I'm rereading the late great Pat Conroy - Beach Music - for next month's book club meeting, and as usually happens when I read Conroy, he's got me wondering how much of an author's real life he writes into his novels. I feel sure the answer is: more than we think.
This morning, while I was holding the horses for the farrier, I started playing with AB's forelock. (It's so long and multi-colored!) I braided it several times, just playing around with it, and it struck me, suddenly, that I learned how to braid hair practicing on horses. Not on dolls or my friends, but on the manes and tails of horses. I taught myself to French braid my first horse Skip's tail when I was ten, and practiced until I got it right. Horses, in so many ways, have been a cornerstone of my life. My barn-based childhood shaped who I am today, in all its good, bad, heartbreaking, and lesson-learning glory. So it stands to reason that, even when I'm not writing about horses, the horse person in me is making herself known on the pages of my books.
My rabid attention to detail, for one. Missing the little things can be disastrous in the horse world. The first symptoms of sickness; the subtle tell that a skittish horse is about to spook through the roof; the way your outside leg keeps creeping forward and ruining your shoulder-in. In horse training, the more information you have about their pasts, the easier it will be to work around their collected traumas and establish a solid relationship. You can spend months trying to run to ground the source of a problem; just like humans, horses are the products of their pasts. And you know how I love turning a character's life over a page at a time, flashbacks galore.
I think a list of all the ways my real life weaves between the cracks of my fiction would take up the whole first page of the blog. Because I don't base any of my characters on me (y'all, I'm boring, that would suck), and because I write about topics and places outside my daily sphere, it's easy for me to fall into the narrative that I'm writing nothing but fiction, that it's all fantasy. When really, none of it's fantasy. All of it's someone's version of the truth. I have trouble with those writing quotes that claim authors are liars - we're not. We're packaging the truth prettily. And, more than I realize, I package some of my own truth along the way.