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Barbara Chepaitis. The Amber

Posted July 3, 2015 in Events

The inspiration for The Amber comes from my father, and the bees.

My father gave me a strange and wonderful heritage – the rich and somewhat mysterious traditions of Lithuania.
Because of him, I spent much of my life explaining that I’m not Lutheran. I’m Lithuanian. That my name isn’t Greek. It’s Lithuanian. That it rhymes with most inflammatory diseases (bursitis, hepatitis, arthritis and so on). I also blame him, at least partially, for what I choose to write about.

My father, like all fathers, wasn’t perfect. He made his errors, some serious, and there was much he didn’t teach me that he should have. But in one area he gave me a great gift: He loved the land, and taught me to do the same. He worked to conserve the wild lands in our county, and he believed in educating us about the need to steward the land well. Because of him I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Because of him I learned to pay attention to the creatures I shared the world with.
As a writer, that translated into understanding that The Muse doesn’t always appear in human form. Therefore, The Amber, certainly wouldn’t have been born without my Lithuanian heritage of connection to bees.
That’s right. I said bees. Here’s how that started.

I was swarmed by bees. Not once, not twice, but three times, and it was painful and scary. I was complaining about it to a friend and he said, “Well, you’re Lithuanian.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” I demanded.
“Lithuanians have a bee mythology. A bee god and goddess. I think,” he mused, “your ancestors want you to write about them.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure. I’ll do that.”

I meant to, but other projects, paying projects mind you, intervened. In the meantime, my husband and I built a house out in the country, which took some time away from writing about my ancestors’ painful and nonpaying imperative.
But as soon as we built the house, a swarm of honeybees gathered at one of our trees. Then, we had an invasion of wasps in the ceiling right above the pillow where I sleep. Finally, another swarm of honeybees decided to build their home inside the walls of our house.
After they settled in, they crawled through the walls, until one day, I heard a strange buzzing near an electrical outlet in the office where I write. Being totally ignorant, I unscrewed the outlet cover to see what was going on, and was greeted by WINGS. Lots of BEE WINGS!
I clamped the cover down, and took a breath.
Honeybees were trying to get to me.

Because my father taught me to pay attention to environmental issues, I was aware that honeybees were in trouble. Their population was being decimated by illness that seemed to be connected to a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Thinking of my father, who made me read Silent Spring, thinking of all the good work honeybees do in the world, thinking how important it is that we pay attention to our imprint on the planet, I didn’t want to just kill them. On the other hand, I didn’t want to get stung a lot. After some thought I worked out a system of cardboard, tupperware containers, and duct tape that would allow me to capture and release the bees which were trying desperately to break through the ultimate human glass ceiling of my office. I spent four days fearfully manipulating my home-made rescue operation, until it seemed I’d gotten all I could. I remember the last bee lingering, and saying to it, “Go! Get the hell out of Dodge! Really.”

It continued to linger, and so I said, “I promise. I’ll write the damn book. Just go!”
When it was gone, I started research in earnest, and found all kinds of fascinating facts about my own heritage, many of which explained Why I am the Way I am. I did what writers do when the muse stings you. I fell in love with this world and its people, which were part of my DNA.

The result was The Amber, which pays homage to the Lithuanian bee goddess Austeja, and explores what it means to be dragged back into your own soul, your own heritage, just when you thought you could leave it all behind.
But you can’t. My father knew that.

The reason we celebrate holidays like Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day, the reason we search out our ancestors, is because their story informs ours, and helps to shape our souls. The more we know about it, the better we can make conscious choices about what we’ll keep, what we’ll leave behind, and where we want the story to go next.
Father’s Day isn’t just about what our fathers gave us. It’s also about what we want to do with it next. And that matters. A lot. So the honeybees would say.

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I printed it out and stood on my front porch holding it, saying thank you, as I always do for the completion of a first draft.

Barbara Chepaitis


    Thousands of years ago, in what is now Lithuania, a man named Naktis sold his soul to the devil for control of a woman who obsessed him.  The bargain was a bad one, and he lost both the woman and his soul.  He’s been trying to get it back ever since, either by trading it for someone else’s, or by undoing his original mistake.
By the 21st century he’s become Nick Vecchio, handsome and wealthy.  At this time he meets 28 year old Stacey V., practical and ambitious, working her way up the career ladder in Marketing.  Her practical nature is disturbed at the summer solstice by a disturbing and dreamlike memory of ancient Lithuania, and a man who pursues her.   When she goes to a dive bar for a drink alone after this event, Nick is there, and he engages her in conversation about what she’d sell her soul for.
She thinks she’ll never see him again, but he pursues her, hinting that he can get back a valuable family violin called the Amber which her gambler brother lost in a poker game.  Nick knows that her full name is Austeja Vitautis, and that she’s the descendant of the woman he sold his soul for, carrying her spirit through time. He fosters her artistic talent, and encourages her to talk about her Lithuanian ancestry.
As their relationship unfolds, the story of Stacey’s ancestors is also told, intertwining his long search with their contemporary affair.  In each generation that they’ve met, he tried to steal her soul, and each time he failed, bested by her spirit, and the forces of nature supporting her.  Her connection to the sacred trees of Lithuania, and the protection of their ancient bee goddess for whom she is named keep him from his goal.
Stacey is drawn to Nick, even if he is odd. With his encouragement she begins to paint again, which dredges up disturbing images, dreams, and events.  A swarm of honeybees invade her office at work.  She dreams of Birute, ancient priestess of Lithuania.  When Nick takes her to Italy she finds paintings she doesn’t remember creating. Then, after she is swarmed by bees and he saves her,  they become lovers with wild intensity.
As lovers, they travel to Lithuania and here their past catches up with them.  Stacey is drawn to the forest, where she experiences what it means to belong to this line of women.  Nick makes one last attempt to control her, and when it fails, they part.
When she returns home, Stacey discovers that Nick was the poker player who won her brother’s violin.  He had it all along.  She confronts him, and learns who and what he really is, as her own history is joined to her present.  But to get the violin back, she has to trade her soul in.   Now they’re both caught in the devil’s bargain, and she must either trick Nick into a final damnation to save herself and her brother, or find a redemption that will save them all.


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