There’s a sense in which writers are always “on.” Eavesdropping at a mall food court to get teen dialogue right. Reenacting fight scenes with friends so as to correctly portray body movements. Sneaking a few photos while at the ER with a friend, knowing a hospital scene is coming up in the next book.
But often, using personal experience isn’t a planned thing. Rather, as we’re writing, some earlier life experience floats up from the subconscious to make a scene more realistic or emotional.
Here are a few examples from Secret Christmas Twins, out today (Today! Hooray!) at your bookstore or big-box retailer.
Pushy Dog Love: Jason and Erica, the book’s hero and heroine, get some very sad information. They’re sitting outside on the back stoop trying to process it, despite the winter weather. Since they’re angry with each other, they’re not sitting close. But then the dog they’ve just rescued whines to come out and pushes its way in between them, giving them a laugh and a little comfort.
What dog lover hasn’t had a canine companion push in close when we’re feeling emotional? Dogs sense our feelings and respond with the only kind of compassion they have to offer: physical closeness. Very often when I’m writing—especially on deadline—my little Maltese mix senses my anxiety and squeezes into my writing chair beside me.
Grief without Words: During a quiet moment, the heroine glances in the window at Papa, the hero’s father, who’s recently lost his wife. He’s standing in the front room, which the hero and heroine have decorated for Christmas in order to cheer him up. Papa walks from crèche to crèche, picking up figures and putting them down. It turns out his wife collected them, and each one brings Papa a flood of memories.
Way back in my teenage years, I remember watching my dad study a little rose knickknack he’d bought my mom a few years ago. He put it down, took a few steps, picked up a photograph, and stared at it, his shoulders just a little hunched.
My father had never shared his feelings about my mother leaving him. But in that moment, with no words spoken, I understood the depth of his loss. When I was seeking a way to show Papa’s grief, that moment floated to the surface and got included in my book.
Babies with Delays: The twins in Secret Christmas Twins have verbal and motor delays; they require early intervention and cause the heroine a lot of worry. Will they catch up? Are the delays permanent?
That concern comes from real life, too. When our daughter came home from China at age one, she had both gross motor and language delays. I worried, especially when she was around other babies her age who’d sailed through the developmental milestones she hadn’t yet reached. We were so fortunate to have early intervention services here in Pennsylvania, and the professionals who worked with her will always have my gratitude, both for the help they gave her and for the reassurance they gave me that, yes, babies are resilient.
They were right! My daughter is now an outgoing teenager who loves to talk and who excels at running and gymnastics. So the sense of hope about the Christmas twins’ ability to catch up, conveyed in my novel, is rooted in real life, as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into how real life gets transformed into fiction. And I hope you’ll love Secret Christmas Twins! To celebrate its release, I’m doing a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card, chosen from people who comment below TODAY about connections between real life and fiction.