Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stranger than Fiction?

by Christina Brooke

I usually say that I write as if I’m taking dictation from a movie that plays inside my head. The story is there, already waiting for me. I just have to get to it and translate what is happening into words on the page as vividly as I can. I’m sure the sum of my experiences influence that movie in my mind in all sorts of ways but I don’t consciously take events and people from my own life and fictionalize them.

An unsettling thing happened when I wrote HEIRESS IN LOVE.

I live in Queensland, Australia. We had just suffered through a drought period that meant heavy water restrictions. The city looked scorched. Dust blew in from the west and settled in a film over everything.

Then the rain came. Day in, day out, wet, wet, wet.

And it rained in HEIRESS IN LOVE.

The opening image in chapter one of HEIRESS IN LOVE is of my heroine, Jane, watching rain-spattered carriages winding up a long drive to her stately home. My hero, Constantine, gallops past them on a big white horse like a shooting star through the night. He is larger than life, a dazzling flare on Jane's bleak horizon.

As the romance between this gorgeous, charming rogue and my prim, awkward heroine plays out, the rain continues to fall. It's England, after all, and the climate in my fictional world is not hard to imagine. In Brisbane, Australia, it becomes difficult to remember the last decent stretch of sun.

I needed a disaster for this book, my subconscious decided, blithely playing God in my cozy fictional world. So I used a fascinating piece of research on Cotswold woolen mills to create a dam on a nearby property that was full to bursting. Constantine tries to persuade his neighbor to do something about the dam before it floods but the neighbor won’t listen. The resulting crisis tests Constantine’s mettle to the full and ultimately forms the catalyst for a breakthrough in his relationship with Jane.

I wrote this book and handed it in and thought little more about the connection between my story and the reality around me. After devastating floods in 1974, before I was born, a new dam had been built. We were all assured such an event would never happen again. People built houses in areas that had completely submerged in 1974. The '74 floods took on the quality of legend.

And then, for the first time in 37 years our city’s major river overflowed its banks, causing devastation to the lives of countless people. This happened back in January, but the effects of the flood continue to be felt.

My house and family were safe, thank God, but my eight-year-old son’s school suffered extensive damage. My four-year-old’s kindergarten stands, six months later, a filthy, torn apart wasteland that we walk past every day. Every day, he asks me when it’s going to be fixed. Soon, I say. But I know he won’t be going back there again.

Many insurance companies had excluded river flood damage from their insurance policies so the cost of recovery has been prohibitive for some. Many people lost their homes, their businesses. A tragic number lost their lives.

But people have remarkable resilience and it's fair to say that the flood brought out the best in our community. People pulled together during the worst of times and in the aftermath, they are getting on with living and rebuilding their lives.

Work has finally begun on my son's play centre. Too late for him to go back there, but hopefully it will be up and running by next year. I was reminded of this recovery process in another way today. I took my critique partner, Denise, on a detour from our usual walk to show her the house I lived in for a short time after I was married. Some of you might have seen the photo I posted on facebook of this house when the flood was at its peak.

Now, the house has been painted (much nicer colours!) and is in the process of being renovated, too. As we were gawking at it, the owner came out and we chatted. He said that during the flood, he kayaked through the flood water and it was so high, he kayaked straight onto the verandah of the house. He has now raised the house so that the top storey is above flood level. I hope very much that he never needs to kayak to get to his house again, but that's another story.

Has a crisis ever brought out the best in you, or in an unexpected person? Do you like true events to play a part in a fictional tale or would you prefer to leave reality far behind? If you're a writer, have you ever had real life affect the story in an unexpected way?

I'm giving away HEIRESS IN LOVE to one lucky commenter!

Please forgive me if I'm not around much today. I'm at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. And don't forget, you can follow the conference on Twitter: @rwaus11


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Come to me, Chookie-boy!

flchen1 said...

LOL! Have fun with the GR, AC! Great post, Christine!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Mme, I hope you and Fo and VA are having a wonderful time at the conference! All of us here at the Lair wish we could join you. :-(

I tend to write about weather that is the opposite of what I'm experiencing. In the cold, dreary winter, I like to write about a hot, tropical beach to chase my wintertime blues away. ;-)

Floods are sooo scary! Seeing the pictures of all that water in Queensland made me hyper-aware of how prone to flooding Sacramento is. We are at the confluence of two rivers, and the town flooded so much when it was first built that people simply moved everything up to their second story and the street was built up accordingly. You can still see the original first floors (now basements) in the houses in the oldest parts of town. ;-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

WHEW! I got him by a spare 2 mins, Fedora! ;-)

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Aunty Cindy.

