Summer brought with it a trip to Malmedy in Belgium where we visited the Baugnez 44 Historical Centrum. I found myself quite impressed by the museum and while walking through it, I couldn’t help but be moved by the fate of the soldiers who were massacred at Baugnez. My son was very vocal in opining that the Germans were the evil guys and the Allied forces were heroes. Indeed, this is what history tells us, and there is no excusing the atrocities of the Nazi army. But, as I told my son, we cannot apply blame to an entire people because not all Germans condoned the acts of Hitler and not all Germans embraced his agenda. There is also something to be said about denial, and how it is possible for people to close their eyes wilfully because seeing is equal to accepting responsibility and accepting responsibility means having to take action, and action always involves risk. In this particular case, risk being a life or death thing.
I think it was Nalo Hopkinson who said to us at Clarion West that every character is a hero in their own story. This statement was brought home to me when we visited another museum at the border between Belgium and Germany. In this museum, there was an unlabelled case with memorabilia and relics from German soldiers. Looking at these relics, I wondered whether the German soldier considered himself a hero fighting for the beliefs of his Germany. I thought then of how there are casualties in every side in every war, and how on all sides there are victims. If we look at the enemies as individual people, hating is something we cannot do.
Sometime ago, I attended a talk given by Sarah Waters. Sarah spoke of how she was constantly busy with her fiction. How even when she was not writing physically, she was writing inside her head. While we were out in Belgium, I did not write as I had intended to, but the impressions I gathered have found their way to a story I am working on right now.Â It’s somewhat political in nature having to do with armed struggle, the displacement of a tribal people, and the conflict between tribal right and corporate power. I was thinking of how my corporate people seemed too one-sidedly evil and I wondered whether the corporate people in my story saw themselves as saviors–as benefactors–instead of the villain I had presented them to be. I realized that the change came from how I no longer hated my corporate people as wholeheartedly as when I created the first draft of the story. While I did not condone or like them, I could write about them with compassion.
The challenge that faces me in writing this story is how fine the line is between preaching and storytelling. Too heavy a hand and it would be better to rent a church and start yelling at the top of your lungs. I feel that where a story succeeds is when it opens up room for conversation between the storyteller and the reader.Â The conversation may not be a vocal one, but when the reader takes the story and moves with it into realms of his or her own speculation, then the story ceases to be a static thing on the page, it takes on a life of its own and that is what moves us.
Needless to say, I will only know if I succeeded with this story once it is read by someone other than myself.