“Miss Burma” is the novel Charmaine Craig was destined to write. The UC Irvine MFA graduate and former actress drew inspiration for this epic from her mother, Louisa Benson Craig, a beauty queen and actress who became a rebel leader of the Karen people, an ethnic minority in the country now known as Myanmar.
The Karen people … lost their written language, and the only way they could pass on their story was from mother to child in the form of songs. When I realized that not only was I writing a political story, but that writing it was a political act in defiance of the silencing of these stories … it was a kind of fuel for me.
THE NOVEL vs. BIOGRAPHY
What was compelling to me were these questions about why, for example, was my mother willing to become a beauty queen in her country when it embarrassed her, when she was a very private person, a modest person? How could it be that she eventually had to be a warrior, an armed person leading a brigade, when she was a self-professed pacifist? These contradictions and mysteries that nonfiction couldn’t explain became much more interesting to me.
I had a real passion for the craft of acting. I probably would have continued to be an actor if I hadn’t felt so typecast. It was the soul-crushing experience of being typecast over and over that made me turn to writing, where I could still practice
this thing that actors do, which is empathically inhabiting a character, another person. With my mother, acting fell into her lap as an outgrowth of being a beauty queen. She was drawn into it, not out of passion for it. Nevertheless, she did tell me that it was fun for her, unexpectedly so.
When I finished it (the novel), I felt at once that this burden I’d been carrying around for pretty much my whole life had been lifted. But on the other hand, since my mother passed away in 2010, I’ve been conversing with her daily through the process of writing this book, and suddenly that deep conversation ended. It’s not that I’m not still speaking with her in some way every day; I am. But the intensity of the conversation and of living with her was suddenly gone, too. That has been a huge loss.
Catch Craig at Laguna Beach Books on May 7.