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Archive for October, 2012

Real Life

Copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

Autumn is my favorite time of the year.  Not just because of the cooler weather (for which I am still waiting!!), but also because of the scarecrows and yellow mums and abundance of miniature Snickers in all the stores. I love Halloween, not because I especially love handing out candy to sticky little hands or because I dress up like a headless horseman (not anymore), but because of all the wonderful childhood memories it stirs up.

Which brings me to today’s topic. Real life. There is an old saying: “Write what you know.” If you are writing children’s books, you can expand that to “write about what happened to you as a child.”  Which brings me to Halloween. Even though I was the youngest of nine children, I never went trick-or-treating with them. I went with gaggles of neighborhood kids who traipsed door to door. It was a pretty small town (pop. 10,000) and we were always on foot (none of that parents hauling kids to rich neighborhoods in minivans), so we knew the people on whose doors we banged. We never feared anyone, except  maybe the teenagers who loved to sit on rooftops and toss water balloons at the kids.

When I turned thirteen, it was more or less understood that this would be the last year I would go trick-or-treating. We had recently moved into a new rental house and I only had one new friend to go with. We walked up and down the streets, not collecting much loot. We expanded our territory a few blocks and came to a large Victorian house that Norman Bates would be proud of. My friend, who was more gutsy that I was, bravely rang the buzzer. We gasped! To our horror the person who opened the door was our eighth grade language arts teacher, Miss Dorie. She was very strict, rarely cracked a smile and had the reputation of being cold and cruel (not that she ever was to me). We trembled as she opened the door wider. Then, behind her, we saw shelves and shelves of dolls. My brave friend asked to come inside and Miss Dorie welcomed us. We were amazed at all the dolls, which she had been collecting for many years. She turned out to be the sweetest person you ever wanted to meet. In fact, years later, after she retired, she opened a doll store, Dorie’s Dolls.

Now, at that same rental house, where my family only lived for one school year, the next door neighbor was a very old lady who kept a horse in her large fenced-in back yard. This was before the days of home owners associations. She also kept chickens and a chicken coop. That poor old horse — really probably a pony — had a crippled leg, but I loved him anyway.

Now this is where real life comes into the story. Mucho years have passed since these events, but one day they all merged into my head and I created a middle grade novel called The Halloween Horse. I combined Miss Dorie’s Victorian house and the other lady’s horse and set the story at Halloween time, threw in some ghosts and voila! real life becomes fiction. As I wrote, I became a child again and felt all the emotions of those Halloween days of yore. So, when you are writing, don’t be afraid to include events from your own childhood. Disguise them, use different names, different locations, but always use the emotions and wonder that you felt as a child.

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