A tragedy occurred recently when two librarians headed home from a conference were killed by a drunk driver whose truck struck their cab. The cab driver survived, and so did the drunk driver, who had already been in court several times, and had a bizarre record of crimes. The drunk was an agent of chaos, the kind of remorseful-until-the-next-drink train wreck that strains the justice system and our mercy.
The cab driver was blindsided and bears no blame, but I wonder if he asks himself, “What if I’d acted a split second sooner?” Or, “Maybe I could have swerved the other way.” Through no fault of his own, he is saddled with someone else’s guilt, and burdened by the sorrow of the families left behind.
One of the hallmarks of a character-driven novel is amplification of human situations so that their universal elements become something with which any reader can empathize. The tragedy I related above is all-too common. Events like 9-11 and the loss of space shuttles Columbia and Challenger are rare. It was the Challenger explosion, with its preventable scenario only adding to the tragic loss of seven lives, that inspired my novel The Dawning.
It’s a simple question – what could a woman regret so much that she would give up the only happiness that has come her way to make it right?
I originally conceived The Dawning as a standalone novel, but the positive reception for Night Vision had me looking for ways to hook the two stories together under the shared theme of women working together to solve the unsolvable. The worst of us will never overwhelm the best of us, though hope – and mercy – can sometimes be in short supply. It was true a decade ago when the book was first published, and it’s still true today. So much has changed in ten years, but people are basically the same, for good and for ill.
One thing that has not changed is the primary setting: Canyon de Chelley National Monument on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. I have visited twice, and it remains one of the oldest, most spiritual and most alive places I’ve experienced. I hope the story captures the canyon. It, too, is a paradox of beauty and tragedy. Below haunting ruins left behind by earlier people, and caves that still hold the echoes of massacre and genocide, are lush green fields of simple crops and play areas for the nearby schools.
In keeping with my inability to write any kind of story that isn’t driven primarily by the dynamics of relationships, the two women of The Dawning have unique issues of trust and the not-so-minor question of whether there will be a future of any kind where they both exist. To have their future they must accept that all life grows on a cemetery.
Small comfort, to know that the tragedies that touch our lives mean life, even happiness, in some other way. Small though it is, that comfort is the fact of our existence. We are, after all, living things made from the dust of exploded stars. Please visit my page for The Dawning where I’ve collected links about Canyon de Chelley and the memorials to the Challenger crew.