Ripped From Real Life

People who know I write and know me in some other role—friend, co-worker, etc.—tend to believe that all my heroines are…well…me. I understand why they would think that, especially when my heroine appears to have quite a lot in common with me.

Kick StartFor instance, Linda (the heroine in Kick Start) has a lot in common with me. She’s from the same hometown I’m from. She shares my taste in music. She has kids of the same gender and relative ages of my own children. She lives in a town quite similar to the one I live in (or the way it was about 20 years ago). She attends a similar sort of church and her kids are involved in many of the same activities mine were at those ages. That’s not because Linda is me, however. That’s because I was using what I knew at the time I wrote the book. Poor Linda is actually not really much like me at all, though, once you scratch the surface. She married a good ole boy, while I would have none of that. She was a stay-at-home mom, whereas the very thought of such gave me the willies. I can see how people might think she is me, but I hope they see the differences between us.

I have been editing the next book in my Cross Springs series, Tiara Wars, this week. I noticed that the heroine of that book, Katie, also has a few things in common with me. Less of it is surface stuff, though. Superficially, Katie and I could not be more different. She was raised a politician’s daughter and a queen of the pageant circuit. She went to cotillion and always knows what to say and do in any social situation. Like I said, we could not be more different! And yet…when I got to the really meaty part of the story, the part where she has to come to grips with who and what she really is, I realized that Katie and I shared a deep and profound commonality. Deep down, Katie learns she enjoys being admired and she enjoys being in charge. She likes competition and she likes winning. That rang true to me when I wrote it and true when I read it this week. Katie and I are not alike, but she has aspects of me deep inside her.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00004]Which made me reflect that, in all honesty, ALL my characters have aspects of me. Or at least of someone I know really well. How could they not? In order to write a character, you really have to get inside her or his head. The only way I can see people is through the filter of my own experience. So, in essence, all characters are kind-of, sort-of, a little bit like me (or someone I know and love dearly). I also found that in writing male characters, I tend to give them aspects of my husband or father or brother or son. Again, we write what we know. Oh, and all those mean girls and awful neighbors and things? Yes, I know those people, too. 😀

So this week, my only profound thought has been that the old “write what you know” really is the best advice anyone can give a writer. Only sometimes, what you know is buried in layers of what seems like fun and what other people are like and what you just saw on TV last week or on vacation last year. Just know that whenever you are reading a really well-developed character wrestling with deep issues, there may just be a little bit of reality in there somewhere. Only the writer will ever know, though, which parts are real and which are the products of an incredibly overactive imagination.

JDRobbOne of my favorite games is guessing which heroine in  a romance author’s bibliography is most like her. I think Nora Roberts is probably more like Eve Dallas (in her J.D. Robb ‘In Death’ series) than any of her other heroines. So play my game with me. Tell me a favorite romance writer of yours and which of her heroines you think is most like her. Don’t be afraid to call out a Romance Bandit author, either. Everyone is fair game and it’s open season! 🙂 

Oh, and I meant to tell you that KICK START will be available as a print book very soon. So, one lucky commenter will get a print copy of KICK START!

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  • Jane says:

    Hi Caren,
    One of my favorite author is Pamela Clare and I think she’s most like the heroines in her I Team series because she’s a journalist and so are the heroines in that series.

    • Jane, I’ve met Pamela! She’s great! I think she could even handle that rascally rooster.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Jane, it’s always fun when you know an author has used their real work experiences in their writing, isn’t it? Are there any aspects of her heroines that strike you as so true they MUST be from her own experience? I find those sometimes and, as a reader, it’s kind of thrilling!

      Um…watch out for the GR today. He is restless in the northern hemisphere, I think, and longs to be back Down Under. Fair warning! 😀

  • Amy Conley says:

    Anna Campbell is probably more like any of her female heroines than anyone. She’s strongwilled, detrimined, selfless, kind, mischivous, and she really does adore a fine looking man, in any situation (throat clearing). Seriously, I could so see her giving up her virtue to some scandrel to protect anyone she loved. She wouldn’t make it easy on them, but she would do it with her head held high.

