Pressing Real Life Into Fiction
by Author Ann Lee Miller
As a writer, I’m a vulture, feeding off the carcass of my life and other peoples’. Usually, it’s just bits and pieces—an experience here, a personality trait there, a deeply etched emotion, a pivotal relationship.
Where Do My Characters Come From?
For example, in Avra’s God, I draw heavily from my own spiritual pilgrimage and my life experiences as a young adult to paint Kallie and her story. Aly from Kicking Eternity has the same frustration I had learning to drive stick shift. The whole story takes place at a church camp where so many of my warmest memories were formed. I actually still go to teen camp every summer.
In The Art of My Life Henna shows up as a secondary character who grows pot in the back yard and has obviously smoked one doobie too many over the years. She is a loveable, comical character who fractures clichés much like my mother did in her waning years with Altzheimer’s. I use a funny story that actually happened. Mom insisted that while she was in the grocery store someone stole eighteen pair of her panties out of her laundry basket which was setting in the passenger seat of her car. And the would-be thief replaced her pristine grandmamma undies with eighteen ratty pair.
Starr, who has a more predominant role in The Art of My Life is a repressed ballet teacher. I took ballet as a child to correct my inward-turning feet. I also struggle with repression. Starr and I rebelled from bohemian upbringings into conservatism. Starr’s hyper-critical attitude toward her son, however, I borrowed from my father’s personality. Both Starr and I heard from our fathers, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” when we cried.
Cal went to jail in The Art of My Life, had a love affair with marijuana. Close relatives have done the same. Aly fights my leftover Catholic guilt. Fish holds grudges like I do. Aly falls overboard like I did as a kid. Leaf and my late father were Willie Nelson look-alikes.
I, like my characters, have always inhabited the bottom rung of the middle class. We all drive beater cars. I lived on a sailboat as a kid, and boats show up in all my books so far. Because I am a spiritual person, my characters wrestle or refuse to wrestle with issues of faith.
As a novelist I find myself revisiting themes from my own life. Kicking Eternity delves into enabling someone involved in substance abuse. The Art of My Life focuses on an adult child overcoming diminished self-esteem due to a critical parent. Forgiving people who have deeply hurt us and overcoming self-condemnation when we breach our personal moral code are issues I lived that recur in my books. Avra’s God highlights the trek back to trust after cheating and lust for fame, issues close friends have dealt with.
Where Do I Find The Information About My Characters?
Since all my books give male characters heavy play and The Art of My Life has a male protagonist, people ask me where I get my insight from. Like most parts of writing, I get it from real life. I’ve been surrounded by guys my whole life. My closest relationship growing up was with my father, toxic though it may have been. My only sibling is male. Three of my four children are guys. My husband grants me access to dive in and poke around in the male psyche. But I’m still learning. This year’s big discovery is that most guys could care less about matching—they don’t really give a flip whether they walk out the door with brown pants, brown shoes, and a coordinating shirt. Just last week my sons told me you have to “train” a beard. Who knew?
Though I draw large portions of each book from real life, many, many research hours—internet searches, interviews, reading non-fiction books—have to be invested. For Kicking Eternity I studied meth addiction and for Avra’s God, recovering from an affair. For The Art of My Life I relied heavily on friends who run a charter sailing business to answer hundreds of questions. A trip to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where the books are set was necessary to take photos and verify locations and details. I watched an oil change at Walmart, spent a way-out-of-my-comfort-zone afternoon at a tattoo parlor, and took a sail, along with dozens of other research ventures.
I need to write about things I care deeply about because it takes a lot of passion to propel me through the year it takes to write a book. Writing about issues and experiences I’ve lived lends my stories depth and a bedrock of truth.
Giveaway: Anyone who leaves a comment with an e-mail address will receive a free e-copy of prequel: Kicking Eternity. Or you may request your free copy at AnnLeeMiller.com. One lucky winner will receive an e-copy of Avra’s God, released December 1.
Publisher: Flawed People Press
In the tradition of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, four friends navigate college and the drama churned up by their Florida beach band to cement friendship and more.
Avra wants love, but drummer Cisco—self-medicating from his parents’ divorce with sex and intoxicants—is a poor choice. Cisco hungers for fresh-baked cookies and the scent of family he finds at Avra’s.
Kallie shares her classically trained voice only with lead vocalist Jesse and fights to keep her heart safe. Jesse feeds on fame and hides more than insecurity beneath his guitar.
The friends surf ego, betrayal, and ambition and head for wipeout. But somehow, when they’re not looking, Avra’s God changes them all.
Ann Lee Miller earned a BA in creative writing from Ashland (OH) University and writes full-time in Phoenix, but left her heart in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she grew up. She loves speaking to young adults and guest lectures on writing at several Arizona colleges. When she isn’t writing or muddling through some crisis—real or imagined—you’ll find her hiking in the Superstition Mountains with her pastor husband or meddling in her kids’ lives.
Follow Ann here:
Amazon – Kicking Eternity