It starts with the question “What inspired you to write this novel?” And the answer might very well be the author had a similar experience with one of the characters. Or used some personal feelings about a subject as a setting or the basis of the conflict. As authors we hear all the time, ‘Write what you know’. But eventually the topics you’re familiar with will run out. Or your work will start to sound redundant.
Of course, other popular novelists have built their brands using the familiar. Most Nicholas Sparks’ novels are set on the North Carolina Coast. Many of the Stephen King’s novels were set in Maine. And then there are similar storylines that are done again and again by authors. Lauren Weisberger who burst on the scene with The Devil Wears Prada wrote several more novels where the main character was thrust into world of glamour, whether it’s Fashion, Public Relations, Music or Tennis. And the first group of Emily Giffin’s novels dealt the with the issue of infidelity. In every book, someone was cheating on someone.
When is it time to go beyond the familiar and challenge yourself? In my debut novel, Must Love Fashion, the heroine, Gwen Mallory has had repeated abnormal mammograms. I drew up on my own experiences with LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma In Sito). The biopsy scenes come directly from my own procedures. But in the novel, I don’t mention LCIS. Early drafts did, but in the end, I wanted Gwen to be her own person and have her own experience. Leaving me to create her responses to her doctors’ repeated insistence on biopsies and surgeries.
And even Cate, Andrew’s late wife was a version of myself, in that she eventually began saying No. No to more tests. I’ve pushed back on the doctors and radiologists. If for no reason than to want control.
When it came to the second book, Must Have Faith, the heroine could have not been less like me. And I enjoyed creating an entirely new person with brand new emotions based on experiences I’ve never had. For one, I’d not gotten engaged to a childhood sweetheart. It was very satisfying to slip into that imaginary persona and feel the ancient longing for just one man. And how strong that love must be, if it lasted (and was unrequited) for twenty-five years.
Authors expose their inner thoughts to readers. Whether those thoughts are based in reality or fantasies. The latter sometimes might be more embarrassing. But consider what Steven Spielberg did in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When Richard Dreyfus’ character descends into madness and tension occurs between him and Teri Garr. Spielberg admitted in an interview that the scene where Dreyfus is sitting fully clothed in the shower, sobbing was based on his father breaking down into tears one night at the dinner table. In Close Encounters, the oldest son was so disgusted with his father, he screams, “Cry baby!” Spielberg had yelled the same exact thing to his father. Talk about brave! To expose what was probably a horrific moment in his childhood, on every level.
I’m not sure I would have the guts to do that to anyone in my family. But as I write more novels, people will have to be more careful what they say and do around me!
Deborah Garland is a versatile author of women’s fiction, contemporary and paranormal romances. Her books are about love and the struggles of complicated relationships. The heroines are strong and witty and the heroes fall hard for them. She lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband and their two pugs, Zoe and Harley.