I had written a blog post a month or so back (I’d look for it and link it, but it’s Monday and I’m busy and besides that I’m totally lazy) where I had admitted (more or less) that my novels are based on my own personal experiences.
No, not just the experience of the places, or using people I know to sketch characters, but my own experiences that have touched me so deeply that I could not possibly remain unchanged. Love, loss, grief, misunderstandings, the entire gamut of the human condition.
I piled a heap of trouble on my protagonist in Finding Cadence, but I didn’t have to go far to look for conflict. There are stories all around us, ones that burn and chafe and scar, that make us angry enough to eat rusty nails or joyous enough to have us sob like babies. All you have to do is open your eyes and pay attention, and to open your heart and feel, even if the feelings are devastating.
After he’d read my post, my Editor for Life either emailed me or text messaged me back (I can’t remember) with “What? This is you?”
I’ve been working with the man for four years. What could I say?
Well, yes. And, no. And, duh.
I’m not a tall, leggy blond like Cadence, and while my son is a talented pianist, my husband isn’t a trust fund baby who left me nearly destitute when he died. (My husband is still alive, thank you, and in real life grew up poor and struggling.) But these are my options as a storyteller: I get to pick and choose. I get to take a whim of a story and embellish it or tear it down all I want. I get to hide what I know.
It took a long, long, long time to write this story. That’s because Cadence was my first completed novel. I knew what I wanted to say (sort of) but lacked the skills to say them at all, much less with any style and grace. The result was truly God-awful. I spun it past a few editors, one who wanted me to change the entire storyline. I couldn’t go there; I couldn’t envision the ending being any different than it was.
In the meantime, with classes, and reference books, and editors, and beta readers, with writers who helped by slapping me upside the head every once in a while, with conferences and workshops, I managed to weave together a [halfway-decent-if-I-do-say-so-myself] coherent story. Beginning, middle, end. Story arcs. Hidden themes. A reveal at the end. Maybe not “happily ever after” but at least a light at the end of the tunnel and some growth.
In working on the writing craft, I’ve found that telling subsequent stories gets easier. I’m thinking the next novel (about broken souls who end up in San Francisco and mend through their relationships) won’t take two years to finish or five years to edit and re-write.
The point of this convoluted blog post is that I have to write what I know. My own emotion and soul is the only thing I have as an artist. To try to be someone else would not only be foolhardy, it wouldn’t work at all – at least, not for me.
It’s all fiction, yes, but beneath the words you’ll find a thread of truth.
That’s the key. It’s what I know.