Thursday, October 06, 2011

Guest Blogger - Paula Graves

I'm very excited to welcome Paula Graves to the Playground today! She's been an honorary Playfriend for a very long time and it's always a pleasure when she visits. Please give her a warm Playground welcome.

Ever heard of Medical Student Syndrome? It's another name for the hypochondriasis common among medical students studying diseases: they become convinced they're experiencing symptoms of the diseases. I have a similar experience, in a way, when I'm researching books. I usually end up identifying with the psychological or emotional experiences my characters have, to varying degrees, even if I haven't experienced those actual feelings in my own life.

I think it boils down to the fact that some emotions are universal, even if we haven't experienced them in the exact same way as our characters have.

For instance, when I was writing CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE (Harlequin Intrigue Feb. 2010), even though my mother is the best woman in the world and our relationship is rock solid, I was still able to experience my heroine's horror during flashbacks of her mother's mental breakdown that led to the murder of her children. I think it's probably the intensity of my love and respect for my mother that allowed me to delve deep into the emotions such a betrayal of nature might evoke. Imagining my own mother turning on me that way was intensely horrific and helped me understand, to some small extent, what a shattering and life-changing experience my heroine had faced as a child.

I don't have children of my own, but I do have nieces who live with me, and in writing ONE TOUGH MARINE (Harlequin Intrigue, August 2010), in which the heroine's son is threatened with kidnapping if she doesn't find the secret files her late husband was hiding, I drew on my feelings of love and protectiveness toward my girls to understand and convey the desperate lengths to which my heroine would go to keep her child safe. There are few things I would die for, but I'd die to protect those kids. I used that emotion in writing the book.

My latest book, MAJOR NANNY (Harlequin Intrigue, October 2011) features a heroine whose young son has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. I don't know anyone with Asperger's, but as I was researching the disease, I realized that both my brother and I showed strong symptoms of the syndrome, especially when we were children. I don't think we actually have it—we're able to read other people's social cues much better than an Aspie would, but we did share enough of the socialization problems as children that I was able to draw on my own experiences to write the character of Zachary.

I think research can take a writer only so far. At some point, she has to immerse herself in the characters and situations and find the truth through her own experiences. If you're a writer, how do you plumb those depths of emotions and experiences within yourself to bleed onto the page? And if you're a reader, do you find yourself identifying with characters more if their experiences resonate with your own experiences in some way? Or can it become too painful if you identify with them too much?

One commenter today will win either a signed copy of one of Paula's backlist or a $10 Amazon gift card, winner's choice! And don't miss Major Nanny, Paula's latest release, available now.


P.S. Vicki Batman is PM's winner from yesterday. Email her with your snail mail info to claim your prize.

26 comments:

Laurie G said...

Reading takes me away to escape my ordinary rather boring life.

Luckily, I haven't had to experience any real tragedies, illnesses or life threatening experiences.

I do empathize with characters that do suffer a loss but it has never been too much to handle.

Paula,
Best wishes for continued success with your writing!

runner10 said...

I enjoy books that I can relate to. Usually I can relate to the character or I know someone similar to the character.

Smarty Pants said...

Thanks for visiting today, Paula. I find that a lot of my characters are outsiders. In one way or another, they're all struggling to fit in. I may not have dealt with the same diagnosis, tragedy or dark past, but I can take my own life experiences and emotions to apply to it. I think almost every person has experienced every type of emotion in their life, so being able to harness that feeling and put it onto the page is an important skill for a writer. And if you do it right, it strikes the same emotional chords with the reader and their experiences.

I have to admit, though, that in my first book for Desire, I had to back away a little bit. The opening scene includes a plane crash. I have a *huge* fear of planes crashing and I deliberately ended the scene before things really got bad because I'd make myself sick writing it. :)

traveler said...

I enjoyed your profound post today. I do identify with characters in books especially so when they experience trials and tribulations that I have endured. It makes the story more realistic and meaningful.

petite said...

Characters whose lives are beset with problems and know how to conquer them always appeal to me. real life is always more interesting than a fairytale even though I enjoy escaping through the pages of a book. Wishing you much success.

Playground Monitor said...

