A common question people asked about my books was if the characters are drawn from real life. The answer is no, not really. Writing romance is about fantasy and I guess I don’t create fantasies about people I really know.
What’s more interesting, though, is the ideas that are drawn from real life. My books are full of those. Working out issues is something we all do–some people have therapists, some people box, I wrote romance novels.
I sold my first home to a nightmare couple who permanently dimished my capacity to trust other humans. We only moved around the corner so I had to see the unlovely changes those unlovely people worked on my former home. They cut down this large, rambling, wild, and lovely forsythia bush my kids and I had loved. I gave that bush to my first romance heroine and her nephew. It lived on. That felt good. I smiled just now as I wrote this.
Plan B: Boyfriend opens with a nicely dressed mom stabbing the desk in the elementary school principal’s office. Did I ever stab a desk or a principal? No, but that year I was feeling very stabby about my son and school. I put my anger and my heartache and bewildered fury into that book. The heroine destroys a lot of things and I not only cheered her on, I got to think it all up and write it all down. I didn’t have a therpist then, but I bet if I had, she’d have told me this was a healthy outlet. (That book also includes a drunken breakdown scene that remains one of my favorite things I ever wrote. Funny, sarcastic, and full of friends caring for each other.)
I have many very specific fears. My mom always said smart people have better imaginations. I wonder what specific kind of smart lets me build horrible, detailed disaster scenarios and then never forget them? My novels became a place where I could put those fears, but unlike the catharsis I felt when I wrote about the forsythia or elementary school rules, writing down my fears didn’t help me move through them. What it did do was help me feel compassion and connection with my characters. They had to live through the worst things I can imagine.
Being a writer is dangerous. You have to go deep and let your imagination complete the pictures you might want to avoid. But there is power in it, too.