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Thursday, October 30, 2008

When my friend and author Laura Caldwell wrote an essay for a collection I edited (EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME), she didn't write about one of Judy's well-known kids' books. Instead she chose to write about one of Judy's adult - very adult - books, WIFEY. Laura wrote about reading WIFEY in middle school and being a little freaked out. There's a great line in her essay where she writes, "Do all adults do that? Does Judy Blume do that?" That idea almost did her in.

I think that's something a lot of readers wonder when reading a book - how much of it is based on the author? It's hard not to assume that some of what the author writes about is based on her life. I mean, really, can you honestly make up an entire book?

Here's where I admit how truly unimaginative I am. I use a lot of my own experiences in my stories, as well as my friends. They're all over the place. Not until I wrote LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS, my ninth and tenth books, did any of my characters have a sister. I mean, I never had a sister. I never wanted a sister or asked my parents for one (why would I want to have to share clothes or anything else?). I had a brother. So my characters had brothers. I like chocolate ice cream, so do my characters. I liked school, so do my characters. And the guys in my books are always the guys I wish I'd met in high school.

My friend, and fellow author, Jessica Brody recently sent me an email from LA saying she hadn't known I'd gotten remarried (I'd mentioned my husband in an email we were sending back and forth). I replied that I'd been married for 14 years, but I knew why she'd thought I wasn't. I'd co-written a book about divorce with my friend (who in fact was divorced). Jessica replied, "Oh, I'm so glad to find that out. I always pictured your husband as the husband in BACHELORETTE NUMBER ONE," which was my first book. I told her that the husband in the book was absolutely based on my husband, from the way he looks to the guitar he plays.
Of course there are lots of things in my books that I make up, but there are just as many things, little details, that are absolutely based on real life. And I like that readers might wonder which things really did happen and what was just a figment of my imagination.
What about you? Do you wonder if what you're reading might have some shade of reality to it? And if you write, how much of your own experiences do you use?


Jennifer Echols said...

LOL--Laura's experience sounds familiar. I never read WIFEY, but when all my friends and I were reading Judy Blume in sixth grade, one of them did tell me Judy Blume also wrote a book for adults and it was DIRTY!!! I was horrified.

I guess I do wonder when I read books if authors have gone through the same experiences, or what their relationship to the book is. Personally, for the two books I have out now, I've based the background on my real life, but the plot is totally fiction. I was the first female drum major of my high school marching band like the heroine of MAJOR CRUSH, but none of the stuff in the book actually happened to me (fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what chapter you're reading). I grew up on a lake in Alabama like the heroine of THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, but the plot is fiction.

I have to say my book coming out with MTV Books in March, GOING TOO FAR, is probably the farthest I've ever wandered from my own experience. To this day I'm not sure where that book came from, but once I got going writing it, I was really driven to finish it, as if it had actually happened.

Danielle Joseph said...

Okay, I totally need to read WIFEY now:)! This is a very interesting topic and I love hearing about authors personal experiences. For my book Shrinking Violet there is some stuff based on my life, like I was shy but not nearly as shy as Tere and I was a radio intern. But the personal relationships and the situations she finds herself in are fictional. Although, I did encounter a "sleazy" DJ while interning! Now the ms that I just completed is totally fictional because no one has ever written a song about me and I have never been hounded by the media:)!