I’m often asked where and when my personal experiences influence my writing, and how they add authenticity and believability to my work. Since I write science fiction, obviously much of the material comes directly from my overactive imagination! However, there’s a good deal of survival fiction in my novels. Although I haven’t had to run for my life through the uninhabited wilderness, like my protagonist Caeli in the Horizon series, I did draw on my own experiences growing up in a rural area and my later experiences hiking and camping.
As kids, my friends and I would explore acres of forest, gather berries by the bucketful, and spend entire days outside, returning home only when the sun set. The smell of pine needles and dirt still conjure memories of childhood. When Caeli was hiding in the forest for a significant part of my first novel, Horizon, and then had to cautiously trek through that same wilderness to find the resistance movement’s hidden camp in the second book, Infinity, I knew this part of the story needed to be particularly authentic. I wanted readers to squint at the bright sun, feel the biting wind on their faces, smell the muddy river water, and hear boots crunch across the frosty fields.
Like Caeli, I’ve had to find water, make a fire, set up camp, and search for food. Unlike Caeli, I wasn’t fleeing from a ruthless army at the same time! As an adult, I’ve camped on the uninhabited islands off the coast of Maine all the way down to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’ve summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and I hike locally every week with a group of friends. Every one of these experiences informed and inspired my writing. There’s a particular scene in Horizon where Caeli is teaching Derek, the pilot she’s rescued, how to carve a spoon from a chunk of wood. I have a drawer full of hand carved spoons from my own adventures, and I actually imagined this scene for the book while I was sitting around a campfire whittling utensils.
Another aspect of the Horizon series that I felt needed to be well researched and accurate were the medical scenes. I chose to keep my characters human, with physical anatomies similar to ours, so when I made Caeli a healer, and had her dealing with emergencies on a regular basis, I drew from my own experiences as an EMT. And here’s a little secret: I’m a medical school dropout. Attending med school with young children proved, for me, an impossible task. I don’t regret my decision at all, but I’m particularly vigilant about describing authentic trauma scenes in my stories. And when I’m not sure about a treatment or procedure, I call my brother-in-law, who did finish medical school and is a practicing physician!
I have great latitude as a science fiction writer. The worlds I imagine aren’t real. But to bring readers along for the ride, and ask them to suspend their belief for the duration of the journey, the places I create must feel authentic. I’ve tried to infuse my writing with color and life drawn from my own real-world experiences to do this. You’ll have to let me know what you think!