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One of the major themes in my life has been this constant questioning of whether I want to do something out of desire, or because others’ expectations. Identity-who we are and why we become the people we ultimate end up being, is a thread throughout most of my stories. In Who She Was, a woman’s secrets cause her murder investigation to go off the rails. In Displacement, Sylvia has to grapple with the idea that being a cop is a noble and just endeavor, while acknowledging that it does not fit her personality. Fracture deals with a woman who becomes completely consumed with faith and allows it to define the person she thinks she has to be. These are stories, but I think all of us have had experience with questioning identity-our own and others.
Someone told me they couldn’t read Who She Was because there is a Muslim character mentioned in the prologue. I didn’t ask questions. We’re free to choose what we read or don’t read, but in my mind I wondered why that mattered. One of the most wonderful things about books is that they show us we are all the same. I remember reading The Diary Of Anne Frank in fifth grade and thinking…We would have been friends. We’re so much alike. After leaving a rather tumultuous relationship and experiencing the growing pains of early adulthood, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, and I felt comforted and assured that this-the family strife, the inability to find my place, and the sadness, were all par for the course. Much like Dominick Birdsey, I healed, moved forward, and found happiness. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison helped me recognize why certain things were and weren’t happening in my life. I took that information and pondered it, searching for a way to reconcile the lack. After a friendship dissolved, I found solace and advice in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. It reminded me that amends could be made and eventually; I was reunited with the friend I thought I’d lost forever. This is why I love stories and why I write. The world is much smaller than we think it is, and we are more alike than different.
Some characters in Fracture are from various threads of the Latter-day Saint faith. To me, Latter-day Saints are just people. So much so, that I married one. I don’t see whole groups of people as foreign entities that are so obscure that I can’t make a connection. I think stories are a great way to build bridges. You learn that labels and categories don’t change the DNA or species of a person. It becomes clear in stories that we have the same desires, wants and needs, and we make the same mistakes. Having characters from a particular faith, doesn’t necessarily make the story “a book about Latter-day Saints.” Just as a book written by an African-American writer doesn’t make the book a-and I heard this all throughout high school, “a black book.” I don’t pigeon-hold books because of a character’s race, religion, sexual preference, gender, or any other category we think they belong in. Instead, I always try to read books with an open mind. Fiction is a great way to be introduced to people who are different from you. Yes, it’s a fictional story, but it can open a door to real dialogue and education.
One reason I regret going to graduate school is because there was this push for books to be categorized based on the author’s background. For example, if an author was from a First Nations, they would be expected to write about colonialism or life on reservations. If the writer was African-American, their work would need to focus on racism or slavery. This is a terrible way to look at stories, and at the end of my program of study, I was thoroughly against this idea. The professor I worked with for my final project kept trying to steer me into what I saw as a corner. There was a point where I didn’t think I’d get my degree, which has, so far, has not been useful. The professor and I battled it out over cups of tea in a little cafe in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She was convinced that literature was more of a socio-cultural structure instead of a place where the universalities of humanity blended. I was all for the universality of literature and I continued to force the issue. It turns out that no one wants to fail a student who has completed all coursework in a timely and efficient manner, and paid tens of thousands of dollar in tuition, so I was awarded the degree. Ironically, I didn’t pick it up for two years. The campus was less than five minutes from my apartment, but I felt like that piece of paper stood for everything I was against. So, two years later, I went and got the darn thing and shoved it in a closet.
I write to tell stories, and I think stories are the salve we need to bring us all together. Once you’ve heard a story from a person you think is so different from you, they become recognizable behind all the label and categories you thought made them different. Don’t get caught in the idea that there is one story for many people.