Hi Christine,
In times of crisis, many people do band together and I've seen that here in the aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers. It showed how resilient the city and its people really were.

Birgit said...

Fortunately my worst "crisis" so far must have been having mice up in the attic or a cancelled flight, but as far as books go I do like some real(istic) events take place there, preferably less boring than my own lil' crisis *lol*.

SiNn said...

define crisis like its a crisis for me when i run out of books to read but the more serious one is the family crisis we rfcingw ith a fmaily member dignosed with bonemarrow canser and kidney failure waiting for word if theres a match

Na said...

I hope you have a wonderful time at the RWAustralia! My friend recently moved there and she sends pictures frequently to prove how beautiful Aussie is.

I'm trying to think of a crisis and nothing major comes to mind. Perhaps I blocked the major ones out. Well there was this one time we saw a bear at an isolated park...only the bear didn't see us! Another time was when the family visited a lakeside (ocean?) once and dipped in the water after for a bit. Only AFTER we left did we see a sign warning us that there were alligators in the area. Yikes.

I don't mind a bit of true events in fiction but complete fiction is fine with me. It's important that the characters interest me and the stories flows and is believable. That does not necessarily mean a depiction of reality as I can believe in a paranormal world. It just has to feel real and relatable.

Daz said...

I can't say for sure if a crisis has ever brought the best out in me because I don't look at myself that way. That said, we did have a rather nasty situation happen to us when they boy and I were living in the Middle East. I didn't freak out, I didn't crumble under it and when we returned to Australia, we were able to pick up the pieces of our life and move on. Human resilience is an amazing thing.

Helen said...

Well done AC have fun with him


Those floods were devestating it will take a long time for things to get back to normal but I agree we all have to band together and get on with life.

I don't think that anything that bad has happened to me I haven't been through a major flood like that or bushfires that happen here in Oz either but I do think I am the type of person who will get on with life the best way I can.

I soo loved Heiress in Love Jane and Constantine are so good together and that flood at the mill showed everyone the real Constantine love him

Have a great time in Melbourne I so wish I was there this time around, but I am off to Bowral for the weekend with some Ladies from Canberra for a romance readers retreat whoo hoo we are going to have fun as well

Have fun

barb said...

well done AC

I haven't been in a situation like in Queensland but it always brings the good out in everybody and along come all the volunteers...

Have a good time at RWA .... I am off to Bowral with Helen, so we will have a good time

Maureen said...

Hi Christine,
We have had some flooding in our town in recent years although it was all along the river but it is scary when you don't know how high the water will rise. I am glad your family is safe and hope your community is able to rebuild.

Margay said...

Interesting questions! I think slipping in some real events only enhances a story, so I'm all for it. One thing I do notice when I write - if I'm in a bad mood, my characters usually end up in a fight! If I'm happy, they're in love. It's mood writing!

Margay said...

Interesting questions! I think slipping in some real events only enhances a story, so I'm all for it. One thing I do notice when I write - if I'm in a bad mood, my characters usually end up in a fight! If I'm happy, they're in love. It's mood writing!

LilMissMolly said...

I was in the Northridge Earthquake back in the 1990s. I was amazed how everyone banded together when we didn't have power for weeks afterwards. When I read though, I prefer to leave reality far behind!

LilMissMolly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

No disasters but I have had a little flooding. I lived on the river until I was 26 years old, saw the raise many times. Moved on top of a mountain and had water in my house for the first time in 2004. We had a lot of rain and I came home and had to wade water to my front step, basement was flooded a little. Just seemed strange that I lived on a river for so many years and never had to deal with it until I moved on top of a mountain.

Susan Sey said...

Good morning, Christina!

This isn't exactly the same as being influenced by a crisis, but I'm a sucker for self-published, local lore. There's not a wide audience for books about the history of a logging or mining town on the north shore of lake superior, for example, but when I'm vacationing up there, I can't resist visiting the local bookshops & snapping up all the 'local author!' stuff. I get so many good story ideas from these little bits of real life. I'm still kicking myself for not picking up the "adventures of a north woods game warden" book I had in my hands last week. I may have to do an internet search for that one....

Have fun at the conference!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Christine - Hope you're having fun at the conference!

I don't think I've ever been in the midst of a crisis, but I truly believe people would bond together to help those in need. We are made of resilient stuff waiting to be tested. I believe this.

I love to incorporate real history into my books especially when the reality plays into the book so perfectly, you'd think history played out with my story in mind. That's what happened in Redeeming the Rogue.

Sometimes, though, the reality just seeps in. In the book I just turned in, The Casanova Code, a kitten popped up in the story at precisedly the same time we adopted a cute little black kitten. That little rascal ended up playing an important role in the story. I shall be forever grateful for her assistance.

