Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I'm Back!

I'm back! I thought you'd like to see a photo, to be sure I'm for real after all this time, so I just snapped this one in the bathroom mirror. That's why I look a little fuzzy--although it may also reflect my mental state. Please excuse the 9-month silence. I'll explain later. For now, I have an announcement: my second work of literary fiction, Fiesta of Smoke, launched March 5th with Fiction Studio Books! 

Fiesta of Smoke is a love story set against fifty years of political turmoil in Mexico, and takes on the critical social issues of disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples, political corruption and the increasing encroachment of powerful drug cartels. Fiesta of Smoke is available in paperback or e-book on Amazon and Barnes&Noble. And in case you're wondering: yes, I'm currently working on a sequel.

People have been asking me what motivated me, thirty years ago, to begin writing Fiesta of Smoke, and what kept me motivated through so many years and distractions. One searing image bears responsibility for it all.

 I was traveling in a dilapidated VW bus from Mérida, the capital of Yucatan, to Xumal, an ancient Mayan city of the classical period and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We wound along a narrow road bordered by fields and areas of low trees. It was the dry season, just on the cusp of the coming rains, and the trees and grasses were dry and shriveled.

Suddenly, I spied a large group of people, between seventy-five and a hundred I estimated, sitting in a field of yellowed grass and bracketed by forest. The women were all in traditional dress of flounced skirts and colorful huipils, the hand woven and embroidered blouses of the Maya. The men and children, too, wore the simple clothing of the indigenous Maya. The group was unusually still, forming an unmoving tableau on the field’s proscenium as we labored past in our noisy old bus.

“Who are those people?” I asked my Mexican companion, for the utter lack of movement struck me as odd and somehow disturbing. My friend answered that these were Guatemalan refugees whose home village had been destroyed by a paramilitary death squad. “They have nowhere to go,” he said sadly, “and so they are sitting here.”

At that moment, Fiesta of Smoke was born. As surely as if I had received a certified letter from On High, I knew I was called to write about their plight. Thirty years intervened. I wrote three other books in the interim, completed masters and doctoral degrees, worked as a university professor, divorced and married again. Still, the image of those humble, disrupted people never left me. Many of them must be dead by now. Their children will be grown and have children of their own. Tardy it may be, but Fiesta of Smoke is for them—those nameless, despairing people in a field by the side of the road in Yucatan.

As if to put a seal upon my decision, the instant it was formed the skies suddenly opened and the first rain of the rainy season commenced. I opened the van window and thrust out my arm. Rain ran down it, into my lap. It splashed my cheeks and dribbled down my chest. I hope it is like this for the readers of Fiesta of Smoke—that the love that is poured through its pages will anoint them in a downpour that revives everything. 

For your enjoyment, the opening pages of Fiesta of Smoke:

            The story I am about to tell you is true, as I myself was a participant. Some parts come from the accounts of my contemporaries, as alive and vivid as a basket of eels. The rest, rising from the dust of centuries, is open to conjecture only to those who lack a certain kind of faith that we, who made this story by our doing, held as our deepest fiber. To participate with us, you must consider that illusion is the veriest truth and reality can play you false in a heartbeat. There is nothing more you need to know, except that in matters of this world--and no doubt the next--the only real thing is love.
. . . .
Sierra Madre Occidental, Chihuahua, Mexico

            In a house ringed with guns, the couple is dancing. Courtyard walls condense fragrances flying on night wind sighing down the Sierra. Nectar and smoke lace with the smell of tortillas on the comal. From the open kitchen door a trapezoid of yellow light illumines, on a tilted chair, a blind guitarist whose gypsy rumba entwines the soft splatter of the fountain. White moths circle the musician’s head like spirits of inspired music.
            The dancers scarcely move. He holds her close, his forearm across her back, her hand curled into his crooked wrist, the other warm on the back of his neck. He scoops her into himself, their hips pressing, slowly rotating to rhythm as one. He submerges himself in her hair, its scent of apples and sandalwood, brushes his cheek against its softness, and gazes into the darkness, alert for signs.
            She rubs her cheek against the rough hand-woven cloth of his white shirt, breathes his essence--rich as newly-churned butter, sweet as vanilla, feral as a jaguar. It rises into her brain like a drug. Her head against his chest, she feels his heart pulsing powerfully, tuned like a guitar string to its own primal note. His whole being vibrates with what he senses: the closeness and surrender of her body, the sultry beat of the music, the luscious fragrances of the night, the invisible ambling of the guards on the walls, the inevitable approach of ruin.

It's great to be back! You can thank my friend Susan Coster for prodding me every day until I got this blog posted. Thanks, Susan. Please keep it up!


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