How many of you readers out there find yourself wondering if the author is writing about his or her own life?
C’mon, fess up! I know I’m sometimes guilty of that when I’m reading a book I enjoy. Did the author go to those places? Did the author experience what the character is experiencing? Is that why she seems to write so knowingly about the topic? Does she share a lot of the same traits as the main character? Does she like bubble baths and chocolate like the character? And, like her character, does she secretly pine for something or someone she can’t have?
As an author, I actually feel flattered when readers ask me these same questions… Well, okay, except for the one who said she was jealous of my partner because of the love scenes I write. Hmmm, that one was a bit creepy, but okay, I’ll take it in the context in which it was meant.
What flatters me about those kinds of questions is that it means I’ve conveyed a realistic portrait of my characters to the reader, and that I’ve successfully transported them to a believable setting or experience. If I can write in a manner that places my reader in the scene or in the head of my character, then I’ve done my job. And that makes me happy!
But the truth is, most of the things I write about I have not experienced myself. I’ve never been part of a major political campaign (see The Candidate, and its sequel The Campaign), never been a doctor (No Rules of Engagement), never been a chef (Side Order of Love), never been to war (Last Salute) and never sung on stage (The Song in My Heart) although I do know how to play guitar. Research and some hard work make those scenes and novels work for me.
However, I have experienced the range of emotions my characters go through – falling in love, failing in love, wanting things that seem insurmountable, grief, anger, lust, joy. All of us have experienced those things, which is why the reader identifies with those emotions in a book. No amount of research, when it comes to painting emotions in a book, would do them justice. Some things you do, in fact, have to experience yourself to be able to appreciate them.
So the bottom line is, no, my books are not my autobiographies. I share some traits with my characters, of course I do. But so do many of my friends and family members, former colleagues, and just about anyone I’ve had any sort of relationship with. One of my characters may actually be an amalgamation of a dozen different people I know.
As I like to say in my defense, why would I want to write about my boring ‘ol life anyway? It’s much more fun to create a world and fill it with characters – to play God, in effect – than to write about my own life!