The Amethyst Road: Background

Often, when I write, a character comes to me before the story does. In this case, I was fiddling around in my backyard trying to write a story when the words “We are collectors” came out of my pen, and suddenly I could hear a voice – and it was Serena’s. Writing is funny sometimes. It’s as if someone’s story, someone’s experience, is floating around out there in the ether, and you suddenly catch hold of it.

Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that simple. There were some other things behind the story, too. I used to work as an anti-racism educator – which meant that I went to a lot of different schools and talked to teachers and students about racism and other forms of bigotry (based on religion or sexual orientation, etc.): how to understand its dynamics, how to recognize it, and how, by becoming aware of it, we can hopefully eliminate it. When I did this, I worked with teachers, human rights activists and students. I heard lots of people’s stories – like stories of being picked on by the police because of the color of your skin, or being labeled as a “trouble-maker” because you were speaking your native language in the hallway at school. I was always very touched by the dilemmas that bi-racial kids had, which would most often boil down to “I'm not accepted by either of my groups” – the very situation that causes Serena so much grief.

But I also got to hear about how proud people were of their families, how proud they were of being able to rise above hatred and division. And I met some people I really considered heroes. One was my friend, Ora Franklin, who was one of the first black teachers to teach in the Seattle Public Schools. Not only was she a great teacher (and principal) all her life, but she never stopped advocating for any kids (or adults) who were being held back or discriminated against.

Another hero was Bill Wassmuth, who had started out living in Idaho and being an activist against the Aryan Nations (a white supremacist group which used to be based in western Idaho) and was actually bombed out of his house by them. He went on to found the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, one of the most active human rights groups in the Northwest – which along with the Southern Poverty Law Center finally drove the Aryan Nations out of their compound in Idaho (they are the model for the Trident Riders in The Amethyst Road).

One thing I saw again and again was how people have it in them to change their lives and the lives of others, and to reject the negative things they are led to believe about themselves. You can probably see how a lot of this fed into The Amethyst Road.