    • Helen says:


      Totally agree 🙂

      Have Fun

    • Wow, Amy, that’s an AMAZING wrap! Not sure I deserve it. Thank you! I was actually going to answer Caren’s very interesting question by saying my heroines have elements of me in them but they’re MUCH better people (at least in the end – occasionally they need a few life lessons along the way!). Goodness, feeling completely overwhelmed. What a gorgeous thing to say.

      • Amy Conley says:

        Well I’m as truthful as I am determined Anna 😉
        BTW, I really do know how to spell, but I’ve been using my olld phone and it doesn’t always cooperate with my fingers or eyes. I apologize for all the typos.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Amy, I was actually thinking of Anna when I typed the question. I had a feeling someone (not me!) would mention how very big-hearted and giving her characters are. While she might say they are better people than she is, I think that’s simply one stubborn woman’s opinion. 🙂

      Oh, and all of my heroines are better people than me – at least at the end of the book. Ha!

      • Caren, my heroines are also better people than me. Each of them has something of me in them–all the characters do–but they don’t have my flaws. They execute what I think about maybe trying someday or wish I had the talent to carry off.

      • Wow, thank you, Caren! Honestly, I’ll be unbearable if you keep this up! I love how your humor comes out in your characters – great stuff!

        • Caren Crane says:

          Oh, Anna, I love you with an extra-big, puffed up head. So charming! 😀 I adore you and all your heroines. They are quite the self-sacrificing lot, I must say. Remind me of that next time I need a loan!

  • Helen says:

    I must say I really loved Kick Start and am looking forward to the next one 🙂

    I have so many favourite authors one of whom is CC Coburn and I have just read her book The Cowboy The Cheat His Ex-Wife and her Vibrator and I can see CC in the role of Beth funny smart and strong, also after just reading Christina’s LLTS I could see Christina as Hilary strong and determined with a sense of humour loved that book

    Have Fun

    • Caren Crane says:

      Helen, I have CC’s book waiting for me on my Kindle! I absolutely couldn’t resist the title. 🙂 I haven’t met her in person, but I’ll say her online persona sounds quite like the heroine in that book.

      Couldn’t agree more about Christina, either. She is so sweet and funny and strong. She would probably deny it with her dying breath, but I think she is the very model of a modern Regency heroine! (G & S reference for Anna C!)

      • CC Coburn says:

        LOL! my “online persona” eh? So you’ve been stalking me from the shadows, Caren!
        I agree we authors bring something of ourselves to our heroines. My editor brought my sometimes emotionally distant heroines to my attention recently – interesting…
        And I can’t wait to read, Kick Start! Hope you enjoy The Vibrator

        • Caren Crane says:

          Thanks CC! As for the stalking, as one of my dear friends recently said, “Stalking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 😀 Happy to stalk you…I mean, be an impartial observer of human behavior. Yes, that is definitely what I meant to say…

      • I agree about Christine! She’s Gilbert and Sullivan great!

    • Cassondra says:

      Helen, I have to agree with this. Good call! I just finished LLTS also, and can definitely see Christina in her heroine, Honey/Hillary.

    • CC Coburn says:

      Why thank you so much, Helen, that’s so kind of you to list me as one of your faves! I’ll return the compliment and say you’re one of my very favourite readers! As for me being like Beth… hmmm…I must say, I did rather let my fingers go to town (on the keyboard) in the scene with Beth and her ex! And (sigh) oh, to meet a man like Gabe standing on my doorstep (and don’t tell my husband that!)

    • Oh, Helen, I’m laughing at this! Thank you for the compliment about Hilary but she is far more determined than I have ever been! I’m very flattered, though:)

  • fedora says:

    Wow… how neat, Caren! Very much looking forward to reading Kick Start!