Have fun, Christine!

Kate Carlisle said...

Good morning everyone!

Madame, I hope you're having a splendid time at the conference with Anna C. and Anna S. and Terry Garey and all our Buddies down there! {{Waving to all the Banditas Down Under!}}

I loved the scene in HEIRESS IN LOVE when the dam broke and Constantine worked so hard and saved so many lives. A scene like that really separates the men from the boys--or rather, the heroes from the villains, doesn't it? Constantine earned his true hero status that night. Of course, he was already a hero in my eyes from the first moment he rode on scene. :-)

My experience happened when I was seven years old. My family was away for the weekend when our house burned down. We came back to a burned out shell of a home and had to live in a motel for weeks. Our school, our town and our church collected money and clothes and shoes and toiletries and food and utensils and all the things you take for granted until they're gone. It was an amazing time I'll never forget. I haven't written that experience into a book yet, but I know I will some day.

Congrats on rustling up the chookie, Aunty!

Joan said...

Can't wait for Heiress in Love to move up my reading queue....

As to disasters. The closest here in KY in the past several years were a) the ice storm from h*ll and b) a HURRICANE that both took out power for a week (longer for lots of areas)

We've had flooding too--Louisville is a river town on the Ohio-- but the last historic one was in 1937. My father was 18 then and had to evacuate his mother and baby twin brothers to high ground..then broke the "law" and scavenged for food for them...back then there was little in the way of coordinated disaster relief.

This past spring, we had two devastating tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri...while not personally affected by this, I've grown up in tornado land and never take these storms for granted.

My heart goes out to those affected by those devastating floods in prayers were with ya'll.

Now, onto happier things...wish I was with you all at the conference!

Joanie, off to price plane tickets to Oz

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Christina, your post sounded very much like what we went through here in Nashville last year when we had severe flooding, the worst since the dam-building era of the 1930s and 1940s. So many people lost their homes and businesses, and I'm pretty sure some of those small businesses never reopened. We had to move the RWA Conference barely two months before the conference dates because the Opryland Hotel was under 10 feet of water. People were doing rescues from other hotels in the area using fishing boats. Was surreal. But like you said, volunteerism shot through the roof. We lived up to our name of The Volunteer State. :)

catslady said...

I can't imagine how horrible flooding must be. Although we do have it somewhat in our area, it's not where I live. Luckily I've never encountered more than a bad snow storm or wind storm and loss of electricity for 5 days. I like stories based on fact but I'm pretty open to anything.

Christine Wells said...

Hey, Aunty Cindy! Thanks so much for holding the fort and congrats on the rooster!

Christina Brooke said...

AC said: people simply moved everything up to their second story and the street was built up accordingly.

That's what's happening with us now, too, AC. People are renovating with a view to getting high off the ground.

Christina Brooke said...

Jane, I went to the Twin Towers centre when I was in New York. It was so very moving. Thank you!

Christina Brooke said...

Birgit, I wish for you that you never suffer a worse crisis that mice or canceled flights! Yes, I like my fiction to be grounded in reality.

Christina Brooke said...

SinN, I am so sorry to hear that. I hope everything works out for your family member.

Christina Brooke said...

Na, thanks so much, I'm having a ball. About to go for breakfast with Anna Campbell and our friend from New Zealand, Regency writer Emily Gee. Should be fun!

Your crises seem to involve wild animals! I'm very glad the alligators didn't get you.

I think you hit on the key--it has to be relateable. That's so true!

Christina Brooke said...

Daz, sorry to hear about your crisis in the Middle East. I bet you came out the other side stronger and more confident that you dealt with the situation the best way you could.

Christina Brooke said...

Helen said: I do think I am the type of person who will get on with life the best way I can.

I think you are, too, Helen. You're so caring toward others that I know others would step up and help you in a crisis.

Thank you for those lovely words about HEIRESS IN LOVE.

Hope you and Barb have a lovely time in Bowral!

Christina Brooke said...

Have a great time, Barb!

Yes, we're seeing that same pull-together spirit in England as well. I hope the light fights back the darkness over there.

Christina Brooke said...

Stay safe and dry, Maureen. Thank you for your concern. We were high enough not to be in any great danger but we felt terrible for those around us who weren't so lucky. There are those awful days of holding your breath to see how high the waters will go, aren't there?

Christina Brooke said...

LOL on the mood writing, Margay! I think we might all be prone to that.

Christina Brooke said...

LilMissMolly, you must have had a horrible time during the earthquake. How awful! I think I can do without certain kinds of reality in my fiction, too.

