Recently, I was asked, "How much of your mysteries are based on real events or places?"
I do a mix of real and fiction in my short stories and novels. All of my city settings are real places. I tend to set my works in Virginia cities and counties because I write what I know. If a crime occurs, I make up that location's name. I wouldn't put a horrific or violent event at a real restaurant or store. But if you've been to the real cities, you'll recognize landmarks and street names.
I get ideas for crimes and capers from real cases, but I usually take liberties with the details. In my short story, "Washed up," a beat up suitcase washes up on Chick's Beach, and it's filled with some mysterious contents. Back in the 80s, there was a real case where suitcases filled with body parts did wash up on beaches on the East Coast. In my story, I thought it would be interesting for beachgoers to find something old and sinister in an unexpected place.
I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and I am always jotting down names and interesting tidbits that might one day make their way to a story.
I base some of my characters on combinations of real people. I blend characteristics of several real people to make an interesting fictional person. And phrases that family and friends say frequently appear in my stories. I have two co-workers who keep asking me to make them villains. I haven't done that yet, but I do hint from time to time that unruly team members will end up in a dumpster in a future story.
I use friends and family member's names for minor characters. In Secret Lives and Private Eyes (out May 2016), my sleuth, Delanie Fitzgerald, gives herself all kinds of aliases in her investigations. These are usually names of friends and family. And every once in a while, you'll find police, EMTs, or FBI agents named after my favorite authors, rock stars, or actors.
One of my oddest writing moments happened when a woman with the same name as one of my main characters followed me on Twitter. What a fun surprise!