One of the things I love about writing is that anything you do -- in fact anything you've ever done (so don't sit home!) -- is there to use. Grist for the mill. Ore to be mined.
If you think of your whole life as 'source material' you've just about got the idea. Nothing is sacred -- for better or worse.
I mean, sure, you can deliberately go out and research a topic for a book. Why do you think I went to bull-riding school?
But equally, I find myself digging back into all sorts of boxes in the attic of my mind for just the right detail, experience, moment, emotion that will allow me to tell the story. They are there -- the fleeting memories, the glimpses of details, feelings, thoughts -- and I'm continually astonished, and delighted, how often I get to tap into them.
I dug into my days on sand and in surf at Manhattan Beach for quite a few early books and, amazingly (to me at least), I'm right back there again on the one I'm working on now.
I have found inspiration, not to mention detail, in a couple of Bahamian jaunts that occurred 15-20 years ago, in a trip to Vienna when my children were small, the horseback riding I did when I was eight and the chicken pox I got when I was seven.
If any character of mine ever picks the landlord's peach tree bare, you will have caught me mining the summer when I was four.
And it isn't just the details that find their way into books. It's the emotions.
Some of them are, frankly, emotions I would rather forget. They weren't always the happiest times of my life. But I remember pain, I remember loss. I remember fear.
Even if my characters are nothing like me and, admittedly, most of them aren't, they still hurt, they regret, they are afraid. And I can give them those feelings because I've experienced them. The same, of course, goes for the happier emotions. And, truth to tell, I much prefer writing them.
A former editor of mine refers to some of this process as "writing out of one's emotional landscape."
She says that the strongest books come from those parts of a writer's emotional landscape that are of deepest significance. They are the ones that writers return to again and again, to explore in different ways, to look at from different perspectives.
From the standpoint of having written now 61 books, I completely agree with her. While I am going to Cannes in October to get some 'on site' research of detail and such -- to get hangers to put my story on, as it were -- the emotional landscape is one I am familiar with.
It's a story I find worth exploring again and again: duty and responsibility to oneself and one's family and, at the same time two people finding they are more themselves in relation to another, that they ultimately bring out the best in each other.
What makes this my emotional landscape? I'm not entirely sure. Experiences I've had, no doubt, play their part. Hopes and dreams for the future, maybe. And, of course, a strong desire to make it all come right in the end. It's an emotional landscape based on hope, not justice (which is more of a mystery writer's landscape) or one based on "you're damned if you do and damned if you don't" (which to me often seems a more literary writer's landscape).
If you're a writer, do you find yourself exploring a particular emotional landscape from a variety of angles? Or do you go someplace new emotionally every time?
If you're a reader, do your favorite authors tend to explore the same emotional landscape you like to explore? Or do you go wherever they take you? What attracts you to favorite authors -- and who are they?