Mid 20th century writing guru Mina Shaughnessy taught a maxim: “Write through to the truth.” Her words not only echo in my head as a published author but also haunt me when I have a serious issue to resolve. Along with her wise advice, I have fixated on another principle both in teaching and now in writing: “Lead the Reader.”
Whoever decides to read your work only gets a glimmer of its content from the headline. So hang in there with me. I want to lead you through my journey, from creating a story to building a concept.
For over 3 years I have been revising IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, the rudiments of which I started long ago. It has been a tough assignment but a satisfying process as described below.
In the 1960s, I bought a unique sunburst brooch at an Pujabi handcraft shop near where I worked in Manhattan. The piece looked ancient and filled with mystery. I gave it to my mom for Christmas but never forgot about it. When she died, I took it back as a memento. Decades later, I decided to build a story around it.
As my family’s 1999 Christmas gift, I invented an evening mystery with a group of characters to be played by my relatives in Texas. With this ploy, I hoped to work out problems in the plot line. After I handed out character biographies and background materials on the Sovereign’s Sunburst, we gathered again in the spring of 2000.
Everyone came costumed to the hilt! Yet, when I passed out a list of questions to ask other characters and actions to take when finding out details on what I tagged as an ancient artifact, a complete traffic jam occurred. The characters crisscrossed the room asking other characters about any secrets possessed about the curious item, secrets that might provide information to fit this evening’s puzzle.
Painfully they tried to figure out what I meant for them to do. However, their perplexity and confusion actually helped me to see the flaws and possibilities in my construct.
Setting that idea aside, in 2007, I began my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple and managed the list of adventures to include the Sovereign’s Sunburst plot line as a later offering. Because my books progress in complexity, both in story content and vocabulary used, this one I knew needed to be way down the line as readers matured into the series.
Transferring the story from a casual Texas evening to a formal weekend auction at a castle in Germany proved my first best step. That also gave me the idea to place German words and phrases into the story causing the reader to feel like an ESL student immersed in a new location. As a non-German speaker, I would not focus on grammar or syntax but would simply give the young reader a chance to see peculiarly spelled words sprinkled into the text. Those two decisions set the Imasode’s skeleton:
As a little child with German heritage and vague memories of family reunions, I recall some relatives who stood off, talking in German. When grown, I suspected they had discussed disturbing war issues. Setting my story in Germany caused me to reach so deeply into my uneasy feelings about WWII, I had to face my own weariness about the Nazi era. I became more aware of how WWI led Germany to an unsteady government ripe for a tyrant like Hitler to play savior. I reviewed more of his plans to annihilate Romany (gypsies) along with Jews. Although Hitler had positive ideas like the VW (Kdf car), city-planning, autobahns, and affordable radios, I could not dismiss the human deception of Aryan lies he fed to the Hitler Youth and common folks.
Since a Punjabi prince (introduced in IMASODE V) and his royal family would figure in as guests in the story’s device of a weekend auction, I researched possible Indian roots to the Sovereign’s Sunburst artifact and found a kaleidoscope of eras invading the story.
Since The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is in the educational fiction genre, I thought this expansive storehouse of miscellaneous history could fit serious young fiction readers at this point of series because my two test readers (both home-schooled) had no problem with the difficult topics nor venue changes. In fact the boy test reader thought this book my best yet. I figured the wealth of incidental information in this particular Imasode could fill in gaps that public school revisionists have left out of student history books.
Therefore, set deep into the Palatine Forest full of castles and fairytales, this story lets the reader join the auction attendees as they bathe in research and suppositions on many topics besides German history:
• Mongols and Sultans invading India
• Punjabi Jattis becoming nomads (miscalled gypsies)
• Rome’ and the Middle East cross pollinating cultures
• Innocent III beautifying Rome
• Medieval feudalism lasting centuries
• Crusade soldiers (and serfs) serving as vassals to their lords
• Serfs becoming guilders who built towns
• Guilders forming a new middle class
• Christians following their noble’s beliefs began reform
• Protestant Reformation bringing a split from the Catholic Church
• East India Tea company giving rise to the English Raj
• Queen Victoria reigning in peace as Empress of India
• England giving India its Independence in 1947
• Dividing up Punjabi land & Hindus from Muslims formed Pakistan
You might wonder, how all of these issues can possibly relate to one story? Because writers depend on the imprint of their muse, I found fascinating the juxtaposition of such rich details and wanted to see for myself how my research could merge into a single story. Fiction allows such expanse.
For example, Just as we might be amidst a hurricane, an election, a holiday season, a riot, a war, or a job loss, we might make strong comments on such events or let them flow in and out of our conversations with varying levels of interest. But mostly, we would keep moving on in our lives as life in general whirled around us.
Look for IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, sometime mid-2017.