Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weaving Our Real Life Experiences into Our Stories

by Rick Gangraw, @RickGangraw
When my kids were little, I used to write stories with each of them as a main character and they enjoyed hearing about their own custom-made adventures. As the kids grew older, the stories got more complex and now that they are all adults, what used to be little short stories are now novels. The kids liked to hear scary and suspenseful stories for some reason, so my chosen genre appears to be Mystery and Suspense. 
I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery and when I was younger, I read all kinds of books, from The Hardy Boys to Sherlock Holmes to Edgar Allen Poe to Agatha Christie. A few years ago, I decided to write a mystery and since I enjoy the beauty of Upper Michigan’s scenery so much, that area became my setting. Winter up there is so different from Florida so I selected that time of year, and coming up with the types of murders I would write about was easy – the UP has ice-covered lakes in the winter and putting someone into the lake so people could see their frozen faces looking up through the ice intrigued me (not that I would ever consider doing that myself, but it seemed like a good way to have a character do it).
I based some of my characters on people I know, specifically Paul and Lisa (me and my wife) and expanded on some of our adventures together. My wife loves chocolate, so I had to put something in about that. I’m the opposite of a handyman and I have a difficult time following my wife’s train of thought sometimes, so I wanted to include a little about those items as well. The wildlife in the UP is awesome, so I added some scenes in with wolves and a story about a beaver (both of which are true), and one about a moose (which I wish was true, but hasn’t really happened to us yet).
Prejudice is an unacceptable evil, so I included some examples of it and character reactions to prejudice. I decided to make a couple of the characters experience something different when this evil was present in certain situations, making them go through some scary moments. Although these scenes are nothing like feeling real prejudice, it’s just a tiny hint of how terrible it really is to anyone who has experienced it.
Native American culture fascinates me, so I created a character who is Ojibwa and he became one of my favorite characters in the story. He shares his wisdom with those around him and his gentleness comes out, even though he’s a very likely suspect who might be taking his revenge against those prejudiced people who have wronged him all his life. Years ago, one of my wife’s cousins had a wolf for a pet in Minnesota and my kids were fascinated with her. So in my story, the Ojibwa character raises a wolf that also becomes part of the story.
Initially, I ended the novel differently, but decided to change it before it was published to the way the book ends now. I added the epilogue, so compare it with and without the epilogue to see which ending you prefer. I hope you like the way it turned out.
Rick Gangraw lives with his wife and children on the East coast of Florida, and wishes he could spend more time at his family's cabin on a lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He has traveled to over twenty-six different countries and has visited almost all fifty states in the US. When he's not dabbling in fiction, he enjoys sports, hiking, kayaking, camping, and researching his family history.

"Secrets in the Ice" won a 2011 Royal Palm Literary Award for Unpublished Mystery and was recently published by White Feather Press in paperback and Kindle (October 12, 2012, ISBN 978-1618080431). Rick’s website and author pages are below:
Twitter (@RickGangraw)