Right after “How long does it take to write a book?” and “Where do you get ideas?” comes this question: “How much of Nick Journey is really you?”
The answer: not so much.
You’ve heard it said before, that any fiction writer puts a bit of himself or herself into every character. It’s unavoidable–what I’ve absorbed and experienced and observed in my “real” life can’t help but work its way into the fictional worlds I create. Likewise, other people–those I interact with every day, and those I met once for fifteen minutes a decade ago–are there, in some form. That’s the canvas. That’s the reality inside the fiction.
But, to be perfectly forthcoming, Nick Journey and I have a few things in common. We are both left-handed. We both live in Oklahoma (though I grew up in the state and Journey only came much later). We both have sons with profound autism. We both love history and the Civil War era. I love baseball, and he once played professionally. (Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of vicarious fantasy going on there…)
And that is pretty much it.
I’ve been told by people who know me that they see me in Journey. Maybe, but he’s a lot more courageous than I am. He’s more guarded with his feelings. He’s more analytical. He has an extraordinary sense of hearing, while I have a significant hearing loss. He can throw a curveball.
See? Lots of differences. Not much of an “alter ego” thing going on here.
I’m in Meg Tolman too. And Darrell Sharp. And The Judge. (Not telling which parts of me are in the villain, though.)
I think of the relationships in my life, and how they come to the page, almost always subconsciously. Andrew Journey is not my son, either–though they share some of the same challenges. The relationship between Nick and Andrew is based on my life with the one of my three sons who has profound autism. Notice I said “based on.” Nick and Andrew’s relationship is both simpler and more complex than mine with my son.
And no, the ex-wife in COLD GLORY is not my ex-wife. I went out of my way to ensure that the portrayal of Amelia Boettcher was nothing like the mother of my children. In fact, my children’s mother and I have a communicative, functional, co-parenting relationship, and we have joint custody of our boys. We don’t always agree, but we always communicate, quite unlike Nick and Amelia.
But I think of another relationship, and how it informed both the characters of Meg Tolman and Sandra Kelly. Bits of that relationship are in both women.
That’s life. That’s fiction. The two must overlap and intersect. It is one of the great joys and essential challenges of storytelling.
I’ll come clean, though, and admit that there is one character in COLD GLORY who comes quite close to being a living, breathing person from my real life. The funny thing? I didn’t realize it until I’d written the character, then on reviewing what I’d written, sat back and said, “Wow! That is So-n-So, and I didn’t even know it.”
Not going to tell you which character I’m talking about, though. There are a few things a guy has to keep to himself.