I’ve realized something incredible about my own writing: Every book seems to explore a similar theme. Both of my published books are about forgiving. In League of Strays, my protagonist needs to forgive herself for her own mistakes. In Stolen Secrets, it’s all about when it might be possible to forgive someone else. There are certainly other themes running through my work, but the repeated exploration of “forgiving” pops up in nearly everything I write. At first, when I realized this, I was surprised. Was it coincidence?
Or does this say something about me and my life? Is there someone I have to forgive? Could it be my stepfather, who died a decade ago, and was an alcoholic through most of my formative years? (Happy to report he stopped drinking when I was 13 and made amends through the rest of his life.) I’d always assumed I’d moved on. Still, after having had two children myself, I’ll admit that looking back on my parents’ moments of irresponsibility give me pause. I don’t sit around dwelling on past bruises to my psyche, as a general rule, but the common themes in my writing may show that I haven’t come to terms with my past as fully as I’d like to think. Or I just need to explore that time a bit more.
And then there’s me. There are things I’d like to be forgiven for, but they are so far in the past that moving on seems a better option. I imagine we all have certain things we’d like to apologize for… people we were mean to in junior high, for example. I was mostly the victim when it came to teasing, but a few times, I picked on someone else, perhaps as a way to deal with my own feelings of frustration. If you’ve read League of Strays, you will now see how the major themes are biographical. In my newest book, Stolen Secrets, the scenes of elder abuse are based on someone I knew. Vicky’s deft ways of manipulating others into thinking she’s a proficient caregiver is inspired through first hand knowledge.
Books can be cheap therapy for an author, I now realize. Every time my characters get to forgive or be forgiven, it’s a cathartic experience for me. And through them, I even get to apologize every now and then for my own transgressions.
Don’t be afraid to make your own novel personal at times. It’s the way we truly connect to our characters and, ultimately, to our audience.