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©2020 BY R. K. MAYER

  • R. K. Mayer

Why I Wrote 'The Place Where We Belong'


When I was in elementary school I wrote a story about a ladybird who was unable to fly. The story was inspired by 'real-life events'. My sister and I, in our many outdoor pursuits, rescued a butterfly with broken wings. We placed her gently in a shoe box. We lined the box with leaves. We set her up on the highest spot in the box, and while my sister shouted words of encouragement, I demonstrated how to fly: running up and down the garden, my arms flapping wildly. My story won a gold medal, my flying demonstration was less successful. Butterflies with broken wings don't stand much of a chance – no matter how much they are encouraged. Incidentally, from the moment that I won that accolade, I knew that 'one day', I wanted to write again.

The ladybird-butterfly story demonstrates how many novels are born. A trigger, an incident, an episode that jogs the consciousness and sets it off into motion. The mind sends a message to the hand, and the author starts to type.

When I consider the backdrop of 'The Place Where We Belong', I cannot think of any external impetus that made me begin to write. The main character, Tamara, is no one I have met in person, although she may as well be. She is a young woman living in Tel Aviv. She has a meaningful job, good friends and positive intentions to start rebuilding her life after an amicable divorce. And yet, she finds herself losing control of all aspects of her life. Her predicament: the divorce, the loss of control, the spiralling into helplessness, the unrequited love – these are patches sewn together from many sources, none of which feature directly in my life. So why did I write it?

Sometimes, the incident triggers the story – a butterfly with broken wings turns into a flightless ladybird. In this case, the content is spun from a particular image. That image grows and the writer extracts the message from the image. Other times, the message is the trigger – the foundation of the story evolves from a universal question, and the story is built around it. This is the case in 'The Place Where We Belong'.

When you have everything in line to succeed, and yet you still feel out of place, different, as if you don't belong – how can these feelings be overcome? Tamara has grown up feeling different, feeling like she is not like everyone else. And this was always OK by her. But now, in the aftermath of her divorce, suddenly it forces her to question everything about who she is and what she wants. Is it OK to be different? How important is it to belong? What is the price of not being able to fit in?

The theme of belonging is the universal message in this book that triggered my writing. There are other themes: bullying, love, acceptance, friendship. However, the main question that I wanted to examine was, how can Tamara – in the throes of dealing with the changes in her life – grow from the experience, and accept herself and her place, and truly figure out where she belongs? If I could extrapolate just a bit more: if a strong character like Tamara suddenly begins to doubt herself, her work, her motivation for doing things – where does it leave those of us, who may be less self-assured and less confident? Are we where we want to be, doing things we want to do, surrounded by people who love and accept us – and if not, what should we do about it?

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