Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing Tucson Jo

One of the hardest things about this book is remembering how to spell Tucson! To be fair it does sound like Tuson or should be pronounced Tukson.  I have to admit I'm an awful speller- always have been- and without the computer correcting me I would always sound at the very least confused and at worst just bad, but there it is!

Anyway, back to the reason for this post!

I have been working on this book for eight years, obviously doing other projects as well -  in fact, during that time I've  published eleven books including, The Freak series,  Behind Enemy Lines and Pieces of The Past. But all the time -  ever since I finished the first draft after a research trip to Tucson in 2006 - I have been returning to this book and trying to get it right.  I worked with an editor from a big publishing house at first and it got better but still wasn't quite right. Finally my best friend, Morri Mostow, who had just started a publishing house, offered to have a look at it. It was her notes that made me realize what wasn't working but more importantly how to fix it. I think the biggest stumbling block for me was being too tied into the historical material. Based on a real person, the first Jewish Mayor of Tucson, Charles Strauss,  I tried to follow his story and the story of his family - during the time he was running for mayor. That tied me down too much and didn't let my own creative take on the story evolve.

When I chose to write a story "inspired by the first Jewish mayor of Tucson and his family," I was able to focus not only on telling an exciting story but on what I wanted the story to be about. Jo, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the patriarch wants nothing so much as her freedom, but her father is running for mayor on a platform of  law and order. I was able to use the story to explore what freedom really means to us personally and to our society. Freedom is a word bandied about freely by everyone but what does it really mean? For Jo it means not being constrained by the fact that she is a young woman. She wants to be able to wear pants! She wants to be able to speak freely. She wants to be able to ride a horse and not side-saddle! She wants equality with her brother and to be taught Torah just as he is. And yet her father points out that society will not accept these freedoms for her, and that she must live within her society and accept some restraints.

Which brings us to an interesting problem. What kind of restraints are we willing to accommodate in order to live both safely and freely? That, I think, is an important question these days with threats around us from bad people who have guns and weapons. Will safety and freedom force us to strike some sort of balance?


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