In the first part of this series, I’ve already noted a couple of factors (reading habits and career) that influenced my writing. But readers have sometimes asked me if other events in my life have influenced my writing.
Surprisingly, that’s not an easy question to answer. If you read any of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels and know anything about his life, it’s easy to see a version of himself and of his wife, Zelda in the male and female protagonists. You wouldn’t have the same luck reading my novels, though. There’s no obvious life pattern that keeps repeating.
Of course, in a fantasy novel, even an urban fantasy one, any autobiographical detail from the author is likely to be more disguised than it would be in literary fiction. After all, the presence of magic, supernatural creatures, different planes of existence, and other features that don’t exist in real life tends to transform any autobiographical elements that might be present.
On the other hand, I’m a strong believer in the notion that all authors are influenced by their background, though not all in the same way. An author doesn’t have to be as consciously autobi0graphical as Fitzgerald in order to be influenced by environmental factors.
With that in mind, I’m taking a look at my writing to see if there are subtle elements that could have been influenced by my life experience.
I mentioned in a previous post that my earliest writing was character-driven–creating an interesting main character first and then developing the plot from the problems that main character would have. That being the case, you’d expect that some hints of my life would show up in the main character if they showed up anywhere.
Taliesin Weaver (Spell Weaver)
One runs into the immediate problem that Taliesin Weaver, my first main character, is superficially nothing like me. He’s athletic. In fact, he’s a soccer star in the first book, when he still has time for that sort of thing. I, on the other hand, am the most unathletic person on the whole planet. Tal is musically talented and has his own band in the first book. I can’t carry a tune and never learned to play any musical instrument. The activities I was good at in high school (speech and debate, student government) Tal doesn’t participate in at all.
Later in life, Tal’s resemblances to me don’t increase, but you really wouldn’t expect them to. He takes a nominal position in one of Carrie Winn’s businesses that leaves him free to fight supernatural menaces. Conceivably, he could have followed any career path he wanted using the doubles mention in The Serpent Waits to fill in when he can’t be around. But it was hard for me to visualize him as an English teacher.
All of that said, Tal and I do have a few resemblances. We were both good students in high school. We both drive a dark gray Prius. We both had close relationships with our parents. I sometimes did feel isolated as Tal does in the beginning of Living with Your Past Selves–but that’s pretty much any teenager ever. In fact, none of these details indicate a particularly close relationship between Tal and me.
In an earlier incarnation of this blog, I wrote that Tal, though he doesn’t reflect what I was like at his age, may reflect what I wanted to be. After all, what guy doesn’t want to be athletic? And musicians tend to get girls, or so the stereotypes claim, anyway. It’s not that I had an unhappy high school experience. On the contrary, I loved high school. And it wouldn’t have been smart for me to try to force myself into activities for which I really didn’t have any aptitude. But we all fantasize about having it all.
Max Murphy (Different Dragons) and Chris Murphy (Soul Salvager)
With these two, we can see more resemblance to me, at least to the extent that both started out as nerds.
Max Murphy was, like me, the valedictorian of his high school. Chris was also a very good student, though not quite the top. Neither one of them is at all athletic, though Max does have a relatively unnerdy aptitude for auto mechanics.
It’s worth nothing that Stan, one of Tal’s best friends, started out as a nerd, though in the course of Living with Your Past Selves, he becomes quite athletic. Afterward, I worried that I might be sending the wrong message with Stan. I didn’t want to suggest that nerds somehow became more worthwhile if they become athletes. Max and Chris were consciously crafted to avoid creating that impression, which is why, though both of them successfully survive major threats to their lives, they don’t need to increase muscle mass to do it. (Max turns out to have pretty powerful magic, while Chris gets divine aid that helps him dodge demons and counter their magic.)
But, nerdiness aside, Max and Chris are probably both unlike me than they are like me. In Different Lee, Max is dealing is trying to come to terms with the death of his brother; I was an only child. In fact, that aspect of Max’s life is derived from one of my students, which is what I think happens with a lot of authors. Their characters probably may owe a lot to real life, but rather than being literary incarnations of one person, they are composites of several. I’ll say more about this later.
Chris is unlike me in that he starts out as an agnostic with probably a slight lean toward atheism. That’s one of the elements that creates friction in his life. Faced with demons, he at first can’t use faith-based methods of dealing with them. As a result, he goes through religious struggles I never faced in my own life. He’s really intended to represent modern spiritual conflicts rather than me or any one person I’ve known.
DL (Different Dragons)
DL is simpler to explain than the others. I felt that a lot of the characters in Spell Weaver were too similar to each other. In particular, they were all strong students. DL is my attempt at a different kind of protagonist. He’s a high school dropout who is more interested in having sex than in planning for the future. When he is forced into his own confrontations with the supernatural, he manages to rise to the occasion, but while the others succeeded at least in part through intellect and knowledge, DL is more reliant on instinct–and, in the case of fighting vampires, pop culture–than the others, at least in the beginning.
