20 August 2011

Characters - Write what you know?

People who know I'm an author often ask what parts of myself I put into my characters. People who know me well want to know why I'm not trying to sell my life story to Lifetime. *grins*

I'm a product of the foster care system. In a lot of ways, my life does read like a Lifetime movie. It's one of the reasons I write Paranormal Romances. I have always written to escape my reality, not embrace it. Having said that, it's impossible for my past not to bleed into my work.

When the concept for the Ladies of St. George popped into my head, I initially shelved it. I thought the idea of a bunch of damaged heroines wouldn't make good romances. And then I heard Destiny. After writing the opening scene, I talked to a friend about my concerns. Her answer? Write what you know. One of the reasons Bella is so engaging is that she's real.

So, I did. I took all the isolation, anxiety, and personal backstory into the St. George world. You see, I know what it's like to live life without a safety net; to know that every decision, good or bad, will have irrevocable consequences. I never had anyone to bail me out if I made a wrong move. In college, I worked two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet because not earning that degree simply wasn't an option. I had nowhere to go and no marketable skills without it. At a college filled with silver-spooners, it was hard to watch my fellow students squander Mommy and Daddy's money because they didn't care.

But I carried more than that into my St. George heroines. I don't make friends easily. Growing up, the one thing foster homes and abusive homes have in common is that friendships are discouraged. In abusive homes, it's to keep the abuse hidden. In foster homes, it's to ensure a smooth turn-over when it's time to move on to the next one, usually after you cross an age milestone or when your usefulness has ended. That teaches you to be fiercely loyal to those you have the opportunity to grow close to and to hold onto those fragile bonds as long as you possibly can.

Another thing the St. George heroines have in common is the way they value simple things. I never had a milestone celebrated: birthdays, graduations, personal accomplishments, etc. Anything that involved being valued? I was left out in the cold. The only value a foster child has is the rent they bring in. What it taught me was that small things matter, especially those that require personal attention to details.

What I like about my Ladies of St. George series is that I can fold up all the bad parts of my life and spin it into a story where all the weaknesses become strengths and there is always a happy ending.

In BLOOD AND DESTINY, I hear a lot about Yasmine and Destiny with their different life paths. When I introduced Grace in CHRISTMAS GRACE, my inbox was flooded with notes asking about her backstory.

I'm glad people like the St. George heroines because they aren't a mirror of my own life experiences. I'm not using myself as their model. I'm writing stories about how circumstances beyond our youthful control turn us into the women we are as adults. What's cool about that is how each personality morphs the same isolating childhood into a productive life. And how they turn those needs toward the men they chose to share their life with. Yasmine turned hers into a need to create a family, to give to her child the loving home she never had, and that lead her to Kale, alpha family man. Destiny flipped the other switch and became afraid of commitment, of being thrown away when her usefulness was over. So, Destiny fell in love with a vampire who would not only outlive her, but couldn't understand monogamy. Grace turned her demons into the need to put herself first. After all, if she's not going to look out for her interests, no one else is going to care enough to do it for her.

And for you? What parts of your personal backstory lead you down the road you traveled? What part of your own deep needs can you pinpoint to an incident in your past? Me? Well, the reason Yasmine doesn't have a book is because I share her needs. After having a childhood where there were no celebrations, I wanted to give my children everything I had been denied. So far, I'm doing all right.
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