Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and spent her first ten years living above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on the car radio. She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. Her novels include The Pastor’s Wife, The Mother Road, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, Last Family Standing, and the upcoming Vinnie’s Diner from Abingdon Press; Diamond in the Rough, Vanishing Act, and Curtain Call from Whitaker House and co-written with Lisa Karon Richardson; and the novella Comfort and Joy in the Christmas anthology, Mistletoe Memories from Barbour. Visit her website and blog.
Putting Yourself in the Story
How much of yourself do you put into your characters? I get asked that question a lot. My standard answer is that a little bit of myself kind of has to find its way into each character. After all, I created them. It’s like giving birth to a child. Even if that person is nothing like you in the way he acts or how he views life, there’s still something of you in him.
But there are times when you may find you want to intentionally put more of yourself into a character. At that point, it’s a fine line between letting your persona inform the character, and making it an autobiographical sketch.
When I was a young, single woman, I got pregnant. After a lot of soul searching (and a lot of crying and yelling and stress-eating) I decided to give my child up for adoption. That was a huge, life-defining moment for me, for my child, and for her new parents. Over the years, I’ve wanted to write something that could incorporate my feelings and experiences, and possibly help others who found themselves in a similar spot. Trouble was, I could never settle on just how to do it.
Then one day, a few years back, I was watching Chopped (a cooking competition on the Food Network). One of the contestants was talking about how she had been adopted but had never met her birth mother. Part of the reason she wanted to be on the show was that she hoped her birth mother would see her and be proud of her. As soon as I heard that, the light switched on and I was on track to writing Last Family Standing.
The character of Monica Stanton is more like me than any other I’ve written. The way she views her life is much how I look at things. Her clumsiness definitely resembles my own, because if I was ever in a survival competition, I would be my own worst enemy. But, I was very careful to avoid the specifics. While Monica’s thoughts and feelings resemble my own, her actions are very different. The hows and whys are not the same. For example, Monica meets her daughter, but I have never met mine. We are aware of each other, we even know pretty much where the other lives. But for now, our lives are separate. So while my own feelings informed the character of Monica, her daughter, Jessica, is purely of my own creation. But this works for me. After all, I do write fiction. It was never my intention to write an autobiography. But by using my own personal experiences as a touchstone, the story has become richer.
What about you? Have you used experiences from your own life to inform your fiction? Or is there something you want to blend into a novel? How might you do that?
LAST FAMILY STANDING
Twenty-five years ago, Monica gave up a baby girl for adoption. Now, the thing Monica didn’t dare hope for has happened: Jessica has reentered her life... and wants to meet her. There’s just one catch: the reunion must happen on a reality TV show. Though Monica has hesitations, she’s willing to swallow her pride—and a few other unsavory items—if that’s what it takes to connect with her daughter.
Between the unpleasant surprises of nature, the awkward tension with other cast mates, and her desperate attempts to do or be anything remotely athletic, Monica quickly learns that reality bites… hard. It all might make for good TV, but it isn’t very helpful in building relationships. As she stumbles through challenges and faces buried emotions and regrets, Monica wonders if she can be what her daughter wants and needs—and is that more than just a teammate? Can Monica and Jessica ever really be the Last Family Standing?