In the case of characters like Eva, Carla, and eventually, Amy and Merlina in the Spell Weaver books, as well as Ekaterina and Adreanna in the Different Dragons books, they aren’t reflections of me but rather of the kind of woman I wanted–but sadly, never got–as a life partner. Though their backgrounds differ quite a bit, they are all strong, independent, intelligent women. Some of them may do crazy things for love (just as the male characters do), but none of them is the damsel in distress stereotype. They do get rescued sometimes, but they all do their share of the rescuing.
Adreanna is a minor exception in that she is a prisoner (and unconscious) for most of Soul Switch, the novel in which she first appears. It would be a fair criticism to say that she doesn’t have much agency in that book, though she does come through and helps rescue Max in the end. But keep in mind that Soul Switch is part of a series. In Blood Is Thicker than Runes, she plays a much more active role.
Some readers have taken exception to Ekaterina’s behavior in Different Lee, either because they couldn’t understand why she’s attracted to him or because she seemed overly deferential to a guy who was at that point pretty much a male chauvinist. But I think those criticisms overlook the context.
First, remember that Ekaterina is literally Dracula’s daughter–or, to be historically correct, Vlad the Impaler’s daughter. She grew up in the Fifteenth Century, and becoming a vampire prevented her from fully integrating with later society. Consequently, as she contemplates a relationship with DL, some of reactions are an outgrowth of her upbringing. Those attitudes change quickly when she begins to develop an actual relationship.
Second, remember that Ekaterina starts out by thinking of DL as a blood donor. It isn’t until she gets a taste of his supernaturally rich blood, and his draconic nature begins to awaken, that she realizes he might be more than that. At that point, she has reasons for sticking with him, particularly the fact that our world isn’t that congenial to the supernatural, and DL’s presence can help keep her charged up. In other words, she has a lot of motivation to stay with him, even though he doesn’t at first seem like ideal relationship material. That doesn’t prevent her from being a true warrior and saving DL as much as he saves her.
There is also a partial exception in the Soul Salvager books. Amanda, who has let Satan get his hooks into her, isn’t really a free agent. But even she has the courage to keep Chris from sacrificing himself to save her. As that series continues, it’s quite possible that she will succeed in breaking free of Satan. Only time will tell.
It’s also worth noting that The Inner Worlds trap features Mariana Hernandez, a descendant of the Nephilim and a strong, intelligent, courageous woman. So Amanda may still not have much of an active role, but women have certainly not been forgotten in this book.
Most of my books tend to focus on a group of people rather than on one or two individuals. This is a deliberate effort to point out the importance of teamwork and to emphasize the value of all people, Regardless of background, anyone can contribute to making the world a better place.
That’s also one reason why the later Spell Weaver books are told from different viewpoints. The first three were all from the point of view of Tal, but the fourth had several different POV characters, the fifth had Lucas, the six was mixed again, the seventh had Amy, the eighth was mixed, and the ninth will be mixed again. That doesn’t mean that every single character’s point of view is represented, but the focus is never all on one central hero. Everyone gets his or her moment, one way or another.
Steve Marino in The Inner Worlds Trap does reflect my life in that he’s an English teacher, though his interest in athletics doesn’t come from me. People, even those who know me, often miss the fact that I’m a minor character in Evil Within Yourselves. Well, if we’re being technical, the character is actually a shapeshifter pretending to be me. But that incident does take place on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, where I taught, and it does establish Shar, who had moved from Beverly Hills after his freshman year in high school, as one of my former students.
As you know from one of my previous posts, a lot of my real-world settings have been fleshed out using tools like Google Earth. But I do have personal experience with some of the main ones.
Santa Barbara County, where Santa Brigida, the fictional town that is home to many of the Spell Weaver characters, is located, was a place my family used to vacation frequently when I was young. Consequently, my impressions of the area play a role in fleshing out that particular setting.
As for Eau Claire Wisconsin, where Max’s home is in the Different Dragon books, I spent a week there when it was the location of the national speech championships. It was a little woodsier then that it is now, but at least a few details in the books stem from my own experiences in the place.
Merced, just west of the fictional town of Madisonville where Chris lives in Haunted by the Devil, is a place where I spent very little time. Mostly, it was a place I passed through on the way to Yosemite or Sequoia. But a few details (such as the heat) did stick. It also had a lot of nearby open land on which to place a fictional town, which probably influenced my choice more than my memories of Merced.
You would expect those to have even fewer autobiographical elements than my urban fantasy works, and you would not be mistaken.
That said, A Dream Come True: An Entertaining Way for Students To Learn Greek Mythology, which was intended to be a textbook and presents the Greek myths in an urban fantasy frame story involving students falling asleep during a review sessions and awakening in the world of Greek mythology, was certainly influenced by my teaching career.
Since I was writing for a very specific situation–students using the text for summer reading rather than in-class study, I incorporated into it discussions among the student characters. These were based on actual discussions I’ve had with students in class. The aim was to provide to the readers the information that students would normally have gotten in class discussion.
I have been asked whether the student characters were based on actual students. The answer is no, though each character does contain some personality traits I observed during my teaching career.
As for Fateful Pathways: A Story of Theseus and Harmony and Disharmony: A Story of Orpheus and Jason, there wasn’t much room for autobiography in either. In different ways, both books do reflect my values–but that, I think, should be the subject of another post.
(featured imaged copyrighted by sunnypicsoz and licensed from Shutterstock)