Tag Archives: Mexico

Fling!

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Last October I attended an event of the San Francisco Chapter WNBA, Women’s National Book Association.  Member authors presented their lately published books, and I was captured by Lily Iona MacKenzie and her 2015 release, Fling! I ran right to the signing table after the presentations and bought a copy, although later I received an audio version, which I listened to on trains crossing Spain (no plain, no rain.) IMG_4204.JPGDelighted, I wiled away the hours lost in the scenery and MacKenzie’s imaginative and wacky story of mothers and daughters, fulfilling one’s dreams and the magic that comes when you live life to the edge and possibly over. I felt like I was on my own quest, living my Spanish vacation to its maximum, experiencing the magic of discovery and expansion that comes with travel to new places. Everything thrummed with excitement, including my book—Fling!  Life couldn’t have been better.

Several days later, the book finished, and watching the lights coming on from our balcony overlooking La Sagrada Familia, I ruminated on Fling!. IMG_4013Set between three generations of women and four countries, much of the story takes place in Mexico. I know Mexico well and thought about what I’d learned by visiting the “parent” country, Spain. The mysterious twisting cobbled streets of the medieval cities, the ubiquitous artistic expression, the grand churches, the tile work, the crowds promenading through tapas bars in the evenings, the sense of happy self-actualization of the Spaniards—the foundation of the Mexican culture. I even found the magical realism: on the strains of symphonic music wafting through Granada’s cathedral, the phantasms flitting in the gardens of Generalife, the rain-bowed light streaming through the glass of La Sagrada Familia, the voices of antiquity whispering from somber portraits in the Prado Museum, the sensual buildings of the Modernista, a cathedral in the middle of the Mesquita! IMG_4901Then it was November 9th and only the unreal remained. We’ve had almost a year lacking magic. I say it’s time to look away from the devastation of the environment and our rude and hateful world of racism, deportations, killing sprees, and the crumbling of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s time to find life’s fountain of youth and wonder again. Fling! is full of it.

Unknown-3Like any compelling saga, the story is told in multiple points of view across a span of three lifetimes. It opens with Malcolm MacGregor’s story of how his granddaughter Bubbles, née Heather, “had danced right off one of his paintings, landing in the family potato patch. . . .” in  1906 on the Isle of Skye, where “unpredictable things happen.” Her hippie daughter, Feather, has also inherited the Scottish sensibility of unpredictability, which shows up as  “Manannán  Mac Lirs’s underworld” in her paintings.

Bubbles has convinced Feather to come home to Calgary, Canada from San Francisco to celebrate her 90th birthday, but she has another motive. Bubbles has received a notice from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left seventy years earlier, in the late 1920s. Heather had left her family to go to Mexico with a married man. Bubble wants Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial.

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The story of their odyssey is woven together with the stories of their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The two women travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then in Mexico over six months. In magical Mexico, Feather learns much about her mother. She hasn’t fully believed her mother’s story, but when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, she begins to understand the depth of her and her mother’s magic. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, helped by Indian villagers mistaking Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess and praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again, realizes she’s overlooked her own mother.

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San Miguel de Allende internationalliving.com

Bubbles’ quest and a new man in her life has increased her zest for life. A life-long entrepreneur, she’s convinced she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral spring outside San Miguel de Allende and she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it. A natural risk taker and believing she’s immortal, Bubbles lives life to the fullest in every way. Feather learns from Bubbles’ youthful spirit that it’s never too late to realize your dreams. Both have found the fountain of youth and they know that they will see everyone again, “if not in the flesh, then their souls hovering as a hummingbird, or fluttering as a butterfly, or floating above the earth as clouds.”

