INSPIRATION FOR A NOVEL SHAPED BY LIFE
I have always been a storyteller - I wrote my first novella at age 5 on my father's dress shirt cardboards, illustrated with crayon and bound with yarn, a love story called "And So They Kissed." Growing up, I was on the older edge of my flood of first cousins and I was their storyteller; elaborate ongoing sagas about rats that snarl the hair of children while they sleep and a lonely boy with an inventor father and migraine-afflicted socialite mother.
But my first novel, CHOSEN was influenced and shaped by a trail of experiences and opportunities. It wasn't as though I chose the adventures so I could write about them, but the stories shaped my life, and subsequently, a novel.
In 1995 I was a senior at Cornell University when I connected with a professor who wanted an aide worker to go into a Romanian orphanage and hospital where her own adoption stalled. I volunteered, flying to Bucharest alone, not knowing the language or the social complexities that had created a country where most orphans were not without parents, just abandoned to a state-run foster care. I only knew I loved babies and travel, adventure. It was overwhelming, (I was given fifty infants my first day) and heartbreaking, nearly impossible for me to leave Bucharest to finish my degree at last I did.
After college, I couldn't stop thinking about adoption, abut the circumstances surrounding new life that will shape it forever. At the end of several years abroad, I applied for a position at an international adoption agency and ended up as the director of their US program, the sole caseworker juggling birthmothers and waiting families. I fell in love with both the city of Portland and the heady allure of a job so full of promise.
Like Chloe Pinter, I went into it with the intention of creating happy endings. Similar to when I stepped off the plane in Romania, I quickly scrambled to learn a new language and subculture; the business side of adoption. But as the months passed, I got too attached. I cried and raged at some adoptions that fell apart, and just as painfully for some that went through. I left not because I no longer believed in adoption, but because the potential for joy and heartache walking the razor's edge was no longer something I was able to agent. I realized my skin had become too thin.
Faced with our own pregnancy and an unexpected diagnosis at our first son's birth, I pondered some of the deeper issues that formed the backbone of this novel. How does parenthood change you? How will the challenges you face shape you as a couple? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? What makes a good parent? A good person?
All of these courageous people whose lives had touched mine so intimately rattled around with me as I adjusted to that first year of new parenthood. Driving home from a pre-dawn airport run, exhausted from getting up to hang bottles for my newborn's feeding tube, I stopped to get gas at a filling station not far from the very place where a child was abducted twenty years earlier. Knowing this, I still fantasized about not lugging the car seat and its precious cargo out with me just to run in for a diet coke ... But what if I didn't?
The idea for this novel was born out of that single scene. A mother so exhausted her judgment lapses; a grief-stricken, empty-armed man who takes advantage of this. The story is fiction - characters and settings and scenarios are as though I took a handful of experiences, marinated them in a childhood paranoia of abduction, seasoned them with the salt of my vivid imagination, put the whole thing in a bag and shook it up - but the themes are real. I wanted to write a story set against the backdrop of Portland's rainy winter and the domestic adoption scene that captured the moment my characters struggled to answer the question: What happens when you get what you thought you wanted? I didn't want for there to be clear heroes or villains, just shades of grey, real people trying to recover from their human stumbles with grace.
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What a guest post! Thank you Chandra for sharing this story with us!ReplyDelete