As a kid, I got in trouble for telling whoppers . . . as an author I get paid for it. Strange, but that's what we as writers do: Make stuff up.
Nevertheless, the most frequent question that writers get asked, is:
"How much of this is real . . . is this stuff really about YOU?"
Not long after my first Darcy Cavanaugh mystery hit the shelves, I got a confusing phone call that went something like this:
(me, innocently) "Hello?"
"Is Darcy there?"
(me, straddling a strange sense of disassociation) "Um, no, there's nobody here by that name."
"Oh, yes, I think there certainly is."
(Big spooky silence on my end) "No, really there--"
"Ha! You can't fool me. I know that book's about YOU, Candy!"
It was a neighbor who'd been tickled to read a book written by someone she knew. And who fortunately (I hope) was finally convinced I did NOT have a shamrock tattoo, have never dated an FBI agent, dangled perilously from a lighthouse cliff, or (though I've taken many memorable cruises) discovered a dead body in a shipboard spa.
But the fact is, there is at least a smidgeon of truth in all fiction. As writers we draw upon life experiences to springboard plots, and must offer up many personal emotions and sensitivities in order to develop characters who seem "real." I certainly did this in my comic mysteries, and continue to do so in my new medical drama series for Tyndale. I pencil in truths/memories/feelings the same way I sprinkle cilantro or fresh rosemary onto the food I cook. It's makes the story ring true for the reader . . . and for the writer. A good friend sent me a card with a quote from Anais Nin:
"We write to taste life twice." I framed it for my office.
Personal memory certainly played a part in this snippet of a scene from my current work, DISASTER STATUS. My heroine, Erin Quinn, goes to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk:
The morning breeze smelled of seaweed, hosed asphalt, Coppertone, cotton candy and popcorn. Screeches from gulls blended with other sounds: laughing children, an electronic ding-boing, pow-pow-pow from the Casino arcade, the relentless whoosh and pull of ocean waves . . . and a continuing chorus of screams from the Giant Dipper roller coaster. If Erin kept her eyes shut a moment longer, it could be 1980 and she’d be perched atop her grandfather’s shoulders, her nose sun-crinkled, feet bare and speckled with sand, fingers wonderfully sticky and tongue half numb from eating a frozen chocolate banana. . . But Scott's voice hauled her back to the present, as effectively as if he'd thrown her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Have I been to Santa Cruz? Sure, lots of times. Did I eat those frozen bananas? You betcha. Was my impromptou dance on the wharf with a handsome fire captain . . . interrupted to dramatically rescue an electrocuted dock worker? No way!
But it was great to have Santa Cruz in my "toolbox" of writers' experiences. As well as others I've collected over the years, good stuff & tough stuff. I'll use these in the fiction I write. And I'll do it much the same way this list combines fiction from my books and experiences from my life. Have I really:
Been stalked by a poet?
Swum with stingrays?
Worn a Wonder Woman costume?
Delivered a foal?
Been in bank robbery?
Broken my neck?
Owned a one-eared cat?
Sat on a chicken at Daffodil Hill?
Done the limbo on a jet-powered catamaran?
Ridden a camel at the pyramids?
Truth or whoppers? I'll never tell.
Oh, yes, the camel photo. Good point. Okay, you caught me there.
I get paid to make stuff up. And I draw upon the blessings of past experience . . . to taste life twice. And then I share it, to entertain and to encourage others. Doesn't get better than that. And that's the truth.