Monday, April 02, 2007

How Much of the Book Is YOU?

Does this woman look like a dominatrix, a doxy, or a doyen? Is she obsessed, compulsive, or moderately neurotic? Has she had multiple husbands, won and lost multiple fortunes, and hopscotched through time to live as a viking warrior, a medieval nun, a colonial thinker, and a Victorian suffragette? Look deep into her eyes. What do you really KNOW about her?

I just got an e-mail notice that one of the movers and shakers of my high school class is organizing a major reunion. . . seeing as how we've reached another decade marker with a round digit in it. But I doubt I'll attend: I can only handle so much of being a class "curiosity."

You see, in school I was a smart girl who wore glasses, had strict parents, and didn't date much. . . despite the cup size. (I learned later that there was occasionally talk of "what a waste" I was. . . to be so book smart and so socially dumb.) When it was learned at one of my reunions that I had published books, some people actually went out and bought them. . . and apparently read them. Then at the last reunion several gals cornered me in the ladies' room and asked me point blank: "Those books you write. . . how much of that is from your life?"

C'mon, you've had the question, too. The wink, wink. The knowing, appraising nods and not-so-secretive stares. It's the sex, of course. Everybody seems to want to think of romance writers as secret sizzlers. . . libidinous females leading lives of desperation from trying to rein the passions raging and clawing to get out. Funny. . . from what I've learned in my years of writing women's sensual romance, EVERY woman is a secret sizzler. . . it just takes the right stimulus to release her. Like-- ummm-- a blank page!

I've had readers say to me that they see me sitting in church on Sunday and wonder how I do it. I guess they mean, how I managed to square my sexy imagination with my moral life. sigh. It never occurs to them that they admittedly READ what I write and they're sitting in church. . .

So what do I say when people try to draw conclusions about me from my writing? To the girls in the bathroom, I smiled cannily and responded: "The first four or five books were all me, baby" --I lowered my voice confidentially-- "after that, I started having to use my imagination." Yeah. They grinned and nodded and slipped out of the ladies' room with a fresh tidbit of gossip. I chuckled at the idea of them "living large" through my imagination. And I realized that is exactly what pleases me most about writing. . . the sharing of my imagination, my ideas, my stories with others and brightening their day, their evening, their week.

How much of me is in my books? A bunch. Because Me is all I've got to write from. My morality. My humor. My ethics. My outlook. My preferences. My knowledge. My idiosyncrasies. My fears. My desire for adventure. My understandings of the world and the people around me. What else can I draw from? And my sensuality, my opinion of what is pleasurable, my standards for what is healthy/enjoyable/releasing have to figure in there somewhere.

But to respond with all that would be mind-numbing. Not to mention, pretentious as hell. So, I usually manage a quip and a nod and let it go at that. The only time I delve deeper is with writer friends who know me and probably already know how much of me is in my books. . . because they know how much of them is in their books.

That's why, sometimes it's a jolt to meet a writer and learn that they're nothing like the assumptions we make while reading their work. Occasionally, I find myself--especially in these days of flourishing wild paranormal and super-steamy erotica-- pausing to wonder what the writer of a given book must be like. It's interesting to speculate. . . but I always come back to the truth. . . the writer's a person with a vivid and fertile imagination!

So . . . how well can people get to know us through examining our books? How much of your stories is based on your life? How much of you can people detect in your finished product?


Kathleen Eagle said...

So it's after midnight and I'm wrapping up my work day, mopping my brow over a love scene for the ages, check in here and I see where Betina's going with this, and I'm smiling; I'm anticipating each one's comments, get to the bottom and....

Guess we're all pleading the 5th on this one, huh?

lois greiman said...

My 88 year old aunt always read my historical romances. And she asked my cousin..."Do you suppose Lois lives out her novels?" I was shocked...shocked...I tell you. Mostly cuz my novels at the time all took place in medieval Scotland, and I didn't think I looked that old. But partly because she was an intelligent, well-read woman. I just assumed she would disassociate the author from the fiction, but nobody does. And maybe that's only fair, cuz you know, we do have to put a lot of ourselves in our work. Otherwise, where does it all come from?

Keri Ford said...

You can learn a good (HUGE) chunk about me from reading my writing. The h/h always have traits of mine (and the hubby's). The secondary cast has what everybody says makes me unique [well, they said odd, I changed it;)].

Some scenes I've ripped straight from my life and added to paper. Through some characters I vent my frustrations with my own problems through them. One of my leading ladies is so much ME that it can be embaressing (or humbling?) when I see my flaws come to life during edits.

As you said, ourselves is all we've got to start with. Depending on my mood when I start a new character will be the basis for that entire character's personality.

Candace said...

Interesting question, Betina!

I think my feminist perspective comes through in my books. At least, I hope it does because I think that's a basic part of the appeal of women's fiction and romance--affirmation that women are strong, capable, and empowered.

