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Friday, May 1, 2009

History as Mystery

As I stare down the imposing novel I am attempting to write, Conundrum, I wield my vorpal sword in hand. Snicker-snack it goes, one two!...oh wait, that's used to fight the Jabberwock, my son... Jabberwocky and many other poems are finding their home in my new novel, an unravelling mystery based upon the bizarre tailings of my father's death in 1961. Usually I have no problem plowing through my index cards of scenes, progressing steadily to the finish. But this work is an unruly child, full of deceit and intent on pain.

So, I'm taking it slowly. My past response to trauma and conflict in my family has always been stupor. After a big fight, all I could do was curl up in a small dark space and sleep. My mind would go numb and I found it difficult to think of anything at all. So, I encounter this strange haze I must fight to write this book. Not only is it huge in scope, theme, and plot, but my heart goal is to explore betrayal, of which I am the foremost expert (I say with undaunted confidence), and somehow make this story resound in grace and redemption.

I think I've grown beyond anger and the desire to retaliate. I think I've been blessed with a forgiving spirit, in answer to my prayers. I didn't choose to write this book--God woke me up at 3 a.m. a month ago (after praying for days about what to write next. I really wanted to get back to talking pigs and hoptoads, but God knows the plans he has for me.) When I woke, I saw clearly my first chapter--everything in it--the themes, the subthemes, the setting, the protagonist (me, mostly), and the title of the book.

Conundrums are brain teasers, puzzles. My brothers and I spent years quizzing and challenging each other to solve these strange scenarios that made no sense. Clearly, I couldn't have picked a more apropos title (thank you, Father!) for the insoluble mystery surrounding my father's death. For how can someone just decide one day to die, and give himself leukemia? But that is one of the stories I was told after my father died at age 33, leaving my mother to raise three small children. I was later told he--a mathematician at Lockheed--had for some reason volunteered for a dangerous experiment. Supposedly others in his department had volunteered and they all died shortly thereafter of leukemia.

It wasn't until this year that I started questioning and researching. Which led me to reconnect with my uncle--my father's only blood brother--to learn more. He never heard of such an experiment, and was close to my father. He sent me an enigmatic letter my dad had written before he died, revealing that the fairy tale marriage between my parents was a sham and a cause of great pain for him. Of course, Lockheed and the government tell me no such experiments took place. But as I prepare to fly out to NY this month to see my uncle and cousin and learn all I can about my father (of whom I know almost nothing), I've turned this personal history into a mystery that will find no clear solution, because real life is like that. Everyone in this book either lies or has been lied to. And although my protagonist wants to save her suicidal brother with truth from their past, she finds she can only save herself, and by the skin of her teeth.

So, this inner and outer journey blurs the line of truth for me as I weave fact into fiction. On this side of Paradise, I doubt I will ever know the truth. I hope someday I will be reunited with the father I never knew--and then I will hear his story. For now, my hope is that I will produce a book that will help others who have been betrayed by their family, reveal something about bipolar depression, and pray that something redemptive will rise from the ashes of my own pain.

Sometimes I wonder why God moves us to write certain stories. I've talked with others who have found healing and peace through the exploration of putting their story into words. My books have always taught me many important things, and often serve a s a mirror to my viewpoint and imperfections. When writing The Map Across Time, I was startled when I realized Adin and Aletha, twins, together made up my whole personality, but apart reflected the disjointedness I often suffered. The eyes of my heart are often enlightened. My prayer is for all writers to experience such growth and insight as they tell their stories.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like you have a rough journey ahead of you but that God will be faithful.