My mother once told me I should write about my real life. My answer at the time was, I had to live through it once, why would I want to go through that again? Later, I realized I do write about my life. My life as told through fiction.
When I look back at things I’ve written, even when I don’t know the exact date it was produced, I know exactly what era. And not just from the quality of the writing. One story takes me back to the romantic youth I was—looking for love and believing there was one soul mate for everyone out there somewhere. I can tell when I wrote it not just due to the fact that it is obviously immature craft, but because the plotline I chose and the viewpoints of the characters reflect who I was and what I believed in at the time of the writing.
Another story reminds me of a time when I was influenced by my peers to wax politically conservative. An old novel takes me back to when I finally realized being attracted to the wounded male was not romantic but foolish. These are examples of how a writer’s real life creeps into their fiction without even trying.
All fiction is reality, really.
I don’t believe you can write any book without writing about real life at the same time. It creeps even into the wildest science fiction and fantasy. I have written a series of short stories set in a dystopian world that falls somewhere between those two genres. The kernel of the world I created is the premise that life once was the way we see it today and the choices humanity made led to the universe of my Last Generation. Even a world or characters that have no connection to human beings relies on how the readers understanding of the real world cause us interpret the motivation and goals of these strange creatures.
It is sometimes difficult to tell which comes first, the reality or the fiction. I moved to Chicago from small town Illinois specifically with the idea in mind of having an opportunity to volunteer with the homeless. I know I had already begun writing my Jo Sullivan series before the move, but can’t remember now when I decided to center each book around the life of a homeless character. Does the writer write what she dreams and then find herself living it, or does the act of writing spark change in the life of the writer?
For me, and I believe there are many people like me, I learn more about life from reading fiction than from reading non-fiction. One reason is because I don’t even like reading non-fiction. I can’t remember ever completing a non-fiction book unless it was about the craft of writing. So the only way books could teach me about real life was by disguising it as fiction.
Someday my focus and purpose for writing may undergo another transformation. I may find myself looking back on my Street Stories novels and see them as being reflective of who I was at the time. Even if that’s true, knowing the reality of what life is like for the homeless changed my life. Not everyone can have the experience I did first hand. By sharing this reality maybe change can happen to others, even if only to a small degree.