By Ashley Kath-Bilsky
There is no denying that I love history and the concept of time travel, or that both have played an important role in my desire to write historical fiction. Whether or not there is time travel in each of my novels, the period in which the story is set always provides me with that imaginary time travel experience, and I hope that the reader feels the same way.
Like many others, I reflect and count my blessings. I ponder the lessons I have learned, the stumbles I have made, and the dreams I still want to achieve. And, invariably, like a rising mist from a distant memory, I also think about loved ones, neighbors, teachers, and so many other people (most of whom died a long time ago), yet who continue to impact my life.
There was my pediatrician, Dr. Edwin Toddy, who cared for me since my birth and would come to our home with his black doctor’s bag whenever I was sick…which was often. I remember his concerned expression as he listened to my breathing, and the curious thump, thump, thump sound as he tapped my back to check for congestion. For every illness, big or small, this dear man treated me, and I’m sure all his patients, as if they were members of his family.
There was Mr. Sturgess, the retired policeman turned crossing guard who, whenever he saw me bundled up in a snowsuit and hardly able to walk, would smile, lift me up and carry me across the snowy streets safely to the schoolyard. He knew all the children by name, and he loved my mom’s fruitcake every Christmas. I see his smile now, as well as his somber expression when he told me I could not walk home on the opposite side of the street with a school friend because he knew I would eventually have to cross the street without his supervision to reach my home.
There was the school custodian whose kind face I remember, but whose name I cannot recall. Each Halloween he would open the school up and have apple cider and plain cake donuts for all the children out trick or treating.
You might be asking yourself why I’m talking about these people now. Well, it’s because as a writer I recognize we are each products of our life experiences – good and bad. As a writer, I recognize the influence that people and events had not only on my growth as a person and my perception of the world, but in my approach to writing. Even the painful experiences, the mean girls who bullied you or pulled your hair as a child, the heartaches you suffered, the times you may have felt alone or as if you’ve been knocked down by life one time too many to ever stand upright again – all of these moments can not only help make you a stronger and more empathetic human being, but help a writer in their work, and in relating that work to a reader.
Years ago, as a student I first attempted to write a work of fiction. I doubted my ability or even what to write about. My professor said, “Write what you know.”
It is surprising how often life experiences inspire a writer. It may be a subtle nuance, help create a specific character, or even influence the plotline of the book.
Whether or not you write fiction or non-fiction, as a writer you want to connect with the reader on an emotional level. In romance novels, it is especially important that the characters resonate with a reader emotionally. The humanity of a novel’s characters, their flaws, strengths, fears and dreams, their struggles and hope for love, and the challenges or obstacles they face, will all combine to touch the heart of a reader, as well as entertain them.
Each of us has walked through many doors in our lives, doors that brought us home, into the local library, or the many classrooms where teachers worked diligently to teach us how to read, write, and learn about history, science, and the world around us. Doors of churches, synagogues, museums, concert halls. Doors that brought us to the bedside of a loved one in a hospital, or the room where our child was born.
We may not be able to actually go back in time and revisit moments and people from our lives, but the secret door I talked about above is inside each of us, in our hearts and memories. All you have to do is picture the moment in your mind, turn the key, open the door…and remember.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, and I hope each of us draws strength and comfort from the moments in our past that perhaps tested us, and the people who helped to guide our footsteps, our understanding, and ultimately contributed to the person we are today. May each of us continue to grow as caring human beings, to believe in love and happy endings, and appreciate the blessings in our lives today. In ways we may not even realize, we are all connected and we have the potential to help others find comfort and even hope from our actions each and every day.
Happy Thanksgiving. ~ AKB