SCBWI's Inside Story event last night was a wonderful celebration of new books by Washington state authors. Below is the presentation I gave--about the "inside story" of After the River the Sun. Thanks to the kind and energetic author Deb Lund for organizing the event!
Writing After the River the Sun started with a dream and ended with a fire that came too late. In the dream, I wandered through a barren desert. I had to plant something to turn the desert green, had to fight so I could rise from tragedy and shine again. That began the story of Eckhart Lyon. A boy who looses his home and his courage after his parents drown in a river. A Seattle boy exiled to live with his uncle on a dead orchard in Eastern Washington.
What a grand creative adventure writing this book was! I created a video game based on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Watched as the game and Eckhart’s story blended one into the other. Watched as Eckhart and Eva, from my book Eva of the Farm, became friends. I even fell in love—with Bach’s famous violin piece—the Chaconne. After playing it Eckhart’s mother sweeps her bow upward and says: “And that is the cry of a shining soul as it rises, fighting its way toward heaven.”
Eckhart climbs Heaven’s Gate Mountain on a quest to regain his courage. High up, he spots
a wildfire burning straight down toward the new orchard he has planted with his uncle, the orchard that has helped them both begin to rise from tragedy and shine again.
Forward to the morning of September 10, 2012.
The book had just gone to press. I drove toward my father-in-law’s orchard--the inspiration for both After the River the Sun and Eva of the Farm. The night before, lightning strikes had started over one hundred wildfires in Eastern Washington. From ten miles away, I saw smoke rising from the low mountain above the farm. The road turned into a ribbon of dread.
Like Eckhart, we went into fire-fighting mode. Like Eckhart, I feared for a place I loved. Imagined the hills blackened, the trees scorched. Even as I helped rig sprinkler lines, though, I wished I could rewrite those wildfire scenes in the book, experience telling me I didn’t get them quite right.
Night fell. Each orange spot burning on the mountain burned my heart. I feared what the morning would bring. Then I remembered how Eckhart had faced his fire. As I stood in the dark staring up at the burning mountain, I knew that Eckhart was braver than I‘d ever imagined. Knew that this boy, fighting to rise from tragedy with his dreams of knightly valor, was my best work ever. My manifesto on shining. I got that right.