My first novel, Sketchy Tacos, is coming out on Feb. 7! This has been a three-year-long passion project of mine. Ever since I traveled to Mexico for the first time, I knew I had to write a book set there. The world of Mexico was so different from the stereotypes I’d heard. It was beautiful and vibrant, full of life and culture. And I just had to share.
But the moment I tell people that the book is about a sheltered, Indiana teen traveling to Mexico for the first time, they say, “So it’s about you, right?”
The answer is a resounding, no. I am not my novel. Sure, Mila and I share some characteristics, but I am not her, and this is not my story… at least, not in the way the questioner envisions.
Breakout novels carry with them a piece of the author. Great authors work out their issues through their characters, and the character struggles are all the more profound, realistic, and touching because of them. Author vs. character is an ever-present balancing act. Sketchy Tacos carries my struggles with perfectionism. But none of the events or Mila’s background are mine.
For writers, this is an important distinction.
I’ve seen too many writers get stuck because “it really happened that way.” Just because it happened, doesn’t mean it would make an interesting book. No one wants to read about how much of my year in Mexico was spent sitting on the couch writing or watching Netflix because I did not have a car to get me anywhere. Not an interesting story. So I created one that was.
Of course the amazing sights I saw and the tall tales I heard inspired and effected the story–in the same way that everything I see and hear effects my writing. But that doesn’t mean it’s autobiographical.
Especially–as my mom would want me to point out–not the relationship with the mother. Mila and her mom’s relationship is nothing like me and my mom’s relationship. Love you Mom! (She was a little worried about that.)
The story is mine in sense that I spent hundreds of hours writing, rewriting, editing, and molding the characters so that they’re someone you might mistake for a real person. So if someone reads it and asks me that, in a way, I’ll be flattered because it means I must have done something right.
Have you ever read a book where the character seems so real, you think they might be? If so, what book was it because it sounds awesome! If you’re a writer, have you struggled with the distinction between author vs. character? Where do you draw the line of like you verses unlike you?