Have you missed me?? It’s been almost a week since the LCLC conference (pronounced as Lick Lick-nuff said) ended and I am still pondering some of the things I learned there. Besides meeting some amazing people (far too many to list), including getting a chance to sit down and talk with Dorothy Allison, there was magic and mayhem in the evenings. It was a total kick in the panties….he he he…pun absolutely intended. The legendary fun was caught on video…so you may wish to check out some of the older vids recording our debauchery.
One statement that stuck out that I’m still cogitating over, was advice not to write about our experiences. I’m still scratching my head over that one. Sure, writing about day to day tedium and describing that in excruciating detail would not be too interesting to most people. On the other hand, life tosses in some amusing gems now and again…ones that a writer can embellish on to make more interesting. I believe it is those experiences that we draw from that make those stories come to life in a way they might not have without the first hand experience. Does it always work? Heck no. But, the emotion comes through a bit more when we draw from our personal experiences. One of the most emotional and difficult scenes I wrote was in my debut novel, Love Forever, Live Forever. I wrote from the heart and pulled small bits and pieces from the last few months with my mother as she was dying and withering away in front of me. This was a smidgeon of what I remembered from my visit during her last months on earth (clip from that debut novel):
“God, Nicky, I don’t know if I’m hiding my reactions well at all. My mom caught me looking at her the other day and she started crying and saying, I know I look so ugly right now. Then she kind of joked and said, well, I always wanted to be model thin, but perhaps I’ve taken it a bit too far. I think I choked out something like, Mom, you will always be gorgeous. I lied to my mom, Nicky. You know what she looks like. She is like a holocaust victim and my heart breaks every time I see her.”
“Oh, Lisa, it’s okay. I think this little white lie to your mom will not result in a direct path to hell. I, on the other hand, have secured my place in hell with my evil lesbian ways.”
Readers sometimes ask where do a writer’s characters come from? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I sneak in quite a bit of either myself or those I am closely associated with. People who know me well can pick it out in an instance. I am usually the socially awkward child or adult in my stories, because that was my experience growing up and the residual effects lie in waiting spilling over to my adult self. In my latest book, I pulled from my experience as a child when our family would travel to Baltimore every summer and I would spend hours reading in the hot upstairs kitchen of the townhouse that my grandparents owned. My father was the one who introduced me to the classics, including Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Other favorites that resonated with me were Dickens and Tolstoy. My mother’s favorites were the romance classics of the time, including all of Pearl S. Buck’s books. I was indiscriminate in my taste and enjoyed them all. That is still true for me, even though as of late I’ve limited that variety to lesfic.
I want to share the first scene in The Book Addict because it’s pretty dang close to my real life experience growing up. I’m not as talented or interesting as the character, Tanya, but there is a small part of me in that character (assassination or hyperbole – I’ll let you decide.
Tanya tucked her legs underneath her butt and curled against the wall. It was bright but hotter than hell in the upstairs kitchen where she hid, reading her book. The metal and vinyl combination was uncomfortable, but the rest of the family would leave her alone if she stayed seated. Every once in a while, she would lean against the hard Formica tabletop to shift in her seat, and the bare part of her legs would stick to the vinyl chair.
Tanya couldn’t go into the living room, because her grandmother insisted on keeping the drapes closed. There wasn’t enough light. Besides, it was depressing in the living room.
Sweat trickled down her nose, as she absently pushed up her Coke-bottle glasses. It was just past midday, the hottest part of the day, and if she didn’t know any better she would have thought this was exactly what Hansel and Gretel felt as they baked in the witch’s oven. Not that she was reading those fairytales anymore; she was too old for that.
At the ripe old age of eleven, Tanya was reading, Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. Her father, an avid reader himself, had given it to her the day before.
She was fascinated with the story. She felt like that cockroach: ignored, insignificant, someone who didn’t matter. This was a tale she could relate to, not the silly romances her mother read, or serious books about drugs or divorce. Her father had introduced her to the classics and that’s what she stuck with, even if her mother thought they were slightly beyond her comprehension.
