12/1/2015 – How Experience Shapes Fiction
The blurry line between fact and fiction gets even more obscured when an author does extensive research into real world events, past and present, only to insert his/her personal experiences into the story which contains the fiction. For the most part realism is enhanced by personal experiences. I have for years adhered to the notion that, “There is no history written without ‘author bias’.” (unknown source). If you buy into this notion, then it becomes necessary to ask what is the difference between history and historical fiction? A short answer would be that the fiction-writing author is able to fantasize and get creative in the story telling process; nevertheless, it is critical to maintain a believable historical context. Thus the line is blurred intentionally. Author’s like Wilbur Smith, James Rollins, the late Tom Clancy, James Lee Burke, David Liss, and Clive Cussler are a few of my favorites at placing a story into an historical and cultural context that is believable, along with delivering a great story.
In “Flower Girl” I have blended legends and stories about the contributions of women to the development of the Korean peninsula, starting with the ancient Silla dynasty and Queen Seondeock. Official histories of ancient times were mostly written by monks who were assigned the task by the King. The King’s objective was to look good in the eyes of royalty and others who would then favor his male heir as their next king. The contributions of women only rarely appeared in these writings.
I often use my life events from living and working abroad to enhance believability, been there and done that sort of thing. These events are often dangerous and exciting. “Flower Girl” features a number of experiences from my Air Force postings during the Viet-Nam War, as well as joys and other events that my family and I experienced and in some instances, survived while working and living abroad. These events range from personal/family moments to touring historical sites.
For example, Barbara-Ann, my gifted artist wife, and I were married in 1969. We moved about to several places around the world on expatriate international banking postings, and landed in Seoul, South Korea in 1970-71. The idea to use Cheju-do Island (Jeju Island) a lush volcanic island located in the Korean Straits as a setting for much of the novel came from the month that my wife and I spent there on a belated honeymoon. Cheju-do is considered to be the Asian honeymoon capital, a sort of Las Vegas. It is also home to the haenyeo, women abalone divers, whose history factors in to the story as an example of a matriarchal culture within the boundaries of a very patriarchal society.
Life on the island has changed dramatically between 1970 and the present, so it was necessary to research the haenyeo and the culture of Cheju-do to more accurately update what happens in “Flower Girl”. My memories of the haenyeo, the volcanoes, and other aspects of the people and their lives on the island afforded me a war chest of real details with which to enrich the setting, characters, and events in the story.
In “Flower Girl” I take the readers with my characters on a tour which I reconstructed out of memories with my wife’s assistance and some research. Several of these places reveal a common theme, the importance of women to the cultural development of Korea from ancient times to the present. Without giving it all away, the “Wonwha” (original flowers) women of ancient Silla dynasty times are a critical part of this theme. As are the haenyeo (sea women) of Cheju-do Island whose matriarchal culture dates back to the 17th century. The men couldn’t or didn’t want to cope with the deep cold waters, so the women did the diving for abalone, thus being the earners for their families, while the men stayed at home and tended to the chores and children.
While we lived in Korea my wife and I were fortunate to have spent one evening a week for six weeks attending a class with the late Professor Zong In-Sob of the College of foreign Studies at Hankuk University in Seoul. He told us many a legendary tale of Korea. We both took notes and developed a life-long interest in learning more about the cultural legends of Korea. Professor Zong In-Sob insisted that in prehistoric times, Koreans had traveled across the Aleutians and the Bering Straits land bridge to populate North America centuries ago. I have incorporated this ‘land bridge’ notion into my story as an island hoping flight by the protagonists, along with excerpts from selected ancient Korean tales such as the tale of the geomancer.
When considering studying and reading about and/or working and living in another culture, these historical legends and folktales along with a study of language have always served my family and I as an effective segment of our preparation. If you are considering a vacation or honeymoon or being considered for a posting in South Korea, you might start with a novel such as “Flower Girl” and then dig into Korean folktales or Korean women’s contributions to the development and history of the peninsula.
One of my ‘friends’ recently asked me why I have forsaken reality for fiction. My gut reaction was to ignore the question. Then I realized that he had a legitimate point. I am trying to share my adventures with and reach a broader audience than the students in a classroom in Southern Mississippi or lecture auditorium in Nairobi. In “Flower Girl” the story begins with the rescue of a 12-year-old girl from a group of international kidnappers who are in the exotic child bride business. Enlightening readers about the nature of this heinous crime is central to the story. I became interested in child slavery when I was researching health and security issues for an assignment in the Middle east. Kidnapping for ransom is on the rise around the world making family and personal security paramount concerns.
During the winter months I generally follow the example of my protagonist, Professor Josiah Craft from The Star Stone, The Chair, & The Dog (Book 1: Secrets of the Star Stone Society). He loves to grab a novel off the shelves in his office and settle into his posh leather high back chair, propping his feet on the giant ottoman while KC, his Akita watchdog curls up next to him. He takes a sip of his hojicha (Japanese roasted organic green tea) and flips to the bookmark where he last stopped reading. His favorite music, the sounds of “Time”, performed by Pink Floyd accompanies him as he trips…. back in time to exotic places and events.
The Pilgrimage (Book 2: Secrets of the Star Stone Society) continues and concludes this series The Pilgrimage as a comet swarm threatens earth, clashing civilizations argue; will they join forces before it is too late? There is a Pilgrimage to be followed and a puzzle to be solved if earth is to be saved.
At a book signing I was recently asked, whose novels inspired these tales? I responded, “A mixture of James Rollins’ Indiana Jones; H.G. Wells’ Time Machine; and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the Egyptian novels by Wilbur Smith, and many more.
My current project is a novel set in the Pacific NW, my original home, during WWII based on a childhood memory of how the Pacific War impacted my extended family. The story features history and fiction about a couple of Japanese-Americans whose lives were altered forever by PO 9066 and the Japanese-American Internment Camps. It is tentatively titled “The Chinaman”. You might ask, what does a Chinaman have to do with a Japanese-American couple? Good question.