Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Truth and Fiction Collide

When I was researching how life on a ragtag ranch in the 1860s would be for my characters, I had no idea that the worst recession in the last few decades was about to strike. I went about my merry way (work from home mom with pocket money!) while pondering the hard life my character, Cassie, was about to embrace. How would it feel to live without running water, no store within four miles, no way to get a loan, and no other option for survival but to rely on the charitable assistance of a stranger? A handsome stranger, of course (this is a romance, after all!), but still, a stranger.

As writers, we get lost in the worlds we create and rarely do the two collide. Now, three years later, my own family, many friends and colleagues, and the whole country are locked in an endless battle with impossible-to-pay debts, plunging home values, and local mom-and-pop businesses closing up. Repossessions, lost assets, and depleted savings accounts are commonplace. Each episode of nightly news features another high percentage of job losses, sinking stock market rates, and foreclosures. There's no end in sight.

Like our western forebears before us, strong women all, I and others will pull through somehow. True, we don't have crops to worry about, raiding native war parties, or cattle rustlers on the horizon to show us wherein lies our strength. We can borrow from the ingenuity and gumption of our heroines and apply it to our own lives. Instead of buying a new dress that will only be worn for one special occasion, we can be like our fictional Old West sisters and make do with a dress that lay hidden in a trunk. Instead of wishing for fancy vittles, we open another box of pasta and make sauce from scratch. No expensive vacations are needed - on the prairie, a fictional miss would be happy to spend an evening watching for shooting stars, her head nestled on the shoulder of a strong cowboy (or sheriff, or rancher, or, even, a scarred outlaw with a misunderstood heart of gold!).

My novel and my own life got me thinking along the lines of, "if SHE can do it, so can I!" In my story, Cassie patched up her own house, planted her own garden, and learned to ride a horse. As hard as her life is in the first few chapters, she never whines or complains - even when it's beans and...well, beans - for the first few weeks. She even has to tote her own water from the river (which leads to a brush with a scandalously intimate encounter!) but doesn't kvetch. She's grateful when our hero offers her a place to stay, clothes on her back, and food in her stomach. Even though she's known a better life, she's making it on her own. Despite all the fictional odds I've thrown at her, she comes through stronger and better than I probably would in that situation.

Many people have said the recession has brought out the best in us. Potluck lunches at work instead of ordering out. Discussions of recycling at home (I have taken to washing out empty jelly jars and saving scrap paper for the kids). Offering a place to stay to a friend who's losing her home. And through all of this, the one thing I keep hearing myself say is, "it could be worse." When jobs and money disappear, we can only look at the irreplaceable in our lives. Good health and happy children. Aging, but still independent, parents. An enduring marriage in an uncertain world.

Cassie saves her husband's life (and her ranch!) with her inner strength and sheer determination of will. She never lets the environment or the bad guy get the best of her. True, three years ago I never dreamed I would be facing my own battles with an all too harsh reality. But Cassie did - and if a fictional heroine can do it, so can I. After all, I wrote the book on it.


Paty Jager said...

So true, Anna. If we all went back to living like they did 100 years ago things would be easier monetary wise.

Fun post!

Tanya Hanson said...

This is a wonderful post, Anna, with good and timely sentiment. I do think the women of the past were tons stronger than I am. I am in truth a big spoiled baby LOL.

Best wishes...