Sometimes, I wonder if we were better listeners before we came to the United States. When we first arrived in 1990, my untainted ears still longed for the steadiness of a storyteller’s tone. In the evenings when mothers called their kids home for dinner and crickets began their soothing songs, my siblings and I gathered around Dad to hear sweeping tales of monsters and heroes and magic in a tradition that had been practiced long before a book, a TV or a tablet became the norm.
Mom has laid a three-foot spread of newspaper over the yellow linoleum floor. In an old, fifty-pound rice bag, several chickens squirm. I’m standing to the side waiting as the kettle sings its readiness on the stove. Mom picks up the kettle and pours steaming water into a white bucket next to the spread of newspaper. With an expert hand, she opens the rice bag and pulls out a chicken.
I take a deep breath as I walk into the dark theater with several Hmong girlfriends from work. It’s 11:00 AM on a Friday, and the only people in the theater are us, a few rows of senior citizens, and a couple here and there. All week I’ve been reading the reviews for Crazy Rich Asians, watching the cast do interviews, witnessing this momentous event every step of the way. It’s been on my calendar for a whole year. As my girlfriends and I sit down to wait for the lights to dim and for the trailers to start playing, I only had one thought in my head. Gosh, please don’t suck.
I imagine a bright spark when an idea is born. Miniscule at first, it starts to grow, crackling and fizzing before its jagged branches shoot across the sky like lightning. In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb says, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” My idea for A Kiss of Blood—my young adult fantasy novel about a girl who goes into the spirit realm to rescue her mother's soul—was an amalgamation of many little things, and one of those things is a Hmong song called “Cia Ua Ib Zaj Dab Neeg”—“Let It Be a Story”—“it” referring to a relationship. In the song, a boy receives a wedding invitation from the girl he Ioves who is marrying another boy. Although he is devastated by the news, he chooses to accept the situation—hence, his saying, “let it be a story”. I was particularly intrigued with one part of the song and one line—the very last line, which talks about a “letter”.