Thursday, November 10, 2011

Self-therapy Books

Write what you know. Common writing advice. The problem with that is that each one of us only knows so much. Oh, you can do research, you can stretch yourself and broaden your horizons, and as people we are always growing and learning new things, but there is only so much we can know with any level of expertise.

I think this applies to authentic emotional conflict also.

A while back, a reader criticized Serengeti Sunrise for being a reprise of Serengeti Lightning. I was surprised by this, but in the reader's eyes Zoe's restless, independent soul and Mara's need to leave the pride so she could nest and build a family felt the same - because they both wanted out of Texas (though for very different reasons). I hadn't seen that similarity, but it doesn't surprise me that someone reading my books might notice a trend of itchy feet. My gypsy blood refuses to settle and that likely comes through in my writing whenever I'm feeling particularly restless. Feeling trapped or penned in are things I can write with absolute authenticity.

I try to keep things fresh, but there are themes that are bound to recur in my books because they are issues that are real to me. I hope only people who know me well can tell which issues are mine and which are borrowed, but I think it is natural (if scary at times) to put our own concerns onto the page. There is an honesty in it.

When I read books by friends, I can see the pieces of themselves that sneak into the books. A friend who grew up in foster care, writing about the system. A weight-conscious friend writing about a heavier heroine. Whether it's a kind of self-therapy, a way of working through our issues, or something else entirely, it just is. Good, bad, or other.

It's a terrifying display really. You make your character's fears open to the world and in turn expose your own. Perhaps it is normal for readers to feel that they know you by reading your books, because there is so much of us in them. But it is also a mistake to think you know me for that very reason, because I am more than my books... and my books are more than me. We are a Venn Diagram. If you see me and my books together, the overlap will be obvious, but seeing only one, you can only speculate on the other.

Which of my books are self-therapy? I'll never tell.

Have you ever written a book - either intentionally or by having it just sneak in there - to work through an issue or fear in your own life? Read a book that helped you do the same and made you feel a kinship with the author because you felt they "got" it?

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