April 22 – 28: “Have any of your own experiences, later described in a book, been deemed improbable?”

This week we join ITW Members Jonathan Maberry, Thomas M. Malafarina, Amy Lignor and Beverly Swerling to ask: “Reviewers or readers may pronounce events in books as “improbable,” surprising writers who know that the events were based on their own life experiences. Have any of your own experiences, later described in a book, been deemed improbable?”


As the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL were her heroes. Beginning with Amy’s first book of historical romance, her career flourished when her YA series THE ANGEL CHRONICLES arrived on the scene. She began developing the storyline for this new seven-book series which moved her into the world of action, adventure and romantic suspense. Working as an editor in the publishing industry for decades, Amy is now the Owner/Operator of The Write Companion, as well as a contributor to various literary publications and websites.

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and freelancer for Marvel Comics. His novels include EXTINCTION MACHINE, FIRE & ASH, PATIENT ZERO and many others. His award-winning teen novel, ROT & RUIN, is now in development for film. He is the editor of V-WARS, an award-winning vampire anthology. Since 1978 he’s sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, and poetry.

Thomas M. Malafarina is an author of horror fiction from Berks County, Pennsylvania. He has published four horror novels 99 SOULS, BURN PHONE, EYE CONTACT and FALLEN STONES as well as for collections of horror short stories; 13 NASTY ENDINGS , GALLLERY OF HORROR, MALAFARINA MALEFICARUM Vol. 1, MALAFARINA MALEFICARUM Vol. 2 and most recently GHOST SHADOWS. He has also published a book of often strange single panel cartoons called YES I SMELLED IT TOO; CARTOONS FOR THE SLIGHTLY OFF CENTER.

Beverly Swerling is the author of five previous novels, including the City of Dreams series, a four-volume historical saga set in old New York. She is also a consultant to other authors and an amateur historian. She lives in Philadelphia.


  1. This hasn’t happened to me yet although I could see how it might. Since I write horror fiction, most of what I write takes place in situations which are not only improbable but impossible. That being said, in accordance of the expression, “truth is stranger than fiction,” it suggests that no matter how improbable something may seem within the confines of a book, chances are things which happen in real life are often less believable. I occasionally take from real life experiences and include them in my stories. While doing so I often wonder if anyone will find some of the “true” details improbable, but so far I have not had anyone question them. Maybe I have just been lucky so far.

  2. Oh, yes, I have been surprised once or twice by a reader writing to me and saying something isn’t possible, but I believe improbable to some is impossible to others and absolutely true to others – it just depends on who’s talking. I think this question is literally based on who you are, how you were raised, what you believe in, life in general – a number of factors goes into shaking your head in disbelief, or nodding and saying, ‘Yup, been there.’ Although I don’t personally believe vampires are taking over, there are many who do. Not to mention, most all of us look at news headlines now on a daily basis and know that if we were looking at these 150 years ago we would have believed they were not only improbable, but downright impossible. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

  3. Having just published a book in which a 16th century ghost speaks from purgatory to a 21st century woman, I feel as if I should be raising my right hand and swearing I didn’t plant this question.

    The whole idea for this novel came from an experience I had in London some years ago. I heard voices and laughter and footsteps behind me on a deserted street. When I turned to look there was no one there, but I saw a plaque saying that the house I was passing had belonged to a long dead woman I was reading about at the time, though I did not know she’d lived there.
    My conclusion: I’d passed by a “tear in the scrim,” a place where the present could access the past. Or to use Einstein’s formulation, a place where I could look around the bends in the river of time. I knew some day I’d write a book based on that.

    The publisher calls BRISTOL HOUSE a “supernatural thriller, ” and I know for some readers it’s a fantasy, no different from a story about witches or vampires. Even if they really like it. Others see deeper meanings. Lately I’ve developed the habit of asking readers who show up to a gig whether or not they believe in ghosts. There are always a high percentage of raised hands, but never every hand.

    Personally I’m a great believer in the wisdom of Graham Greene’s famous dictum: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Today he’d say use Twitter, but it comes to the same thing. Our work has to speak for itself, whatever the inspiration behind it. Write the best story you can, then put it out there and let readers form their own opinions.

  4. Having grown up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I have been involved in some events that I have adapted in my writing only for readers (and editors) to deem them unlikely. Bomb explosions were almost everyday occurrences – I was caught up in Belfast’s Bloody Friday and witnessed what a bomb can do to the human body. However, the weirdest story is that of a childhood friend who went on to kill 32 people. I recounted his story in my non-fiction book Kidnapped. Dessie O’Hare, aka The Border Fox, became an enforcer for Republican paramilitaries and most of his victims were fellow republicans suspected of informing. Incredibly, Dessie is now a free man under The Good Friday Agreement and attends an evangelist church he once assisted shooting up, killing three people. Always an enigma, Dessie once allowed a politician to live because the man’s wife was in the car also and he did not wish her to witness her husband’s death. He was finally caught after cutting off a kidnapped dentist’s fingers when his ransom demand was not delivered.

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