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!
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