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breeden
ursulav

The Autobiography, It Burns...

So "Black Dogs," my first novel, was on sale at Anthrocon, and I gave a copy to my mother since I happened to be up there, and awhile later she called me and uttered a phrase that I suspect no author on earth wants to hear--"This is you, isn't it?"

I love my mother dearly. I am sure her intent was not to make me cringe in my chair or weakly say "Well...not really...I mean...it's not...quite...uh..."

Sigh.

This is particularly awkward when you know that book two has sex, bondage, and prolonged and grisly torture, and that your mother's going to be reading it with you in mind as the main character. Ouch. If they ever had an Afterschool Special to cover this situation, I must've missed it. Mom's deeply cool, but one still feels a little...exposed.

The thing is, she's not wrong, precisely. All characters get dredged up out of what you are, or what you want to be, or what you're afraid of, or at the very least, who you can pretend to be. (Well, all my characters. I can't presume to speak for other authors.) The esteemable shatterstripes once pointed out that my comics have a distinct tendency towards a stocky heroine with no pants who is unrelentingly rational in the face of madness, and yeah, that's me, even if I don't qualify as stocky these days, and I'm pretty good about the pants. But I'm everybody else in there, too. Boneclaw Mother is the dirty old woman I hope to someday become, and Jhalm is that burning sense of condescending self-righteousness that I attempt to squelch,* and if I was ever going to be a villain, I would be a pleasant, efficient, ruthless one, like Vade, and Sadrao is every dog I ever loved, walking upright and carrying a sword.

So...yeah.

Still, I can't even say that's the case in Black Dogs. It'd be more comfortable to make that claim, but denial ain't just a river in Egypt. I wrote the first draft at seventeen, and I wrote what I knew. Most of what I knew was about being seventeen and confused and horny and out of my depth and just putting one foot in front of the other and a whole lot of whistling in the dark. So the heroine isn't me--not the thirty-year-old woman--but if you put her in a room with myself of thirteen years ago, the only way to tell them apart would be the clothes. Hell, we've even got the same tattoo, although mine came after hers, a  definite case of life imitating art.

How embarrassing.

I suppose we're all the heroes of our early work. That's why Mary Sue runs rampant. The urge to play up our good points rather than our flaws is strong. (If there's any redeeming quality to Black Dogs, I suspect it's that the main character is not actually the hero of the story, and does not save the day, and in fact mostly just muddles along with a lot of help from her friends. At one early point in the book, she says "My incompetence will surprise you," and that pretty much holds true.)

Perhaps it's simply that it was my very first novel, and I had not yet learned to cover my tracks.

It's easier to have strangers read your books. They can't look at it with beady little eyes and see you hiding between the pages, and even if they could, they wouldn't care. I think it was Robin McKinley who said how embarrassed she was by an early book, by how much of her adolescent self it revealed (it was "The Blue Sword" I think...) and I can sympathize, even though I loved the book.

It gets easier as you write more, I think. There's a whole lot of me in Digger, but nobody ever looks at it and goes "You're Digger!" because I'm really not. She's tougher than I am, more logical than I am, and has less imagination. I say a great many things that she would never say, and she says a few that I wouldn't either. You learn to ask "What would she do?" instead of "What would I do, in this situation?" (I think RPGs are great practice for this, frankly. Mouse the samurai and Severl the thief were two of the best writing teachers I ever had, because ideally you learn to be an internally consistent other. I can't really explain it more clearly--either you know exactly what I'm talking about, or you need to go find a good GM for a couple of months.)

Mind you, my characters also frequently channel my grandmother, but that's probably a post for another day...



*Oddly enough, he's the character closest down the road from all my favorite RPG characters. The it-is-right-because-I-am-doing-it rises very naturally to the surface, and works equally well for paladins, samurai and assassins. Disturbingly similar to the mindset required to be a forum admin.


Hehhehhehheh. Hehehehhehheh! X)

... Okay, sure, I'm laughing now, but I'm sure I'll be cringing publicly when my mother decides I'm Just Like one of my craziest characters, no matter how distant I think it is from me.

I suppose we're all the heroes of our early work. That's why Mary Sue runs rampant.

Start with a Mary Sue, and there's nowhere to go but up.

Well, I suppose you could sand off any flaws that linger, and give her another pony (a Pegacorn!), but that's just painting the lily even more technicolor.

Great post - I must have blipped over the fact you've got a novel published. For the clueless and slow like me, is it generally available? Can we order it from yourself or an independent supplier?

