How Much of Yourself is in Your Characters?



My first book started as a journal of my experiences as a new EMT working on an ambulance. I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to do with those stories but I felt the need to save them. In a few years I went from EMT to Paramedic and the number of interesting experiences multiplied. I worked closely with a number of fire departments and worked in a firehouse for five years. During that time I became familiar with and close to many different firefighters, ER staff and co-workers who added color to the events. We celebrated our common successes and I was pained when one of them was sick or injured. The worst case, as you may expect, was when we would lose one, and that happened more than it should have. So, on it went through my career as it expanded to Paramedic Supervisor, Clinical Coordinator, ER tech and federal disaster worker. I’m not sure when it happened, but one day it occurred to me that these incidents and these people I cared so much about could be fictionalized in a novel. I realized I had an avid interest in letting readers know who these firefighter-paramedics really were and how the stresses of their work affected them. So, AJ Donovan was born along with his crew of colorful characters at Station 19 in Cedar Grove, California.

Sam Helo

Mitch, the Captain, is kind and patient even with guys like AJ who are trying at times. Mitch’s best friend, Barney, is the engineer. Barney is an old Southern boy who shares his experience and advice with younger firefighters. Kevin is a young Irish-born EMT-firefighter who is short in stature but large in passion. Then there is slovenly Craig, the epitome of laziness. His favorite game is pushing AJ’s buttons. Chris is AJ’s partner and best friend. Divorced and a father of two, Chris only wants peace and love in his life but keeping AJ out of trouble is a challenge. Then there’s AJ, a product of a Native American mother and a Scot/Irish father. His mother died suddenly when we was three then he was led to believe his father had abandoned him. He left the reservation at 18 to find his way to California where he became the best rescue technician the department had ever seen. He’s great at his job, but his personal life is a hot mess. All his relationships fail because he’s so emotionally unavailable. A third firefighter-paramedic joins the team. Quin is young, fit and naturally beautiful but her focus is to be accepted as a woman, a firefighter and a paramedic in a man’s world. Her crew is put on notice that her first rule is “no dating co-workers”. It doesn’t stop AJ or even Chris, from falling for her.


Quin quickly impresses all of them with her confidence, talent and empathetic nature, especially Chris and AJ. Strong friendships are formed. The more she gets to know AJ, the more she discovers his issues: low self-esteem, a case of closet claustrophobia, undiagnosed PTSD and anger issues to name a few. After her first few weeks of employment a life-threatening incident puts AJ in the hospital. Quin not only saves him from a near drowning but stays by his side during a subsequent bout of pneumonia. That opens a door to trust that changes both their lives. Subsequent books follow their careers as AJ goes to medical school to become an ER doc and Quin climbs the ladder in the fire department. Later, AJ is introduced to disaster medicine and their first disaster deployment was, well, a disaster.


So, where do I come in? As the story followed its natural course, I began to realize how much of their lives paralleled mine. That was intentional in terms of their career experiences, but not so much in their personal traits. Quin honestly cares about the guys she works with. She took intensive training in critical incident stress management after her own experience left her with PTSD. Enough said on that. AJ prefers to eat whole foods and doesn’t eat sweets. Quin wears men’s style boxer briefs at work and will stay up at night feeding chicken soup to a sick partner. Chris is the kind of guy who never quits loving even after the relationship is gone. The state of people in a disaster situation tears AJ’s heart out. He’s an empath. Captain Mitch believes the team is what’s most important and discipline should come with respect. Kevin is as loyal as they come and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for those he considers friends. AJ is his role model. Barney is the elder, the wise, and cares deeply about the young ones. Craig is an ass. I guess we all have that side of us. So, how many of these traits are mine? I’m not telling, but all of them to some degree. Oh, I’m Scottish with a bit of Irish and was raised by a Native American.

My writing is contemporary and based on real people. Would these parallels be the same for someone who writes paranormal? What do you have in common with a vampire or dragon? I’ll bet if you dig deep enough you’ll find yourself in there somewhere. Is this a natural habit for all writers? I’d love to hear your take on this. Think about it. You might surprise yourself.



12 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam, you are such an inspiration to everyone who knows you. I can’t imagine the stress emergency personal face on a daily basis. Most of us couldn’t handle it.
    My writing has changed since my grandson developed T1D. Life suddenly seems much more precious. I tend to add family issues to my stories now and the inherent strength it takes to face them.
    Really enjoyed this post, and love your books!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aw, thanks my friend. You really got the point. Firefighters and EMS folks are human and have the same issues everyone does but we also get caught up in other people’s worst day. I’m glad you’re using your books as a means of therapy. It really works when you put your issue in the hands of a fictional character and see what they do about it. It took me years before I could write about Ground Zero but once I did it was really helpful.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Jacquie Biggar- USA Today Best-selling author and commented:

    Emergency responder and fantastic friend, McKenna Sinclair shares her journey to #writing on The Sisterhood of Suspense #blog. Stop by for a visit, we’d love to hear from you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. An inspiring post! Thanks for sharing, McKenna 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Kathryn Jane says:

    Awesome post, McKenna! I’m sure there are bits of all of us in our writing. I find myself often writing about things I often “wished” had happened in my life, so the opposite of my reality. And of course my life experiences color all of it too 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Good point, Kat. I wish AJ was real, LOL.


  6. vicki says:

    I just love reading this, about your background and how it affects your writing. I think most writers bring some of them into their work. I know I do. I worked several odd jobs that have appeared in mine and have added Jeeps and handbags. Hugs!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Glad you liked it, Vicki. I love Jeeps. Handbags not so much, LOL. Sometimes experiences are hard to talk about but I knew you guys would get the point.


  8. Hey, McKenna. Slow to get here, but glad I did. What a great post. Thanks so much for what you and your fellow EMT/Disaster workers do. And thanks for letting us get a peek at that in your books, which I, too enjoy.
    One of my very good friends says she can see me in so many of my books. Not so much in the characters, but what they say and do. I use the term “chuckle” and some of my characters do too. I use places I’ve been and I’ve heard readers say, it’s fun for them when they’ve been the same place, too.
    Thanks again for what you do. I’ve shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marsha, I’m glad it’s not just me. Interesting getting a perspective on your writing from someone who knows you well. Glad you liked the stories!


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