Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Romance Between Cultures

What factors determine who we fall in love with? Is it familiarity, or our differences, or a mix of both? The background of WHERE I FOUND YOU is my husband, a new doctor, volunteering after the tsunami of 2004. The epicenter happened to be in Banda Aceh, and unlike all the film/TV versions of the tsunami, which took place in Thailand where Westerners were resorting, I wanted my story to take place in Indonesia, and the tragedy to be told from THEIR eyes, not just westerners vacationing there.

Sienna and her family are a vehicle to tell their story, and Sienna has a backstory of tragedy in her own life, losing her mother to a presumed small plane crash during a storm on a previous humanitarian mission.

Because WHERE I FOUND YOU takes place in Indonesia, Sienna’s love interest, Deni, is Acehnese by birth and Muslim by religion. Looking at the demographics below there’s no way the character wouldn’t be presumed Muslim.

Islam is the dominant religion in Aceh and over 98% from about 4 million population identify as Muslims. According to data from the 2005 census, religions' percentages in Aceh are 98.87% Islam, 0.87% Protestantism, 0.15% Buddhism, 0.09% Catholicism.

In fact, Deni finds it odd that Sienna, born and raised in a liberal California beach town, doesn’t belong to any particular religion. Most Indonesians assume people from the United States, and “The West” are Christian, and he asks her about this as they explore a grand temple in the jungles of Indonesia.

Sienna and Deni falling in love has a much to do with the innate curiosity that is front and center in their character personalities as it does with the things they have in common. They are drawn to each other’s differences. Deni reminds Sienna of who she once was before she lost her mom—full of adventure, hope and spirit—and he draws those appealing traits out of her again. Sienna, in turn, teaches Deni tools to ease his PTSD (nightmares of the giant wave, confusion and angst over taking on the responsibilities of the younger boys at the orphanage) and they come to depend on each other, lean on each other, while wanting to learn everything about the other in a short amount of time. Neither judges the other harshly for their differences, and both yearn to understand. This is another thing I love about them. They are open and willing to hear whatever it is the other believes and feels. Ah, young love!

For example, fascinated by Deni’s culture, Sienna finds it shocking that teenagers in Indonesia of the opposite sex aren’t allowed to be alone in a room together, whereas in her hometown, she’s allowed to hang out in Spider, her surfer friend’s, room all the time.

Deni is shocked right back that Sienna doesn’t consider herself to be a woman, when in Indonesia at age seventeen you are almost ready to be married and are perceived to be a woman. They both have such an easy, comfortable and open-hearted way of relating that these huge things in other couples, don’t bother them that much. It’s just the way it is.

In the end, Sienna and Deni are drawn together by what they share: grief of losing parents, an undeniable physical and soulful chemistry, as much as they are by what sets them apart. The fact that they are only together a short two weeks intensifies those feelings as much as the *spoiler alert* at the end of the novel, which threatens to doom their new relationship for good. What sets them apart, makes them special. And makes them admire and love the other even more…even as their difference threaten to tear them apart.

Thanks for reading. 

Excerpt from Where I Found You:
Deni ran a finger over my hand, and I closed my eyes, shivers running down my spine.
It felt significant. Like whatever happened next would change everything.
“Sienna,” he whispered. “I would very much like to hold you.”
I sucked in a breath as his hand slipped around to my back, his fingers barely touching me—grazing. Tingling. I rested my forehead against his chest like I’d been dying to do all day. As if sensing I wanted this, too, wanted this so much, he gripped me harder, pulling me into him, and a sweet relief broke through the wall of tension building between us since we met, and we melted into one another. We both relaxed, as if our bodies sighed in unison. He cupped the back of my head and it took everything I had not to move just a little, to tilt my face just right, to reach up and wrap my arms around his neck and pull his face down to mine, eliminating the last few inches between us.
Imagining kissing those full lips left me buzzing everywhere.
But I couldn’t kiss him. And I couldn’t let him kiss me. Not here. So instead, I let myself be happy in the comfortable quiet. I didn’t want to talk about the past. I wanted to breathe him in and keep him forever. To hang on to this moment, the smell of him—exhaust and coconut— clinging to his clothes. The warmth of his hand cradling the back of my head was the safest I’d ever felt.
“Thank you, Deni,” I whispered, angling my face just a bit so he could hear me. “I had a magical morning.”
“Magical means better than perfect. Make-believe. Even without the pictures, I know I will always remember this.”
He pulled me away from him, tilted my chin up, and seemingly searched my face.
And then he smiled, dimple and all.
I’d never wanted to kiss someone so bad in my life.

Where I Found You (Sea, #1)

After her mother's plane went missing over the Indian Ocean, seventeen-year-old Sienna Jones gave up everything she loved about living in California. No more surfing. No more swimming. No more ocean, period. Playing it safe, hiding from the world, is the best call. 

Until her dad throws down the challenge of a lifetime: spend the summer with his humanitarian team in Indonesia, working with orphans who lost everything in a massive tsunami. 

The day they arrive, Sienna meets a mysterious boy named Deni, whose dark, intense eyes make her heart race. Their stolen nights force her to open up and live in a way she thought she couldn't anymore. When she’s with Deni, she remembers the girl she used to be…and starts to feel like the woman he sees in her. 

A woman he wants for his own.


But when Deni’s past comes looking for him, Sienna’s faced with losing another person she loves. She can’t do it. Not again. 

Fortunately, this time, she has a plan.

About Heidi R. Kling:
Heidi R. Kling writes about normal young women in not-so-normal situations - books that beg the question: what would I do in her shoes? Heidi majored in literature and creative writing in college and in grad school, where she earned her Master's in Creative Writing from The New School in New York City. She's honored to be included in New School Writing Program's 2015 list of faculty and alumni. She works too much, reads a ton and is way too dedicated to serial TV (The Affair and Homeland are her faves) and dark chocolate. She lives in the California Bay Area with her lovely husband, two children and shaggy dog, Sailor Lily, right over the coastal mountains from the sea. She's very grateful.

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