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February 2016 Third Thursday panel

2/18/2016 From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM


Fictionalizing True Stories:

Mining Real Life for Plots and Characters

Thursday, February 18, 2016, 7 PM

BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., 3rd floor*


Listen to a recording of this discussion on
Soundcloud. For more information on our Third Thursday programming, visit the Third Thursday page on our website.

It has been said that all fiction is autobiographical to a degree. Writers can't help but filter everything through their own experiences and beliefs, so even the most outlandish stories are shaped by their own lives. 

But how can a writer borrow overtly from their past -- or someone else's?  How does the writing process change when a elements in a narrative are clearly torn from real life?  

How do writers disguise them as fiction? How do they decide what facts to keep and what to change? How can they protect the "innocent" -- or should they? How does writing about past events and relationships affect our understanding of them? And do writers sometimes use real life people and events without realizing it?

Hear how our four panelists deal with these issues and more.


Charlotte Gullick
is a novelist, essayist, editor, educator and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. Her first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author's edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.


Varian Johnson
is the author of six novels, including The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lonestar List selection. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus and Saving Maddie. He attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.


Ruth Pennebaker
has written adult fiction and three highly acclaimed young-adult novels. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News, Parents, Redbook, McCall's, Cooking Light, and other nationwide publications. Her most recent work is a collaboration with artist/cartoonist Marian Henley on Pucker Up! The Subversive Woman’s Guide to Aging with Wit, Wine, Drama, Humor, Perspective, and the Occasional Good Cry – a wise and cheeky guide to living as well as possible as you age.


Mary Helen Specht
's debut novel, Migratory Animals, published in January by Harper Perennial, was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, an Apple iBook selection, an Indie Next Pick, and an Austin American-Statesmen Selects book. A past Fulbright Scholar to Nigeria and Dobie-Paisano Writing Fellow, Specht currently teaches creative writing at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.





This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. Visit Austin at

WLT would like to thank BookPeople for helping to make the Third Thursday program possible. In addition to providing space for the program, BookPeople kindly offers a 10% discount to WLT members. WLT and BookPeople applaud your support of independent bookstores and local businesses.