Children of the Sun grew from a video that my friend Fred Lyman, a painter and a sculptor, emailed me last summer. The video was by an artist who created one hundred alter egos and their submissions for his own biennale. Pretty hilarious stuff—but it started me thinking that we all have alter egos living within our own personalities, and that I was already familiar with a few of mine. Sometimes I can see Lee, living in Asia, creating black and white films of great spiritual beauty of mountains, gorges and lonely places which reflect who she is. And sometimes I see Mirta, living under one of the great Central American volcanoes, painting and having tumultuous love affairs. Sometimes I see another woman who lives in the 1960’s on the west coast and teaches ballet and yet another, who has two children and a small restaurant in Napa or some such lovely destination that tourists fantasize about.
The characters were there already. The format grew out of an early idea I had conceived in my thirties when I was doing serious spiritual and energy work—that of organizing seven stories according to the seven progressive chakras. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with chakras, they are the seven vortices in our energetic bodies relating to our connection to the earth, our creativity and sexuality, our power, our emotions, our personal voice, our imagination and dreams, and our connection to universal energies or the Divine Source. I can see them in my mind’s eye and I have seen them while swimming or snorkeling several times in my life emanating from people standing in shallow water as the sun hit at a particular angle. They look different on everyone—some, more developed and functional, some, ripped apart and weak.
As I began to organize the characters, I realized I would have to give them not only a history but an actual story and so that is where the imagination begins to do the creative work. As I progressed, I realized that they all had an art form of their own: painting, music, dance and so on. I also realized something else—although the characters certainly could be universal, they became immigrants or the children of immigrants transplanted to the New World. I drew on my Slavic background because although there are twenty million of us in the United States alone, and many more in Canada, Australia and Latin America, we seem not to have developed a literature of our own. I don’t mean a necessarily ethno -specific literature, but aside from Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Nabokov’s Pnin, Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter [ and the bizarre Heaven’s Gate], Irish-Serbian Rusty Sabich who appears in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and a Steve Tesich film which nobody seems to have seen, we have fallen off the radar. Sad, considering the richness of our folklore and often tragic history, which could generate a million stories.
Each of the seven characters has her own struggles and it’s interesting to hear readers reactions to them—which stories were their favorites and which moved them most.
When I finished the seven stories, I felt as if something else was needed so I added Children of the Sun to the collection. Try as I might, I can’t recall what made me focus on those particular characters. I did see that a theme had emerged with the seven stories –they were global in nature, they consisted of culture clash and people who were transported into new settings in the Western Hemisphere. I wondered what the beginnings of that would look like and arrived at the first explorers in the New World. My next thought was that an addition to the seven spiritual rungs embodied within the chakras, there might exist another layer above them corresponding to complete spiritual transformation. I had a ready made historical account, though sparse, in Cabeza de Vaca’s account of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition of 1528 into the area of what is now Florida, the Gulf Coast and Texas. Of close to four hundred men, four survived by becoming healers of great renown among the indigenous people they encountered during the eight years they were lost. Cabeza de Vaca is very vague about how that was accomplished, and so I drew on my own meditation and energy work and my sister-in-law’s healing practice, which I am familiar with.
Though the entire project began as a lark, I think it grew into something significant enough that could touch the reader on multiple levels – at least I hope it will.