A writer may be observing you right now.
Ask writers what question people always ask them, and you're likely to hear queries such as, "Where do you get your ideas?" or "How do you come up with your stories?" Readers who fall in love with fictional characters, who get lost in fantasy worlds, who enter a book so completely that they forget about time and reality--they have questions about the genesis of it all. Where did this come from?
And naturally, the first place they want to find it is in the writer's real life.
My first novel's protagonist has a manipulative, enabling mother. She's redeemed in the end, but would that fact matter to my own mom, if she were to read it? Or would she read the mother character looking for herself, for the small details of reality I may have used as a writer for authenticity? (And oh dear, what will she think of the dead mom in my current novel?)
Does real life make its way into my fiction?
When I was maybe eleven years old, I got my swimsuit and hopped on my bike and pulled out of my driveway to head down to my friend's house. Maybe I misjudged the speed of the car. Maybe I didn't even look--who knows, I was eleven and probably making up stories in my head at the time. But I looked up, deer in the headlights, and saw this car speeding toward me. A kid on a country road, driving fast.
In my panic, I swerved back toward my own side of the road, wobbly on my bicycle, and headed for the near ditch. Which was right where the car was heading, the driver panicked and the brakes locked up. I remember the screech of tires.
The car skidded to a stop--the front bumper gave me an abrasion on my shin about six inches long when it stopped just short of me, just short of crushing my leg against the frame of my bike.
My parents, who had just hugged me goodbye and were in the yard working on building the house, heard the screeching tires and came running through the trees, just as I was reassuring the young driver that I was fine, and he was busy squealing off down the road again.
I was angry at my parents because they wouldn't let me go swimming.
This instant of my life--which looks so different to me now, looking back at it, as a parent, as an adult, as a driver--has made its way in one form or another into several of my stories. In one of my first completed short stories, it looks like this:
It was a strange moment when his rage swallowed his tears. Some years later, he looked up at an oncoming car, misjudged its speed, and pedaled out in front of it. The driver of the car panicked and slammed on his brakes, skidding across the pavement and stopping only after the front bumper grazed Gerry's shin. The anger was like that--in the distance but deceptively fast--colliding with him accidentally, out of control. He stood up, letting the desk top bang shut with a loud crack, and shouted, roared with red face and tight fists raised, "I hate you! You...you...BITCH!" He ran from the room, his eyes dry fire ripping across the faces of the kids who looked at him with something like fear.
In KISS THE MORNING STAR (that's third novel's new title!), there is a missionary trip to Mexico with a dilapidated bus and a crazy pastor. In real life, I did once take a missionary trip to Mexico on a dilapidated bus. But the group of teens and parents and fellow college student translators was amazing and beautiful and not at all creepy (and Pastor S. was a saint and a hero on that trip, of course!). My memories of that journey form a little bit of who I am, and those details are what I use to tie my fictional words into the thick fabric of life, adding the layers that I hope will make them into something that captures moments, captures readers.
But I won't say there isn't sometimes a nagging voice--an editor in my head--will they understand that it's not REALLY real life? It's the voice that makes it difficult to write sometimes, the voice of: what will my students think if they read this? What will my children think? And Mom? If I ever publish a book, I feel like we'll have to have an agreement that she can read all she wants, but all I want to hear is, "I love it, honey."
My friend and brave beta reader Amy Danziger Ross recently started a Microfiction Monday on her blog, saying she thought it would be a great way for her to keep in the practice of being on the lookout for stories all the time. But then comes the hard part--publishing them. What stories are truly ours to tell?
(P.S. if you're here from twitter and looking for the naked grizzly bear story, you'll just have wait to read KtMS. :P)
photo credit David Hoole Photography, 2010