    As for romance heroines? Hmm… I always imagined our lovely Susan a bit like her heroine Liz–smart, can play by the rules, but maybe a bit openly sassier 😉

    • Fedora, our Susan is VERY sassy! You got that right!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Fedora, I got the same feeling about Susan. Actually, I think she is quite a bit like Goose, too, only without the insecurity. 🙂 But Liz is a very complex heroine with lots going on. I definitely see bits of Susan (and sometimes quite large bits) in her books. None of them are quite as hilariously funny as she is, though!

      • Susan Sey says:

        Aw, this just made my day! I have such a hard time w my heroines, & I think it’s largely because I have a hard time making female friends. So my heroines tend to be a little prickly & defensive. It’s always fun to strip it away to reveal their softer side. I’m delighted you found the gooey center of Liz, especially. xoxo

        • Caren Crane says:

          Still scratching my head over you having trouble making female friends. However, I completely relate. I have three sisters (who I completely ADORE!) and a fantastic mom. So, in comparison, women have to be pretty awesome to rate with me. You totally do! Heck, the whole passel of Banditas do! I think that astonished me more than anything, really. How well we all got along before we even really knew each other!

  • Caren, what a fascinating post. I remember years and years ago seeing an interview with Australia’s only Nobel prize for literature winner, Patrick White (who I’m sure most of you have never heard of – he’s not exactly a bestseller even here!). He wasn’t actually a very nice man for all his talent, but this interview was fascinating (it was with Michael Parkinson who is used to getting the best out of difficult guests). Anyway, Patrick White said that all of his characters are him, but him in disguise. Isn’t that great?

    I don’t think my characters are me, but like your characters, Caren, they reflect elements of me. They certainly reflect the things that are important to me or else I wouldn’t bother writing the book.

    As far as who’s like their heroines, I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s books and having met her in real life, while she’s obviously not 100% the same person as her creations, she’s down to earth and wonderfully warm and humorous like her heroines. You really feel like you’re standing in the sunlight when you’re with her.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Anna, I think Patrick is right. Actually, I heard the Incomparable Cllaudia Dain say almost exactly the same thing. Which I can totally see!

      I saw Susan Elizabeth Phillips speak at conference this year in a rather smallish setting. I also had dinner with her once when she was speaking to our local chapter and I have to say, in every situation she is just the same. She is always warm, caring, amazed at other people (in a good way) and happy. But she has this underlying core of vulnerability that makes you want to smile at her and be her friend. She’s MUCH nicer than I am, so I think of her when I need to tap into the nice sometimes. 😀

      • Oh, interesting about using SEP to tap into the nice, Caren. I’m in awe of her. Somehow she does really sweet stories while still making them pretty gutsy. It’s a really hard balance to achieve. Someone on a blog once asked who I’d like to write like if I couldn’t write like me and I picked her. People were astonished and kept saying, “But you don’t write like her.” (Mind you, I wish I did!). And I thought, “But isn’t that the point of the question? Why would I want to write like someone I already write like?” I’d love to have her skill with multiple characters and that ability to touch the heart and make you cheer for characters. And man, she’s really funny! Fan girl moment from me!

  • LOL – I was just speaking of this author at dinner. I know exactly whose fiction is a thinnly veiled version of her own life – Haywood Smith. Even her ex-husband sued her for defamation of character – and won.

    I think there are parts of an author in all of her characters – otherwise the characters wouldn’t ring true. However, obviously some of us don’t have to reach far to create fiction full of conflict.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Donna, that’s really interesting. I’ve met Haywood a few times, but don’t know her well. I recall hearing about her ex’s lawsuit, now that you mention it. Just imagine the dirty laundry he had to drag out to win that suit. I hope she got her money’s worth of entertainment! 🙂

      I do think we infuse all our characters with parts of us, as you said. I really love finding those in books after I’ve met an author.

      My good friend Deb Marlowe said that when she read Kick Start the first time, it was like having me talking in her ear. Actually, someone else recently told me the same thing, Although I am certainly not just like Linda, I think that’s a compliment! 😀

  • Mary Preston says:

    A great post thank you.

