*by Jean Foster Akin*
I had always written for adults and never had any desire to write for middle readers. It never even occurred to me to write for middle readers until I took a course in college wherein I read and reviewed five children-to-young-adult books a week, and developed an enrichment plan for teachers using those books in their classes. And now my own book has been read in classrooms, and I’ve received letters from parents who’ve said they had to read my book “just one more time to the kids before bed last night.” I’ve met the most delightful young people due to that book, children not much older than toddlers whose parents read to them, kids in grammar school, teen girls, and adults who’ve stopped by my signing tables to say they loved the book too.
When I first began writing The Filigree Slippers, it wasn’t The Filigree Slippers. It wasn’t about silver or about slippers at all. It was something very different. It was a fantasy for middle readers about a man who created a magical toy rabbit that healed broken things: such as broken hearts, strained friendships, and people enduring illness. I recall that the main character, the creator of the rabbit, had no idea what the rabbit was capable of until he began carrying it on his travels. It’s kind of fuzzy now.
What isn’t fuzzy is that I put aside (for a bit) the novel-length manuscript for adults that I’d written and which I had yet to edit for the umpteenth and final time. I pulled back from the two other manuscripts I was writing for adults, and started writing a story for middle readers about a man who’d created a magical toy rabbit. It was good to take a rest from the other writing so I could approach those manuscripts “fresh” a little later. Plus I was excited about writing something for an audience for whom I’d never considered writing.
What I ended up writing was the story of a shy young man named Hubert who was a master at his craft (designing exquisite jewelry from silver filigree; jewelry that people from far away places would come to see and to own), who falls in love with a young violinist named Fiona. Fiona doesn’t notice Hubert at all. Fiona’s basically a starving artist, a violinist who plays in the park where townspeople toss coins into her hat, and she is focused–solely–on being discovered. She wants to travel the world, playing her music for wealthy, perfumed audiences in great halls, and when a talent agent agrees to represent her, she’s on her way.
Hubert finds out quite by accident that Fiona is leaving town to travel the globe with her little dog, and he devotes himself to making for her an extraordinary gift. A gift she could never afford to give herself. He doesn’t try to stop her, he doesn’t screw up the courage to tell her he loves her, he doesn’t beg her to stay. He offers her no reason to question her leaving. He, instead, pours all his longing and pain and adoration into this gift, and in the darkness before dawn, he carries his boxed gift to her tiny apartment and leaves it at her door. An anonymous token of his love, with no indication of the anguish he feels at losing her. Because when you love deeply, you’ll sacrifice beyond the point of pain.
The story began as a story about Hubert. Hubert’s sacrifice. Hubert’s pain. And yet, it was a story for middle-readers, so while there could be pain, there also had to be something purchased with that pain, something glorious.
In the end, lovely Fiona steals the book’s front cover: onstage, raising her violin to her shoulder, wearing her ruby gown and her exquisite filigree slippers. There’s a lot more, but that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
We don’t always know where a story’s going until we begin writing it. What we thought would be a good plot twist ends up changing the story into something unrecognizable to the original vision. Suddenly the hero shares the stage with a heroine and her little dog, and a magic rabbit becomes glittering filigree slippers.
There’s one sure thing every writer knows: you never know what your story will become… until you start writing it.
The Filigree Slippers, by Jean Foster Akin
Images above are copyrighted. From the book, The Filigree Slippers. Artist: Rebecca Riffey. Sorry, permission to copy images in any form NOT granted.