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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Familiarity Breeds Authenticity

Even though I write paranormal fiction that contains elements far outside the realm of possibility, it is essential that I make the story believable.  I increase believability by grounding my stories in settings with which I am familiar.  This familiarity breeds authenticity.  

My novel, SOUL PURPOSE, centers around a girl who can intervene on behalf of hindered spirits and help them find resolution to the problems that keep them earth-bound.  I set the story in Houston and Galveston Island, Texas--two places with which I am familiar.  The Texas Gulf Coast was perfect because I needed ghosts for my story.  Part of the plot centers around The Great Storm of 1900.  8-10 thousand people died in that storm.  Plenty of ghosts!

The research was a blast.  I took my kids to Galveston Island and we explored.  After visiting a museum dedicated to The Storm, we found the perfect cemetery, hotel, and restaurant for my book.  Once again, familiarity breeds authenticity.  

My century-old story world came roaring to life (with a little too much authenticity, thank you) last September in the form of a hurricane named Ike.  Ike was similar in intensity to The Storm of 1900.  Fortunately, we now have radar, satellites, radio and television to warn us that entire communities may be swept away.  No such system existed in 1900 when my book takes place.  

The effect of Hurricane Ike was similar to The Storm of 1900, but the death rate was negligible thanks to modern technology.  I've been through several hurricanes in my lifetime, but this one made the others look, feel, sound and smell like babies in comparison.  I sat hunkered in my boarded-up house experiencing some of the same terror my characters endured.  I can't wait to finish my sequel.  Talk about Familiarity!  

Show and tell time!

It shocked me how similar the pictures of the devastation from The Great Storm of 1900 and Hurricane Ike are.  I got witness first-hand my story world from 108 years earlier.  Here are a couple of examples of then and now.  They are frighteningly parallel.  

Surveying the damage on wheels 2008 and 1900: 

Searching through the debris 2008 and 1900: 

Whether you set your book in your hometown or outer space, try to find an element that is familiar to both you and the reader.  Familiarity breeds authenticity. (You just knew I was going to say that again, didn't you?)  

Have a great weekend, everybody.


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.


Unknown said...

Mary, I didn't realize you were in the Houston-Galveston area! I live in Galveston. Ike's aftermath probably will inform my writing for a looooong time: The despair and crushing sadness followed by a "we can fix this" attitude have absolutely amazed me. The emotional responses I still have at odd moments are remarkably evocative "triggers."

Living through something like a major hurricane is terrifying, but those memories are a fertile field for a writer's imagination, aren't they? You did an excellent job in this post of illustraing how to draw on the present/real world to inform the past/imaginary world. :-)

Hope you and your family are doing well now!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Wow. We're neighbors. Email me through my website if you want to meet up for coffee sometime, Disorderly. I'm in Houston, but frequently drive down to Galveston.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

Does this go along the same lines as writing what you know? Or just writing what you're familiar with?

I certainly don't know everything I write about, but I do a lot of research, and then find something - at least one thing - in the scene that I do know and am familiar with that I can focus on to capture that feeling of "authenticity"

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Hey Lady Glamis. Absolutely it relates to writing what you know. Real-life experience and research both produce that authenticity readers seek. Sometimes it's not a place, but an experience. Isn't the internet amazing? Research is at our fingertips. We can see and hear things our grandparents only dreamed of. Research provides just as valid a level of authenticity--the only difference is that it is chosen familiarity, not forced. :)

It's great to see you. Thanks for the comment. What's your take on it?

Suzette Saxton said...

Photos of the aftermath always stun me; especially as I see the similarities to one hundred years ago. How fortunate to have so few human casualties this time around. Awesome article, Mary!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Wonderful post, Mary, and the pictures, as everyone else has said, really highlight your points.