    I’ve been knitting up a storm and watching PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I seriously swoon over Colin Firth aka Mr. Darcy EVERY time.

    My point being, I think that Jane Austen would be most like Elizabeth Bennett. The strength of character most of all. For Jane Austen to be a published author, a woman, would have been quite daunting given the times .

    • Caren Crane says:

      Mary, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has thought that! I’ve read all of Austen’s works and Pride and Prejudice is still the one that rings most true. For me, she had such a grasp of the subtle ways that genteel poverty affects a person’s whole life that you would know (even without reading a biography) that she must have lived it. I just wish Jane could have had the HEA she gave her heroines! 🙁

  • Mozette says:

    Oh man! I was given a book a few years back by Mum who told me to read it… she went on that the whole book was written about me, my life, and how I am precisely.

    So, I read it, thinking nothing of it and that Mum might be off that a book might not be exactly about me… after all who really gets to spot a protagonist who does everything you’ve done? Right?

    Well, I read this book and was spooked. This book was about my life… right there in print was my life and how I – um the protagonist – had started living with her Aunt and couldn’t stop pleasing people by putting her own pleasures last… this was me before I moved out of home.

    The book is titled: ‘Odd One Out’ by Monica McInernery … and the whole story is exactly how my was right up until around 8 years ago, when I started pleasing myself. Strange that. 🙂

    • Caren Crane says:

      Mozette, that would seriously be an eerie experience. But how cool! I love it that you’ve been claiming your life for yourself for the past few years, though. That is actually a lesson my own heroines seem to keep learning (at least in Kick Start and Tiara Wars). I think, as women, we really do tend to put ourselves last. Here’s to empowerment!

      • Mozette says:

        Yes! My brother keeps on telling me to stop thinking so much of what other people are thinking about me and just do my own thing… and I’ve seriously begun doing just that.

        And over the last 2 – 3 years, I’ve really claimed back my own life in a big way… it’s wonderful and lots of fun to just go out and find stuff I love, say: ‘Yes, I’ll get that for my kitchen/bedroom/bathroom/garden.’ and take it home… it’s wonderful! 😀 and there’s nobody at home groaning: ‘Oh, did you have to buy that? I don’t like that.’

  • Caren, I think you make a great point about “the filter of our own experiences.” The characters’ choices will reflect something of the author’s experiences, the way s/he sees the world. Otherwise, the story doesn’t ring true to the author and likely will not to the reader.

    There’s a great quote I’ve heard attributed to Dorothy L. Sayers, though I’m not sure whether it’s actually hers, something to the effect that when writing fiction, you have to tell the truth, or no one will believe you.

    And of course the “truth” about the world, people, and life in general varies just a bit for each of us.

    As for authors and characters, I suspect TICD, The Incomparable Claudia Dain, is much like her courtesan heroine, Sophia Dalby. They’re both very smart, savvy, assertive, and willing to help others. And they dress well.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Nancy, the filter thing is so true. I know I’ve read books where I a character did not quite gel for me. I’m not a terribly analytical reader, but in thinking about those it seems what was lacking was authenticity.

      By that, I don’t mean things like the author was never a Navy SEAL or obviously not a neurosurgeon or anything. I mean that the character’s actions, reactions, thoughts or feelings didn’t feel genuine to me.

      I do recall that SEP had a hero who, in the beginning of the book, supposedly listened to acid rock. Except for a mention (maybe two) at the beginning of the book, though, there was no other mention of it. To me, it felt as if she had filled out one of those character “interviews” and had decided that was what he liked.

      Nothing that hero did or said did during the book supported that. In my opinion (free of charge, today only!), things like that about a person inform their lives. I love alternative rock music and that informs what lines from songs come to mind when I experience, see or feel things. I have music I listen to when I’m angry, sad or insanely happy. As a music lover, music is very important to me. I listen when I drive, when I cook, when I work at the DDJ. I don’t listen when I write, because I love music so much it distracts me. So to me, that did not feel genuine at all. And I adore SEP!

