Without a doubt, writers put bits of their own lives and experiences into their stories. But sometimes it works the other way. I call this The NeverEnding Story Effect.
(I want to point out that my husband says I tend to embellish and slightly alter stories to make them more entertaining, which is totally true. But I swear this is exactly how it went down.)
I finished my first novel in winter of 2009, two years after deciding to write one. The reason it took so long is because I spent a year and a half reading agent blogs and outlining and researching instead of actually writing.
So when, in August of 2009, my husband and I arrived in Korea for a year of teaching ESL, I told myself that I was going to Do It. I finished teaching at 6pm every day, came home, and wrote for two solid hours without exception.
This novel – forever trunked, by the way – was a sci-fi that involved a pandemic. I called it the Red Virus and decided to make it sort of an accelerated version of tuberculosis. I knew very little about that particular disease, so I researched it and studied the symptoms. A few of my characters started to show those symptoms as the story progressed.
Sometime in November, I got a cold that I couldn’t shake. I wasn’t too worried – winter, foreign environment, teaching kindergarten…my immune system was up against a lot. Then the cold symptoms turned flu-like. I went to a clinic and got some meds that didn’t help much.
In the beginning of December, I realized I was closing in on the end of the first draft. I decided that my goal was to finish it by winter break, enjoy the time off of both teaching and writing, then get to revising so I could start querying in the spring.
Not long after that, I started coughing up…gunk. I won’t go into detail, but over the course of a week or so it went from yellow to orange to dark rusty red. I went back to the clinic a few times but nothing helped.
I kept writing, and yeah – I thought about it. That my symptoms matched the symptoms my characters were experiencing. But how psychotic would it make me sound to say that out loud? So I didn’t. I told myself I had the flu and I was maybe a little too into my own story.
I finished the first draft right before winter break. On Christmas Day, I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia and – you guessed it – tuberculosis.
I ended up on quarantine for a few weeks, and in bed until March. I took tuberculosis meds that made my pee look like Fanta for nine months, and I lost my job. And damned if I didn’t use that time to revise that book and start querying. It ultimately didn’t get me any offers, but it was an important step in my path to publication nonetheless.
Have you ever had a weird parallel between your story and your life?