Frankenstein wasn’t built with factory parts
There is a well-known ideology that every author’s first work is autobiographical. My feeling is that each subsequent work is also autobiographical in its own way. It’s certainly not intentional, at least it isn’t for me, but taking bits and pieces from my own experiences have created very rich character studies. (It’s curious to note that I didn’t realize this was happening until recently.)
While it’s hard to imagine Stephen King having all of those creepy experiences, I strongly believe that something shaped his visualization of the world. Now, when he writes (prolifically!) his characters see things through the lense of one of his memories.
I’d like to invite you into my brain to give you an example. Please leave your shoes by the front door as you enter; my housekeeping skills aren’t what they used to be.
You’ll be taking a guided tour of each room. Look, but don’t touch. In the first room, a woman with an impossibly tiny waist sings as she’s forced to scrub floors. The Something That Happened in Pepperville focuses on the life of Jenna Thompson, an orphan who scrubs the floors of a mansion.
I grew up with Disney cartoons as my model for the ideal woman. Suffering, through tight corsets and cruel relatives, was the path to a better life. The roots of this character emanated from key parts of my childhood.
There are delicious smells emanating from the next room that greet your nostrils before your eyes catch up. A rich mixture of Italian spices fills the air. A large woman with dark hair and a comforting smile invites you to sit at her glass table while she heaps a plate with pasta and sauce.
In “The Story of Keilah,” Keilah finds comfort in her elderly landlord. Through kitchen table talks and Dee’s vegan cooking, she learns to trust an adult for the first time in her life.
As a child, I often fantasized that my neighbor, Theresa, was my real mother. She was an incredible cook and never seemed to mind when I invited myself for dinner. Do you see how this character, who is a product of my imagination, filtered through my experiences?
For the last example, we’re moving to the mountains. This is a sobering story, but I’m not telling it for sympathy.
A young girl sits in the backseat of her family’s station wagon, in tears. There is a large dog barking ferociously at the window. We could say the young girl brought this on herself, because she pretended to be asleep when her parents went inside. She was shy and didn’t want to be around new people. She thought they understood.
The family gets out and leaves her in the car. As the hours drag on, and she’s trapped in the car, she is reminded of how little she matters.
When she is finally rescued before dark, she has lost the ability to trust. It wasn’t because of this one incident, but this was the one that pushed her over the edge. For the rest of her life, a desire for family connection and people who are trustworthy will haunt her.
I never written one story or scene about a girl trapped in a car, and because this memory still saddens me, I probably never will. Luckily, those genuine emotions color my view of the world.
When I reached book three of “Piney Falls Mysteries,” someone asked me in an interview what drew my characters together. I used the same old, “them against the world,” theme, but then I paused.
The common thread throughout not just those books but all that I’ve written is a sense of family. Each main character has found their family of choice. I didn’t plan it that way, but that is an important issue in the scenery of my mind, where all stories begin.
I’ve created people and places from the things that shaped me. I believe it is that way for every author, but I have no research to back up my ideas. My Frankenstein model is to take pieces from times and places in my life to make my novels. I’ve come to learn they are truly a gift. Without all of these memories that populate my brain, I’d have a bland point of reference for my characters.
Take a tour through your own experiences. How do they color your everyday life? How could you incorporate those ideas into a creative endeavor?
Joann Keder is an award-winning author of ten novels and seven short stories. You can find her work at: