What’s Real in My Stories?

This post originally appeared on the SuperAuthors Blog.

Recently a friend told me that someone we both used to work with refused to read my books. When my friend asked this person why, he said it was because he was afraid he’d be in them. And not in a good way!

I was pretty surprised to hear this. Partially because this person is very nice, and has nothing to fear if someone ever decided to write about him. But mainly because I don’t “put” people in books! Characters show up, or are created, and they generally seem to be people in their own right, with their own history, quirks, faults, and needs.

It got me thinking about what parts of real life show up in my stories. And I realized that my new book, More Than a Rancher, has a lot of real life in it, but it’s the experiences I have in life that make their way into my stories, not the people I meet.

For example, my heroine is a ballroom dance teacher, an experience I briefly had, but she teaches all the dances while I just stuck to swing, lindy hop, and other dances from the forties. She competes, while I was never that good!

My hero has a little brother who is fourteen years old. I was a junior high administrator and loved working with young teenagers. But is Paul based on any one student? Absolutely not. It’s more the essence of Paul, the enthusiasm, the passion for his dreams, the surprising bits of wisdom and the retreats into sullen silence or juvenile humor, that comes from the kids I knew.

And both my hero and heroine struggle with the impact of alcoholism in their lives, albeit in different ways. I grew up living with an alcoholic, but she’s not in this book. But what I know about the disease, and the frustrations and pain of watching someone struggle with it, did find its way into the story.

I told my friend to please reassure our former colleague that he is in no danger of being put in one of my books. And then another thought occurred to me. If people think they might be in my books, do they wonder if I am there too? Do they think that I have met these incredible cowboys, ridden the mountains with them, and experienced all the romance and passion that I write about? How wonderful!

If you write, do you put real people in your books? Or have you ever based a character on someone you know?

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