“How much of you is in your writing?”
This weekend I took part in a local literary festival, kicking off the festivities by sitting on my first author panel (which was so much fun, btw). One of the questions we were asked was the one above, which is always a fun question to answer about my debut novel, If Only. I told our audience, “Well, If Only is about a girl who studies abroad in Scotland her junior year of college and dates one guy but falls in love with another guy who just happens to have traveled to the same school with his girlfriend.” Pause for breath. “When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Scotland. I dated one guy and crushed on another…who had a girlfriend.”
What are the odds? But as much as there are similarities, If Only is 100 % Jordan’s story. Not mine. The same is true for all the books I’ve written so far. There’s a little bit of me in every hero/heroine I write. Jordan loves British literature. So do I. Noah loves The Great Gatsby and is going to be an English teacher. So do I/So was I. In What If, Griffin likes to deflect with humor rather than wear his heart on his sleeve. Waves from corner of deflection. And Maggie not only loves Gilmore Girls but is emphatically #teamjess. Wonder where she gets that from. But still, these are not my stories. They belong to the characters I create and the readers who follow them on their journey. I might infuse parts of my life that are special or important, traits I want to share with my characters, but they take those traits and make them their own.
Which brings me to One Night, a new book in a new series releasing with Intermix on April 21st. In One Night, my main character, Jess, and her roommate, Zoe, become fangirls of The Vampire Diaries. At the time I started writing the book, I had just started watching the show (erm…binge-watching on Netflix), so I made that a way for Jess and Zoe (and even the hero, Adam) to bond. Throwing fun shout outs to some of my favorite things in my writing lets me indirectly share those things with my readers. Additionally, infusing important issues into my stories also lets me share what I hope are important messages as well.
In One Night, Jess’s personal story arc stems from how she deals with depression. Depression is not a part of my life now, but it was in my 20s. Back then I would have shied away from talking about it. As someone who was (and still is) her own worst critic, for a long time I let myself believe that if I couldn’t kick whatever was wrong with me, then I was a failure. And right there was the poisonous thinking because nothing was wrong with me. Depression didn’t make me any less of a person than anyone else. I just needed help, needed to realize that no form of self-medicating was going to make me the healthy person I knew I wanted to be.
I gave Jess a snippet of my experience but made it hers. Why give it to her in the first place? Because, like I said, I was afraid to talk about my depression when I was going through it because I worried what people would think. I thought self-medicating could top professional help. But I missed the mark on both accounts. When I opened up to close friends about what was going on with me, I found tremendous support. When I took my health seriously (first at the insistence of my mom but later by choice) and sought both medical and psychological support, my life changed dramatically. I gave a similar journey to Jess so that through her story others who might be in a like situation would learn with Jess that getting help shows strength, not weakness, and that she (and others going through the same) is worthy of a life full of hope and love.
And that sexy vampires are awesome.
(See what I did there? It got all serious, so I deflected.)
So yes, a bit of me seeps onto the page in every story, but none of these stories are mine. Through my characters I may share something I love or something important to me, but the story always belongs to the people on the page and those who read my words. My only hope is that readers find a way to connect to the people I create through laughter, tears, frustration, fear, and always, ALWAYS–the swoons.