Friday, March 24, 2006

Based on Actual Events or People

How careful does a writer have to be when using real people or events in their lives in a story?

There are, I'm quite sure, legal realities that answer this question, but it's easier to wrap my mind around the ethical issues. I am usually upfront with people over small stuff, e.g. "That's a great line, I'm going to steal it" or "gorgeous photo of an alpine meadow--I think I'd like to set a scene some place like that so tell me all about where this is, how you got there..."

Over something larger, like a significant life event, I guess I'd first say I don't think anything I've ever written wasn't inspired by true events as my usual genre (romance) is grounded in reality. When I hear a moving personal account of something in someone's life I can't help it - it gets sucked into the creative soup. The story (abuse, grief, guilt, survival challenge, whatever) gets mixed around with everything else that ends up in there. It may or may not surface again.

If it does, then I try to match the issue with the character I'd like to write about--to match up two creative impulses into a single character, and a single story. For example, stories I'd read about the drought and struggling grape crops in Europe and the casual comment about the state of business from a guy who poured wine tastes in Napa, met up with wanting to tell a tale about a woman whose business is failing because of her adorable but absolutely feckless parent. Scraping hard, parts of the novel are based on actual events, but the final result, Just Like That, was a long way from where those impulses began.

That being my creative process, I work hard to make sure none of my characters resemble friends and family except perhaps in the odd trait or quirky pattern of speech. When a friend offers up a habit of dipping her fries into her strawberry gotta use something like that.

I want my character to be real to me as her own person. And while a single event in the life of someone I know might intrigue me, I usually take it from there by generalizing the experience to lesbians, to women, to human beings, and look at whatever those events were in larger contexts. Basically, I do research into other "actual events" of a similar nature. I learn more about whatever it is. Shake it up, then pour into my character what makes sense to her life given the background and personality I've given her.

If I know the original source of inspiration, I will generally let whomever know that they were inspiring, but make it clear that while they might see touches of their experiences here and there it is still fiction, and I've taken care so that no one can say "Oh that's so-and-so." Reflecting on my process, I think it's ethical , but I can't say I set out to make it so. It just feels right to me. I like to write characters who are both specifically real and universally meaningful, and who are my own creation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tunnel of Light - Light at the end of my tunnel?

I’ve always been what I think of as an “immersion” writer. When preparing for a new book, I gather up everything I need, immerse myself in all of it, soak it up like a sponge, and then I write. Maps, dictionaries, music, career backgrounds, references for back story, photographs – the stack for any given project can be quite something. When I’m done with a manuscript and put everything away I usually discover another stack for the project after that waiting to be sorted and arranged.

My original vision for the Tunnel of Light series was that book one would contain two points of view in two timelines. Book two would have four points of view in two timelines. Book three, would increase to six points of view and to three timelines. So from book one to book three, the creative workload rose from four versus eighteen characters all primarily involved in the resolution of the story.

Somehow, it came as a huge surprise to me that it was taking me much longer to write than I thought. Gee, I might have anticipated that. Yet, it was really only two weeks ago that I faced that unwelcome fact. I discovered, finally, the limits of my ability to hold all the information I needed in my head while I wrote. Much of what felt like wasted time to me was “loading and unloading” the requisite material in my limited hard drive of a brain when I switched timelines or points of view.

My publisher, Linda Hill at Bella Books, is an extremely patient woman, for which I am grateful. Already running late on the deadline for Forge and endangering the deadline for the book after that, she agreed to revise the schedule for last quarter 2006 so Forge could go to edit then. Its publication date is being rescheduled to spring of 2007.

This decision means that I can complete Finders Keepers on time – a romance story that is plotted and just begging to be written down, and complete another project which involves other writers and is, therefore, a deadline I must keep. I will continue to write Forge of Virgins and then refocus on it exclusively this summer. All my other deadlines have been pushed back six months (at a minimum) to allow me more time for Forge.

So I will learn a new way to put a book together. It’s a method many other writers use, so I ought (nervous swallow) to be able to learn it. I’ll write each of the two past timelines separately, then weave them into the modern storyline, which I’ll write last. It means more editing on the other end, but I also think it means I will be able to actually complete the book.

For what it's worth, I've posted the unedited prologue to perhaps ease some pangs of curiosity

Realizing that it has been years now since Seeds of Fire, I feel an increased pressure to ensure that the wait has been worth it. I want to do justice to all my previous work and the expectations of the readers who love the series as much as I do. If that means trying a new way to create, so be it.