Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Real Life and Enchanted, Inc.

I seem to be doing my usual annual thing of getting up earlier following the spring time change, even though this is the change that makes mornings come "earlier." It must just sync with my body clock so that I naturally wake up at a time that before the time change feels way too early to get up, so I go back to sleep, but now it seems reasonable to just hop out of bed. Anyway, I got into my office this morning and was stunned by the amount/angle of sunlight, since I'm not used to seeing my office at this hour of the morning. We'll see if this leads to greater productivity. Yesterday, I did actual writing work before noon, which seldom happens, and I'm on target to do it again today.

This week's Enchanted, Inc. question was something that I think was posed as a writing question, but I'm going to handle it in two parts. This week, I'll talk about the Enchanted, Inc. specifics, then I'll address it as a writing how-to next week.

The question was about the boundary between fiction and the elements I take from my own life. There are some obvious things in the Enchanted, Inc. books that match my life, but where do I draw the line?

I mostly draw upon my own experiences as inspiration or background for things in my books instead of directly basing the books on anything from my life. Here are some of the things that were inspired by or influenced by real-life elements -- and some things you might think are but that aren't.

First of all, Katie really isn't me. She isn't even based on me. We do have some things in common, but she's not the character most like me, personality-wise, and I don't see her as my representative in the story. The truth is, all the characters have some basis in me because I'm the only person I know from the inside out. Like Katie, I'm from a small town in Texas. Sort of. I was actually born in Oklahoma, so I'm not a Texan by birth. I'm an Army brat, so I grew up moving around a lot, living in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and Germany. I only lived in a small Texas town during my high school years, but my parents still live there, so I still get plenty of small-town exposure. My parents are from small towns/rural areas in Louisiana, so I probably did pick up some of that mindset and background during my childhood. I have lived most of my life in Texas now, so I guess I think like a Texan and have that perspective on the world, even if my passport says I'm from Oklahoma.

Katie had a pretty sheltered upbringing, never getting too far from her hometown until she went to college and then later went to New York, while I'd lived overseas before moving to a small town. I am insanely practical, so that trait does come from me, and I have a similar pre-Owen dating life to Katie, in that I've often been the "little sister" or "one of the guys" that no one thinks about as a potential date. Katie is a lot snarkier than I am, or at least she says the things I think but don't say. I'm always surprised when that starts coming out every time I start a new book from her perspective. People say I talk like I write, but I feel a big difference between her voice and my voice. I certainly have my moments when I unleash the snark, but I think I'm mostly a bit nicer than she is. I do seem to give her a few of my tastes and opinions.

The character whose personality most resembles mine is actually Owen, which I didn't realize until I'd written three books. I'm not a ridiculously gorgeous, wealthy, male wizard, but I can be that shy when I'm not in my comfort zone. I can go into "author mode" the way he goes into "business mode" and be fine, but socially, until and unless I reach a point of comfort with someone, I may not be able to talk at all. In fact, that's a pretty good way to tell whether I'm attracted to someone. If I chat easily, I'm probably not. If I'm attracted, I'm more likely to flee (which explains why I'm still single). I blush furiously and have fair skin that makes that obvious. My normal sense of humor is closer to his dry understatement than Katie's outright snark. And I'm a terrible slob, especially where books and paper are concerned.

Although I come from a small Texas town, Katie's hometown is not based on my hometown. It's a different kind of town in a different part of the state, and it maps geographically to a real town -- both in location and rough layout. In the real town, there's a courthouse, grocery store, Dairy Queen and motel in approximately the same places as they are in the book, and there is a creek running through the town, but since I've only passed through that town and made Dairy Queen stops there, I don't know if anything else is similar. I just took that physical framework and then built my own town on it. I did use my own knowledge and experiences from living in a small town to build my fictional town and populate it, but I don't have the experience of living in a town where I grew up and where my family is from, so I had to guess at what that was like. Everywhere I've ever lived, I've always been a newcomer/outsider, so maybe I was pouring the occasional longing I've had for roots into that part of the story. If you've got a map of Texas, a copy of Don't Hex with Texas and are familiar with the works of Joss Whedon (or the career of Adam Baldwin), you may be able to figure out which town served as the model for Katie's hometown. There's an inside joke there.

