Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strategic Friends

I have a post over on the Pink Heart Society blog today called What's in Your Well? which I hope you will check out.

It's about using one's life -- and one's friends' lives and experiences -- in books.

Another way of approaching this is to talk about "where do you get your ideas?" But that sounds as if the ideas just happen to writers, that we just sit there hopefully waiting for an idea to come along and whack us upside the head.

But in fact, I've always found the process much more active on my part than that.

The initial idea might appear with little more than passive awareness. But, believe me, books don't happen that way.

I find it way more common to have a small idea that starts a book, sometimes no more than a single line -- and nothing at all to support it. And generally nothing appears without my having to go look for it.

And where do I look?

In the well of my own (and my friends' and acquaintances') experiences. The emotional bits are usually mine. It doesn't take a lot of expertise to mine one's own emotions.

But it's a bit harder to have as many experiences as my characters need. I've never flown a plane, ridden a bronc, made a quilt, dyed someone's hair purple, directed a film, sailed to Greece, tried a legal case, built an 11 ton sand castle, been a time-traveling cowboy a princess, or a cross-eyed librarian.

No, wait. I have been the last.

But ordinarily I run out of my own experiences pretty quickly. So thank heavens for my kids, my friends and the wonderful people I've met while writing books.

These strategic people complement my experiences with different -- but useful -- experiences of their own.

As I mentioned on the Pink Heart piece, my friend Melody Crust is a spectacular fiber artist. What she does with cloth and color and bits of sparkly stuff must be seen to be believed. Go take a look -- enjoy yourself. I always do when I go to her website for inspiration, which is exactly what I did when I was writing about Ally Maruyama in Antonides' Forbidden Wife.

Peggy Nicholson and Antoinette Stockenberg have sailed me out of more situations than I have any right to expect. I have turned to them virtually every time I've sent a character to sea -- with the exception of Jack Neillands in Imagine, whose bout with seasickness I was perfectly able to write from my own experience, thank you very much.

Jack himself owes a lot to the man who was the hero on the covers of more than half a dozen of my books. My initial inspiration was the sight of him looking dark and brooding in long-sleeve dress shirt ad.

"That's him," I said. "I want him to be Owain O'Neill on the cover of Dream Chasers." Imagine my amazement when I got him.

It even provided me with the 'small' idea for a book: What if, as happened in real life, the man in question said, "She asked for me specifically? I'd like to meet that woman."

He did. I wrote Imagine, picking his brain to make Jack real. Twenty years later, I still pick his brain regularly. About life in the fast lane. Big city living. Deep sea fishing. Greek endearments. There's apparently no end to his expertise. Everyone needs a guy like that.

But he didn't know bull riding. Fortunately Brett Leffew did. He was such a great help on the 'going down the road' part of The Eight Second Wedding that I thought he'd be an even bigger one for the background of the hero who taught bull riding in The Cowboy and the Kid. I was right.

Others have stepped up and allowed me to pick their brains and mine their experiences as well. The Prof's cousin Barbara has guided all three of my lawyer protagonists through legal shoals and has kept them from being disbarred in the process -- though she tells me that with Christo it was a near thing!

A stuntman friend-of-a-friend designed a movie stunt for me. An orthopedic surgeon talked me through an operation, an athletic trainer rehabbed my baseball pitcher's injured arm. Another spent a long time talking to me about my soccer goalie's spinal stenosis. A fireman briefed me on oil rig fires. And the late great Tony Hillerman actually took the time -- twice -- to discuss Navajo culture and heritage with me.

The little ideas keep coming. And the well keeps refilling every time I need it to. I dip into it and find the bits I need -- and the means to meet the people who can teach me what I need to know.

Writing is a wonderful thing -- and not nearly as solitary as it sometimes seems. It has enriched my life immeasurably.

So thank you to all those who have helped me with your experiences, your advice, your input, your stories to help make mine come to life.

Tell me what the best bits you've used from your own well of experience and you'll be entered in the drawing for a copy of Antonides' Forbidden Wife -- to celebrate Melody's inspirational talent.

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Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

You certainly have some fascinating friends Anne :)

18 August, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Lacey, a lot of those people who helped me with books are people I met through friends or by simply asking for help. It's gratifying how many people are delighted to talk about their work. And it's one of the best parts of writing, getting to meet them.

19 August, 2009  
Blogger Kate Walker said...

Thank you for the links to Melody's fabric art - those designs are seriously gorgeous - fabulous! A certain ACOSB thinks that he would look very fine indeed curled up on one of them and when I pointed out the price tags he declared that he was well worth it!


19 August, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Sid is priceless, Kate. You know that. And of course he's worth a quilt of his own. But I think I'll have to make him one (how would he feel about a dead tree in winter?) because I'd want it to be specially made just for him -- from me!

19 August, 2009  
Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

Ah ha the trick is to ask huh? :) Thanks Anne!

20 August, 2009  

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