Killer Year–The Class of 2007


More Like Me Than I Want To Admit
August 2, 2006, 7:50 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan


If I’m in a feisty mood, my automatic response is to answer the “Why don’t you have kids?” question with, “Because they might turn out like me.” If I’m in a melancholic state, I might say something else. Occasionally, “Because they might turn out like Kevin.”

But nine times out of ten, it’s the first flippant response you’ll get. After all, do we really need Sandra clones running around, tormenting the good citizens of the earth? No need to answer that…

Someone saw a photo of my niece recently and remarked that she looked like me. All I could think was, “Poor kid.”

Then I remembered something someone said after they read Suspicious Circumstances. They inferred my female protagonist, Lara Kelly, was an awful lot like me.

I accused them of projecting onto the character.

Then I went back and read the manuscript when I was doing my edits. It had been almost a year since I’d read Suspicious Circumstances at that point, and I spent a lot of time rubbing my temples, cringing.

She’s more like me than I want to admit.

Oh, she’s not me. It’s funny, because if you asked me which of my characters is most like me, I would likely say Jack Roberts, from the Canadian series. Even the name is an inside joke, since I’d always wanted to call a son Jack.

But Lara? Perhaps I was too close to her to see it clearly.

During my recent travels, I was thinking about some of my experiences and I realized that whenever I thought of myself, I saw me about 25 years younger than I am.

I thought of myself as a child. When I looked back through my own eyes at myself, I was still an awkward girl, shy, easily intimidated, wanting to hide in a corner for fear of being noticed or getting into trouble, and that’s no joke. I accidentally broke something and sent myself to bed. I even sent myself to the corner once.

This one Scottish author I like said once that writing, for him, is therapy. Anything that’s going wrong in my life, anything like that, he gives to his character and works out through him.

Now that I think about this, and try to be honest with myself, I realize that there is a lot of me in Lara. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was giving her aspects of my life in a way that was safe in order to work through lingering issues for me.

And perhaps I felt more comfortable looking at some things – an unhappy childhood, being estranged from your family, difficulty trusting people – through Jack’s life, because as a man, people wouldn’t automatically draw the parallels.

Now I’m not only psychoanalyzing my characters, but also my possible subconscious motivations in creating them.

Is this cheaper than therapy, or just giving me more issues I really need to work out with professional help?

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror… I Cor. 13:11-12a In all seriousness, in reflecting on that quote from 1 Corinthians, I think my characters have become mirrors I’m using to examine parts of my life that I’m still processing.

And it’s interesting, because as many of you know, this has been a tough year for me. I’m rebuilding a bridge with my mother after having no relationship with her for over 8 years.

Now I’m doing the final edits on a manuscript that has a theme about forgiveness running through it. The fiction and reality in my life has collided in a way I never could have foreseen two years ago when I finished the first draft. Oh, the forgiveness isn’t between Lara and her mother – it isn’t that blatant. Still, it’s there.

Makes me scared to think about what I’m going to write next.

I wonder how important it is for you to relate to the protagonists you write about, or read about. In thinking about all of this, I’ve realized there is something of me that comes through in Tymen Farraday as well, the other protagonist in Suspicious Circumstances.

Although nobody has picked up on it so far.

So maybe that aspect of my personality isn’t as blatantly obvious as I thought. Although I’m sure that everyone who has read SC so far will now be thinking about it.

I’m having a contest on my blog right now, to win a signed copy of Crimespree Magazine, which has my short story, The Butcher, in it. All you have to do is email me with the name of my short story appearing in this issue. I’m taking entries until tomorrow and will draw and announce a winner on Friday.

I’m also launching a contest tomorrow to win an ARC of my book, Suspicious Circumstances. The details will be revealed at On Life And Other Inconveniences tomorrow.

Author Julia Buckley has read Suspicious Circumstances and asks me about the book, meeting Ian Rankin and I finally divulge the truth about how I met my husband.

So, if you’d like to continue psychoanalyzing me, check out the link.

I’m going to go lie on a couch.

Sandra Ruttan
Author of Suspicious Circumstances
January 2007
On Life and Other Inconveniences

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20 Comments so far
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Being at one with your characters is a big step toward making the characters come alive. Nicely said.

Comment by JT Ellison

Oh, it’s not just you, Sandra. We all reveal things in our characters, and that’s a whole other aspect that makes a mystery fun: the mystery of how much is real and how much is fiction.

But that’s fine, because it will simply make you fascinating to your readers.

Comment by Julia

JT, I hope so. Everyone wants their characters to read as real and believable.

Julia, I’m sure we all do, even if it’s just our attitudes toward certain things or putting someone up as a negative to show what we don’t like. I actually have one other character that I simply adore, but he’s a real jerk to everyone else. He’s misunderstood. Okay, scratch that – he is a jerk. But I still like him a lot. I love writing him. Isn’t that weird?

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

To me, the best writing seems to come from a place of self-exploration. I’m not sure I like the construction “Writing as therapy” — seems a bit pat to me. But I think strong, character-driven fiction is the result of writers playing with pieces of themselves. Taking out a bit here and turning it over in their hands, maybe attaching it to a character over there to see how it fits.

