The Stuff Novels are Made of

I’ve had an interesting life. I don’t think I realized this when I was growing up, but my journey through life has given me the perspective I need to appreciate the life I’ve led. Many well established authors will advise new writers to write what they know, which is why my first novel was about an American family living in Germany. With my second novel, I delved into historical fiction and wrote about a time period that I’d never personally experienced. But it was still based on a true story taken from my family’s history. Finally with my third novel, I wrote about a time period and events that I knew little about before I began researching it. But I think it produced my best work to date.

Now that I’m focusing my efforts on books for children and young adults, I’ve started looking back into my own experiences in childhood and adolescence. There are many experiences from those years that are likely to make it into print before I pen my last words. Here are just a few:

  1. I’ve almost died on at least 3 occasions. Each one would have made a gut wrenching scene in a novel had the outcome been different. I was almost decapitated by a barbed-wire fence when my sled went under it as a toddler, nearly trampled to death by a horse’s running hooves as I was drug underneath him while in elementary school, and nearly caught in a two-man hiking tent as it burst into flames and disintegrated on a summer camp hike as a teenager.
  2. As a child, I played with pieces of The Hindenburg in my grandparent’s attic. My grandfather was a navy doctor called to the scene to treat the survivors and he picked up a couple of silver pieces of the zeppelin’s outer shell. The sprawling 1800’s farmhouse was a magical place filled with places to explore. It will definitely be the setting for a future novel for children.
  3. I’ve testified in two trials for a serial killer who was later executed. How comforting is it as a teenager to find out that a trusted neighbor murdered girls the same age as you? Not very! I didn’t think about it for years, but now I have a completed manuscript for a young adult novel based on the events of the trials.
  4. I transformed into a completely different person when I left for college. When I shed my childhood name of Missy for Melissa, I somehow shed my lackluster high school performance for an amazing four years of accomplishments. Once I truly believed in myself, I constantly pushed for excellence and became someone I was proud of. I was elected to the National Board of the National Student Nurses Association, which allowed me to travel to places I’d never been. I was selected as an intern in the U.S. Senate and spent part of the summer of 1988 serving in DC. When I graduated from a challenging program Magna Cum Laude, I almost couldn’t believe it was really me who’d done it. Not to mention, it was my college years that led me to my wonderful husband of 26 years. I think there’s a novel plot in there somewhere.

I think that anything in a person’s life becomes fodder for his or her future writing endeavors. We draw not only from our own personal experiences, but also from everything we’ve seen or read. Sometimes listening to other people’s experiences can open a door to a novel you’d have never dreamed of writing before hearing that person’s account. If you’ve experienced something in your life that would make a great novel, let me know about it. I’d love to hear from you!

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