And one of my favorite subjects to write about, not so oddly enough, is writing.
So yes, as the title of this post has already warned you, today I'm going to be writing about writing about writing.
I haven't been the best of bloggers in recent months (make that years), but my output used to be rather prolific here at SOP. My archives are jam-packed with old posts about any number of subjects, and if you're ever bored and hungry for fresh[-ish] reading material, you could always scroll through them and hopefully you'd stumble upon something that would pique your interest. The 1,300-plus posts are not all about books and writing, not by a long shot; but those grouped under the label "Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club" most definitely are.
I started this little online book club quite a while ago, at the urging of my publisher (Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books), and it has indeed been a pleasure to host these book "discussions" with you over the years. It's a great forum for talking about how my two novels went from tiny sparks of inspiration to fully fleshed-out stories filled with characters whom I got to know better and better as time went by.
I enjoy it so much when novels I read have Q and A's with the authors at the end, where a reader can learn exactly what motivated them to write their stories in the first place. I usually flip back there before I even dive into Chapter One, because it adds another layer of enjoyment for me to learn how the writer was inspired to start the book and the amount of time it took to research and write it. The writing process itself is endlessly fascinating to me. So you can imagine why I get such a kick out of sharing my own stories here at the blog--about how I was inspired to write Finding Grace and Erin's Ring and how the books eventually took shape.
Most writers will admit that even the fictional stories they create have pieces of real people, places, and events embedded in them; that was certainly true for me--especially with Finding Grace. But trust me, this novel is NOT autobiographical (or even semi-autobiographical). So much of what was real was tweaked and reworked, and characters who were inspired by people I knew began to take on their own unique identities--which surprised and delighted me; truly, these characters became friends whom I missed dearly when I'd finished writing the last chapters.
I think this is a common phenomenon for fiction authors. In his biography Becoming Jane, Jon Spence discusses how the peerless Jane Austen wove together real life and fiction in her work (I've brought this up before here at the blog, in this past book club post, and this one, and this one, too --sheesh, you guys, I'm like a broken record!):
"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."
"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew. But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."
Yes, Jane, that's just what I ended up doing! And I didn't even know that you did this, too, until I'd already written Finding Grace! (I believe we would be BFF's!)
But Austen is by no means the only fiction author who did/does this sort of thing. Here are a few quotes by some talented modern-day writers whom I also admire, about how real life sneaks its way into their fictional tales.
In the acknowledgements at the end of One Day, a book I absolutely loved, author David Nicholls writes, "It is the nature of this novel that certain smart remarks and observations may have been pilfered from friends and acquaintances over the years, and I hope that a collective thank you--or apology--will be enough."
Ha ha, so true: I am convinced that a novelist cannot help but employ tidbits of actual conversations that he's been involved in or overheard, tweaking them to fit the storyline he's creating.
In the Q and A section at the back of Anne Rivers Siddons' Off Season (a book that had some very strange elements, to be sure, but which I nonetheless enjoyed on the whole very much) the interviewer asks, "Do you base your characters on real people or are they purely products of your imagination?" And Siddons replies, "There is always a flicker or a seeming of someone real in most of my characters, but by the time I have developed a character enough to carry them through a book, they become their own selves and there's no doubt about that. I never knowingly copy anybody--I'm not that good at it."
Yes, Anne! You, Jane, and I--if only we could go out for coffee together and talk shop! How fun would that be?
I know that when I was writing about Peggy Roach Kelly's feelings for her five sons in Finding Grace, I couldn't help but channel my feelings for my own five sons, whom I adore completely. Whenever my husband and I would walk with our tall, handsome boys across the church parking lot for Sunday Mass, I would watch them with eyes full of love and think, "Those are all mine! Those wonderful young men belong to me!" They had a way of walking, a "Pearl boy walk," that made them look alike from behind. So there you have it, the inspiration for this scene in Chapter 6 (pages 61-62 in the paperback version), where Grace and her parents are following the Kelly boys across the church parking lot:
"It was interesting how much the five brothers resembled one another, particularly from behind, where on couldn't see the variations in their facial features. They were all Roaches, similar in height and build, and all had Peggy's chestnut-colored hair (only Grace had inherited the stature and coloring of the Kelly side). They shared a gait that was uniquely their own, genetically programmed, so it seemed--the "Kelly boy walk": they sort of dragged their feet, yet bounced, with hands jammed in their pockets and shoulders slightly hunched, their heads leaning forward a bit. The five of them laughed together easily as they made their way over to the church, looking and acting for all the world like a set of giant quintuplets. They seemed nearly identical in appearance from this view, and as they say about babies of multiple births, they had almost a language of their own. They often finished each other's sentences, and laughed at the same moments. Their hand gestures and the inflections of their speech were uncannily alike.
They shared a tight bond that was indeed extraordinary, one that their parents hoped would never be broken.
Peggy drank them in with her eyes; Grace saw the expression on her mother's face and wished for a moment that she had ever been the one to produce such a look of naked adoration. Then she watched her brothers loping along ahead of them, and if she'd had a mirror she would have realized that her own face bore an expression very nearly the same as her mother's.
'Aren't they something special?' Grace thought, filled with tenderness. Right then she knew more than ever that she hoped she would one day be the mother of many boys."
How obvious is it that that passage was written by a hopelessly smitten Boy Mom?! I slid that little piece of real life in there as an homage to my beloved offspring; yet as much as the Kelly boys were originally modeled after my string of Pearls, they really did evolve and become their own selves the further along I got in the writing process.
Okay then, that's about it from here. But before I sign off, I'll leave you with a few images of the six fabulous men in my life, who inspired me to write a book that included five completely lovable brothers and a perfect love interest for my shy little heroine, Grace Kelly.