To celebrate this event, Author Stevie Mikayne has dropped by to share the following guest post with you:
Yes, writers steal ideas from television.
During pregnancy and the first month of my newborn’s life, I watched more television than I had since childhood. Never mind how long ago that was… suffice it to say that years have passed since I flaked out for this many hours in front of the tube.
Why? Hyperemesis that lasted from five weeks into pregnancy until four weeks postpartum. Yes, honestly.
What did I watch? Cooking shows, ironically. And mysteries. Particularly a series called Castle, in which a bestselling mystery writer follows around an NYPD detective and helps her solve murders. I like this show because it’s distracting. What strikes me in particular about the writer (Castle) is that he flagrantly steals the lives of his co-workers to create characters for his books… and then writes sex scenes about said characters, making no attempt to deny that they are, in fact, based on real people.
Real writers don’t do this. We oscillate. We obfuscate. We equivocate when asked “how much of this is fiction?” When Jellicle Girl was released, everyone wanted to know – how much of that is real? I did not answer that question. Not even when my publicist asked me. Why? Because people like to guess, and it’s no fair to ruin their fun by telling them. Yes, of course that’s the real reason.
One consistent element that readers appreciate about Jellicle Girl is the strong characterisation: the characters just feel so real, they tell me. Why would I undermine their admiration of my “writing skills” by admitting that of course they’re based on real people?
Not all of them, just some.
E has no real life counterpart. Beth’s imaginary friend (or symptom of her borderline break with reality, whichever way you choose to interpret it) was born out of my obsession with Star Trek Voyager. I imagined Beth’s future self beaming in from the future to impart wisdom to my struggling teenage protagonist, much like Captain Janeway in the last episode of STV (I did mention that I’d been watching an awful lot of TV lately…?). I later decided that a futuristic Beth was a bit too strange a pill for my readers to swallow, so modified the idea to something more palatable. But if Jellicle Girl was ever made into a movie, I’d still insist E be played by Kate Mulgrew.
Some of the story line is based on personal experience. I too had a difficult time as a teenager. Like Beth, I left home at age sixteen; unlike Beth, I never dwelled alone in my father’s bachelor pad while he toured the world shooting pictures. Instead, I travelled between my grandparents’ home, and my best friend’s downtown condo, where her mother kept me in line as much as possible.
My best friend’s mother became my real-life inspiration for Dr. Nancy Sullivan. A lawyer in the 1960s, when such a profession was practically unheard of for an Australian woman, she faced her life with an ironic wit that few could understand and almost nobody could match. I could have probably just based the character on her personality alone and kept her identity a secret—but for me, one of the most important characteristics of the real-life woman was the battle she faced every day, debilitated by a rare and crippling form of Multiple Sclerosis.
She guided me back from more than one dangerous path with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a sharp comment. This was important as, by that time, she had become a spastic quadriplegic and couldn’t so much as pick up a glass without help. Watching her decline and eventually succumb to MS left a lifelong and devastating impression on me.
Apparently she made quite an impression as a literary personality as well, because Dr. Sullivan ranks top among readers’ favourite Jellicle Girl characters. I miss her all the time, but I’m proud to see her somewhat immortalized in a gorgeous hardcover.
Want to know what else has a real-life connection? Like “is there really a coffee kiosk underground?” Ask me in the comments section – I might just break my own rules and answer you. Give me a few hours to get to it though—I’m probably watching Castle!