I got the idea about the group of college friends from Texas moving to New York from some people I knew in college. I overheard a lot of conversations from some girls a year ahead of me in the news lab. They'd decided that if they didn't go to New York right after college, they might never go, so they were all going together, getting whatever jobs they could find. At first they were looking at two-bedroom apartments, but they realized that was more than they could afford if they wanted to live in a reasonably nice part of Manhattan, so they were then looking at one-bedroom apartments, with a sofa bed in the living room. I was fascinated by these conversations because the idea of doing what they were planning was both terrifying and exciting. I kind of envied them for having the guts and the group of friends to do that with. So, that became the group of friends that Katie eventually joined when one of them got married and they needed to fill a space in the apartment. I didn't realize it until much later, after people started raising casting suggestions, but there's a lot of one of my college roommates in Gemma. She was a model and a drama major, and in my mind's eye, Gemma looks a lot like her. I didn't plan this, though.

Gregor, the boss who turns into an ogre when he's angry, was inspired by an actual boss I had -- or, at least, the way I felt about him when I first started working for him. He just turned purple instead of turning green and spouting fangs, but that was very much what he was like. Once I figured him out, I got along pretty well with him and ended up working for him as a freelancer for years. But at first, it was pretty rocky, and I remembered the terror of my boss suddenly changing before my eyes when something set him off.

Mimi is something of a composite character, based on some clients I've had. The dithering, wait-til-the-last-minute and then change her mind part of Mimi comes from one former client who really wasn't that evil. She was just annoying. She was the kind of person who enjoys the last-minute rush of barely meeting a deadline. She pretty much planned things so that we'd just barely make the last FedEx deadline, the one where you have to go to the airport and drop off the package at the FedEx office just before they put it on the plane. She thought that meeting at the office on a Saturday to stuff press kits was fun, and she loved all-night press-kit stuffing parties in someone's hotel room at trade shows. If you tried to get ahead of things and have some things done ahead of time, she'd change her mind (and not tell you) so that it had to be re-done at the last minute, anyway. I ended up working with her as a freelancer, too, and we were on good terms, even if there had been moments when I could have cheerfully killed her. Another person who went into Mimi was a client who really was evil and/or crazy. She was so bad that we resigned the account rather than deal with her anymore -- and that was after we started tape recording meetings with her because she would claim to have asked for things that she never mentioned and then complain when we didn't do those things. I think she worked through every agency in town until she reached the point where no one would submit proposals to work with her. I pretty much threw every bad working experience I ever had into Mimi. There are a few other people from my life who found their way into aspects of Mimi, but even suggesting who they might be would make them too identifiable, so I'll just leave it at that. For a while, I was starting to think that one of the Mimi inspirations had some kind of psychic link to me because just about every time I wrote a scene containing Mimi, the next day I'd get a call or e-mail from her and I'd think, "I summoned her!"

Incidentally, I was trying to make it so that Mimi had a cameo appearance in every book, which was a challenge in the fourth book that took place in Texas. I initially had a scene where Katie is walking past the TV while her dad is watching the news, and Mimi is being interviewed, but I ended up cutting that scene. I do have plans for Mimi if I get a chance to take the series that far.

The bad blind date where the guy wouldn't talk at all (from the first book) actually happened to me. I've also had the dilemma of trying to find a Christmas present for a guy I just started dating at the beginning of the Christmas season.

The weird stuff happening on the subway was inspired by the incident when I was visiting New York to research the first book and an entire mariachi band entered the subway car I was on and played -- and no one seemed to notice. A mariachi band is not quiet, especially not in a narrow, enclosed space, and yet people didn't even turn around.

Nita from the fourth book was partially inspired by a friend from college, a first-generation Indian-American who would every so often get a burger for dinner and talk about how her dad wouldn't understand. I also picked up bits and pieces from my neighborhood. I live in a very Indian neighborhood, so I see these young Indian women in the library, checking out stacks of chick lit and romance novels. I've found that if you stay in a motel in a small town in Texas, the manager/owner is most likely Indian, and it's a family operation, so that seemed like a way that Nita's family would have fit into that small town. I guess I eavesdrop a lot to pick up on bits of conversation from families around the neighborhood, and all that went into Nita and her family.

Owen's cat was based on my neighbor's cat, who was oddly fascinated with me. She sat in the window and watched me constantly, and if she ever got out of the house, she'd end up on my front porch.

Those are the specific real-life things that I can recall putting into the books. There may be others, and sometimes it's not even something I'm aware of doing. Next week, I'll talk about using real-life stuff in books on a more general basis.

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