Write What You Know?   20 comments

What elements from your life are woven into your latest book?

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Write What You Know

The writing gurus all say we should write what we know – therefore, weave elements from our lives into our books. And there’s validity in that. My winter scenes are probably better than the winter scenes of someone who has never left there Kalahari desert. Their heat scenes might be better than mine (although interior Alaska does get hot in the summers, it rarely breaks 100). On the other hand, I’ve struggled to write stories set in Alaska. Do I know why that is? No. It just is. Maybe I know it too well, so writing it feels like a busman’s holiday (a subject that cropped up in Red Kryptonite Curve). So, I don’t write about Alaska, my home, but I do include all sorts of details from my own life.

It’s Natural

I don’t think we can help but weave elements of our lives into our work because writing is a product of who we are. Places I’ve visited, meadows I’ve seen on hikes, people I’ve met, dogs I’ve known — all crop up in my writing, borrowed by my characters who often feel like they aren’t a part of me, but something separate, and yet they all are spawn from my imagination. In one of my WIPs (Book 2 of What If … Wasn’t, the sequel to Red Kryptonite Curve, working title “Dancing the Centerline”) I include a description of ice cream from a Fairbanks ice cream shop – Hot Licks. The shop I describe hasn’t been there for about 25 years, but the ice cream is still served around the block. I just liked the look of the old shop better, so why not use it? But the real focus of the scene is Peter’s enjoyment of the ice cream. The real life Hot Licks has THE BEST chocolate ice cream ever developed. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with you, but I do try my best to describe it in the book.

In Transformation Project, the mustang Rocket is actually a cross between a mare that belongs to a friend and a mustang my mother loved as a kid. I combined her body with what was described to me as his personality and, viola, I had a horse I liked. She’s named after Rocket in the My Friend Flicka series (another horse with an untamable spirit).

Similarly, the planes that outnumber cars in Alaska play a significant role in Transformation Project because Alaska and Kansas share aviation and Shane and his grandfather Jacob are both pilots. And because a sizable plurality of Alaskans, including some of my friends and coworkers live without running water and sometimes without electricity in their cabins, my descriptions of life after the electromagnetic pulse fries the electrical grid is largely based on my own experiences.

In Red Kryptonite Curve, the boatman Jeff Russell is based on a coworker who I doubt has ever worked on boats, but I like his personality and physical stature so much, I cloned him.

I’ve often said this, but Ryanna in Daermad Cycle is physically patterned after my daughter.

And, of course, the character of Dick Vance is essentially my memory of my friend Dick Underwood, written in homage to him in the days after his death.

Also in that WIP, “Dancing the Centerline”, one of my husband’s stepfathers, Jack, makes an appearance as Ben’s grandfather. Why? Because I liked him and I think he would have liked my books, and because what Ben’s grandfather says to him is exactly the sort of thing Jack said to his stepson.

Meanwhile, the character of Trevor in the What If … Wasn’t universe is loosely based on a friend from high school. Michael H’s big personality and histrionic talents, as well as self-destructive penchant for drugs and alcohol, just needed to find its way into my fictional world. I didn’t know I was doing it until I’d finished the first book and went “Why does this character feel familiar?”

In the 6th book in Transformation Project Winter’s Reckoning (due out August 11), many of the winter scenes encountered by the characters are ones I’ve experienced right here in Alaska. Like I said, I can’t describe the desert as well as someone who lives there, but I can sure describe cold and know what goes through the head of someone who is a long way from shelter when a snow-laden wind picks up.

In one of my anthology short stories (Fairytale Riot, Clarion Call 4 “An Investment Returned), the entire “girl’s” part of the story is based on many of snow machine trip into our cabin site off the Steese Highway. The wolves in the scene however are quite real, from a time in the fall, during a moose hunting trip. The story of Ryan (“Redemption Reformatted, due out any day now in Clarion Call 5, Fire & Faith) is loosely based on some 12-Steppers I know.

And those are just a few of the things that work their way from my real life into my fictional worlds. None of them (except Dick Vance) is a wholesale copy of anything from my life. It’s all just bits and pieces scrambled and reordered, idealized or tainted (depending on my mood and the desires of my characters) or highly adulterated to protect the innocent or the guilty. And a lot of it is just out-and-out fiction because things get boring around here in the winter.

Let’s go see what my fellow blog=-hoppers are inserting into their fictional worlds from reality.

Posted July 27, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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20 responses to “Write What You Know?

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  1. It is so interesting how our lives creep into our writing. I enjoyed your post, Lela.

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  2. My hapless (yet ultimately triumphant) amateur sleuth Andorra Pett is an amalgam of my wife and daughters. The things they did and scrapes they got into have been a rich source of inspiration. There’s endless fun to be had at family occasions when they recall who did what and how I’ve treated it in my fictional world.

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  3. What a fun name for an ice cream shop!

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    • I’m following up on some comments that got stuck in the blog filters and I discovered today.

      The owner of Hot Licks is an semi-pro jazz musician and he named the shop after a former band, which he resurrected for a while when the shop was an indoor year-round venue. They were pretty good.

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  4. That’s one state I’ve not been to — Alaska. I’m told it’s beautiful, but being a native Floridian, it would have to be in July.

    It’s so easy to pattern characters after children — but I dare not tell them which ones are patterned after them. 🙂

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  5. We cannot help but write about people and places that we know. It’s human nature I think.

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  6. On the one hand, they say write what you know, but only to a certain extent. too much and it turns into “Moby Dick”, a short story wrapped in a whaling how-to. In an original draft of my first long work I went off into some, but not great, detail about a band patching up their gear during a break. I took the advice of the editorial consultant, and of one of the primary side characters
    “What’s so funny, Punkass?”
    “Now I can tell everybody I know what dork dude heaven looks like ‘cause I went to Tulsa and played a gig there one time. With a skinny guitar player and a big, crazy black man that made me wear a tux that fit like fucking pajamas.”
    “People think you’re lyin’ you tell ’em that shit, Punkass. Can’t tell folks how it truly is. What we see, what we do. Even who we are. You tell them how pretty the girls were and what fine figures of manhood you and that wise, handsome black man cut in your tailored tuxedos. That they’ll believe. Folks love a good story.”
    “Wise and handsome?”
    “I got wise and handsome just after I thumped your ass for calling me crazy. Get to work.”

    So…write it with a little vaseline on the lens. It goes over better.

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  7. I think it is hard NOT to include parts of your life in your writing. For me, it just seems natural to turn to what I know best when I need details to add.

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    • Exactly. My life has had enough excitement, I can pretty much draw on it for those details — or I can recall the details of someone I interviewed, or a heavily disguised client from 20 years ago when I was a psychiatric transcriptionist. There’s so many sources to draw from.

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