Character Inspiration

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The first thing I say to people about my novel, Goddess of Suburbia, is that it’s not autobiographical – after all, I didn’t have a sex tape that went viral. Many readers still assume that Max Green, the heroine of Goddess of Suburbia, is me. She’s not, but parts of my life did inspire her (not a sex tape, though!). She and I are both always behind on laundry and we both love Target. On a more serious note, we also have in common the feeling that we don’t quite always measure up or belong. Like everyone else has some secret key to keeping their lives running smoothly and their houses neat and their laundry under control. Max’s worry about what other people think of her is probably my way of working out that very same flaw. It was interesting exploring the dichotomy between how others see Max and how she sees herself.

The inspiration for Max came to me while I sat in my minivan every other afternoon, while my three year old napped in the backseat, tuckered out from a few hours if preschool (that three year old is now in sixth grade!). I envisioned a story about a regular mom suddenly becoming famous for something both entirely out of her control and humiliating. I hadn’t read any stories about tired moms like myself – I wanted to write a story about someone with whom I’d like to spend time.The greatest compliment to me is when a reader says that Max feels like a friend.

Ben, Max’s ex who shows up twenty years after he broke her heart, was probably less inspired by my exes and more by my husband, Jeff – if we had dated in college, rather than a few years after. The first time I met Jeff was at a battle of the bands in college – just like Max and Ben – and I did have a bit of a crush on him before that. We didn’t start dating until I was twenty-five – unlike Max and Ben. But once we were dating, I spent A LOT of time watching him play the drums in a band  – just like Max and Ben (though Ben is a guitarist). Jeff would point his drum stick at me and once even tossed me a broken stick – just like Ben tosses Max his guitar pick. It was actually a lot of fun remembering all those shows and basement parties. There are, of course, bits and pieces of other guys I’ve known in Ben – because what better way to create a memorable, swoon-worthy character, than to take the best bits of different people and mush them together? Take Andi – she is a mash-up of all of my girlfriends who have my back and are there when I need an ear or a shoulder.

When I was studying writing, my teacher asked – do you write about things you know or things you imagine? My answer: write about what you know, but change all the names. My first novella, A New Life, fit into this. And it’s still one of my favorites, because it captured a moment in time – right after my son was born – that was so special and so fraught with possible emotional landmines. It was a struggle at times and more rewarding than any other time in my life. Grace and Zach are characters inspired by real life, and I love them.

Whether a character is sprung from real life or sprung purely from my imagination, they all have likely lived in my head for quite awhile, begging to be written. Kate, the protaganist in my current WIP, Feel No Evil, certainly has. But, her inspiration is deep and complicated and not one I can possibly explore at 2:40 am. Plus – the #LifeBooksWriting challenge ends in twenty minutes on the west coast, so I better hit post… Next post, I’ll explore Kate, Tess, Charlotte and Alex, from my  novella, You & Me. They all have a unique inspiration and they all took me on a journey I didn’t expect…

 

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