Photo Credit: clas.berkeley.edu
Desperate Trek: Why I’m writing this novel
I have fond memories of regular trips to the public library when I was young. Like many young girls of my generation, I loved Nancy Drew and Walter Farley books about horses. I checked out 10-12 books at a time, especially in the summer, and devoured them as quickly as possible. When I went to the University of Virginia for my undergraduate degree, I majored in English and read a lot more. I learned how to analyze literature and develop my writing skills. However, my graduate education took me in the direction of management and organization development, changing my reading habits for the next 40 years.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be writing a novel for the first time at age 65. As a retired university professor and management consultant, I’m no stranger to writing. I co-authored several books and wrote dozens of articles designed to help leaders be more effective. However, academic articles and professional reports are a far cry from fiction.
Even before I retired, I missed reading for pleasure. Because of my work, I read a lot of management and business literature, but I never seemed to have enough time to read fiction. So I decided that one of my top goals during retirement was to read all the books I wanted to read earlier in my life. I joined two book clubs and read both the best-sellers and the classics. Once again, reading became my refuge and the fuel for my imagination. I also became interested in the growing field of mindfulness. Meditation and journaling became important parts of my daily routine and I taught mindfulness at my local library. My mindfulness practice brought me a level of self-acceptance and ability to trust my insights that I’ve never experienced before.
I have always been a news junkie, probably due to my dad’s influence. He was a newspaper editor and current events were a daily source of family discussion. My political leanings to the left and my father’s conservatism made for some interesting conversations in my younger days. When the current U.S. president began spewing lies about the growing number of migrants from Central America and advocating a wall as a solution to the immigration crisis, I felt a rush of sympathy for these desperate people. I read everything I could find on the plight of the migrants. I became incensed at the lack of concern for the impact of the government’s new immigration policies on the growing number of families trying to cross the border into the U.S. My heart and soul told me that I needed to do something. Writing a “non-fiction novel” seemed right for me. I decided to go for it.
A “non-fiction” novel combines elements of fact with fiction and while this story about the Hernandez family is purely fictional, it is based in fact. Everything in their journey from Honduras to Texas has actually occurred to hundreds of migrants. You will find references at the end of each chapter, supporting what Maria, Jorge, and Sofia experience. The story does not take place at a fixed point in time. Rather, it reflects what my research showed as general and ongoing issues that faced migrants over the last couple of years.
As I began writing this story, my trepidation at writing fiction were quickly dispelled. The Hernandez family’s desperate trek to a better life in the U.S. practically wrote itself. I had no guiding outline, no predetermined outcome. I just had a very human family faced with extraordinary hardships As long as I was careful and thorough with my research, the story was a universal story of human need, resilience, and hope. We all could be Maria, Jorge, Sofia, and even Miguel. History is replete with the story of immigration. We are all immigrants, trying to create better lives for our families.
The major frustration I faced in writing this story was the changing landscape of and response to the current immigration crisis. I often felt as if every article I read contradicted the previous article. But in fact, that is the reality of this current crisis. The knee-jerk government reaction to rapidly changing immigration events not only thwarts any kind of long-term planning, it increases confusion and possible error in the way the agencies respond. The complexity of the immigration crisis and the grinding bureaucratic government processes are mind-boggling. And it just keeps getting worse.
I don’t have a magic answer. My hope is that my focus on one family’s experience will provide a different perspective from the fear-mongering that the media promulgates daily. Even more important to me, I hope this story will provoke readers to start talking about all the issues in the current immigration crisis and stop burying their heads in the sand. Frankly, while I’m a lifelong dog lover, I’m tired of seeing cute pictures of puppies on social media when thousands of immigrants are fleeing life-threatening violence in their home countries. We can do better and we must do better.