If you are a writer, you have undoubtedly heard the advice, “write what you know”. Honestly, I’ve always kind of dismissed it. My favorite genres to read and write have always been fantasy and adventure. My middle-class, Midwestern life didn’t’ really seem to match up with the stories I wanted to make up and tell. I could occasionally pull from a vacation location for setting details and mimic my students’ preteen language in my characters’ dialogue, but that didn’t really seem to truly encompass the advice to “write what you know”.
Last week when I started writing scene snippets for a story idea I had involving the relationship of four cousins living in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I think I finally understood. All of a sudden, a lifetime of experiences came rushing out of my head and onto the page. Summers at the cabin, phrases from text message threads, personalities of people I know, motherhood experiences, doctors’ office visits, even a stinky fish tank. I couldn’t get one scene fully fleshed out before another would come hurtling out of nowhere with blinding speed.
As I wrote this fictional story, I didn’t have to work hard to make up conversations or imagine what an overwhelming work/home balance felt like, or struggle to invent local businesses my characters could frequent because all of the information was there… in my memories.
I will not market this novel as autobiographical, because it isn’t. I am not the wife of a deployed military man. I am not going to purchase a local business space and turn it into a bookstore. I am not going to surprisingly find out I am pregnant. I do often call on my cousins to help me out with life, but there are eight of us girls, not four. However, as I write Kelly’s story (and Kristen’s and Kelsey’s and Kendall’s) my own experiences become the seeds that take root. Hopefully these seeds will grow into an interesting and authentic tale of a dreamer with a rockstar support group of women behind her who not only add love and support, but fun and entertaining escapades along the way.
I’ve often confessed that despite being a big time planner in the real world, (my mom, sister and I have a motto… you CAN if you PLAN), in the writing world I am a “panster”, meaning I write my stories flying by the seat of my pants. I try to plan things out, try to use outlines, try to set up an organized schedule of when my stories will be written, but often I’m hanging on for dear life as my characters pull me along, demanding when to turn left and in what vehicle they’d like to arrive. This story is one of those cases. So for those of you who were excited that I had begun work on Champion Chocolatier #3, I’m sorry to say that Kelly and the girls have taken over. Their story, at least for now, is going to be told first. Theo Geo is also in the queue for book #2… so who knows who will make it to THE END and publication first?
For now, I will leave you with this, a little snippet of story, and hope that you will fall in love with these characters as much as I have.
Kelly leaned back against the bench and sighed. Her gut was in knots in that vague kind of anxious way when her body knew something was off but hadn’t gotten around to communicating the message with her brain. She tipped her head back, the cool metal of the bench resting on the back of her neck. The view of bare and interlocking branches crisscrossing her vision made her stomach ache worse, so she closed her eyes.
Was the store a bad idea?
Would Gram agree with this form of tribute?
If Joel didn’t have to leave, would she feel better?
Was this just pre-deployment jitters?
Ugh. The questions were worse than the branches. Kelly took a breath and sat up. The spring smell of eau de dead fish was more bearable if she breathed through her mouth. A barge was slowly gliding up the river, making its way south toward the Iowa border. (DIRECTIONS CORRECT?) As she always did, Kelly wondered what the massive water craft was carrying. Corn? Coal? Iron ore? Her gaze slid along the rust colored container its hull sunken to the twelve-foot marking. She paused briefly to look for the captain in the wheelhouse before moving to the tug boat. In direct contrast to the barge it was working it’s tail off, furiously chugging and pushing with all its might, churning out huge swaths of wake in its path.
Kelly gave a little nod to the tug.
“I hear ya buddy,” Kelly mumbled. The slight head movement sent her senses into a spin dive. She leaned over the arm rest and vomited. And vomited again. When the entire contents of her stomach were artfully splattered on the sidewalk, Kelly took a deep breath, wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her sweatshirt and stood up.
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