16 November 2009

An Authentic Adventure

Saturday night held a highly anticipated event. I was so excited! Dressed in my purple penjabi, I felt like royalty. The chilly November air floated throughout my car and it felt just a little like India. My first few trips there were actually at Christmas, so I still associate "cold" with India. For a night, I could pretend. And the best part was I didn't have to suffer through the flight or risk being stranded in that airport again!

The beautiful and talented Jen Chandler of Woolgatherings and I have been friends many years. We met at a youth group a million years ago (okay... maybe 13?) and became great friends, neither of us knowing the other wrote. That revelation didn't come for many years. What excitement that was! In honor of our heroes, Tolkien and Lewis, we meet often at an undisclosed location for hours of writerly talk and great food. Last spring, we upped the ante and Jen joined me in India for a few weeks. So it just seemed natural that we have an "Indian" night. We spent days researching Indian restaurants in the greater Atlanta area, because unfortunately, there aren't any on our side of "town". We ended up driving clear to the other side.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jack... I mean, Jen, arrived, looking beauiful in her penjabi, the color of an autumn sunset. Her husband joined us for this illustrious event. We dubbed him Charles and welcomed him to our group. Then we set out.

Our hopes were high. You see, after spending quite some time in India, I can tell from a glance whether something is authentic or not. Picking a random restaurant off the internet was intimidating simply because we wouldn't know until we arrived if the food was that intoxicating mix of delicious and so spicy your tongue is on fire. And since the prices certainly weren't authentic, it was a bit of a risk. We settled on a restaurant named for the Himalayas, more out of whimsy than anything else. The rest was up to... well, India. Experience with her (India) has taught me that's she's as capricious as a hurricane, so it was quite a gamble.

I've been thinking a lot recently about authenticity. How it's important in every part of our lives. I think the quality I admire most in people is authenticity. I want to see who they really are, not some facade they put on. I want to see authentic Christianity as well. If I don't--and if I'm not trying to live it either--it's so disappointing. I want the same things in what I read. I know from the first page if the author is really committed to the whole story. It's something I really strive for in writing as well.

As I edit and revise my novel this month, I ask myself a lot: "Is this authentic? Is it real?" I keep pushing myself, keep trying to find ways to reveal the true shades of the story in any way possible. I want this book to resonate. I want it to continue in the readers' minds long after the covers are closed and it's placed in a personal library.

How do we do that?

One HUGE way we create authentic stories is by knowing them inside and out. In other words, research. If at all possible, visiting the setting if it's not where you've been before. Have you ever read a book set somewhere you've lived and were let down by the depiction of the place you know so well? I have. Have you ever read a story where the plot didn't ring true? Yeah, I have to. It felt incomplete to me. It was missing something, that "it" factor that makes a story come alive. For me, those stories stayed on the page.

Jen and I committed to some major research for our Indian adventure. We read menus, compared prices, estimated gas mileage, etc. After quite some time, we narrowed our choices down to three. Our final pick came from instinct. When you've done the research, the gut kicks in and makes it work. The combination of our knowledge of India and the information we found on restaurants in the Atlanta area gave us what we needed to make a decision.

And when we finally arrived, we knew we'd made the right one.

Please join us for the rest of our Indian adventure and discussion on authenticity! See y'all Wednesday!

35 comments:

  1. Loved this indian post. I felt like I was right there with you girls :)

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  2. You're lucky to have such a great friend! Your Indian adventure sounds like fun. And you're absolutely right about the writing...authenticity of both facts and feelings is so important!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  3. Awesome post, Kristin. I agree--authenticity is in short supply today and it's what's most needed in almost EVERYthing: faith, politics, etc. I'd love to read your novel one day--and sincerely hope to! God bless you richly this week.

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  4. That's so interesting. But you need to give me the 411 on the bugs there. As bad as I've heard? :)

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  5. I hopped over to Jen's blog and followed immediately. I love finding new blogs. I agree about going to the place if you can. I ran right into a fat blessing at a party the other night. The woman grew up in the very town I'd been writing about. I took down all her contact info. Of course I had to endure the big question, "Are you published." To which I answered the usual, "Not yet." ;)
    ~ Wendy

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  6. What a cool analogy! I hope my stories are authentic, but I'm also bad at research so I'm not sure... but if my plots are too believable, I at least the emotions in my characters are. :-)

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  7. Thanks, Gwen! You just made my day!

    Jennifer--no, they aren't! The worst place I've ever seen bugs is the Amazon. The second worst is Africa. India, not so much. I've been there in extreme heat and in cold and didn't see many. However, I did get bit a few times... but they were the kind of bites that didn't itch.

    Wendy, that's awesome! I hope that she's able to help you a lot! I love it when God does that!

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  8. I loved this post, Kristen! It sounds like your Indian adventure was well worth it and enjoyable experience of a place you love so much. I went to a Vietnam restaurant to try the food before Vietnam and it wasn't quite the same :D

    I agree about authenticity. It can really show it a story and it makes it so much more wonderful. I am looking forward to the rest of your story.

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  9. What an adventure, and what an interesting comparison! Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to reading about the rest of the adventure:)

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  10. I can't wait to hear more. And, yes, authenticity is very important.

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  11. Great post about authenticity. You are so right about feeling let down when you sense that you know more than the author. Great motivator to delve deeper into research, interview more, and visit!