      Yes, I feel TICD is reflected in much of Sophia Dalby’s world view. However, I think Claudia is much nicer than Sophia. Or at least less scary. 😀

    • Nancy, what a great quote from DLS!

  • Susan Sey says:

    It’s so funny you should write this post today, Caren, because I’ve been reading KICK START (& loving it!). But I have been recognizing pieces of you in Linda. Her hilarious way wih words, her resilience, her refusal to ever be beaten. But mostly, I recognize her voice as yours, & that’s been a gift bc after our week together at RWA, I miss you! And Linda’s no Caren, but in a pinch she helps.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Aaaw! It’s a chapter meeting of the Susan & Caren Mutual Admiration Society! 😀 There are many reasons I adore you, Susan, but you are so incredibly hilarious and you write such super characters that I can’t help but see aspects of you in all your heroines. (See above comments about Liz and Goose!)

      I’m glad Linda helps you with the pining. I was reading your (awesome) Money Shot coming home from conference and I could so hear you in some of the things Goose said. (Or should we call her Maria now? 🙂 ) As you said, she’s no Susan, but she’s good when I need a little shot of Susan to get me through.

      Super love! <3

  • Jane and the GR are becoming QUITE the item. What IS her secret??

    Neat post, Caren! I have to think most authors gift their characters with some part of their own personality. I think writing gives us an opportunity to live our lives in a different world and with all of the attributes we sometimes wish we had. Sort of a way to live our best selves.

    I see some of Nancy Northcutt in her heroines – that no-nonsense attitude with the open spirit to accept the magic all around them. That can-do attitude as well.

    I see LOTS of Tawny Weber’s sass in her heroines and their fashion sense as well. 🙂

    Anna Campbell’s capacity for compassion and her appetite for hot looking bad boys shows up in her heroines.

    And of course La Duchesse’s characters are chock full of her kick butt attitude, her snark and her zest for life.

    I’d like to think Mary Balogh is very like her character Christine in Slightly Dangerous – unassuming, comfortable in her own skin, compassionate and unafraid to stand up to a stuffy duke.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Louisa, as always, your observations are right on the mark. I agree with all of them, but especially the one about Tawny and her heroine’s shoes! My poor heroines, like me, tend not to care too much about their shoes. Except Katie in Tiara Wars has a lovely pair of Ferragamo pumps she is crazy about. Well, and Connie in Baby Steps (which I haven’t even talked about here) is kind of a shoe whore. But generally speaking they aren’t those sorts of girls. Hm…

      As for Mary Balogh, I haven’t spent enough time talking with her to get a sense for what she is like personally, but I totally agree that the character of Christine in Slightly Dangerous was quite well-developed and rang with Truth. From what I’ve seen and heard of Mary, I think you hit that nail right on the head!

      Btw, I just picked up a Mary Balogh I haven’t yet read at a book club meeting the other night. I’m saving it for a treat! 🙂

    • Louisa, you’re so right about the other Bandits. And what a lovely thing to say! Goodness, I’m going to give myself a pat on the head after today. And if anyone suggests a hard one with a hammer, I’ll put you in a book and give you a sticky end!

      • Caren Crane says:

        Now Anna, when you say “sticky end” do you mean that literally or metaphorically? Because I could think of some ends involving honey and a hunky hero that might not be so bad…

        • Ooh, you are awful, but I LIKE you! Which I think is an old Laugh In line, isn’t it? Definitely showing my age here.

          • Nuh, turns out it was a catchphrase from the Dick Emery Show, a British comedy sketch program. I do love Wikipedia!

          • Caren Crane says:

            I remember Laugh In being on when I was a little girl. I’ll never forget Goldie Hawn popping out of the little windows they had. She was adorable…and so young! And now she has Kurt Russell, the lucky girl. Wait…can you write me a sticky end with Kurt Russell?!?

