Suzanne Fisher Staples
It’s been many years since I left my newspaper job for the somewhat less predictable world of writing books. Still, most mornings I wake up and thank my lucky stars that I no longer have to pull on pantyhose, only to fight traffic on the way to the bureau; that I can walk the dog in the orange grove after lunch and finish the newspaper; that I spend my days making up stories and talking with children, not dealing with irascible news editors, slippery politicians, and oily flacks.
I grew up loving books. My grandmother read to us every day and bribed us with stories to help in her rock garden. There, among the bleeding hearts and irises and peonies, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always written: journals, letters, school papers, essays, and, when I grew up, news reports.
But I could never imagine writing a novel. Whatever could I write about that would sustain anyone’s interest for two hundred or more pages?
The answer never occurred to me until I went to Pakistan. There was something about the camels, the ancient stories and blue-tiled mosques, and people who build shrines where a beautiful poem was written, that set my heart to singing. And there was something about our ignorance here in the West about Islamic people that made me know a story about this place needed to be told. And so my writing career began with Shabanu and Haveli.
After I left Pakistan, I wondered whether I would ever find anything that fired my soul as the people of the Cholistan Desert had. I returned to America somewhat apprehensive. It’s easy to be sparked by the exotic places of the world. But what about finding inspiration in the familiar?
And then I settled in a small and beautiful corner of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. There on the Chesapeake Bay, the mud and the pines and the grasses and the water and all the things that live in and among them spoke to me like characters in a book. I began to see the exotic everywhere.
While I was living in Asia, I thought of the United States as a place where the phones and the political system work, and people are tolerant of each other. When I came home I found that some things here were worse than all the poverty and sickness and intolerance I’d encountered in Asia. I met two children who lived on the farm next to our property on the Eastern Shore, one black, one white. Their friendship was based on fishing and swimming and exploring the woods and the creeks. As they approached adolescence, their families began to steer them away from each other. From then on, their stories fell into two distinct patterns. The white boy went to a private school. The black boy was later killed during a dispute over drugs. For all the beauty of the Eastern Shore, racism was one of its healthiest institutions. People were so familiar with it they couldn’t see how heartbreaking it was. And that was the genesis of Dangerous Skies.
My husband, Wayne, and I live in the hills of Tennessee, where we love to hike and canoe and watch the eagles soar over valleys that are shrouded in pale blue mist. I know now that the world is wondrous and wide, and I hope I will never cease to be moved by places and people who give rise to ideas for stories. Because stories are the most important thing in the world. They teach us how to live, how to love, and, most important, how to find magic wherever we are.
Suzanne Fisher Staples was born in 1945 and grew up beside a lake in the hilly farmland near Scranton, Pennsylvania. She worked as a news reporter in Asia for twelve years, serving in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka with United Press International. She also worked in Washington, D.C., as an editor at The Washington Post.
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