One of the most common questions asked of a writer is “Did that really happen?’ Or maybe, “Is that really someone you know or even you?” Pick up any novel and you will see a disclaimer, usually within the first page or two. It reads something like “This is a work of fiction. Names, places …” You get the drift.
I had a mentor when I began writing who told me to emphatically tell everyone that my novel was a work of fiction. He had a horrible experience with one of his employees who was certain that she was the one portrayed in a love scene. She wasn’t, but she never believed him and left his firm. An acquaintance of mine, upon finding out that I was writing a tell-all about California politics, asked that if I put her in the novel, would I please make her a man and then no one would recognize her, a not uncommon way that writers work people in who might be recognizable.
Works of fiction are just that, works of fiction created in the mind of the author. However, when writers write, it’s hard not to put bits and pieces of a writer’s life in the book. It can be in the form of an experience one has had, a person someone has known, something seen or even an imaginary world created in the mind. An idea for a novel has to come from somewhere.
I’m always curious as to why a writer writes in a certain genre. We bring a lifetime of experiences and baggage that cause us to write the kinds of novels we do. Some people prefer the world they’ve created in their mind to the real world and they write of that. Others are realists and their worlds are reflected in everything from horror to erotica. Or maybe there’s worlds we wish we were in and so we write in genres such as romance. If you need a happy ending because your life isn’t very happy, why not pen a novel with one?
I find I rely on things I’ve seen, places I’ve been or experiences I’ve had. In Blue Coyote Motel, am I Maria or any of the characters? No. Yet, when I was just beginning to write the novel a priest with a large cross sat next to me at dinner. At a wedding the following night, a couple from Brazil sat next to me. They were the springboards for certain characters. I have trekked to the Thyangboche Monaster in Nepal. I spent time in Provence and a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix is based on one of my favorites in Santa Barbara. Were they added just because? No. They were integral to the novel.
Tea Party Teddy is a political tell-all about politics, corruption and infidelity. Is it true? No. It is a work of fiction. Are incidences in the novel based on things that happened? Some, yes, some no. However, when you are in certain situations, more than likely an element, a mannerism, or something will find its way into your novel.
In the second book of the Coyote series, there is a man who has studied at the Cordon Bleu. He is a food connoisseur and as such, lots of references to food. Why? It worked for me. I’ve attended cooking schools all over the world and love to cook. Is it relevant to the book. Very!
I often think about a young mother I saw several months ago at the grocery store. She had a toddler in her basket and a baby on her hip. She was in front of me in the check-out line. It was 8:30 on a weekday morning and all that was in her basket was beer. I rather imagine she will be in one of my books. I don’t know her and I’ll probably never see her again, but she probably will be a character in some future book.
Who knows? Maybe you’ve already been put into someone’s book!