I just finished the eleventh revision of a middle grade story I've been working for about seven years now. The Storyteller was actually the third novel manuscript I ever wrote. Hot on the heels of having completed The Rock of Ivanore, an idea for a more realistic story began to take shape. I wanted to tell the story of a girl who escaped into her own imagination rather than face the truth that her father is dying of AIDS.
Set in 1992, when AIDS was still misunderstood and untreatable and those who suffered from it were ostracized, Elena lies to her friends about her father. She meets an older black woman named Ang who shares stories with Elena about her own father, who was one of the first African Americans to enlist in the Marines during World War II and was a reporter during the early days of desegregation.
These two stories entwine to create a tapestry woven of human lives and tender emotions, a tale about two very different people from different times who share a common experience.
Why did I choose to write a story about AIDS? Is it really relevant today? I think the story of AIDS and those who suffered and died from it, especially in its early years, is as relevant now as it ever was because it reveals how fear of the unknown can cause even good people to treat others in a negative way. It also demonstrates how no matter how hard some people try to separate themselves from others, for whatever reason, we really are all connected.
Twenty plus years ago I worked as an accounts payable clerk and office assistant for the Huntington Hemophilia Group. The office treated children with cancer, and adults with HIV and AIDS. I had the privilege of working alongside some the best doctors in the field at the time. I didn't have much opportunity to interact with patients, but there was one group of patients that left an indelible mark on my heart.
A man and his young children came in one day. I can't recall how many there were, three or four perhaps. And I only caught a glimpse of them walking down the hall. But later their doctor told me in passing that the man's wife had died of AIDS, and now the children were all being tested for it. She said this with such sadness, because at the time AIDS was a death sentence. Treatments that today are common and successful were only in the experimental stages. The realization that any of these children might die because of this disease left me with a hole in my gut I've never quite been able to fill.
My mother for a time also worked in the medical field arranging for in home nursing care for very ill or terminally ill patients. She met a fair number patients dying of AIDS. It broke her heart to see any human suffer, and worse, to be so shunned by the community and even family and friends in their greatest time of need.
These experiences stayed with me for years. And I knew I wanted to tell a story that would remind us all that there are dark times in our history, times really not so long ago, when our society has not been at its best. And the question, is it really relevant today, can only be answered by realizing that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana, The Life of Reason)
I hope The Storyteller finds a home with a good publisher. After working on it for so long, I think it's finally ready to be introduced to the world. And I hope it will do the world a little good. I dedicate it to two friends of mine, Beth & Cheryl, who lost loved ones to AIDS.