Friday, December 29, 2017

We All Have Stories To Tell #OurAuthorGang

Joe Bonadonna

I watch PBS NewsHour almost every night. Besides the fact that I like their coverage of the news and the days’ events, and the journalists and politicians they feature as guests, I love that they often have a segment called “NewsHour Bookshelf,” where they interview authors — young, old, new, and established. They’ve featured authors such as Jesmyn Ward, Rebecca Eaton, and Robert Hillburn, and even actors like Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin.

Recently they interviewed best-selling author Amy Tan, who talked about how her life, and especially her childhood, infuses her work. Even the ghosts she writes about come from her own life; we all have ghosts and skeletons in the closets in our lives and in our families. I’m sure there are many elements in JK Rowlings’ “Harry Potter” novels inspired by her own childhood, and school years. Stephen King put a lot of his own childhood in what I consider his masterpiece, IT, and I once read that Pet Sematary came about partly from his greatest fear — losing a child. His near-fatal accident from some years ago found its way into Duma Key. Anne Rice struggled with and questioned her Catholicism for many years, especially after the loss of her husband, and the tragic death of her son. Much of that struggle, many of those questions found their way into her vampire novels, and also in her novels about Jesus Christ. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was surely influenced by his experiences in WWI and WWII; Mordor being the “enemy in the east,” and Mordor having its roots in the German word for murder — “mord.” Like Amy Tan, drawing from my own life and experiences infuses my own stories and novels: the fantasy and space opera I write come from what I enjoyed reading and watching on TV and in the movies when I was a kid, even from the way I played, the games and the toys. The two children’s novels I wrote with Erika M Szabo have a lot of elements of books, television and movies I enjoyed as a child. Basically, I write what I’ve always enjoyed reading, although nowadays I read mostly history and biographies of actors, directors, and musicians, as well as crime and mystery novels, which often inspire the  stories of my “legacy character,” Dorgo the Dowser.
 Write What You Know About. That’s what I was always told.

No matter what genre you write — romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror — there is always something from our own lives we can draw upon and put into our stories. What life events affected you? Changed you? Helped you to grow? What childhood and adult experiences have you had that can be used in your plot or to add depth and reality to your characters? School years can be transformed into a character studying to be a wizard, a warrior, an intergalactic traveler. A love affair, broken heart, marriage, divorce . . . these can all be recast to fit the needs of your plot and your characters. Military service, careers, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, as well as parenting, vacations and travel, even the food you like to cook and eat can all be used in your stories. Grief is a major theme in most of my work, because I live with it every day. There is usually at least one character in my stories who is dealing with grief or loss of some kind. The loss of family and friends, riches, honor, love and trust — all these permeate my first published work, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser; and the themes of grief and loss were not written with a “conscious effort.” No, those found their way into that book without purposeful into. Even though one brief scene, where one character holds the hand of another who is dying, was drawn from the night my Mother passed away, the themes of grief and loss were not apparent to me until I was doing the final proof-read. It amazed me, how those themes, and others, too, had crept into my work without my knowing it. It was quite a realization. The same thing happened while writing Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent, where I write about the loss of a child, a young boy losing his mother, parental abuse (which was not drawn from my own life), racism, and betrayal of many kinds. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that my stories of Dorgo the Dowser, for the most part, are written in the first-person, and that Dorgo’s personality, his attitude, are so much like my own. In the Dorgo novel I’m currently working on, the main themes are loss of faith, questioning one’s religion and place in the universe, disappointment and, once again, betrayal.

Everything, big or small, that happened to you, that you experience, can be turned into stories. Use your characters to define your plot, let your characters and their thoughts, emotions, attitudes, past experiences, and motivations speak to you and guide you in the direction your plot should take. What happened to you when you were a child? What did happened to you during your teenage years that affected you deeply, changed you into what you became in later years? What have you experienced, what events are you currently experiencing as an adult that you can use in your stories?
Sure, writing about things we know nothing about can be rewarding. The exploration of new ideas, themes, and concepts, the sheer joy of doing research and attaining knowledge of things we never before knew about is very enlightening. But it’s your heart, your soul that you are pouring into your work. Remember: your life is a well; draw the water from it.

After all, we all have stories to tell.

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