And, usually, somebody cooks--or eats--a gourmet meal during the course of one of my stories. And I do love to cook (and eat!)and the meals I write about are usually ones I've cooked or eaten, or would like to cook or eat. So my love of good food comes through.

Great shoes are often a feature in my narratives. as well, and--as anyone who knows me can attest--I do have a weakness (some would say an obession)for great shoes.

But that kind of stuff is never what people mean when they ask if I "live" my books. As Betina said, they want to know about the sex. I have three standard answers to that question, depending on who's asking.


"If I lived the live of my heroine, I wouldn't have time to write."


"If I wrote murder mysteries would you ask me if I killed people? If I wrote about vampires would you ask me if I was one of the undead?"

The simple "Yes" is usually the most effective. But only if you leave it at that and don't elaborate.

Michele said...

I'm always telling myself as I'm writing "this isn't you". Heck I do write about vampires and witches and getaway car drivers and jewel thieves. That's so not me. At least, I haven't stolen a large ruby lately, nor have I bitten into anyone's neck.
And yet, it always surprises me, when I'm reading the full story, just how much I relate to these heroines, and how much they are me. Huh.

As for the sex? I like to think I know enough on the topic to be able to write about it without having to pull down a research book. :-)


Anonymous said...

As an aspiring writer this is such an interesting blog. I haven't even thought about people who know me reading this book. LOL!

I'd like to add a question to this one. How much of your story is more what you would want to happen in your life as opposed to what has happened?

Since I haven't found my own HEA, I figure I'm more or less making up my own. Can someone write a good romance if they have less real life romance experience to fall back on?

Terrio - who is fighting with blogger...grrrrrrr

Cindy Gerard said...

While what we write is fiction, I for one, would be hard pressed to deny that much of 'me' goes into each and every book I write. Just as reading fiction is escapism, so, too, to some extent, is writing it. Yes, it's hard and often tedious work but the adventures I create in exotic locales, the heroes and heroines I create who are often larger than life, can only be an extension of me. They are the sum total of who I am - an individual who has evolved through both life experiences and my own imagination. Who you are and who you might dream about being are closely linked and the end result just can't help but appear on the page. Just as readers get lost in the fantasy, I get lost in the fantasy too - at least for a little while. If I didn't fully invest myself in the characters and their stories as I write them, I'd be cheating and it wouldn't take long for everyone to figure that out. My characters would be flat and unbelievable, not to mention dull and boring. And I'd like to think I'm neither of those :o) Well - maybe sometimes ...

MsHellion said...

Way too much of my book looks, feels, sounds like me. Or possibly people I know, though different too. So no one who knows me can read this book.

Debra Dixon said...

Oh, I'll plead guilty to being recognizable in my books. Not physically or even action-wise. But in perceptions of the world, issues the characters delve into.

I think writers look back over the body of their work and find the themes and issues that define their lives for good and bad.

And each writer's personal sense of humor is right out there for everyone to see usually.

Susan Kay Law said...

For people I know well, I always "see" parts of them in the books I write.

But I admit to meeting writers now and then that I thought I "knew" from their books and it wasn't even close.

I'm always shocked by people who write comedy and aren't funny in person. (Not the ones around here! she hastens to add. Betina and Lois are very funny in person.)

And once, I met a writer who wrote really warm, funny books and who was horrible in person. Insulted me within ten seconds of meeting me in the guise of being funny, and my experience with her wasn't unique.

So maybe not as much as I thought.


Betina Krahn said...

Okay, Kathy-- I'll plead guilty to using some of my own daydreams and to analyzing some of my personal feelings to try to find a way to describe things. . . emotions and otherwise. But I use a lot of personal experiences, not just the sexy ones.

And Keri-- yeah, I've seen some of my own reactions and current life problems appear in my books-- or at least a shadow of them.

Terrio, yeah, we're all a little shocked by what happens when what has been essentially a private and personal act of creativity goes public. . . and our families and friends start to look at us in a new light. . . or recognize things about us in our characters and their situations. Quite humbling.

I remember dedicating my first book to "The big Viking who takes my breath away." Forgot all about that page being in the ms, until the book came out and I presented it to my hubby. Later he got occasionally calls from fellow professors asking "Is(snicker)'the big viking' there?" He didn't mind. He just grinned at me. Every hero I wrote after that had that grin. Still does.

kaitlin said...

I think it depends on the genre of story I'm working on. I've noticed that when I'm playing around with a funny chick-lit style, it sounds the most like me. Each heroine I write has things about them that are similar to me. The heros are men I wish I'd meet. It just depends on what I'm working on.

Judy Baer said...

Your comments struck a cord, Betina. I think I actually kept writing after the first two or three books to try to prove to the people who knew me that they weren't autobiographical. Everyone was sure that everything my characters said and did was something I'd taken from real life. I once had a woman tell me she didn't dare talk to me any more because she might turn up in a book!
This proves we really can't tell what's going on inside a person, her thoughts, motivations or fantasies. And it's why it's so satisfying to create characters with conflicts and contradictions. We know all about that from real life!
Judy Baer

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