Tanya never felt like a child. Her mother joked that she popped a middle-aged adult out of her womb.
“Taaannnya,” her mother called from the basement.
The clip clop of Mother’s shoes on the stairs alerted Tanya that her pleasant afternoon of reading was about to be disturbed.
The door leading to the basement opened. “What in the world are you doing in this furnace?” Her mother waved her hand in the air. “Geez it’s hot up here. I’m melting and I’ve been here less than a minute. Come downstairs where it’s cool.”
“I was reading,” Tanya answered.
Her mother narrowed her eyes and took a step closer to Tanya. She flipped over the book. “Oh for Christ’s sake. I’m going to kill your father. Metamorphosis. What the hell was he thinking? As if you’re not odd enough without him exposing you to books like this. Frank,” she yelled.
The heavy footsteps of Tanya’s father ascended the stairs.
“What?” he answered.
His lumbering form reached the doorway. “Hi kiddo. Are you enjoying the book?”
Tanya’s mother glared.
“Yeah, it’s really good, Dad.”
“Are you crazy? Metamorphosis, Frank? Next thing you know you’ll be giving her Tolstoy or Chaucer.”
“Oh, good ideas.” Her mother shook her head. “She’s eleven, Frank, not thirty.”
“Nothing wrong with introducing our daughters to the classics at an early age.”
“She should be out playing with her friends, not hiding away in this oven, reading books meant for adults.”
“I don’t have any friends,” Tanya whispered.
Her mother pushed the unruly brown curls away from Tanya’s forehead. “Oh honey, that’s because you lock yourself away and read all day long. Why don’t you go for a bike ride or something with your sisters when they get back from the pool?”
“Can’t I please finish the book? They won’t want me tagging along anyway.”
“Sure they will.”
“No, they won’t. They both have boyfriends.”
Her mother sighed. “Well at least come downstairs and talk with your grandmother and me. It’s too hot up here.”
Tanya resigned herself to spending time with her parents and grandmother until she could sneak away again and get lost in a new book. The characters came alive for her when she was reading. She often found that if she tried really hard she’d be able to jump into the pages and the adventures within.
I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing to model my characters from people I know and from my own personal life experiences, but I know I’m not likely to stop. My books have enough quirk and oddity without the need to completely eliminate my life experiences. Besides, I suspect it is likely the only thing grounding the books to a tiny bit of reality…something to help people relate. If you want to check out any of my books and get a glimpse into the real Annette Mori, you can certainly find bits and pieces of me within.
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5 thoughts on “Character Assassination or Hyperbole?”
I believe my best characters come from pieces of me. Morphing into my babies as the book develops. I could never stop using my life’s journey. Giving us a piece of yourself Annette through your books is a gift to your readers. I personally thank you.
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I know I totally agree that the best characters are based on pieces of ourselves and people we know and love….or hate LOL
I knew you hated me Annette. 😁
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No way…love ya which is why my very cool character Alex is loosely modeled after you!
I believe that it’s good advice overall to have a workshop tell people not to use personal anecdotes in their writing…if you’re an amateur. Everybody thinks that the things that happen in their lives are witty, scary, heartbreaking, romantic, and every other emotion possible, when if fact they aren’t necessarily literary worthy even with embellishment. But we’re professionals. You’re a Goldie winner for goodness sake. You have a style. Would you have somebody tell you that your style isn’t working? I think not. I’m not a best seller, and think the likelihood I will be isn’t great, but I am nominally successful. And there is a part of me in every book I write, a part of my life in every book I write. I use a free flow of consciousness when I write instead of outlining the book first. Is that the proper method? Hardly. Annette, take what you can from the workshops and classes that you are involved in, but don’t hold them as gospel. They do have to address a broad spectrum of attendees. But don’t let anybody tell you that you ‘have’ to do anything. And don’t forget to *breathe*! 😉
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