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Mackenzie has created two strong characters who are hilarious and endearing. Bubbles is a zany gypsy who takes after her mother, the ashes left at the dead letter office. She’s tough and tender and wants to reconcile with both the mother who left her and the daughter she left. At 90, she’s finally come of age and found the love of a good man. Feather, née Heather, at 57 is a San Francisco artist who desperately wants to break free of the male dominated world. She loves her mother but can’t quite connect to her as Bubbles lives inside a bubble that Feather feels has never burst. Feather grew up in her mother’s shadow, “. . .a moon, orbiting a planet.” and has worked hard to become her own person. Pragmatic, fearful and a worrier, she’s not much of a risk taker except in her art. She longs to be in charge of her own life. For all Bubbles exuberance, Feather is equally reserved, although she’s got a sharp eye and makes funny observations.  She’s Bubbles’ touchstone and Bubbles is Feather’s catalyst to relax and enjoy life.

 

The story is told in both past and present tenses. Mackenzie’s skill in sliding in and out of tenses and in and out of voices is superb. Chapter headings clue readers into time periods and goddess images separate scenes. In the audio version I listened to in Spain, Anna Crow, the reader, modulated her voice sufficiently to follow the changes and determine the speaker. I had no problem keeping up with her reading.

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Mackenzie’s language is straightforward and sensory. Her descriptions are vivid and progress to surprising comparisons and existential observations throughout the book. For example, On the plane to Mexico City they encounter a storm: “Lighting rips open the night sky, ragged edges illuminating patches of earth below. She [Bubbles] tries to ignore the severe turbulence. It reminds her of riding horses on the farm. . . . She could be going along, enjoying the ride, when suddenly all hell would break loose. . . . But then, life is like that. Everything seems fine. Then suddenly, it isn’t.” It’s these observations that are the real charm of the book. It’s like living inside the characters’ minds. And of course, these characters think the wildest things!

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In part, the collision of their Celtic roots and lore with the rich blend of Spanish colonial and indigenous Mexican characteristics and culture they encounter in Mexico is what makes this all work. Of course, magic happens! The dead come to visit, old ladies are mistaken for long awaited goddesses, and people change while finding their dreams. Ultimately, it’s the joy of life, la alegría de la vida that is the Fling! fountain of youth and it can be found or re-found at any age. Rereading passages of Fling! as I write this review has lifted me above my profound sadness for the most recent gun violence in our country. I’m feeling kinder toward our leadership. I feel like dancing, in fact. Maybe a Mexican Hat Dance? Fling! is a perfect book for now. As renowned author Lewis Buzbee puts it, Fling! is both hilarious and touching. Every page is a surprise, and the characters! I especially loved Bubbles, one of the most endearing mothers in recent fiction. A scintillating read.” ~Lewis Buzbee, award-winning author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshopg review and faculty at University of San Francisco MFA program.

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Terror in Taffeta

27107d_9b6f70f5dd2f407e9192ba64917f528cAlthough I planned my own Wine Country destination wedding: our front yard, I do hold a smidgen of destination wedding experience. I’ve attended two weddings in Mexico. The first was held in a crumbling monastery tricked out to resemble a wedding fairyland with an inch deep path of white roses leading to the altar arranged and tented atop a ruin with forested green mountains as a backdrop.

At the second, held at Mexico’s largest rancho, which historically extended from central Mexico east and west to both coasts, guests arrived by helicopter (a president, perhaps?) to dine, drink and dance all night in the courtyard after Mariachi 2000, played a private concert following the ceremony. What I remember best at both was the free-flowing tequila—until the tequila donkey ran dry, that is. The rumor in town the next day claimed Valle de Bravo to have run dry after father of the bride grabbed the donkey and made a midnight tequila ride.

I don’t remember what other disasters occurred, but I’m certain no one died, (even if a few guests did snore under tables) everyone had a grand time and Chris’s and Alejandra’s wedding planners went home with excellent recommendations and cell phone numbers of prospective clients.

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Templo de San Francisco, San Miguel de Allende

That’s how it should have been for San Francisco based wedding planner, Kelsey McKenna who has created a perfect wedding for Nicole Abernathy and Vince Moreno in the two hundred year old chapel in the Mexican colonial town of San Miguel Allende. But as Father Villareal pronounces the couple “husband and wife” bridesmaid Dana, collapses into a floral arrangement at the altar, stealing the couple’s thunder—truly a wedding faux pas.

