November 25, 2009
A writer’s friends wonder–or ask her outright–if she uses real people in her novels. Short answer–yes! You’re in all my novels!
Real answer–real people are way too messy for fiction. In a novel, everybody has to smoothly (and entertainingly) follow an arc from innocence to experience, loneliness to love, ignorance to enlightenment…you know the drill. It’s why we read.
And I always love it when a reader says to me, “That character was so real! You must be drawing on your experience as a Navy wife/survivor of infidelity/recovering alcoholic/practicing alcoholic/kidney donor/fallen woman/mother of twins/lonely librarian…”
Nope, I’m none of those things. If the characters in a novel ring true, it’s because I did my research. In the self-help section of the library or bookstore.
I live in a small town, so people at the library mostly know me. But every once in a while, there’s a new volunteer at the desk, and I can see her concern when I check out a stack of books with titles like Obsessive Love, Healing Your Asthmatic Child, Recovering from Organ Transplantation… And then the next week, I’m back for Forgiving the Unforgivable, My Husband is Gay!, Toxic Teenagers, Is Witness Protection Safe for YOU?….
The volunteers are always too professional to say anything, but I can see the
worry in their eyes.
The beauty of a great self-help book is that it gives you a roadmap to a character, starting with his or her problem, taking the reader through the steps and ending up in a better place. The trick in fiction is to make it look seamless. If the reader wanted a self-help book, she’d read a self-help book.
She’s reading a novel. She wants to be entertained.
So in the book, the goal is to put it in the context of a great story. For me, that’s the fun part. I’m a sucker for the librarian/bad-boy storyline, so I featured it in Lakeshore Christmas. You’ll know exactly what self-help books I read while creating Eddie, but that’s not what I hope you’ll remember about him. There’s that moment when he takes off her horn-rimmed glasses, plucks the hairpins out and her bun melts into a cascade of gorgeous hair, and he says, “Why, Miss Davenport, you’re beautiful!” I know, lame, right? But it gets me every time. Maureen and Eddie are bringing sexy back to the library. That’s what I hope readers will remember.