Monday, May 9

Putting Yourself Into Your Writing

Thanks to Word Wranglers, and chapter-mate and all-around-good-friend Christi Barth, for having me here today! Authors often put what they know into their stories—places, overheard conversations, firsthand experiences, familiar character traits, beliefs and feelings, adding a degree of authenticity that makes their writing much more real. I insert myself into my writing like this in many ways. For example, I like to use my friends’ and family’s birth dates for my characters, and most of my books are set in places I’ve actually lived or visited. Tattoos are another way I’ve put something I know and have experienced into my writing. Though it wasn’t intentional, as I think about it, a main character in every book I’ve written so far is marked.

The character that epitomizes this in my writing is Caden Grayson, hero of my debut novella, Hearts in Darkness. Caden has a total of seven tattoos, and every one of them mean something to him. Makenna, the heroine, sees the first of Caden’s tattoos in the beginning scene of the story. A stranger’s hand is holding the elevator door open for her and bears the red and black ink of a dragon. Later, when Makenna asks why he got a dragon, Caden says, “The dragon’s my fear. I put it on my arm to remind myself I’ve tamed it.” The tat’s not random, not purely decorative; there’s a story that goes along with it. One by one, Makenna explores and asks about Caden’s tattoos. About the big yellow rose on his left pec, he explains, “My mom had a rose garden. Yellow was her favorite.” About his tattoos, Caden thinks, “He’d thought of them as a way to remember, he’d thought of them as a form of penance, and he’d not minded, after a certain point, that they might keep people away.” His ink has meaning; it serves a purpose.

So, how is this something I know? Well, I’m sure you’ve guessed it—I have tattoos. Not seven, like Caden! Just two (for now!). And they mean something to me, too. My first tattoo is on my right shoulder. I got the star with three roses in the center to commemorate three generations of women in my family, and to remember my mom, who died unexpectedly at the age of 59 when my oldest daughter was only 8 months old. The yellow rose is for my mom—just like Caden’s. She gave me yellow roses for every occasion I can remember from high school on. They were our special thing. The pink rose is my oldest daughter—my sweet, smart, bookish girly girl. And the purple rose is for my youngest daughter, who is rough and tumble and has already grabbed life by the horns and lives it at full volume. I’m the star LOL, though it doesn’t mean what you might think! The daughter of a single mom who had to work several jobs to make ends meet, I spent a lot of time alone growing up. Then, both my parents died by the time I was 33. So the star represents the sense of solitariness I sometimes feel. But I put those roses inside to remind myself I’m not alone, I’m part of something bigger. And those hearts inside the rose petals—they’re the love I’ve found with my husband that has centered my life for, well, pretty much my whole adult life.

I also have the word “Imagine” on my right wrist. [Public Service Announcement: owie! LOL] I had been thinking about this tattoo for at least a year before I had it done, and used celebrating my first book contract as the justification for finally doing it. And how better to commemorate my writing career than with the word “imagine”? Except, that’s not really what it means to me. A lot of difficult things happened in the five or so years before I got this tattoo. My mom, grandmother, and a close uncle all died. A close friend committed suicide. I had a miscarriage, and then a few years later I came down with a chronic illness that knocked me out of work for several months. Those years weren’t all bad, of course, but there was just a lot to weather, a lot to overcome. So, to me, “Imagine” was about holding tight to the hope that tomorrow would be better than today. And it seems to me that believing is half of achieving.

Caden has lots more stories to tell—but you’ll just have to read Hearts in Darkness to learn the rest! *grins* So, for those of you with tattoos—care to share the story behind? For you authors—what are some interesting or unique ways you put yourself into your stories?

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Word Wranglers!
Laura Kaye

Find Laura on the interwebz:
Twitter: @laurakayeauthor
Publisher Website:


  1. A huge thank you to Word Wranglers and Christi Barth for having me here today! :)

  2. Oh, let me also share this with you: The publisher of HEARTS IN DARKNESS just celebrated its 5th Anniversary and is offering a discount on all titles through May 31: 25% off with code 18b632d0b0!

  3. Hmm, I don't have tattoos and I don't write characters with tattoos. I think you're on to something there! I have written snippets of overheard conversations and familiar character traits in my novels, though. We definitely put ourselves into our writing.

  4. Hi, thanks for coming to WW today! I don't have any tattoos, and won't get one, but I can totally relate to the putting familiar things in my stories. I live in W Colorado, and I almost always set my stories there. It's just easier and comfortable.

  5. Very cool post. I just edited a short story that begins with a girl getting a very meaningful tattoo, and I've been thinking about them ever since. Love that all of Caden's pieces have a meaning. And yours---both of them---are just beautiful.

