"Are You Your Book's Main Character?"
By Joseph Rinaldo
The very first book I wrote was so bad, I don't even have it saved to a disk any more. I mean, it really was that bad. I'm not sure where the main idea came from, but it had me researching things all over the internet and the world. The character did things and went places I knew nothing about, experienced things I hadn't even read about, and the ending was so predictable ... Well, suffice it to say, I was not surprised it wasn't published traditionally, and I have never considered self-publishing it.
I've learned a lot since then. The adage "write what you know" is not one I'm fond of, but I have to admit that much of what I have published and much of what I am currently working on draws from my own life and experiences, and that is as it should be. How can you feel the feelings of your characters if you have no shared experiences? Geography isn't important, but relationships are.
In several of my novels, including the two I've so far self-published: A SPY AT HOME and HAZARDOUS CHOICES, there is a character with Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation that is caused by the presence of a third chromosome on the 21st "pair". Down syndrome is not an uncommon intellectual disability; it occurs in at least 1 in 800 live births - possibly more - across all maternal ages, ethnicities, and geographical locations.
My experience with this wonderful population began when I was a child; I have an uncle with Down syndrome; but I had very little contact with him and less information about him until I was nearly an adult. Then, fate played its hand, as it often does, with irony. I met a woman 16 years my senior and began dating her. She had an adult daughter with Down syndrome, and I was "back in the loop". I grew to know and love them both, and I married my then-girlfriend in 1999. As I learned more about my daughter and her life, I became more and more engaged in it by virtue of coaching her Special Olympics basketball team, chaperoning events she attended, and becoming involved in the local chapter of a Down Syndrome Association. I am truly this amazing young woman's father, in every sense of the word, and the only thing we don't have in common is history.
These experiences made writing about the two characters in my published novels easy - emotional, but easy - and I'm proud of the people they came to be in my books. The novels are not wholly about me; I'm neither (currently) a spy nor a gang member. I do, however, have a profound connection with the male lead characters in these stories. They each have a child with Down. That child is my child. It is also the child of everyone who has a son or daughter with this intellectual disability. Their lives may not be the same, their experiences may be different, but they all have one thing in common - they have Down syndrome, and they are loved.
So, I guess I did "write what I know".
BUY THE BOOK: Hazardous Choices
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BUY THE BOOK: A Spy At Home
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Prior Book Review on Jersey Girl Book Reviews: A Spy At Home