I’ve just completed a final revision of my novel—though let’s face it, it ain’t over till the fat publishing contract sings. The twinned elation and depression of completion puts me in the mood to share something. If you read the novel, you’ll find this out sooner or later anyway: turns out this story I’ve been working on for nine years has taken on social topics so uncomfortable they make me squirm. Part of me thinks, “Yes! That’s where the good stuff is.” Another part of me thinks, “Damn, girl, you do go out on a limb, don’t you?” What can I say? This is the book I had in me.
I fear that writing a story which reveals something of the way I see the world, will prompt some to see it as activism, even though my aspiration is to create art. Not that I shy away from action, but I prefer to pick my battles, to lobby for action on climate change, to convince our leaders to do everything in their power to stop it in its tracks and reverse its course if possible.
Yet the novel I’ve written is not about climate. It’s about everything else, everything I’ve faced that many people don’t realize has anything to do with me because I don’t look the part. Because I’ve never looked or behaved like any one categorizable thing. By chance, I believe I’ve lived the leading edge of a trend that scares people, but which is the way of the future if only we avoid causing our own extinction: a mass assimilation of all races, ethnicities, and cultures, until the planet is a soft blend of colors and textures all running into one another, a marriage of the yin and yang of traits traditionally divided into feminine and masculine, and a spiritual life that embraces all humane expressions of love and divinity.
My historical novel is a story of the search for home and belonging. It’s about a girl caught at the center of a struggle she never wanted. All she ever wanted was home and family, but in a patriarchal age she finds herself fighting for freedom and self-actualization, if only to protect her limited feminine sphere.
This novel is also about a man who is all the bad things that can make us fear strangers and, if we live the examined life, can make us fear ourselves.
It’s a novel about the other, about immigrants, about refugees, war, social justice, family violence, sexual abuse, patriarchy and matriarchy, power and control, women’s repression and empowerment, racism and sexism, religion and atheism, friendship and romance and betrayal, heterosexuality and homosexuality and asexuality.
I did not do this on purpose. I only meant to tell a story of two immigrants from two different countries who come together in America. But as I finished the story, the socio-political climate of the real world made it clear why my novel was bound to splinter into so many pieces. When people from different worlds come together to create a new one, one thing is inevitable: collision. This can lead to synthesis or combustion, or both. Anybody who paid attention in high school chemistry understands this. When you combine different elements, both magic and mayhem can ensue.
Maybe if we accept that reality, we can begin to accept each other, even the ugly bits.
A few have suggested I change my novel’s antagonist, because they didn’t know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him. I’ve come to see that this is how bad guys tend to affect us in the real world. I’ve also come to accept that I don’t need to illuminate every last pustule of evil. My new motto as I made my recent round of cuts: “A little bit of my bad guy goes a long way.” Too bad we can’t edit flesh-and-blood bullies this way.
Fiction, it turns out, is not an escape, but an entering into the world at a more profound level. I don’t believe in writing with the idea of teaching a moral or making a point. Rather, I seek to reflect what I discover as I explore human nature. I hope these reflections have something to say to someone who cares to hear it.
It is the story that was in me, so how could I help but tell it? If you ever pick up my novel, The Candlelight Bridge, I hope something in it reminds you of a story of your own, maybe one that you have yet to tell…or to live. Then together we can sit out on our limbs, and perhaps imagine a whole tree strong enough to hold us all, come magic or mayhem.