It’s a while since I last posted, due to having been incarcerated with a fractured hip. Now I am home, getting around in a wheelchair, and besieged by an army of well-meaning ladies, the home health team.
If that sounds resentful, it’s because I am—not of them, they are all very nice, but of my condition. As I explained to my daughter, what I resent is needing to be helped, not the helpers themselves.
That was the theme of one of my early young adult novels, Don’t Look at Me that Way, which is now out of print. It was inspired by something that happened to a family friend. She had taken under her wing an underprivileged youth who seemed to have much potential. He won her heart to the extent that she planned to give him an old car she had no more use for. Before the transfer could be made, he stole it.
Over and over again, she lamented, “I was going to give him the car.” She hadn’t a clue why he would do such a thing. Nor had I. I had never even met the young man, but for my purposes, his reason was unimportant. In writerly fashion, I said to myself, “If I had done a thing like that, why would I have done it?”
And there was my story. The protagonist of Don’t Look at Me that Way is nineteen-year-old Rosa, of Puerto Rican descent, who lives with her mother and multiple siblings in a crowded New York City tenement. Rosa, bright and capable, is hired as an au pair for a well-heeled woman, Mrs. Pritchard, who has two young children, a well-paid husband, a cleaning woman, and no outside job. Rosa can’t believe how someone with such an easy life could feel so burdened that she needs a mother’s helper. As the Pritchards vacation on Long Island Sound, Rosa meets a young man who teaches her the rudiments of driving.
You guessed it. Mrs. Pritchard plans to give Rosa an old car she doesn’t want any more. No sooner are they back in the city than Rosa’s mother dies, leaving her with a batch of younger siblings, one of whom is in trouble with the police. It’s the story of her life, but not of her benefactress’s life. In anger and agony, Rosa steals the car and leaves it in a slummy section of Manhattan.
True, it was a pointless, unproductive thing for her to do. A purely emotional reaction. People of my mother’s generation, full of social conscience without knowing anything but privilege, couldn’t understand it at all, and questioned the sense of my novel. Nevertheless, it resonated with others and received a commendation from the Council on Interracial Books for Children. The book has a satisfactory, if not fairytale, ending. I don’t remember exactly how I worked it, the thing was written it so long ago. I do recall that Rosa has a loyal boyfriend, Julio, who delivers groceries, plans to marry her, and help her raise those siblings.
A question frequently asked of fiction authors is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The usual answer is, “Ideas are everywhere.”
And they are. When I began this blog I mentioned that I was writing a young adult novel inspired by what happened to Ryo Kiyan. I couldn’t not write it because I want people to understand about Asperger’s Syndrome. The setting is changed from an office to a school. And whereas I will never know what made the real Miss M so afraid that she took to carrying a knife, I’ve provided an answer for my characters. I’ve also added a mystery, with the Aspie in trouble as a parallel plot. The two will converge at the end.
We’ll have more about this in the next post.