When Night and Day, my first book, was published, I felt absolutely naked. Thoughts and deeds I’d been taught to keep private were suddenly on paper, exposed for all the world to see. Since I publish under my real name, there was no screening process involved. Anyone and everyone who chose to, could read the words I’d penned, knowing full well that I’d written them, imagining as they went which of the scenarios I’d described were purely imagination… and which really happened.
How much of yourself do you put in your books? Do you live in fear that an old lover, an estranged friend, an ex-employer, or a quirky relative will read your book and see themselves in all their thinly disguised, renamed-to-protect-the-not-so-innocent, glory?
I was somewhere with my mother a couple of weeks ago and a family friend was asking about my book, and the family legend upon which the historical part of the book is based. I told them the story… my great-great grandma, Maren Jensen, was a very beautiful woman. She was married, living happily and prospering in Denmark with her husband and three children, when my great-great grandfather suddenly packed up everything and moved the entire family to America. Why? To get his wife away from another man who was in love with her.
We don’t know the rest of the story… may never, but we do know that whatever happened changed the entire course of my family’s history.
This true tidbit of history certainly got my imagination going, and while what happens in the book is simply one scenario of what might have happened, compliments of my wild imagination, this grain of truth, as told to us by our Danish cousins, was the seed from which my book grew.
Here’s the funny part… When I finished relaying what we know of Maren’s story, my mother said twice, very adamantly, that the part about Maren was the only part of the book that was true.
Well… she can believe that if she wishes… really, it is better that she does… but I know that there is more truth contained in the book than I will ever divulge. Of course, I didn’t say anything, not particularly wanting to draw attention to myself or embarrass my mother.
A few days later, a customer at the Blue Belle who had just purchased a book, after learning that the book includes a steamy internet romance, leaned in with a co-conspiratal look on her face and said, “So, it this story about your life? Didn’t you meet your husband on the internet?”
Well… I can truthfully say that the original draft of the book was written some time before I met my husband, so he is off the hook, but… To my chagrin, I could feel myself blushing. I’m sure, by the time five or ten seconds had passed, I was ten shades of red.
Yes, I’ve personally lived out some of the scenes in Night and Day – in one form or another. Others never happened – never will. It’s fiction, right?
She pressed for an answer. So, parts of the book are true?
“I’ll never tell which ones,” I finally stammered.
People have wondered the same thing after reading the book.
A friend of mine, a multi-published, award winning author, recently read Night and Day. Because her thoughts were relayed in a personal note, and not a public review, I will not use her name. She said that she had trouble reading the sensual scenes between Anders and Jensen. In her words, “I actually had gotten so close to your characters that I couldn’t invade their privacy. Kind of like peeking in the window when you and Mark are together.”
When Susan Barton of Romance Readers at Heart, who does not know me personally, reviewed Night and Day, she said “I actually had to shake myself quite frequently and remind myself that Jensen and Anders are not real people because their emails, phone calls, chats and finally, in-person conversations, are entirely genuine… This is a romance of the whole self.”
I take it as a compliment that my characters seem so real. All I’ll say is, in some cases, it’s no accident.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting another Second Wind author, Christine Husom, who attended a Writer’s Retreat at the Blue Belle Inn. While visiting, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the background story of her first book, Murder in Winnebago County, loosely based on the somewhat mysterious death of her own father. I had read and known the premise of her book was riveting, I never dreamed parts of it were true.
I can’t speak for Chris, but for me, writing about real life incidents – whether heartbreaking, embarrassing, confusing or comical – can be very therapeutic… a catharsis of sorts…
My world is full of “characters”. How about yours? How much of your book is based on real life people and experiences? Is there a danger that people from your past may recognize themselves in your books?
At the beginning of each book published, there comes a disclaimer, “This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations and events are either a product of the author’s imagination, fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any event, locale or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
The truth – or a stretch?
I’ll never tell – will you?