There’s nothing wrong with novels driven by plot, where the characters are just along for the ride. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I need. But in the end, the fiction that elicits the kind of response that Jason spoke of yesterday is the fiction that draws deeply from the writer’s inner well, nits and nightmares and magnificence and all.

You’ve just made me that much more excited to read your book, Sandra.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Bill Cameron said: “You’ve just made me that much more excited to read your book, Sandra.”

What he said. For so many reasons.

Wonderful post, Sandra. Brave.

Comment by Linda L. Richards

” I saw me about 25 years younger than I am.”

So, you’re like 26 now?

And yes, I can’t to read SC, too!

Comment by dana

How I loved this post because I definitely relate to it! I’ve often heard that writers first write their autobiography, whether or not they realize it, and I see that completely through my own work. My first five stories had a certain theme that was a huge trauma I was battling to come through at the time. Slowly, however, I’ve moved away from that (as I have healed, through writing And through therapy, I did both and both were essential to my healing), but I got some hella powerful stories from it because they were so personal and “brave” as my mentor once told me (the shining moment of my college writing career).

One of the books I LOVE and really admire is “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. He writes an Extremely convincing novel (it reads like a memoir) from a girl’s point of view! I had to triple check to make sure a male wrote the book, it was so amazing. I hope to someday write characters that convincingly that I have very little in common with… however, you did say you had a lot in common with Jack, so who knows if Wally and Dolores have more in common then I think! Either way, GREAT book, I highly suggest it.

Great post Sandra, really connected with it!

Comment by mai wen

Bill, but writing is the cheapest form of therapy! Well, until you start submitting manuscripts to try to get them published.

Linda, I don’t feel brave. More like a big chicken.

Dana, very funny! You humourists!

And thanks for your interest in reading SC. Anyone want to do the final edits for me? Joking. Sort of.

Mai, thanks for your comments. I’d never heard that idea, that the first work is your autobiography. But I suppose it’s possible for more of yourself to be in it than you realize.

Now I feel naked.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

I’ve got an article in an upcoming Crimespree about this. It’s tenatively titled “When your Character Precedes You.” Suffice it to say, you’re not alone…

Comment by JDRhoades

Well, the whole book comes from you, so it only seems logical that the characters have bits and pieces of you reflected in them. I love the mirror idea – sometimes we create our mirrors in writing or art, and sometimes the people and circumstances in our lives act as mirrors. Writing is cool because the reader gets a chance to turn your book into a mirror for themselves. Or just have a really good time forgetting about their shit. Either one works!

Comment by Angie

Dusty, I’m so glad to hear this. And I’ll look forward to that article – just the response here indicates that this is something a lot of people can relate to.

Angie, I suppose this is why people are tough on their kids (generally speaking) and maybe why people can be tough critics of their characters. I do think we give our characters aspects of ourselves, even if we don’t realize we’re doing it. But then, there are the things that are different, and that’s interesting too. One thing I’d say about Lara, and Jack for that matter, is that they are strong. I think that’s because I wish I was.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

I think that all of our characters have a bit of us in each of them.

I get that kid question too, Sandra.

Comment by Tracy Sharp

I get the kid question too. I generally tell them that when I stop killing people in my spare time, I’ll get right on it.

Comment by JT Ellison

Funny. On the surface my main character is very different than me. Hell, he makes bodies disappear for a living. Me? I just make sure the graphics at the network where I work make it to the right people to get on air on time. He’s also almost 10 years younger than me and in better shape.

But there are aspects of his personality that are very much me. I wasn’t conscious of this when I first began writing him, but the more I got into the story, the more I realized that he was, in many ways, me. His difficulty with intimate relationships aside…(I’m sure I’m not like that…well, maybe a little), he thinks a lot like me. And oddly, I find myself now thinking a lot like him.

Comment by Brett Battles

One of my favorite “writing” sayings is “writing is a window into your soul” and while that may not be true for everyone perhaps, I know it is true for me and whatever I write, there’s always a little bit of myself in the story, for better or worse. 🙂

Comment by mai wen

Trace and JT, what is it with the kid question, anyway? Sometimes, I want to say something so incredibly rude…

Brett, so you’re saying you don’t make bodies disappear for a living? My characters are younger than me too, and in better shape. They drink more, though. Well, at least until I met Rankin. Then I started drinking a lot.

That sounds bad.

Mai Wen, I’m sure it’s for the better. It gives your work that emotional honesty that’s so important. Of course, it also explains why we take it so personally.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

So long as you’re not projecting yourself into the dead guy Lady Evelyn found buried in the potato salad, you’re probably all right, Sandra.

Comment by M. G. Tarquini

My protag isn’t like me at ALL….

Heh.

Comment by Cornelia Read

To be honest, I’m not grown up enough to have a child. People don’t like the truth, though. I think it’s well intentioned, just… slightly rude.

Comment by JT Ellison

Thanks for clearing that up Mindy – I was worried!

LOL Cornelia!

I know what you mean, JT. There are three levels of assumptions – that you want a child, that you can have a child and that you should. When I stop sleeping with teddy bears I’ll be grown up enough to consider children. Until then, I’d say I’m not quite ready. For starters, I’d be stealing their toys…

Comment by Sandra Ruttan




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