Life on the Fringes
by Kathryn Berla
Author of Dream Me
“I’ve been on the fringes of your social circles, envying you from a distance. Sometimes you let me in for a better view. Usually, I only get a glimpse.”
Just like Babe—the main character of my new novel, Dream Me—my childhood was spent in transit, moving from city to city, country to country. For the most part, it had little effect on me, as I mainly viewed my family as the nucleus of my life. And then I was transferred to yet another school where I was still learning the language when the teacher inexplicably decided it would be educational for the other students to hear the new girl sing her national anthem in front of the class. I was given a day to prepare. My mother dutifully typed out the lyrics (all verses) and I dutifully got up and did my best to sing them. I’m sure I was awful. I’m sure the other kids snickered. I have no idea because I was in a temporary daze. But I do believe it was after this episode I took a step back from being a fairly outgoing girl to becoming an observer. Years later, when I was settled and comfortable back in the US, I took a step forward and once again became a full-fledged participant. But the tendency to observe never left me and I now thank that otherwise awful episode in hindsight.
There’s nothing like looking through the BISG genre codes to clarify in your own mind what kind of book you’ve just written. Yes, I knew that Dream Me was primarily a Young Adult Contemporary Romance (clean & wholesome), but I also realized that Social Themes/New Experience was equally if not more important. And I knew that a lot of me had gone into Babe. But there was a broader message than just my own minor childhood traumas. Zat would come to symbolize for me not only a dying Earth but the utter solitude and fear associated with being a stranger in a strange land. In Dream Me, the experience of Mai’s parents as refugees from war-ravaged Vietnam would most closely replicate Zat’s transport from the bleak future to the present-day. I hoped to give a voice to that experience and some others, whiles still maintaining a light and entertaining background story.
I was once like Babe, a California girl transported to the deep South. And like Babe, I unexpectedly found myself in love with the region, a locale which in Dream Me symbolizes everything lush and beautiful on our planet that deserves our fierce protection. For this reason, I consider Sugar Dunes, Florida (not a real name) to be a main character every bit as important as any of the characters, including Babe and Zat.
You never know where inspiration will come from. On the day I sang “The Star Spangled Banner” to a classroom of strange faces, I never thought that one day I would purposely reach back and call upon that experience. Since then I try to take inspiration wherever I can get it, and I try to embrace the moments spent on the fringes for the gifts that aren’t obvious but are, nonetheless, still there.