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.
As for my other heroines—Charli in Gambling On A Secret and Abby in Heartstrings—neither of them have had it easy either.
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.
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Find her books at any of these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, or Kobo
What an amazing depth of character you portray in your heroines. If writing them touches tender nerves in you, imagine how much you are reaching out to your readers. Thanks for sharing this story.
Thanks for having me today, Judythe!!
Thank you, D’Ann… You are such a great friend and you are also a beautiful and caring person who can write a damned good book too.
Just. Wow. Great post, Sara! I can easily relate to your characters (and you) in many ways. It was brave of you to write and share this post. I agree we all must put a little of ourselves into our heroines to be able to know who they really are and write them. I already love yours!
Sara~my friend~you are stunningly beautiful. I was bullied, too. To the point of breaking me into pieces. I love Tracy and the woman she becomes!
I agree with Joanne. I prefer characters who are far from perfect. To me, they seem more real.
It takes a long time for most of us to become secure happy humans. The twenties are a time to recover from your childhood, make your way in a world that doesn’t care about you, but what you can do for it.
It is also a time to find love and incur love disasters in the process. (Sounds like found yours right off.
I think all authors should pull from their experiences and those they know of. If there isn’t a bit of you in all your characters, how can you write them and understand their lives.
Even as readers, we resonate to characters we recognize because they touch a part of our own experiences. .It makes them real, It makes them meaningful.
Great blog. Now I’ll be introspective all morning. My dog hates that.
Thanks for stopping by, Liza. I agree that as a writer, we have to pull from experiences, but even then we, at least I do, change them. Even with Tracy I changed her body issues from the complete opposite of mine. Writing about an overweight short character would be just too close to home.
And sorry if I bummed either you or your dog out today…
Excellent post, Sarah. I too suffer from low self esteem (makes self promotion so difficult, doesn’t it?), and I’ve done the same, looked down at the pages of a manuscript and saw myself. The book of mine that for me is what Tracy is for you is one I just contracted, and I have to admit, I’m terrified of the day it releases. There is just so much of me in that book. Like you, I had to dig in some painful places for it. I have to admit, I’m so glad you decided to share this, as hard as it probably was, because you just sold me on this book. I’m very fond of heroines who aren’t perfect. It sounds fabulous. Off to download!
Thank you, Joanne!! Writing Tracy was hard, but in the end I think she helped me see past some of my own flaws… Hope you enjoy!!