  6. Jennifer, D'Ann, and Nicki--Thanks for stopping by! D'Ann--familiarity with setting is so important to making it feel real and organic!

    Nicki--intrigued by that story you mentioned! ;)

  7. Hello to another Wild Rose Press auhtor. Interesting post! I don't have tattoos, either (too cheap and too chicken) but I've put them on a character here and there for a little extra oomph.

  8. I don't have tats, but my oldest daughter has one on the inside of each forearm. One is falling green stars that she got because of me, because I love wishes and stars. How could a mom not love that?

    Her other one is a dandelion wish with the words, this too shall pass. Which I tell her to meditate on when work gets rough..LOL

    thanks for visiting us today. great post :)

  9. Liz--"oomph"--I like that!

    Margie--what your daughter did was so sweet!

    Thanks for having me here!

  10. LK, I'm not tatted up, but I'm all about full body art. I'm saving my tattoo story for that Best Seller list and I will get there someday. lol. See, goal setting + reward=success. Bahaha, at least that's my current mantra. I leave a bit of my quirk in every story. I don't like kids, yet I have two. I don't like animals, yet I have 30. I'm a constant contradiction and I like that. I enjoy pushing the boundaries but fulfilling the promise. Okay, I've rambled enough. Great post and loved the pics. :)

  11. Great post, Laura. So sorry about your parents. That must have been very hard. Wonderful that you've found a way to memorialize your mom and honor your daughters. HEARTS IN DARKNESS is a great book. Love the explanations behind the tats.

  12. Great post! I don't have any tats, but my hubby has a couple. Very sexy. :)

  13. I don't have a tattoo, but if I did, it would be a butterfly!

    I try to put part of myself into my writing as well. Sometimes too much comes out. Sometimes not enough.

    Great post!

  14. Most of my characters are names of people who are either in my family or someone I know and the venues of my stories are all places I've lived. As far as tattoos go, I've been saying for years that I'm getting one on my forearm and just haven't been able to decide WHAT to get. Maybe the day my book comes out I should go out and celebrate by getting one! Nice post, Laura. You sound like a very strong woman with a great attitude.

  15. Great post, Laura, and I'm intrigued by your book! I think it's natural for writers to put elements of themselves into their work. Research can't always replace what we know in our guts.

    I'm sorry about your parents. I lost both of mine by the age of 26, and it's tough. Even if you have a great spouse, they don't give the same kinds of hugs as moms or dads!

    I'm going to The Wild Rose Press conference in Asheville this weekend. It's my first one, and I'm looking forward to it!

  16. Don't have any tats. Too chicken. My son wants one for his 18th birthday. In my writing,I only use settings that I have been to before, whether it's a city or a building. My characters are usually complete opposites of me. Except for the sarcasm. I tend to be a smart aleck(sp).

  17. @Rachel--I'm going to remember that when you hit the Best Seller List! :)

    @Joya--Thanks for stopping by, lady!

    @Rebecca--Enjoy those tats! ;)

    @Aubrie--love your avi! Butterflies make pretty tattoos!

    @Patricia--Picking is half the fun! Keep us posted! :)

    @Sherri--See, you get it. It's weird to talk about feeling that way when you're an adult, but the loss of both parents really does spin you off into your own atomized world (at least it feels that way some times!). Jealous you're going to the TWRP retreat--wish I could but it's my oldest daughter's birthday party. Enjoy lots and lots!

    @Shawn--LOL Love your post!

    Thanks for stopping by everybody!

  18. Wow, I'm the only one with a tattoo. I lost my right hand in a car acciedent 8 years ago. About 5 years ago I wanted to get a tattoo but couldn't decide on what to get. I read an article on Dolly Parton. It said she had a bow tattooed on a scar from having her appendix out. I copied her and have a bow where my hand was. It's tied up just in case the doctors missed anything and it looks good.

    I figured I couldn't hide the fact that my hand was gone so I was going to do something nice to it. It looks great!!! I'm so glad I did it. Everyone who sees it smiles and tells me it was a good idea too.

  19. Love the tats Laura. Beautiful in looks and meaning. I don't have a tattoo, though all 3 of my dds do. In writing I tend to put animals I love in the stories. Horses most, but dogs, too. There's a yellow rose in some and carnations in others. Mostly, I think I put a little piece of my own heart into each word written.

    I need to read Caden!

  20. I love how your tatoos are not only decorative but have special meaning to you.

  21. Katie--I am totally in love with your story, what a way of making a difficult moment truly brave and beautiful. I'm speechless!

  22. Calisa and Leigh--Thanks for stopping by!

    @Calisa--I like how you put those certain special things into your writing. And, yes, everyone needs to read some Caden! ;)