I remember reading a women's fiction about a woman whose husband had died at a young age and died on New Year's. That's what happened to my father. I really loved that book. As for my own writing, my emotions have silenced the muse. It's hard to write about happily ever after when your own has run amok. But I have hopes she will return.

Thanks for joining us today!

Virginia said...

I can relate with characters in my books. I read to escape the real world and to travel in books. In a well writen book you feel as though your right there with the characters and I love that about book.

I love the intrigue line of books and your books also.

Instigator said...

In my younger years I was an actress for a local theater group. I even started college on a scholarship. And one of the things I learned was taking a memory or experience from the past and drawing on it for the emotion you were trying to convey. I think as writers we do the same thing. Fear, pain, guilt, happiness...we've all experienced them. Maybe not for the same reasons our characters have, but the response is probably pretty close.

And as a reader, watching a character experience and deal with a certain situation or emotion sometimes allows me to do the same in my own life.

Insti

Paula said...

Thank you, Laurie! I know what you mean about trying to get away from an ordinary, boring life. That's why I write! :)

Paula said...

runner10, I try to create characters who resonate with readers the way they resonate with me. I try to make them feel real and flawed and funny and crazy like people I know, too.

Paula said...

Andrea, my big fear is of heights, and I've had my characters do things like dangle from cliffs and climb to the top of lighthouses, so apparently I can separate the two. Barely. :)

Paula said...

Traveler, even though I write romantic suspense books, which can be bigger than life, I do try to keep my characters and situations realistic enough that people don't get pulled completely out of the book by the fantastic nature of what's going on.

Paula said...

Thank you, petite! I do give my poor characters things to overcome, but I think you find out who a person really is when he's faced with adversity. I enjoy writing about people who triumph over things that seem insurmountable.

Paula said...

Marilyn, I hope you'll rediscover your muse soon, too. Maybe you could write about something besides happily ever after and in the process, your writing could be therapeutic.

Paula said...

Thank you, Virginia! I know what you mean about the writer taking you on a journey. Over the past year or so, I've been reading the entire Dick Francis book collection, and he was really good at creating believable characters who did odd but interesting things. I recently read one that had a glassblower as the protagonist. It was fascinating.

Paula said...

Kira, I do think writing (and reading) can be cathartic. I take courage from my characters quite often, even though I'm the one throwing difficulties their way!

limecello said...

Hi Paula - thanks for a great post. I'm a reader and I have to say I do like identifying with the characters. Oftentimes it's not anything exact, but a sentiment or experience that I can sympathize with. In reading romances, also, it's always a bit better because you *know* everything will work out in the end with a happy ending.
Although I've never quite found a character "just like me" and don't expect to. The only thing that really takes me out of a story is when it's written in first person - because that's so difficult. You either have to identify with the character entirely, or not at all, otherwise it feels wrong. At least in my humble opinion.

catslady said...

When reading contemporary I can expect some experiences to relate but for the most part I like to escape into characters that are totally different and doing things I would never do. But that's actions mostly and I agree that you are bound to emotionally relate at least in some part!

Problem Child said...

I just wanted to say Hi because Paula is so awesome!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the book I do sometimes get emotional the themes an d good we can relate to them it gives u more perspectives on life

Kim h

chey said...

I find it easier to identify with the characters if I can understand what they are going through.

Paula said...

Limecello, I've never thought about the first person issue, in regards to relating to characters. Hmm.

Dick Francis's books are all in first person, and all with a male protagonist, but I don't have any problem relating to them. Of course, they're not romances, so maybe the emotional connection is more important in a romance than in other genres.

Paula said...

Catslady, I'm all about escape myself! I don't always identify with the specifics of the plotline, or even the romance, but there's usually something in the romance that resonates with me or I can't really enjoy it. I think we gravitate toward books that speak to us in some way, emotionally. And since we're all different, that's why we have different favorite books.

Paula said...

Hi back at ya, Kim!

Paula said...

Kim H, I often find that books surprise me in the ways I relate to them. Some things that I normally wouldn't find emotional speak to me in an unexpected way through a good book and I end up with a new perspective, too.

Paula said...

Chey, I agree, if you can relate, it's easier. I like writers who can take a completely outrageous scenario and find the universal emotional truth that allows a reader to relate to the story, even if it's an alien experience.