          • I think GH and KR have split. Caren, perhaps you could organise your own sticky ending with KR! 😉

    • Helen says:

      Oh yes so agree about Tawny and her heroines Louisa

      Have Fun

    • Louisa, thank you! My heroines are as you say, or I hope they are. Me, I don’t always get there, but it’s nce to know I come across as though I do.

  • Joan Kayse says:

    Good Morning Caren! Squeeeee…there’s another book on the way!

    Hot young guy? 😀

    Yeah, I think every writer brings something to their characters…you’d have to unless….you write serial killers and then I’d be scared.

    I think Kristan Higgins must put some of herself in all of her heroines. She has such a quirky, fun perspective on life and that’s reflected in her books.

    Love ya Kristan! 😀

    • Caren Crane says:

      Joanie, you’ll be sad to know there is no hot, young guy in Tiara Wars. There is, however, a super-hot, crazy-sexy Italian man who is about Katie’s age…actually, I don’t think they discuss their age at all. I just assumed they were around the same age and I guess they did, too. 🙂

      I was thinking about Kristan Higgins this morning, especially when I was writing about shoes. Her heroines generally have really cute, fun, sexy shoes. Which she has admitted being fond of herself. So I know that part is true. But the really warm-hearted, funny, loving stuff all seems to be her as well. Again, she is obviously much nicer than I am. I’ll have to try to channel her when I need to tap that nice thing, too!

  • Fun post, Caren. I definitely put something of myself into my heroines especially, some more than others. I’m not sure it’s possible to not do that to some extent.

    The author that comes to mine for me is Stephanie Feagan, particularly her Pink Pearl series, which is about a hilarious CPA. Stef is a hilarious CPA, and as I read those books I was hearing them in Stef’s voice.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Trish, I loved Stephanie’s Pink Pearl books, too! I don’t claim to know her well, but what I do know of her speaks loud and clear in those books. I picked up a copy of one of her historicals at the indie author booksigning at RWA. I’m waiting anxiously to read it, wondering if that hilarious voice is one she uses in her historicals or whether it’s very different. She’s a great writer, so I’m sure it will be wonderful even if the voice is very different. Just wondering what other Stephanie bits are in those. 🙂

  • Kaelee says:

    Caren ~ A heroine called Linda. I thought my name was too dated to appear in a current book unless the character was an old fuddy duddy like me. (KAELEE is my husband’s and my initials)

    I think all authors put a bit of themselves into their works. I can’t say I know any author well enough to compare them to their characters but I have bought a lot of books based on how well I enjoy some of their blogs. Most of the time I enjoy the books.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Kaelee, I had reservations about naming her Linda, believe me. But I was born in 1965 and there were plenty of Lindas around then! Since I wrote Kick Start about 8 years ago and I was 40 then, I used names that were popular when I was born. Linda was very popular then! 🙂 And her friends are Katie and Connie and lots of other names of my generation.

      It’s funny how names fall out of fashion. I have a friend who is almost 40 now and she has a 14-yr-old named Barbara. I loved that, because I hadn’t heard of any young girls named Barbara…ever! It was one of those names that was popular when my mother was born (circa 1940), so I knew lots of grown-ups named Barbara (and Betty) but had no friends named that.

      I hope you read Linda’s book and like it. She may not have a trendy name, but she definitely gets a happy ending! 😀

      Oh, and I love Kaelee because it reminds me of Firefly!

      • Kaelee says:

        Yes Linda was very popular in the late 40’s when I was born. My husband’s niece born in 1965 is called Linda. : -) I didn’t meet my husband until 1967.

  • Hi Posh! What a fun post. I love the way you can see bits of yourself in different characters. I’ve downloaded Kick Start and am looking forward to reading it!

    I can see Nora in the matriarch of the flower series she did, with her love of gardening, her hatred of exercise (yet the iron will that makes her do it anyway) and her strength and loving attitude towards her children and those around her.

    I can see Foanna in various of her characters –that indomitable spirit and determination, coupled with loyalty. Grace from Untouched comes to mind!