Notes on Shira
The notions of Shining Shira emerged, believe it or not, from a fifth grade creative writing assignment. We’d just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and our teacher told us to create a world with three magical creatures and name ourselves as king or queen, with a title that started with the first letter of our first name. I disliked the requirement of the first letter, so I went with the first sound, and “Shining Charlotte” was invented. I wrote a few pages of fiction in letter format from Shining Charlotte to Conrad, her love interest who was a soldier in the Sunbursti army, but I was relatively embarrassed by all of it. Being the rational fifth grader I was, I tabled it. I spent the rest of elementary and middle school on a different story, this one about a magical world called Treetops where no adults existed and children could climb trees like monkeys. It was very cute, but Sunburst was ultimately more alluring.
Shira herself materialized when I wrote a short story I was hoping to submit to a writing competition in 6th grade. I realized I couldn’t let the main character be named after myself—that would be unsophisticated—but I knew I wanted a name that started with “Sh.” I liked the name Shira for no other reason than its spelling, but as soon as she was named, she became a completely different human being. I wound up rejecting my first Shining Shira short story for a reinterpretation of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (believe me when I say I did not win a blue ribbon), but Shira was born, and as much as I ignored her through 6th, 7th, and most of 8th grade, she refused to go away.
After I worked for five weeks at a summer camp between 8th and 9th grade, Shira nagged me. I started having dreams about a beautiful girl with chocolate skin, standing up against an evil man who would hurt everyone she cared about. When I finally began to put her on the page, she fleshed out, and the story followed. Kaelo became even more villainous in her presence. Conrad became braver and more masculine (although writing Conrad is a whole different adventure that is not for today, so stay tuned). Shira became all the things my fourteen-year-old self hoped to be when I was nineteen—gracious, kind, wickedly intelligent, and resourceful, among other things. Being queen of her own country was also pretty exciting, but making up countries is enough power for me. I can happily acknowledge that I haven’t the slightest idea how to rule one.
Anxiety, however, was one of the biggest things I learned to navigate as I wrote about Shira. I have always had anxiety, although mine, unlike my mom’s and sister’s, manifests itself physically. I don’t have panic attacks, although I’ve come close several times. Instead, my body rebels and I get sick. Seventh and eighth grade, for example, were years of one of my more dangerous spirals. Mom and Dad helped me through it, and without their support I know I would not be the person I am today. For me, however, writing about Shira and her anxiety became a coping mechanism. I could negotiate pain, fear, worry, dread, and anything else I needed through her, and I could explore all the things that scared me at a distance. She became a warrior, and she showed me how to fight.
Looking back, I’m very aware of the flaws in Shira, but I am proud of her. She’s brave, she’s kind, and she’s no damsel in distress. She’s able to save people who aren’t just herself. I don’t know about you, but that’s my goal.
Let’s save the world, one story at a time.