Wednesday, February 23, 2011

They Told Me to Write A Book about It, So I Did

We are told to write what we know, which I’ve done a lot of over the years. I’ve written stories about grieving teenage girls who lost their mothers to cancer. That happened to me when I was 14. As a kid I wrote a Scooby-Doo type mystery. I’ve loved mysteries my entire life. Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Murder at the Pentagon, the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, and more. I’ve read them and keep reading them. Scooby-Doo was a never missed cartoon on Saturday mornings while growing up, and thanks to the Cartoon Network I can still watch those meddling kids and their dog uncover clues and solve crimes.

But one thing I believe we all know more about than anything else is our family. We can tell you what we don’t like about each person; share all the annoying things they did to us over the years; talk about how years later we’ve reconciled our differences—or not.

My family has changed a lot in the years since my mother’s death. There have been marriages and divorces, births and deaths, and arguments and reconciliations. There are certainly some wild stories in there. When I talk to my friends about things my family did (sometimes I even get brave enough to share things I’ve done) the reaction is usually the same, “You should write a book about all this.”

The first manuscript I completed after embarking on my writing career was a story of three adult sisters who grew up in a dysfunctional household run by their ex-Marine father and neurotic mother. The sisters had remained rivals throughout the years. When the youngest sister is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the sisters struggle to push aside their differences and work toward becoming supporters of each other, and hopefully friends.

I co-authored this story with one of my sisters. It’s close in many ways to the relationship I’ve had with my two older sisters; though there’s a heavy amount of fiction mixed in to make it an engaging read—and to make sure we’re all still speaking with each other if it ever gets published.

The Sisterhood, as we titled it, is a story that is close to my heart. I hope that we get a chance to polish it and submit it to an agent one day.

Little Shepherd came out in August of last year. I hadn’t planned on starting out as a writer for children, but again, I write what I know. As a life-long lover of books and the mother of three, I know a bit about children’s stories.

What do you know about that you could turn into a story?

The majority of this article originally appeared at Fodder for Fiction on October 5, 2010.


Admin said...

Whew...what a loaded question there. I'm like you - my experiences could fill a book, more than one. Okay here goes it for me. The soul mate book that I put together in 2004, that was built from personal experiences and others' too. The one that should be coming out at the end of the year, same thing. Next up is a book I wrote with 2 other authors and yes it came from personal experiences yet we made a fiction story out of it. Next up is a book I wrote about 3 women who traveled across country to their high school reunion - a lot of it was from personal experiences and let's see...I'm sure there are dozens more but authors think why do I have to go the easy way out and write what I know? Because writing what you know is not what everyone else knows and they have no idea it's what you know and writing what you know, you draw more insight than having to research. Fiction authors often travel to do research for their books to make sure it's believable..just think of all that time you would have saved if you'd already done it?

Turning the Clock Back said...

I am pretty sure nothing I know would make an interesting book! Unless you want a science book filled with facts and figures!

Although I guess I could go the route of forensics mystery or environmental espionage?

Those might be good topics to tie into my science geek life!

Margay said...

I could probably write a story about things I could write a story about! Coming from a large family, I get a lot of ideas from their situations and what they are going through, medically and otherwise. See, sometimes it's a good thing to come from a large family!

terri.forehand said...

As a critical care nurse and one of 5 siblings, I have many stories but not sure how to fictionalize them or turn them into what others want to hear. I am pretty straight forward and often readers don't want that type of story, they want it fluffy and puffy. I am trying to work on honing my skills as a writer to combine truth with fiction and make it an interesting read.

Nicole weaver said...

Both of my children's books are based on real life experiences. I have written my memoir but at the last minute did not get it published. I have no trouble writing about my personal experiences . It is much easier for me to write about what I have experienced as opposed to coming up with something that I did not experience.

Nicole WEaver

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I recently sold my manuscript based very loosely on my mother's life. There's so much I don't know that I had to add things, events and even characters though the main ones are real. It took me awhile to write it because of the research needed. Now, I anxiously await its publication.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for all the comments. It's neat to hear about your stories and upcoming books.

Diane, you never know what you might uncover in your "boring" life once you get to thinking about it.

Terri, I think it can be tough to turn your own life into something engaging enough for readers. You're so close to it, that you wonder if it is interesting to you, only because it happened to you. That's why my sister and I added a heavy dose of fiction into what we wrote. Still don't know if it's a good mix because it isn't published, but maybe at one point it will be.

Nicole, you and I had talked about this, but I think it's a shame your memoir wasn't published. Maybe it will be one day in the future.

Can't wait to see that book, Bev. Hey Dot, any ideas on when these books will be complete? Margay, I agree, a big family can offer tons of inspiration.

Thanks everyone. I appreciate you stopping by.


JM said...

When I was a kid, always toting around anotebook and pen, I used to get threats from family members who didn't want me writing about them... As you can imagine, I have some interesting story ideas inspired by my 'colourful' relatives.

I do know about starting over, which is what I did at twenty in a new country. I could definitely write about that.

Rachel Newstead said...

To Turning The Clock Back: That's always been my problem. I have such esoteric interests (and such paltry life experience, due to my isolation from disability) that I doubt I could make any aspect of my life interesting to anyone else. I fear of falling into the trap of what fan fiction writers call "Mary Sue-ism"--creating a character (or characters) too much like me, only with the flaws removed. Or exaggerated.

I'm a comics, animation, and film geek who is fascinated by early talkies and music from the twenties. I have no idea what I'd do with that.I've hardly ever held a job, and have had few friends, so I can't draw from people I've met on the job or elsewhere. What do I do?

Cheryl said...

I think it's normal for us to think we're boring, that we have nothing to offer. Yet, we are the only ones who can tell our stories from our own perspectives. How we see things is bound to be different than how another person sees them.

Graphic novels for tweens and teens are popular. Maybe you can use your interests to go down that road.

You might not have met a lot of people, but if you are able to go out and sit at a mall or a park for a few hours and observe people, that might help you too.

Good luck, Rachel.