I wrote The Keeper of Fire when I was sixteen years old. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a metaphor for everything I was experiencing in my young life. My name is Davina; my character’s name is Deiji. My mother left when I was three years old. In the metaphor this means she is sick. My dad remarried a year later and I suffered under the guardianship of an abusive stepmother and my distant, uninvolved father. (In The Keeper of Fire this character becomes Deiji’s aunt Micid, and her father is dead).
Photo: A painting by me at age 13
When I was a young teen I loved to paint whales and draw centaurs. I struggled with the centaur sketches and spent many hours perfecting my technique and body proportion scaling. I took one of my brother’s old movie posters, delighted by the vast expanse of white on the back. It became my canvas and I painstakingly created a detailed scene of frolicking centaurs. It took me days to finish.
After it was completed, I made a foolish mistake: I proudly presented it to my parents. At first my father was apathetic, but my step-mother began to rave about how I was “possessed.” (She actually meant “obsessed,” but she was practically dyslexic and my father always took his cue from her). “Those creatures are Satanic,” he agreed.
“Destroy it,” my step-mother commanded. I cried out, and my dad tried to soothe me. “Take one corner; we’ll destroy it together,” he said. “In the name of Jesus, on the count of three, okay?”
But I would not hold my end taut. I let go. He tore it in two “in the name of Jesus Christ” and the pieces fell to the floor. I quietly returned to my bedroom empty-handed to cry. I kept my artistic self-expression to myself after that, and quietly began writing The Keeper of Fire two years later.
The Keeper of Fire is about the triumph of artistic expression. It’s about a girl who becomes empowered and takes control of her own destiny for the first time. Nowhere in the story is this clearer than when Deiji meets her aunt Micid at the book’s climax and Micid lifts her hand to strike Deiji across the face. Deiji grabs her aunt’s wrist and looks her square in the eye and says “DON’T.” In that single action she declares her personal boundaries are to be respected. Her empowerment is acknowledged.
She stands up for herself in a way that I never could as a child.
Photo: Fidalgo Island
The year I wrote it, we had just left our rural northern California town (my “village”) for Fidalgo Island in Washington State. My dad worked full-time, 30 miles away in Mount Vernon, and my step-mother remained behind in California to sell our house.
In California I grew up sheltered, spending the majority of my time closed up in my bedroom, at church or at school. “Go home and go straight to your room” was the house rule. On Fidalgo Island I was left to my own devices and had to learn how to survive without command or instruction for the first time. I was overwhelmed, almost helpless, and spent several weeks wandering around the island, getting lost and making new friends.
I never got yelled at, ordered around or hit. I began to fantasize about a character who leaves her little village and abusive guardian and ends up on a desert island. It was a period of mental and emotional growth for me, absent of fear and anxious anticipation for the first time in my life.
I wrote out the story, then had to find a reason for her being there. Then I had to seek out a conclusion to her adventures. It grew and grew and The Keeper of Fire was born.