Kelsey handles the disaster with grace and professionalism as she ushers the crowd toward the tequila donkey, but soon discovers that Dana hasn’t passed-out from too much fun at the bachelorette party. She’s dead. Kelsey has a responsibility to her client to deal with the problem, but the difficult mother of the bride, Mrs. Abernathy, insists she cover it up so Nicole and Vince’s big day isn’t ruined: she paid for a wedding after all, not a funeral. That is, until Mexican police arrest Nicole’s sister, Zoe, and “mom-zilla” declares the situation falls under the “dreadful, unforeseen situations,” clause of Kelsey’s contract. With help from her friend, wedding photographer Brody Marx, she reluctantly takes on the police’s job of finding the killer, sifting through a line-up of potential suspects—Dana has treated everyone in the wedding party poorly, including trying to trick her ex-boyfriend, attending with his new date, into marrying her

Dana’s room has been tossed, and police claim Dana was poisoned and Zoe is guilty. Brody hacks Dana’s records found wrapped as a wedding gift and finds financial information pointing to new suspects. She’s threatened, convincing her of Zoe’s innocence, and with the help of her old boyfriend, now a resident of San Miguel, she goes on a fact-finding mission back to the states. All she wants is to get back to San Francisco and her work, but problem–solving is Kelsey’s forte and she can’t leave Zoe in a Mexican jail with the killer running free. Or face the career-destroying wrath of Mrs. Abernathy if she fails.

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Funny, smart and on trend, Marla Cooper’s debut novel, Terror in Taffeta, is a winner. Cooper’s quirky characters, twisting plot and delightful, competent wedding planner-turned-sleuth would be enough fun for any cozy mystery reader. But this novel is a precisely crafted example of the genre, oozing humor, realistic finger-snapping dialog, an intricate and believable plot, and a sharp heroine we instantly like and trust. It may be the wedding from hell, but Kelsey McKenna demonstrates true professionalism and determination. If your attendant keeled over at the altar would your planner have stuck around to solve the murder? Kelsey proves herself to be empathetic and brimming with integrity. She’s a quick thinker and no quitter. Besides, she knows how to throw a great party.

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thanks spearmintwedding.com

I love Cooper’s fresh, modern prose, her well-balanced action and that she surprised me at the end with motives and a murderer I never saw coming. Jerrilyn Farmer, author of the Madeline Bean series says it all, “Like a perfect margarita, Marla Cooper has blended up a tart and delicious Mexican-set bridal mystery for her wacky and charming cozy debut, Terror in Taffeta.”

Terror in Taffeta may not be the first writing from Cooper. She says she “was astonished when she realized people could actually get paid to write things. So she switched her major from business to advertising—much to the relief of her accounting professor—and began her career as an advertising copywriter. After moving to San Francisco, she became a freelancer so she could take advantage of perks like working in her pajamas.” She’s written everything from advertising copy to travel guides; in fact, she found her inspiration for Terror in Taffeta while ghostwriting another book on destination weddings. And this first novel proves Cooper is one to watch—and I bet we haven’t seen the last of Kelsey McKenna. I don’t know what the next destination will be, but I’m sure Cooper will treat us to another roller-coaster ride through clues and suspects served up with elegantly catered red-herrings and tequila shots. (I’m still thinking about that tequila donkey.)

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Thanks  nydailynews.com

But don’t take my word for it; Janet Cantrell, bestselling author of the Fat Cat Mystery series has the best advice: “Drop your plans and read this new series starring Kelsey McKenna, witty and resourceful wedding planner extraordinaire. This wedding planner will win you over!”

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Marla Cooper

Congratulations—it’s publishing day!

March 22, 2016

 

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Lentil Soup

Sisters Born, Sisters Found is not just an anthology of women writing about theirs sisters. The book acts as mysterious force unifying the sisterhood of women for readers and authors alike. The sister found. Last night one of my “sisters” recounted her experience: while lunching in the hospital cafeteria—her husband was in for a procedure—she entertained herself reading Sisters Born, Sisters Found. The two women at the next table, sisters it turned out, eyed my friend. “Is that a book about sisters?” one asked. “We always look for stories about sisters. They’re what we and our friends read.” In my own experience, I can’t keep enough copies on hand when I go to writer’s events. I’m flocked by my writing sisters to buy copies.

