Talk to any author of fiction (or read about them) and you’ll invariably discover they’ve incorporated aspects of their own lives into their stories—events, experiences, family dynamics, life passages, etc. Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the more famous examples—her “Little House” series was so similar to her own life you could call her books “true-life novels.” I’d always thought the series was straight autobiography until I read "Pioneer Girl: An Annotated Autobiography" by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Pamela Smith Hill. Published in 2014, it’s Wilder’s “real” autobiography, which details all the various ways she novelized her life. I was a little crushed to discover Wilder had embellished or changed many of her experiences, but nevertheless, it’s a fascinating read.
I just read about a contemporary author, Ann Hood, whiose latest novel, The Book That Matters Most, centers around a book club, and also has a member who’s a knitter. Guess what? The author is a dedicated book club member and knits in her spare time! Another book that crossed my path recently: Himself, by Jess Kidd, about the people and mysteries in a small town in County Mayo, Ireland. It can’t be a coincidence that the author grew up in a small town in County Mayo!
When it comes to my own novels, I’m no exception to the Imagination +
True Life equation. My “Morgan Carey” series for tweens includes characters I’ve based on the kids in my life. The books are also set in places I know every nook and cranny of—including our little spot in the Foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and the historical riverside town of Astoria, Oregon.
In my first two novels of my Ballydara series, It Only Takes Once and Mother Love, I drew from relationships I’d observed and some real people’s quirks or personality traits that intrigued me. For my third Irish novel, The Hopeful Romantic, I went a step further: I took a relationship I was familiar with—in the book, it’s between a thirtysomething Irishwoman, Kerry, her husband Stephen, and Will, the husband’s best friend—reversed the dynamic, and the story was off and running.
In my new novel, The Galway Girls, I’ve weaved some of my own experiences of running our little homestead into the storyline. Of course, for fiction, an author always needs to tweak and/or raise the stakes of any real-life event to make it more dramatic.
However, in The Galway Girls, I actually had to tone down an event to include it in the book. In my little village of Ballydara, where the book is set, nothing really terrible happens, and I wanted to keep it that way. If you do read The Galway Girls (and I would consider it a great honor if you did!) I hope you’ll try guessing which experience I’ve “downsized”!