Sunday, June 6, 2021

When Life Becomes Fiction

Have any experiences from your youth worked their way into your stories? How about other life experiences? Do you consciously select these in your writing or do they suddenly appear on the page?

Brenda Chapman here.

My first series of books are the Jennifer Bannon mysteries for middle grade. Jennifer and her little sister Leslie are based on my own two daughters who were the same approximate ages when I wrote the stories. I also borrowed heavily from my own memories of childhood, particularly in the second book Hiding in Hawk's Creek, which I set in a fictional location that was loosely based on the town where I grew up. My brother still lives in Northwestern Ontario, and after reading the book, he asked me if a certain family knew I'd based some of the plot on them? So far, he's the only one who's noticed, likely a good thing.

We squatted down in the dirt. Sure enough, before five minutes had passed, a huge beaver swam toward the middle of the pond, holding a tree limb in its teeth. The water parted like a triangle in its wake.

I went on to write a teen novel entitled Second Chances. This coming of age book is set in the 1970s and I again relied on memories from my own teen years to fill in the details of the story. It was the era of bell bottoms, sit-ins, love-ins, hitchhiking, Woodstock, communes, and the Vietnam War. I was a bit young to partake in most of it, especially growing up in a mill town of 2000 people in Northwestern Ontario, but these were my formative years, and Second Chances is steeped in my memories.

Elizabeth threw back her head and laughed. It took her a while to catch her breath. "No way. I'd bet money Candy never got within a thousand miles of Joplin or Morrison. Did she really tell you that? Even better, did you believe her?"

I think that in every book I've ever written, something from my past has appeared on the page without conscious thought on my part. Maybe it's a character or their dialogue, perhaps it's the setting. Sometimes, it's as simple as the expression a character uses when they're speaking.  It's often not until the editing stage that I see the connection to my own life.

I went to university in Kingston, Ontario and this became the setting for my Stonechild and Rouleau series. In book one, Cold Mourning, Kala Stonechild moves south from Northwestern Ontario. She's alone in the big city, ungrounded and a fish out of water -- a scene straight out of my own biography. I even move her back north for the last book in the series, Closing Time, which is essentially my love letter to that part of the country.

Bands of orange and pink bled into a cover of indigo cloud with the lake a mirror image of colour. The trees on the distant shore were stark black shapes reflected in the still, pink water.

So, maybe the question isn't whether events from my childhood up to the present enter my books, but how often? Lately, I've been having trouble sleeping and was surprised - but not surprised - to find that my main character has developed insomnia.

My art continues to imitate my life :-)


Twitter: brendaAchapman

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Jane said...

I don’t normally read a series one after the other. Stonechild and Rouleau are the exception. We live in Northwestern Ontario but are familiar with both Ottawa and Kingston so I absolutely loved the books.

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Jane - so great to hear :-)

Josh Stallings said...

Great post. "It's often not until the editing stage that I see the connection to my own life." So true. Often readers see connection to my life that I don't.