Author and blogger Cristian Mihai wrote in a recent blog, “I’m an ardent believer in the fact that all great writing comes from a place of truth, from a place well hidden inside our soul. I believe that those elements that are based on our own experiences, faults, and beliefs give substance to a story.”
Those words hit home. In my historical fiction novel The Bronze Dagger, my 12-year-old protagonist, Samsuluna (Sam) is asked by his mentor, a Babylonian healer:
“What do we always take with us when we visit the sick?”
Sam wiped his cheeks with the back of his hands and sniffled. “Our pouches with our medicines and tools,” he replied.
“And do we always have what we need?”
“Most of the time,” Sam responded, and then sniffed again. “But not always.”
Balashi pursed his lips. “Most of the time, parents carry a pouch that gives them the tools they need to take care of their children, to love them, provide for them, protect them. Your father didn’t have any of those tools in his pouch.”
Sam imagined his father carrying a pouch like the one Balashi carried when he visited the sick. In his mind, he opened his father’s pouch. He saw nothing inside. Empty. Sam began to tremble. He looked up into the stars. “Maybe if I had been a better son.” Hot tears spilled out onto his cheeks. “Maybe if I hadn’t cried so much as a baby he wouldn’t have thrown me across the room and I wouldn’t have this limp. Maybe.”
Balashi also looked up into the sky. “No, Sam,” he interrupted. “As I said before, children shouldn’t have to earn their parents’ love. Love should already be in a parent’s pouch. Parents must teach their children right and wrong; but providing for, loving, and protecting your children should be unconditional.”
I added the above section on my third draft of the manuscript – when I began to make more honest connections with my main character. I experienced abuse as a child. In the process of learning to forgive, I realized that my parents didn’t have all the tools in their pouch they needed to provide a protective home. When I connected with that honest truth, it enabled me to give more substance to my story.
Mihai also writes, “Readers read fiction knowing it’s just make believe, but they also know that every story holds a bit of truth, a bit of the artist.” We must write from a place of honesty and truth, even (and especially) in fiction. Only then can we really honestly connect.
– Marie Sontag, PhD