“Is Colors autobiographical?”

A few writer friends have wondered whether Colors is autobiographical—with good reason. They know me well enough to see some similarities between Autumn and I, but they don’t know enough details to see I’m more like Jory in some ways. And they have yet to see my Natalie-like bossy side.

Colors - A Novel by Leah McClellan

So the answer is both yes and no. “Yes, in a way it’s autobiographical” and “No, it’s not autobiographical at all. It’s pure fiction.”

But fiction has to come from somewhere, after all. Any story comes from a writer’s life experience and observations (and much more) filtered through beliefs, values, and even research. So, in a sense, any work of fiction is (sort of) autobiographical. And that’s why I can say “Yes, Colors is autobiographical. In a small way.”

But if you mean “autobiographical” in the usual way it’s used—true to life—then no, it’s not autobiographical at all.

Yes, my refrigerator is a mess like Autumn’s. No, I’m not much for cooking. Yes, I’m a vegetarian familiar with food trends (call me a foodie if you like), and yes, I wish I had a personal chef sometimes, especially one like Jory. Heh. So when it comes to Jory, maybe you could say Colors is something like a fantasy. Dream on, girl!

And I was, in fact, married, and (in my case) it ended in divorce. Is Mike like my ex-husband? In some small ways, yes. Like Mike, my ex wasn’t big on communication (so common), and he’s a tech-head. And since I’m pretty familiar with common issues in marriages, I took typical problems to extremes in the novel. But he’d never do the kinds of things Mike does. 

So I took my various life experiences or knowledge and stretched, twisted, tweaked, and exaggerated. But it wasn’t a conscious decision; it’s just how the writing process goes and what I can see in retrospect. And then my characters took over. Most of the time, they were writing the story, not me.

And there’s quite a bit in Colors that I’m still discovering or realizing.

Autumn, for example, is something like my childhood best friend (her mother had a little Mercedes, but so does my neighbor, and his is white like Autumn’s). She’s also something like my older sister who’s a craft or commercial artist, but for the painting side of things, I drew from my brother-in-law; he’s a painter, and Autumn’s little table is what I remember of a tall sort of lectern he had. And I’m not a painter at all; I’m lucky I can sketch a bit. I’ve sat for artists, though, so I’ve watched them in action. And I know something about art from university classes, museum visits, art walks in Philadelphia, and just personal interest. And somehow Autumn emerged from all that stuff in my head.

I could list many more examples, but I think you can see how Colors is autobiographical in a sense, yet it’s not. Jory? Well, let’s just say we majored in the same subject. He’s winking at me right now and rolling his eyes. In my mind he says, “Finish the sequel! I have so much to say. So much happened; you have no idea.” And so I wink back and nod. On it, dude

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