I am one hundred percent convinced that writing has a different depth when the subject or event has really happened to the writer. I credit the acceptance of my short story, “Broken” into the West Winds Centennial anthology with this very attribute. Broken was inspired by an unexpected encounter with our old family van one morning while I was out walking my dogs. We had sold the vehicle to a man that lived in Fremont and I never expected to see it again, much less in my neighborhood. As noted in the story, the van was distinctive in color, although ours had been white with blue trim. I also had received an email where the sender asked me to describe them in a single word. Both of these aspects of the storyline are critical elements to the plot of Broken.
The integration of reality into my novels is even more pronounced. I modeled a dog, one of the characters in my young adult novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes, after our family pet, Shadow. Here are ten things about the real life Shadow that appear in the book:
1). His bark. It is the worst version of canine expression in the world. I am not exaggerating. When Shadow was my foster, I knew without a doubt that the one thing I would not miss about him when he was placed in his “forever home” was his bark. Imagine a cross between a beagle baying at the moon, fingernails screeching across a blackboard and the yowling of a treed cat. Yep, Shadow’s bark is that bad. This aspect of Shadow causes major problems for the protagonist (Sarah) in my novel when the neighbors start complaining.
2). Shadow LOVES to be petted in the space between his eyes. In my novel, when Sarah puts her fingers between Shadow’s eyes, something extraordinary happens.
3). My silly pooch loves to lay his head upon my chest. I swear he is listening to my heartbeat.
4). His breed. Near as I can tell, he is a cross between a border collie and a shar pei. The shar pei is a guess based on his tiny ears and the black splotches on his tongue.
5). Shadow loves to poke his nose between my arm and ribcage and crawl into my lap.
6). Shadow generally doesn’t get along with other dogs. Up until a few years ago, I would have never considered taking him to a dog park. He has mellowed with age, however, and has learned to grudgingly accept his brethren canines.
7). Shadow’s fur is as soft as a rabbit’s.
8). It is very difficult to get a good photograph of Shadow. Flash-photography is a guarantee of a red-eye picture.
9). Shadow is well-behaved. He has never chewed up anything or dug holes in the backyard.
10). His name. It didn’t seem right to change it when the character and my dog have so much in common.
Of course, there is a fair amount of fiction to my stories as well. Our neighbors never complained about Shadow’s barking. And, most importantly, nothing unusual happens when I put my fingers between the real Shadow’s eyes.