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  12. Wow! This was an excellent analogy. Your Indian adventure sounded like it was a LOT of fun. I've been recently inducted into the Indian-food-loving crowd and I am never turning back - delicious! And authenticity is pretty much the determining factor of a book. Readers can smell fake or uncertainty from the first page. Great advice!!

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  13. This is a great post! You're so blessed to have such great author friends.

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  14. I agree, T.Anne! And for this awesome community we have!

    Julie, I wish we lived closer to each other because then we could meet up at an Indian restaurant. I'm surprised by how much I like it, since I can't eat Mexican. Indian is just a different kind of spice and I LOVE it!!

    Thanks, everyone! Happy day!

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  15. It's important to be authentic. Sounds like you had a great night. Wish I could do that with my BFF, who lives too far away.

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  16. I agree with you on authenticity. And I can honestly say that I don't always nail it--especially with my secondary characters. It's so interesting to hear about your India experience. I'm glad you're re-creating the memories!

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  17. Hey Kristan, I love this - the build up of yours and Jen's story has me wanting to read more. hmmm. you good writer!!! I want a story to 'feel' real too, to feel like the author knows what they're talking about. The more real it sounds, the more I want to hang on until it's end. Great post.

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  18. Thanks, Sarah! You really encouraged me!

    Jill, I'm definitely the same way with my secondary characters. I think my next read-through I'm really going to focus on them and making them less flat.

    I understand that problem so well, Patti! Many of my friends are overseas. I am thankful for Jen--she's a great one and close by too!

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  19. I think we know when our stories are authentic. We feel it, deep in our souls. Of course, sometimes we go through phases where we feel like maybe we're off track but it eventually all comes together.

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  20. I love Indian food, the spicyness, mmmm... can't eat it on a daily basis, but so good! The desserts are especially yummy although I can't remember the names much. I just know they're colorful and tasty! Come to think of it I love their colorful attire and the joyful dancing in their movies and the...Okay, I'll stop now! :) I haven't had Indian food or gone to their theaters since NYC. I miss New York!(grunting) oooh, I bet you looked lovely in the penjabi! Anyhow Kristen, I loved the way you switched from authentic Indian food to authentic writing! yeah, that was my point! :)

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  21. What beautiful experiences you are having. I'm glad you found a place that allowed you to relive part of those experiences.

    And, yes I blieve authenticity is important in our writing. Good comparison!

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  22. I loved hearing about how you and Jen met! I didn't realize the two of you have known each other that long. What a blessing to have such a close friend to share your writing with!

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  23. Thanks, Ellie! I need to find out about those desserts, because I have never had one that I liked! That's so funny!!! Indian food is going to be a "once in a blue moon" sort of thing for me too (unless I learn how to make it myself), but that's okay.

    I definitely go through those phases too, Stephanie. It's important to keep coming back and not to scrap everything the first time the voices rear up.

    I agree, Jody! She's a huge blessing in my life.

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  24. Authenticity is so important! Glad you made the right restaurant choice! Looking forward to reading more about your adventure on Wednesday! :)

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  25. What fun. I have a Lewis friend--I'm claiming Tolkien at the moment. I do think we need to write authentically, and sometimes that means being true to the character when others might not like it.

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  26. Sounds like an amazing time. Looking forward to hearing more. And I never thought of India as cold. What is cold to you?

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  27. Hi Kristen -

    I enjoyed your description of India Night. Another commenter said it, but I also never thought of India as cold.

    I've been to one of the locations I'm writing about and hoping to visit the other next spring or summer. Setting is a difficult area for me, so it takes more effort.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  28. That was a great post. I would love to have an adventure with you!

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  29. JungleMom, I would LOVE to hang out with you! I'm already in love with your world from afar!

    Haha--cold! Hmm, I'm from Ga, so any weather where I can't lay out? Just kidding. We rarely see snow here, but it does get down to the teens in the winter. That's pretty cold to me. India doesn't get that cold--it won't snow in Delhi--but you have to remember that there is no heat, the buildings are made of stone, and the floors are marble. So the "cold" (40's? 30's? cold enough to see your breath and to leave food out to chill) is accentuated by the stone and marble. Marble is cheaper than wood there.

    I so agree, Tara! We definitely need to stay true to our characters, even when that wouldn't be a popular decision.

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  30. I love this post! A big chunk of our WIP is set in Bangla Town and we're really hoping we nailed the whole authenticity thing.

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  31. Thanks John ;)You're too kind my friend.

    It was as authentic as I'd have it, sans the mosquitoes. Ugh. And to think they never bother me here!!!

    Love the analogy. I'm paying close attention to that while I'm editing my books. I'm finding I can painlessly elminate a lot more than I would have originally thought.

    Happy evening, dear friend!
    Love,
    Jack

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  32. Woops, Jack! I was so tired that day I accidentally called you "John"! My bad!

    So funny.... I don't remember the mosquitoes being that bad at all. You were the one eaten alive and I got next to nothing!

    There's something cathartic about eliminating huge chunks of your WIP. I like it... and I like to laugh maniacally when I do it....

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  33. I really enjoyed how you shared about this. As I read I kept thinking how much I can't wait to read your work--I love authencity--both in what I read and in people and I think you have it both down!

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  34. THANK YOU, Terri! You just made my night! THANK YOU!

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  35. You're lucky to have such a great friend! Your Indian adventure sounds like fun


    Work From Home India

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