 

And if not for this lovely anthology, how would I have come to cross paths with the author of Lentil Soup, (page 11) Maria de Lourdes Victoria?

 

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Maria is a writer, teacher and social justice activist   from the Pacific Northwest whose award-winning  novels have yet to be translated to English from her native Spanish. She authors bi-lingual children’s stories and writes articles in English for various social justice publications. She says of her writing career, “I always wrote, but I became an author when I decided to write a book for my sons. I wanted them to be proud of their Mexican heritage. I also wanted an excuse to spend life in Mexico in the company of my father who was an amazing human being.”

Find her at: www.mariadelourdesvictoria.com

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Ana: I’ve reread Lentil Soup and again, it’s brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful story! I wish I could read your novels, but I’m just not that fluent in Spanish, and I didn’t find translations on Amazon. Have you been translated?

Maria: Unfortunately my novels have not been translated into English (yet.) I am looking to sell the foreign rights to a smart (smile) editor who is willing to take a chance on three manuscripts that have been warmly received in the Spanish-speaking world. I cannot afford the translations. Translation is an art and I have deep respect for good, literary translators.

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Ana: Your hometown is beautiful Veracruz, Mexico. When and how did you come to divide your life between Seattle and California?

Maria: My adventure in the USA began when I was seventeen years old. I came as a foreign exchange student to Seattle to learn English. While I was here, in high school, I met my husband. We married when I was nineteen and he was twenty-four, and yes, we are still happily married. But much as I tried, he would not move back with me to Veracruz. He is rooted in the Pacific Northwest and I can’t get him to go to California even! Move forward 37 years and we now have five beautiful grandchildren (such a gift!) who all live in California. They are the real reason I live in both states, back and forth I go, enjoying the wine country in the winter and spring months, and the glorious summers and falls in Seattle. And when I cannot stand it any longer I travel south to visit my beloved Mexico, my jarochos, palm tree, sugar cane, mangoes, parroquia coffee and danzon in the zocalo. 

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Ana: I enjoyed parroquia coffee to the sounds of marimba in Veracruz. Do you still have an extended family there?

Maria: Yes, all my family, except two sisters, live in Mexico. I have siblings in Monterrey, Veracruz and Cuernavaca.

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Ana: How did your family come to live in Mexico? Is your family history similar to the family histories of your protagonists in Los hijos del mar?

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Maria: Los hijos del mar is the story of my ancestors, going back to the mid 1800’s. My mother’s side of the family came from Spain and made a living in the coffee bean industry. My father’s family came from a small town in Veracruz called Catemaco (yes, where they have the yearly annual conference of national witches) and they fished in the lagoon and had a pharmacy. My grandfather went to Mexico City, got his degree as a pharmacist, and when he graduated he went back to Catemaco, picked up his family and moved to the “big city” of Veracruz, where he started his own pharmacy. This is where the story of Los hijos del mar begins. 

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 Ana: In your story, Lentil Soup, you identify several family members including your sister, but there’s scant mention of the rest of your immediate family. Was your sister your principle caregiver? How many years apart are you? Can you expand on your relationship a bit?

 

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Maria: When I was two years old our mother died and left our father a widow with six children. The car accident that took my mother’s life also left my father incapacitated, so the children were distributed among family members. Eventually we were reunited, but in the meantime [we] developed a close relationship, which has lasted until this day.

The sister in this story (I have six) was my playmate and my rock  during this time of loss. The principal caregiver was actually our oldest sister, Pilar, and to her I dedicated my second novel Mas alla de la justicia (Beyond Justice). 

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Ana: As an ESL teacher and a struggling student of Spanish, I know how hard it is to become fluent writing in a foreign language. I’m impressed with your ability to write in English, but which language do you primarily write in? Is there an advantage to one over the other?

