A few years back, I worked briefly for an office supplies store. When they hired me, they said they intended to use me in the copy centre. If they had, they might have held my interest long enough that I would have stayed. Instead, they trained me as a cashier, and I was a quick learner, so they kept me there. I found a different job within a month.
That brief month, though, was enough to inspire a story concept. The store had a policy where anyone who came in with a backpack had to leave the pack up front with the cashier. This happened several times a day. Every time it did, a little voice in the back of my head whispered, "Bomb!"
About that time, the devastation in Syria was in the news. The body of little Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. The child was so young that the world's attention was captured. I read his aunt's book. Tina Kurdi's book, Boy on the Beach, had me sobbing. It also painted a picture of a culture based around family and food and all the normal things that I base my own life around. It impacted me. As did the horrifying images of devastation and bombed out buildings coming out of Aleppo and other areas in Syria. It seemed clear that the Syria described in Kurdi's book no longer existed.
At the time, I tried to interest others in the story. I didn't have many takers. I am a white girl living in a town which is predominantly white. The demographics are changing slightly and gradually, but for the most part my white, evangelical Christian contacts did not want to consider the plight of a dead boy whose country of origin wasn't one they were sympathetic to, and whose religion was considered in direct opposition to the Christian values of the faith we were reared in. I heard a lot of trash talk about people of Muslim faith -- much of which was nothing short of discrimination and bigotry.
People sent me articles about Muslims from lousy, conspiratorial sources. As a trained academic, the flaws in reasoning in these articles were ridiculous. I could tear them apart with my eyes closed. If anything, their bigotry made me more sympathetic rather than less.
And so, I wrote a first chapter about a non-religious white girl who is best friends with a Muslim girl of (unspecified) Arabic origin. Amy has been saving to buy her first ever camera from her best-friend's family. The family owned and operated business, Shad's Electronics, is the setting of the first chapter of the story.
Amy's friend, Jamina, who she calls Jam or Jami, has an older sister who is ashamed of her cultural heritage. Around the family, Tanisha obediently wears the hijab, but at school she ditches it in her locker and doesn't even go by her real name. Jam's baby brother, Kamal, is two and utterly adorable. Amy has plans to use Jamal as her model for her first photography shoot. Jam's dad is ridiculously proud of his little son. The love the family has for one another is evident.
The day Amy finally pays the camera off and goes in to purchase it, she snaps the family's photo. Jamina has permission to take her lunch break early, so she and Amy skip out of the store just as Tanisha, who is manning the cash register, calls out to a man with a backpack. In his backpack, there is a bomb. The store blows up, and Jamina's entire family is wiped out.
I think I wrote that chapter over five years ago. After four years of Donald Trump, things don't seem to have gotten much better for Muslim people in America. After writing chapter one, I simply let it sit. I knew someday I'd write the story of the aftermath of a racially motivated bombing. Shutter's Eye is that story.
Since I am a white girl, and not Muslim, it is not written from Jamina's perspective. I don't live that reality. It is written from the point of view of a woman (me) who at least wants to believe that love is stronger than hate, that love triumphs over hate. It is written from the point of view of a woman (me) who sees faith as a gift, but religion as complex and imperfect -- regardless which religion we are speaking about.
The characters in Shutter's Eye have had years to process the losses they experienced that day. They've dealt with much of their pain. Still, a moment like that, hatred like that, never fully leaves a person unscathed. These characters deal with post-traumatic stress, acceptance, the value of religion and the meaning of family. The book tells the story of the ebbs and flows of a lifelong friendship. It doesn't tell the story of what it would be like to have your loved ones killed simply because of their skin colour. Again, I don't live that reality. Not sure it is my story to write. Instead, this story shows how ridiculous it is for skin colour or faith differences to interrupt friendships. It is written by someone who believes that people are people -- we are at core more alike than different. So, this story shows what it means to love and to let go in order to move forward.
I'm extremely excited to be releasing this novel. Shutter's Eye will be available April of 2021. Watch for it at all major online retailers.