  Twitter  *  Instagram  *  Goodreads  *  Amazon

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