Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sapphire

This morning's Midwestern snowfall reminds me of the winter of 2014, when I spent most of my time shoveling the driveway, chipping ice from the downspouts, and watching films late at night.  Nearly every week, one or more yoga classes had to be cancelled because of inclement weather, so I was housebound until I could escape to the library in-between snowstorms to pick up a few DVD's.  First I watched Schindler's List, then Twelve Years a Slave, then The Book Thief  and The Reader.   Next came the entire Roots and Holocaust mini series. 
"This is totally depressing,"  I thought to myself.  "Why are you watching films about two of the most harrowing times in history...and during the worst winter since 1978?" 
I couldn't figure it out.
So, for a couple of months I checked out books about the Holocaust and the Civil War, compelled by the similarities between the impetus behind slavery and the concentration camps.  Once springtime finally arrived, I was preparing my gardens for planting when the thought occurred to me, There's a novel in all of this.   It took another two months before I was inspired to create two female characters, one a young slave girl, and one a teenager imprisoned in Bergen Belsen.  I knew the story would take place on only one day of their lives, but which one? 
While on my friend's Rolfing table, I talked with Tony about the idea.  "I'm thinking it should be the day before their liberation," I said while he adjusted my neck.
"Right...and then take it to the day after when they're free, but nothing's really changed...not yet anyway," Tony added, gently pulling on my head to lengthen my spine. 
And so The Lace Makers had its genesis in a little office in Lambertville, the location of many of my greatest revelations. 
 Still, it would take a while before I really understood who Sapphire and Karin were, what they sounded like, what they felt.  Even though I had completed nearly nine months of research, I was still at a loss.  One night, while preparing for an evening yoga class, I lit a candle and wordlessly asked for some inspiration.  During final relaxation, I was meditating while my students rested in silence. 
Suddenly, a little voice echoed in my right ear.  She said,  The sun be peeping over the old barn where I hear the cow moaning to get milked.  I watch the sky turning the color a egg yolks Mama like to break jest to watch 'em get runny.  She do that sometimes.  Break them egg yolks for Massa and keep on frying 'em 'til they be hard as shoe leather. 
What's that? I wondered.  And who are you?
I's Sapphire...one of the girls in your book and that's the first paragraph, the little voice replied.  Write it down.
So I did.

Nine months later the first edition of The Lace Makers was finished, ironically enough on Mother's Day.  I gave birth to my eighth literary child on a peaceful Sunday morning in May and was overjoyed to have finally found the perfect book cover to bring Karin and Sapphire to life.  Not that it was easy.
Thank God for Google.
After a long night searching pictures of wildflowers and knitting and piles of yarn, I finally typed "lace makers" into the search engine.  Because I needed to narrow the search for images I could use free of charge, the selection was especially limited.  What a blessing to find a black and white, turn-of-the-century photograph of two girls sitting together, making lace.  Their clothes are tattered and torn.  The child on the right wears a dress that's much too small for her...just like Sapphire's.   The one on the left wears her hair pulled back, just as Karin does.  Studying the photo more closely, I noticed the shape of their hands, the focused intent with which they practiced their craft.  It was as if Karin and Sapphire had come to life in that simple picture. 
It won't be a surprise to many of my friends to learn that when I read the description of the photograph, it revealed that the girl on the left was named "Katie".  So, of course, it was meant to be, just like everything else in the entire process of bringing the novel to life.

This month I've taken a closer look at the manuscript and have just completed the second edition which is now available for digital download and in paperback on Amazon.com.   Sapphire's voice is easier for me to hear now than it was a year ago and I've learned how to listen with different ears that can understand more than just what she's saying out loud.  For in one of the early chapters, she reminds herself (and me):  Now I figure maybe my ears need to perk up when they ain't no words to be heard.
That's a bit of childlike wisdom as I venture forth into the world both professionally and personally, for sometimes the most precious things are told with a smile, a look, a gesture, a kindness.  Sometimes they come in the middle of winter when everything feels cold and dark and lonely.  Sometimes they surprise us with their intensity or gentleness.  Often they come in ways we couldn't imagine. 
But most of the time, the best things come when we least expect them. 
The Lace Makers is not a novel I had planned to write, but it was revealed to me over time and in ways both subtle and insistent.   At the end of all things, I look back on the process and see how much it's changed me for the better...and will soon change my life in ways unimaginable right now.  I often think of a passage from Sapphire's last chapter when she realizes she's no longer a slave: Now I get to be jest Sapphire...but it ain't at all the way I thought it would be.
Freedom often comes with discomfort, with letting go of the past, the future, and everything in-between.  While my life isn't at all the way I thought it would be either, it feels better than who I used to be, who I thought I was supposed to be.  Who I was told to be.
Like Sapphire, now I get to be just Kate...and see what mystery and enchantment that will bring.


You can find THE LACE MAKERS on Amazon and CreateSpace.