Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Using the Real World

The real world is very handy.

Margaret Mayo reminded me of that today when I saw her comment on my granddaughter Ellie's fall in my previous blog piece.

Margaret wished Ellie a speedy recovery (good news -- she's basically recovered. Just has to get the staples out next week). And then Margaret went on to say she hoped I -- and Ellie -- didn't mind if she used a similar incident in her book, that she needed something to up the stakes, heighten the tension.

No, we don't mind.

In fact, in a few years, when she's old enough, Ellie will probably think it's super to have been an inspiration (though no doubt her mother will be happy if she's not inspiring anyone again any time soon).

And I totally identified with Margaret's comment because 'real life' events are, let's face it, the hangers on which we hang our books.

Yes, of course there is imagination. But writers use their imagination the way potters use their hands.

It's hard to make a bowl or a pot or a pitcher out of a potter's wheel and a pair of hands and nothing else. Likewise, it's hard to write a book without something concrete to work with, to let our imaginations play with, to mold and shape and make an integral part of our story.

Heaven knows, I've taken bits of real life to use in my books right from the very start.

My first book, Dare to Trust, took a man with malaria and a teacher with a fiance she was having second thoughts about, and threw them together for the summer in the house right behind my own.

Oh, I moved the house to another state not far away. And the man with malaria in my book was Colin Davies, an archaelogist, but he reacted to his malaria pretty much the same way a professor friend did when he suffered the same disease. The teacher with second thoughts -- well, she was a reflection of a roommate I had once who had similar second thoughts.

In all these cases, the 'real life' part was a starting point -- bits of reality on which to hang the story I wanted to tell.

Over the next 60 odd books, bits and pieces of real life have been starting points. Or high points. Or low points. Or turning points.

Miles Cavanaugh, in Body and Soul, broke his foot sticking it in a door. I knew how his foot felt. I'd broken my own (not sticking it in a door).

Did his crisis about leaving the seminary come from real life? You bet it did. Not the particular events in this case, but the conflict of emotions behind it.

And then there was the stick Jill accidentally clobbered Luke Tanner with in Cowboys Don't Quit. Yep, another real life event. As was Jake Brosnan's jelly fish sting in Lightning Storm.

Lest you think all the real life events are disastrous, they weren't. Real life was the inciting moment that began one of my books. I'd asked for a particular Penney's dress shirt model to be my hero on the cover of Dream Chasers. He really looked exactly the way I pictured Owain O'Neill.

Amazingly enough, the artist got him. He did a lovely cover. And later, when I was interviewing him about cover art for a workshop, the artist said to me, "You know your hero? He said no one had ever asked for him specifically before. He'd like to meet you."

I ask you, how can any writer pass up an idea like that?

Thus was Jack Neillands born -- and turned up on the doorstep of writer Frances Moon, completely disconcerting her and pretty much turning her world upside down.

That book was called Imagine because, basically, that's exactly what I did -- and so did Frances. (This was in the days when titles were not nineteen words long and stuffed with hot button words).

In any case, I'm all for using the real world. That's what I went to Cannes for, after all.

So, by all means, Margaret, use Ellie's 'event.' If you need blood and gore details, send me an email!

Hope it works for your story. Be sure to let us know when to watch out for the book!

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Blogger Anne Gracie said...

Speaking of using events, injuries, even quite humble ones can also be useful. Last year I slipped getting into a bath and gave myself a huge bruise on the inside of my knee.
It looked truly horrible.
I was thrilled. For the next few days I religiously wrote the progress of that bruise in my diary, along with diagrams of which bit was which color and for how long.It was a bruise that simply begged for a book. LOL

06 May, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

It obviously begged for a blog, too, Anne!

You're right, of course. The smallest thing can trigger off masses of wonderful words. On the other hand, sometimes nothing seems to stimulate thought, which is why it has taken Demetrios and Anny THREE WEEKS to take a taxi from the Ritz Carlton to the clinic where she volunteers. Where's a bit of real life when I need it?

06 May, 2009  
Blogger Margaret Mayo said...

Many thanks Anne for your 'permission' And what an interesting blog about imagination.

And Anne G, I also once made notes about a bad bruise I'd had so that I could use it in a book.

It never pays to pass up 'opportunities' however painful they might be.

07 May, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Happy to help, Margaret. Ellie is, too, though she probably will not be doing that again! (we hope).

I'll be sending you the details shortly.

07 May, 2009  

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