How I Kept Writing After My Muse Died by Kim Savage
Six days later, my father died. Cancer had invaded his bones, then his liver. It was twelve weeks from his diagnosis to the day he passed.
We buried him.
Then it was time to get back to work. I looked my next novel full in the face and had to decide if it was worth writing.
For me, conceiving a novel is entirely intuitive. I don't write toward trends. I don’t write with an eye to the market. I only need to feel connected to the story. If that connection isn’t strong, the story doesn't get written. I had a concept for my fourth book that was intriguing. I’d laid it out on Scrivener: plot points, character notes, setting, back story. But I wasn't feeling it.
Maybe grief had numbed my senses. Maybe the idea was junk. Maybe, I didn't want to write anything because my father was dead.
You see, my father was my muse. His pure joy in my successes inspired me to write, and write more. Last year, I wrote a post for BN Teen Open Mike where I borrowed an analogy Mike Meyers made after his father passed. He said his dad was the cashier, and his own bits of news were like casino chips. Only after he shared them with his Dad did his accomplishments have value.
While sorting though my father’s bedroom drawer, I came across an envelope worn soft with time. The front was stamped “War Department/Official Business,” and, written in his familiar cursive script, “Camp Dachau.”
My father was an officer in the Army Security Agency in World War II, one of the U.S. soldiers sent to liberate the Concentration Camp at Dachau. He was assigned to take photos of atrocities committed by the Nazis to be used in the war crimes trials.
Inside the envelope were photographs taken by my father. There was a second item, too: a four-by-six-inch paper album, a “gift” given to U.S. soldiers. Inside the pages were many of the photos my father took, labeled in English, French, Polish, and German.
Here was the “latticed gate” with the “symbolic inscription Arbeit macht frei.” Here was an aerial view of hundreds of upturned faces, where “Americans are joyfully welcomed by the liberated prisoners.” Here were two men in a train cart who “died of hunger.” Here were several victims, their sexes unrecognizable, who “died of exhaustion.” Here were three pages, with different photos each, titled, “Piles of dead bodies before the crematory.”
There were others.
Later pages recorded the trials as they were under way. In several, a witness points to the accused—Schillings, Schulz, Eichberger, Weiss—identifying the man as the war criminal in question.
As I said, the album was distributed as a gift under the direction of General Eisenhower to the troops who liberated the camps. He expected those soldiers to be witnesses to history. He expected them to tell the story of those who weren't alive to tell it. He expected them to “get it all on record now—get the films, get the witnesses—because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
On the back of the envelope is more of my father’s beautiful handwriting. It says, “Save these, as General Eisenhower said ‘some day they will try to say this never happened.’”
When I opened the envelope left by my father, I was reminded that the possibilities of fiction are limitless. I can tell a story about the importance of truth-telling in a time when “alternative facts” are promoted by power. Or a story about being touched by unimaginable evil, and going on to live a life characterized by boundless love. Or, maybe a story about speaking from the grave, at the exact moment when your voice is needed most.
I don’t yet know what my next story will be. But I know where I’ll find it.
ABOUT THE BOOKBeautiful Broken Girls
by Kim Savage
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca's world, and that some things are better left untouched.
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About the Author
Kim and her husband have three children, each of whom beg to appear in her books. They shouldn’t.
You can follow Kim on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and visit her at kimsavage.me.