The Real of Fiction   2 comments

It’s highly entertaining when friends or family who read my books try to find themselves or someone they know in the characters or they want to know where in the real world a setting exists.

Of course I use places I’ve been to in my worlds, but not really.

For the record, Emmaus Kansas does not really exist outside of the Transformation Project books. It bears some similarities to Colby Kansas, but it also bears some similarities with my mother’s hometown in North Dakota. Ultimately, though, the town of Emmaus exists in my head and it isn’t really either of those places.

Daermad isn’t even on Earth, so there are no correlations between it and the map of Europe. However, I’ve been somewhere that reminds my of Mirklin Wood and my description of Dun Galornyn’s harbor is based on someplace I’ve visited. I’ve climbed the mountain where we first meet Janara and I’ve caught salmon in the river Donyl sticks his finger in.

None of my characters are carbon copies of real people because I’d feel guilty if I used a real person for a character and then had to kill off my best friend because the plot demanded it. I’d feel less guilty if the character was someone I knew who wasn’t a good person — those do show up occasionally. I hope they see themselves, if they’re reading my books, and I’m glad they don’t know my pen name.

Still, I use aspects of people I know. Jacob Delaney, the 95-year-old anarchist grandfather, is loosely based on some pioneer Alaskans I know. I used my daughter as a physical model for Ryanna. Keri Delaney Lufgren has my husband’s light blue-green eyes. Sabre the sentient dog (who gave rise to Joy the sentient horse) speaks with the mind I believe I would find if I could speak to our husky.  Sabre’s not as dark and blood-thirsty as I suppose Black Dog would be.


I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality...Flannery O'Connor: Some of the situations in my fiction have happened to me or to people I have known. To a certain extent, dealing with real life traumas in a fiction format is very therapeutic for me, and I think it brings authenticity for the reader’s experience.  On the other hand, I change details so that it’s not too close to reality because I don’t want to upset anyone by telling the story of their life.

Then there are all the little details that make characters and settings come to life. Curly hair and the trials and tribulations of it are a recurring detail because I have curly hair. Green eyes run in my family. My husband drinks Shane Delaney’s coffee. I lived in the Delaney house for a couple of years as a kid. Sometimes it’s just best not to reinvent the wheel with details.

In my latest work-in-progress — a short story for an agorist anthology — I’m exploring my American Indian roots. It’s meant to be a historical speculative fiction, so some of my extensive research is based on real history and some of it is based in imagination.

I think the best fiction is a mix of reality with fantasy elements.


Lela Markham is the author of The Willow Branch and Life As We Knew It, both first books in series. Watch for Mirklin Wood on March 15, 2016

Posted March 9, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesdays

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2 responses to “The Real of Fiction

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  1. C. S. Lewis made the interesting observation about his work: “That Hideous Strength,” that it was a sort of fairy tale for adults. It’s setting in a modern college campus, he likened to the preludes of so many older fairy tales which would have been written when woodcutters and such were commonplace. His own work is inspired (beyond the obvious mix of mythologies) by images from his childhood and events such as finding an evacuee child hiding at the Kilns in a wardrobe!

    It is no secret that Lucy is modeled after Lucy Barfield, the daughter of a friend. One has to wonder if there are some ‘inspirations’ for Lewis characters that walked the halls of Oxford and Cambridge.


    • Oh, I would bet. That Hideous Strength has some powerful shocking things to say about the coercive strength of government and institutions of higher learning. It could be put right up there with Huxley or Orwell if folks didn’t automatically think of Lewis as a Christian children’s author.


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