When I was a kid, I started quite a few stories that I never finished. That’s partly because I had no clue what went into making stories, but it’s also because I wrote about things that sounded enchanting to me, things far from my own life on Manitoba’s prairie.
I was a scrawny little kid with glasses and few friends who liked to read, play with homemade paper dolls, and ride the bike my dad cobbled together from three different bikes he found at the dump. I certainly knew nothing about oceans or horses or sailboats or the exotic locations I dreamed about.
Research, you say. Well, there were no libraries within driving distance, and I was born well pre-internet. And so my half-started stories languished and got thrown away, probably when we moved to BC the summer I was 14. After cleaning out my mom’s apartment after her stroke three years ago, I’m now certain the stories are completely gone. Whew.
Thankfully my life has gotten more interesting since my childhood. I’ve done a small bit of traveling outside Canada and broadened my experience base a little. Over all, though, my life is somewhat boring, and I don’t mind. It simply means I either have to supplement what I know with research, both online and by asking the people who do know.
Some examples? Joy Comes in the Morning is set in Victoria, BC, a city I’ve been to a number of times. A few of the real-life settings from that city I used in my novel are the beaches below Beacon Hill Park, Ross Bay Cemetery, and the Inner Harbor. My male main character was a drug cop, for which I interviewed a friend in the RCMP. The female lead is an artist, as is my daughter, so I asked her questions about oil painting. Here is my daughter in 2006, looking at an art kiosk on the Inner Harbor, similar to the one my main character, Chloe, sets up every day.
When I wrote Domino’s Game in the past few months, I pulled more heavily on my farming and small town background, along with my renewed interest in gardening and the local foods revolution that is sweeping North America. And because we needed some comic relief, I added a Border collie puppy, Domino, modeled after our own dog, Brody, shown here.
This time I designed a fictional locale, roughly patterned after the valley I’ve lived in for most of the past thirty years. The orchards, gardens, and farms are all based on ‘what I know’ in a climate I’m familiar with.
I also drew on my knowledge of old mouse-infested mobile homes and my interest in modern/old housebuilding ideals such as using strawbales as building blocks. My characters are also experimenting with solar power, which has long fascinated me. In fact, these characters are ‘living my dream’ in many ways.
Except not with the mice.
What real life experiences have you pulled from in your stories?