Vol. 1 of Ursula's Black Dogs can be ordered online through Sofawolf Press (www.sofawolf.com); take a look further up-thread for a link to the book itself. Vol. 2 is evidently forthcoming.

p@ (a deep bow with a flourish),
Glenn

It's like my friend always says: "They say to write what you know. Failing that, I write what I can fake."

Hah, this is exactly why I don't like my family reading my writing. Hell I'm terrified of actually working on something and putting it out into the world for fear my folks find it and start asking annoying questions.

My brother is an author, and in his last novel he thanked the husband and me by name, which has led any number of people to suppose that we are the young woman+foreign love interest of the tale (my husband, R, is a foreigner) - a bit tricky, seing as the woman is an addict and the man is a loan shark with mob connections... o.o

I think art will always be (partial) reflections of all we know and experience. It also tends to reveal inexperience in un-wanted ways. In my experience the potential for embarrasment is pretty much directly proportional to (level of ambition - actual age)² :D

I wonder if Lemony Snicket has this problem

It's amazing how exercises in character development lead you to characters who are a LOT different from yourself. To the point where you ARGUE with them. And try explaining to someone who doesn't do this regularly that you're losing a battle of wills with a figment of your imagination. They will not believe it.

But it's true! It's really, really true!

Well, in a way, no matter what kind of character you write, there is some aspect of you wrapped up in them -- simply because it was your mind that shaped them.

You start with a very small facet of yourself (or what you wish you were, or what you're scared you'll become), and then polish it up until it achieves a depth of its own.

All of my characters have some part of me, but I am not any of my characters. *grin* (Really, I swear I'm not a five foot tall, pirate thief with black tipped ears and tail. *shifty eyes*)

It's easier to have strangers read your books. They can't look at it with beady little eyes and see you hiding between the pages, and even if they could, they wouldn't care.

Can't believe I'm the first person to be commenting on this little snippet, because man does it ever ring true. I can step up to a microphone and sing to a thousand people, but ask me to do it for half a dozen friends and I'm gonna choke up something fierce.

I've done some bookplotting where I deliberately insert a me-character as a secondary or tertiary, just to act as a lightning rod, and then when most of the plot has shuffled into place I'll remove the character.

All characters get dredged up out of what you are, or what you want to be, or what you're afraid of, or at the very least, who you can pretend to be. (Well, all my characters. I can't presume to speak for other authors.)

Oh HELL yes. At least one of my characters, my first and favourite, was at one point a self-acknowledged cooler, smarter, stronger, endowed-with-magical-powers version of me. It's been long enough now (I started writing her at thirteen) that I can now say with confidence that we're a good distance apart, but people who know me well still occasionally look up while reading her and go: "Holy crap - this is you, isn't it?" whereupon I turn bright red and try to distract them with shiny objects. Still love her dearly, though. After all, where else are you going to get reliable, deep-set insight into people, if not into yourself? ;)

I think RPGs are great practice for this, frankly. Mouse the samurai and Severl the thief were two of the best writing teachers I ever had, because ideally you learn to be an internally consistent other. I can't really explain it more clearly--either you know exactly what I'm talking about, or you need to go find a good GM for a couple of months.

Yes, Yes, YES! Very much so, yes!

All characters get dredged up out of what you are, or what you want to be, or what you're afraid of, or at the very least, who you can pretend to be. (Well, all my characters. I can't presume to speak for other authors.)

No, no, it's true. Most of my characters are either who I wish I was or all the very, very worst parts of me. Or a both (which is why there is that somewhat anachronistic corsair with post-traumatic stress disorder and gourmet taste in cheese...) Write what you know, eh?

Speaking of Robin McKinley, if you have not read her Sunshine, you ought to. I read it yesterday and kept thinking it was very much your thing, especially when the main girl used a Giant Killer Zombie Rat metaphor, set fire to her pillow and accidentally translocated somewhere with no clothes on...

Well, reading it I had the feeling it was "you"... as you said, a younger you writing her first novel, but you nonetheless. I could tell because my first novel went straight to the trash can when I realised the heroine was an older, stronger, more beautiful me traveling with a barbarian, an elf, a dwarf and a mage, all men. None of the people who read my novel told me "that's you, isn't it?", but when I discovered I was writing about "myself", I felt so disgusted that I never touched the novel again. I never wrote anything else since then, for that matter. *sigh*