Today we have award winning author Sara Walter Ellwood visiting the front porch. Bestselling author Carolyn Brown’s named Sara’s novel Gambling On A Secret as one her of favorite romances in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today.
How Much of Me?
Writers often get the question of how much of themselves do they put into their characters. In fact, I recently answered an interview question that asked if any of my characters are like me.
I think most authors strive to make sure their characters aren’t like them. But every once in a while, a character stares at you from the page and you see a little more of yourself than you may have wanted to share.
This very thing happened to me when I wrote Tracy Quinn, the heroine in Gambling On A Heart. She isn’t a mirror image of me and she definitely has done things I would not have… Or at least I like to tell myself I wouldn’t have.
Tracy is a woman who has been bullied as a kid. She moved to Colton, Texas when she was twelve years old after living all over the world with her military father. She was cross-eyed and wore the dreaded headgear of someone with major orthodontic problems. To make matters worse, she was bone skinny and abnormally tall—something that garnered her the hated nickname Olive Oyl.
Tracy was tormented and teased her whole tender teenage years. Even as an adult of thirty-two, she has self-confidence issues. She’s still too thin and taller than most of the women in town. She’s even taller than her brother (the hero of Gambling On A Secret).
If you were to look at me, you’d wonder why I think Tracy has anything in common with me. I’ve been over-weight most of my life—the only time I wasn’t was during my early college days when I was anorexic. And at five foot-two, I’m definitely not tall. I’ve never worn braces, nor have I been cross-eyed, but I couldn’t read until I was in fourth grade. I was put into special education and started back in regular classes in seventh grade (I was twelve). I grew up on a farm and often we didn’t have much money. I wore hand-me-downs. All of these things caused me a great deal of distress. I was teased and bullied. My nickname was just as horrid as Tracy’s in elementary and junior high school; trust me on that one. I was even pushed down a flight of stairs in eighth grade and suffered a concussion.
When I got to college, I had no self-confidence and it was slow to come long after I was married. I still have bouts where I don’t feel I’m as good as I should be.
Tracy Quinn was one of the hardest characters for me to write because for her to seem real and for readers to emphasize with her, I had reach into myself and pull out a lot of those long buried feelings. There is a scene where Tracy is wearing a bathing suit and stares at herself in the mirror. That scene always brings me to tears because it touches something very personal in me. I HATE bathing suits. Not because I don’t have any shape, such as Tracy, but because I don’t like all that exposed skin that bulges where it shouldn’t.
Charli was a drug addict and prostitute as a teenager, while Abby was bullied due to her ethnicity and for her parents’ sins her whole childhood. Writing them too required me to reach down inside to find those feelings of inadequacy that come from being bullied as a kid, despite that I’ve never been a drug addict, prostitute or discriminated against due to my race. But both of these strong women hold deep down feelings that they aren’t good enough.
So, I suppose as long as I write heroines who have such troubled pasts or who aren’t totally comfortable in their own skins, a part of me will always stare back at me from the page.
Although Sara left the farm for the glamour of the big town long ago, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her stories. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for nearly 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia.
Sara also writes paranormal romantic suspense under the pen name of Cera duBois.