Saturday, June 20, 2009

Inspirational Boundaries: The Evolution of The Guixi Sisters

by Jodi Kaplan Lester

The idea for "The Guixi Sisters" came to me when I saw a photograph of my niece with two of her orphanage sisters. In the picture one of the girls had this particularly mischievous look on her face, and that's where my story began: three girls and ensuing mischief. Little did I know it would become much more to me than that.

As I began writing, I realized that my inspiration went much deeper than the picture. It was the love I had for my niece that became the driving force. Had she never been adopted, this story never would have come to be. But she was, and it opened up a whole new world for me as I was not just a passive observer.

I watched as my sister and her family jumped through all the hoops to bring their baby girl home. I counted the days, watched the clock. I was there. Three months before leaving for China, my sister got the first bit of information on her baby girl, including her Chinese name and two pictures. She sent them to me immediately. There she was, a pudgy blockheaded baby girl with wrinkly ankles, now my sister's daughter, now with a name. Now my niece. I couldn't wait for her to come home.

I helped my sister get ready for the trip to China. Sorting through all the paperwork, going through the checklist of medical supplies so she would be prepared for any of the common possibilities that inflict orphanage babies, running down the gifts she needed to get, the money and which denominations, the red envelopes. The list of cultural cues and etiquette seemed endless, yet were important because at a moment's notice they could be denied their baby girl.

I will never forget the night she was brought home. Sitting in my sister's house in the big chair with my back to the window, every time a car drove by I'd twist around to see if it was them. I waited with the rest of my family, now my niece's family. It was an amazing, joyful evening. When she arrived, she was a tiny little thing, nothing like her picture.

Not long after her arrival I started taking days with her. About once a month I would take her wherever, it didn't really matter, just so I could spend time with her. Our days would usually include a visit to Dark Delicacies because to me imagination sparks horror and horror sparks imagination, so I wanted to introduce her to this dark but fairly benign world. I also wanted to be sure that books were a big part of her life. I would always buy her a memento of some type. As much as she loved sucking on the devil ducks' horns, I stuck to the cute little fuzzy teddybear bats, things like that. She was my little something.

And so she grew and my love for her did as well, and then one day I found myself in the middle of this supernatural tale about Chinese orphanages and orphanage sisters that was moving in a dark direction, and I became concerned. My main character was not my niece, yet she was inspired by her. The whole story was. The information I used as material for my story was that which came from my experience of her as an adopted baby and often stemmed from questions my niece asked and things she said as she realized her parents were not biological, her name came differently from others, and that she was Chinese while the rest of her family was not. I couldn't stop my story now, but how do I continue it without exposing or exploiting my little love? I posed this question to some of my fellow Midnight Walk contributors and was encouraged to continue, for as the story grows, my character would eventually shed the skin of my niece and become her own individual.

So I kept writing. I looked closely at anything that came directly from my experiences with her and asked myself, "Is this something that is unique to my niece or is it something any child, adopted or not, from China or elsewhere, would ask or do or encounter?" If I only worked with events that were fairly universal I could avoid undesired exposure. And so I worked in this way, within these parameters and was able to finish the story.

Although the fate of the three girls in my story twists into a dark tale, I know deep in my heart that my story changes nothing about my niece except for maybe bringing us a little closer.

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