People often want to know how much of herself an author embeds in a story: “was that character based on you?” or “did that really happen?”
The truth for me, and I suspect most fiction authors, is that every novel contains bits of me, little gems of things that really happened, or characteristics of real people. I know some of my stories have been more autobiographical than others—though I’m not going to say which ones.
But as I have been working to re-release Turning for Home, reading that story again for the first time in years, I’d forgotten how much of my childhood was tucked into those pages.
When I was nine, we really did live near a dump. My best friend, Randy, and I really did find a trove of army gear there, and we hauled it all home. I recently found the rucksack down in my basement, stuffed with an old football, baseball mitt, slingshot and BBs. The helmet and canteen disappeared decades ago, but I still have that rucksack. I cannot believe that I have had that thing for over fifty years!
Randy and I did sell Christmas cards together and, no, we didn’t win a pony—to my chagrin. Just walkie-talkies, like Jules and Hobie.
Sometimes, when I’m writing, one single inspiration can trigger an entire story, but that wasn’t the case in Turning for Home.
I wrote in the acknowledgements about one major source for this novel—a note someone slipped to me under the door of a bathroom stall when we were traveling through North Carolina. That anecdote figures prominently in this story.
The other big inspiration for this novel was my model for the character of Jules.
It’s risky to write a character who is flawed and not always likeable. The funny thing is, Jules is actually based on a woman I knew, though we haven’t had any contact for a number of years. My friend was charismatic, attractive, funny, generous with her time. She was someone who drew people to her, including romantic partners. But we watched her burn through four relationships, and we never really knew why they ended. The surprising thing is, neither did her exes. We were friends with all of them, and they were heartbroken but clueless as to what had happened.
And that got me thinking about what could make someone who, on the surface is so likeable, throw up such a wall, such a barrier to emotional intimacy.
It’s kind of strange to be “releasing” a book that has been out for five years. It has a history with readers, and this is a novel that gets mixed reactions from them. Some really understand how torn Jules is, the way she tends to live half in the past, with those memories constantly tugging at her. For others, the flashbacks drive them nuts.
This isn’t a happy or light story (though it has some light moments), but, as I read this story again to edit it, I couldn’t have written it any other way. Jules is a character who is anchored by her past, and it won’t let her go. And that’s something I understand.
I have no evidence to back this up, but my guess is that the readers who “get” Jules are people who know what it’s like to live with a painful childhood or past, and how hard it is to let those things go.
When an author writes for a living, she has to write what she knows—or at least expects—will sell. For a lot of authors, that means writing to a formula. I see it in many of Nora Roberts’s trilogies. I see it in several of the more prolific lesfic authors. And it’s understandable. Readers expect a certain type of story from them.
Since I don’t depend on my writing for my living, I can take risks. Turning for Home is one of them. I appreciated Ylva Publishing taking a chance on this book in 2015, and I’m happy to re-release it now under my imprint. If you’ve previously read this book, the only major change is the addition of a short story, “Just a Normal Christmas” which serves as an epilogue, especially for the characters of Kelli and Donna.
I hope you’ll give this story a chance. You may like and understand Jules; you may not. But I think her story will be one that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
I enjoyed reading about the real-life connections in Turning for Home. I think the fact that you were able to weave some of your childhood memories into this story gives it a special touch. As someone who has many of my old toys and treasures tucked away, I love that you still have that rucksack!
Lisa, It was kind of fun weaving bits of my childhood into this story. I’m glad you have those treasures – they bring back nice memories!