Inspiration is an odd thing. Sometimes I know where it comes from; other times I don’t. In the case of “Portraits from the Shadow,” published this month in InterGalactic Medicine Show, I don’t really know what inspired this story. While its inspiration may elude me, I can think of three things that were in my mind as I wrote it and certainly played a role in the final product.
Some time ago, a member of my writing group Hopefull Monsters posted a story for critique about a woman whose paintings became the reality for her world. It was a wonderful story and an even more wonderful idea. That story didn’t inspire “Portraits from the Shadow,” but I suspect it played some part in the process.
Many years ago (wow, quite a few now that I think about it), I traveled to Papua-New Guinea and spent six weeks exploring its coral reefs and highlands. I spent two weeks in the highlands, among some of the most diverse cultures I’ve ever seen. Before going, we were advised to refrain from photographing people we saw for a couple of reason: (1) it’s rude to just take someone’s picture without asking, and (2) some of the cultures believed creating an image of them would steal their soul. This experience also didn’t inspire “Portraits from the Shadow,” but I thought about it a lot after I started writing because it seemed relevant.
My father fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He never talked about his experiences in either, and I never asked. I figured these were likely not the best years of his life, and based on the stories I heard from soldiers who fought in Vietnam, these were likely memories best left unvisited. My father passed away several years ago, and as part of his memorial, we assembled a slide show of his life, including several pictures from his time in Korea and Vietnam. Those pictures really moved me; he was so young (much younger than I am now) and had already seen things I could never imagine and which I hope to never see. Those events shaped who he was, even if he never spoke of them, and for the first time, I thought I understood my father better than ever before. I knew then that the Vietnam War had to be an important event in “Portraits from the Shadow.”
While none of these things directly inspired “Portraits from the Shadow,” they all helped shape it after I had started writing it. Regardless of where this story came from, this one is among my favorites for very personal reasons. It’s a story about sacrifice, love, and family, and I hope you enjoy it.