Christina Brooke said...

Dianna, that is the irony of natural disasters, isn't it? I hope there wasn't too much water damage to your house.

Christina Brooke said...

Susan, I'm reading Money Shot right now and loving all the interesting detail. Now I know how you loves these 'local lore' books that makes perfect sense. Wonderful stuff!

Christina Brooke said...

Thanks, Donna! We are having an excellent time. I love that a kitten turned up in your book. So much fun when animals are based on real ones. In my MOM series, Ophelia the Great Dane is modeled on my Monty.

Christina Brooke said...

Kate, you made me cry. That is such a beautiful story. I'm sorry you had to go through that but isn't it wonderful what people can do when they are faced with a dire situation? Most definitely, that must go into a book.

I'm thrilled to hear you enjoyed that scene in the book. I absolutely adored Constantine but you're right, that was the time the hero in him really shone through.

Thank you, we are having a ball! I only glimpsed VA as she got ready to give her amazing pitch workshop (to a full house, I might add!) Hope to catch up with her properly soon!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey AC! You got the bird!

Christina, I hope you're having a FABULOUS time at the RWAus conference! What fun. Wish I could be there. :>

Say hello to all the Aus bandita buddies for us. :>

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

I forgot to say that I've seen such wonderful things in crisis, that no matter what the dangers and devastations, it ends up renewing my faith in humanity.

Tornadoes, hurricanes and fires are all terrible natural disasters, but people reach out to help, give hope and renewal. It's tough, but somehow with the help of friends, strangers and determination we get through it.

Sonali said...

Hi Christine,

Well i can't think of any major crisis that that has occurred in my life, unless you can count missing the deadline of a major research paper a crisis(most people don'

Although a bit of reality is OK in my reads but i prefer it to be entirely based on fiction.

All the best at the conference. Have fun!


girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Oh my, what a terrible flood! New Orleans and you have a lot in common. I hope it doesn't take as long for your area to recover!
Enjoy the Conference!! Sounds like a great group to be hanging out with!!

Barbara E. said...

I haven't been through a crisis that I needed to step up for. The worst I can think of is when I first moved to Florida in 2004 and we had 4 hurricanes in a row. But I never even lost power, so although it was scary, there wasn't much for me to do except share my electricity with my son and his wife, and watch lots of news reports. I do like real events to play a part in a fictional tale, it makes the story more real for me. Although if the author wants to go crazy and make stuff up, that's fine with me too.

Virginia said...

I remember those floods back in the 70's. I had to help my girlfriend move out of her house. We stepped from her front porch into a boat. I will never forget those times. I have always wondered if authors base their books on real things that happen to them.

Pat Cochran said...

We've had two occasions in recent
history which we considered as crises.
Tropical Storm Allison brought in rain
which hung over the city for days. It caused massive flooding over a large
area. DD2 and her toddler son had to
be rescued from their home by a fire
crew in a boat. They were taken to a shelter and we couldn't find them for
two days! Some nice people in the
shelter system found them for us.
During Hurricane Ike, the entire city
lost all power. Neighbors grilled all
their defrosting foods, held block
parties, and shared with everyone.
Others volunteered at FEMA centers
distributing foods and ice. One of the
area teens brought us ice every day at the end of his shift when we couldn't
get out. Good people!

jorobertson said...

Hi, Christina! Great, thoughtful post. Yes, I love to see real-life events in books I read. It lends an authenticity that I enjoy.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ooh, Aunty got him! He is in TROUBLE now!

Wonderful post, Christina! And those floods in Australia really were heartbreaking. I'm just so glad all of my Aussie pals came through okay.

Of course the recent tornadoes here in Alabama were frightening. I was missed by a little less than a mile, but others were not so lucky. My nephew and his roommates in Tuscaloosa rode out the tornado in the bathtub of their apartment. When the noise stopped they walked outside and saw the apartment building across the street was simply gone. They heard crying and screaming and went over to help pull out survivors.

I do like it when real life events are melded into a story. Gives it a very real point of reference.

Cathy P said...

My worst crisis was when my DH almost died from extremely low blood pressure this past Valentine's Day. I always thought I would fall apart in a crisis, but I took control. I immediately called 911 after checking on my passed out hubby; then proceededd to clean him up. When the police and emergency people came to take him away in an ambulance, I somehow managed to stay cool, answer their questions, and get out of their way when they needed me to. After leaving in the ambulance, I called my best friend, who took me to the hospital. We stayed there for 4 hours, and luckily they were able to bring him back to me. My friend told me I was the most calm nervous person she had ever seen. I fell apart after we got home late that evening. My DH was proud of me for keeping cool during his crisis.