Sometimes the book I set out to write, ultimately becomes a tiny part of a much larger story that demands to be written. That's what happened with Echo.
I thought I was going to write a novella about the nation's first successful desegregation case in 1931: Roberto Alvarez vs. the Lemon Grove School District. I was researching at a historical society in San Diego County, when I came across a peculiar photograph of a large group of children, including many Mexican-Americans, sitting on the steps of a country school. Each child held a harmonica. When I asked the docent about the photo, she told me it was the school's harmonica band and added, "during the big harmonica band movement in the United States." Those intoxicating words were enough to send me on the long and winding journey toward ECHO.
Not only was there a harmonica band movement, at one time there were over two thousands school harmonica bands in the U.S. , including Alfred N. Hoxie's Philadelphia Harmonica Band of Wizards, a 60 member boy band. I began to wonder about the children in that country school band, who were later segregated, and the boys in Hoxie's band in Philadelphia, which was full of orphans. Two characters and their stories began to take shape: Mike, in Philadelphia; and Ivy Maria, a Mexican girl in California. I began to wonder if by some odd fate, my characters at different points in time might have played the same harmonica. And if they had, who had owned it before them?
After more research and traveling to Germany to the largest and one of the oldest harmonica factories in the world, I learned about the young apprentices who had worked there before WWII. Another character's story, Friedrich's, began to unfold. I had the premises for three stories but I wanted more than just episodes in the life of one musical instrument. Given the years the novel spanned, 1933-1951, I realized that my characters would live during some of the most dark and challenging times in history that included war, the Great Depression, and segregation. They would have to cope with circumstances far beyond their control. How would they have the courage to put one foot in front of the other? How would they find their way? What emotions and themes echoed from one story to the next?
I wanted to give my characters beauty and light when they were afraid and their future seemed bleak. I wanted them to experience the universal language of music and the camaraderie of musicians. I wanted Friedrich, Mike and Ivy Maria to experience hope, and magic. That is why the harmonica is tied to a promise, tangled in a witch's curse, and is the vessel which carries the midwife's prophecy: Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.