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Monday, 21 January 2013

The Moral of the Story

My 4th grader has a writing project due next week, which means, of course, that I take it more seriously than he does (at least until the night before it's due). The theme is 'voice,' which, on the surface, sounds like it has to do with characters speaking, or maybe what tone the writer takes as he tells his story. But not this time. This 'voice' project is about the moral of the story.

I didn't love Aesop's fables when I was a kid - they were too spare and bleak and preachy; too... moral. But I love the pithy sayings that came from them. The value is in the worth, not in the number. Two wrongs don't make a right. Fair weather friends are not worth much. And one of my favorites from The Boy Who Cried Wolf, There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth, otherwise known as Liar, liar, pants on fire.

My son has latched onto one from the Grimm's Tale about the little tailor who killed seven (flies) in one blow, stitched it onto a belt he wore proudly, and went on to vanquish several giants and a doubting king. The moral in that story is one of my favorites; believe in yourself and anything is possible.

I had the enormously good fortune to be raised by parents who breathed that bit of wisdom as if it was air, and I only realized how remarkable it was when I encountered people who weren't brought up that way. My Mom was raised dirt-poor in post-WWII-Germany, where people were born to their lot in life and thousands of years of history had proven that very little ever changes. And yet somehow, the girl who lived in a rented house with chickens in the basement and no indoor plumbing, who learned to swim just so she could shower at the public pool and went to work full-time at age 14 didn't buy it. She left Germany at 18, came to the U.S. when she was 25, and graduated from law school when I was 13. She proved that 'anything is possible' with her life, and the impact of that on her kids was huge. I can only hope I'm as effective at instilling that confidence in my own children.

My younger son asked me what the moral of my book is. I never thought about Marking Time having a moral, but I can talk about the themes that run through it, because I did think about those. Taking responsibility for your choices is a big one, and learning to open yourself up to trust other people is also something that Saira deals with. Now, as I write the second book in the Immortal Descendants series, the themes are changing. This book will deal with fate, and, to borrow a question from Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale, do we have the ability to change our stars? But also running through this book is the very complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. I have no idea how much of my own mother will be part of Claire Elian, but I know her belief that anything is possible informs and inspires the very fact of my writing. Because for my mom, it was never a question. I could do whatever I set my mind to doing, and if I believed in it, I would make it true.

I watch my son design elaborate back-stories for lego board games and intricate mythologies for the games he invents for his friends to play. He just... believes. As he gets older things might come along and shake his confidence in his beliefs, maybe make him question is own abilities or his commitments to things, but I hope our total faith in his ability to make his own dreams come true is the foundation that carries him past the shaky bits. It's what my mother gave me, and it's what gives me the confidence to tell my stories.