With: Elizabeth Vaughan
‘Am I in your book?’
This is a question I used to get frequently from friends, family, co-workers and colleagues. (After seven published novels and a passel of short stories, they no longer ask the question.)
My answer is always “No. I don’t base characters on real people.” And that is the truth.
Up to a point.
You see, my writing is based on my imagination but it is also based on my life experiences. And those events influence my thinking and my writing. How could it not?
Case in point – I once saw my character Snowfall in a visit to the British Museum in London.
Back before Snowfall made her first appearance in Destiny’s Star.
I was in an exhibit hall that was fairly crowded. I had just seen the Rosetta Stone, and was still wiping tears from my eyes because Sweet Holy Jesus it was the Rosetta Stone, when I turned a corner and there she was, on a bench in the corner.
Well, not my character exactly. I saw a woman with skin darker than my own, with short black hair in twisted curls, grey eyes that were lit from within and a joyful smile. She was sitting on her lover’s lap, facing him, her hands on his shoulders. He was holding her hips, steadying her and looking up at her. He was saying something, an endearment perhaps, or a jest. Her smile was bright, her focus on him and him alone. It was a quiet moment of joy between the two of them.
I am not doing the moment justice; I am not sure I ever could. There was nothing inappropriate in their pose, nothing offensive. It was a moment of delight, of pure happiness that I was privileged to witness.
She turned her head and almost caught my eye, but I dropped my gaze and kept walking. Because, you know, rude crazed stalker writer and how was I going to explain my interest without appearing creepy?
Oh, but I wanted a picture in the worst way. I had a camera, and I thought I’d circle round and pretend to take a picture of some art, and no one would be the wiser. Rude crazy stalker, sure, but clever rude crazy stalker, right?
So I fumbled with the camera and tried to appear nonchalant. [Not really one of my skill sets.]
They were gone when I got back to the spot.
In someways, I wish I had that picture. But in another way, I am glad I don’t. Because the bright perfection of my memory has not dimmed with time. I am not sure an image would have captured the moment or the emotion so clear on her face. The impression that woman made on me was strong enough to influence my writing. When Snowfall started talking to me, I already knew what she looked like.
But Snowfall the character has her own personality, her own drives and desires. Warrior-priests are trained not to express their emotions, to remain impassive and mysterious. But those grey eyes of Snowfall’s?
I saw them dancing once. In the British Museum in London.
I am so very glad I did. Because that mental picture helped me when it was time to create Snowfall. Even in Destiny’s Star, I was planning on seeing her smile in WarDance.
So I guess a more honest answer is, do you know me? Are you involved in my life? Have I seen you in a sad moment, happy moment, tragic moment? Have you sold me a doughnut, or helped me find a book at the library, or cut me off in traffic? Well then, you may have influenced my writing. Because my fiction is the sum total of my imagination, my life experience, and my desire to weave a touch of reality into my fantasy worlds.
But no. I do not base my characters on real people.
You are not in my book.