Maria: When I first arrived in this country I could not ask for a glass of water. But then I fell in love and had the right motivation to learn quickly. I know it is easier to be published in English, and yet my heart whispers the stories in Spanish. So I listen. Sometimes it is a real struggle, for example, my second novel, Beyond Justice set in Seattle, with all English speaking characters, about the judicial system in the USA, that was a real challenge— especially my Afro-American character, Rhonda. How to convey her beautiful culture and persona and be true to her slang in Spanish??? It was not easy…

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Ana: Language is culture-bound and I wonder if your work is more Latin or more North American depending on the language you write in. I tasted a distinct flavor of Latin America in your bi-lingual children’s books. Do you consider yourself a Mexican author, a “left coast” author or something in between? Do you have any thoughts on language and culture?

Maria: I consider myself an author who writes primarily in Spanish and sometimes in English. My work gets labeled (maybe for cataloging purposes?) and I am often amused by the way I am described—Latina author, Mexican author, Chicano author, Spanish author, Hispanic author, etc, etc.

Here is a little poem I wrote one day when I was asked, yet again, if my parents were missionaries in Mexico.

 

I am an author

 

I am an author.

I am a woman author.

I am Mexican woman author.

I am a Mexican woman author who is blond.

I am also an American.

 

Yes, there are Mexicans who are Americans.

Yes, there are Mexicans who are blond.

Yes, there are Mexican women authors who are blond,

like me.

I am not what you see but what I write.

I am my words.

I am an author.

 

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Ana: Reading Lentil Soup, I’m reminded of  Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua Para Chocolate for the strong connection between food and family. In your story and that book, food takes on near magical properties. Is this a cultural tradition in Mexican families and literature? Do you use food as a theme or metaphor in much of your work? How?

Maria: I am not sure I can generalize about Mexican literature and food, but I can say that most Mexican people take great pride in their own, regional cuisine. As you know Mexico is an incredibly diverse country. Each state has its own regional dress, music, cuisine, we have over 69 official languages! Veracruz alone is an amazingly diverse state. I am a jarocha, for example, which is to say I am from the port of Veracruz. But to answer your question, I think if you are writing about close-knit families in any given society (like Laura Esquivel’s De La Garza family in a Mexican ranch or Jane Austin’s landed gentry in England), the rituals around food are key elements of the story. The third novel which I am now finishing is a historical novel set in Oaxaca. It would be a sin, I think, not to include the traditional foods of Oaxaca in that story. So be ready for a literary feast!

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Ana: You are a member of the Latino Bar Association and write articles on social justice. What do you write about and where might readers find your articles?

Maria: I consider myself a “recovered litigator” (smile) I no longer practice law, but I write about it. A lot. Readers may find my work on my blog and also on some journals, like the Seattle Journal for Social Justice or Conversations Across Borders

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Ana: Everyone should read Cien Anos de Solidad (One Hundred Years of Solitude,) in my opinion. What Latin writers are your favorites and what book has influenced you the most? Who should everyone read? 

Maria: I have a huge list! Yes, I always said that Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) was my boyfriend, but my favorite book of his (in Spanish) is Love in the Time of Cholera (not the movie). Other authors in my library: Gabriela Mistral, Rosa Montero, Isabel Allende, Roberto Bolanos, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortazar, Romulo Gallegos, Jose Samargo, Ibarguengoita, Vargas Lloza, Maria Duenas, Galeano, Rosario Ferre, Rosario Castellanos, Adelia Prado, Teresa Calderon.

I am happy to say that we started the reading clubs inSpanish at the King County Public Libraries in Seattle. Maybe this could happen in the Bay area? Maybe this is already happening? I want to know!

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Ana: What else do you think readers want to know?

Maria: That I consider the time they take away from their busy lives to read my work a true GIFT. And this is why I try to give them my best effort. 

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I invite you to accept Maria de Lourdes Victoria’s gift of Lentil Soup and the joy as Maria and her sister “once again seal our pact: lentils in exchange for perpetual love, and not just any love but real love, Amor de los Buenos.”

 

Please be sure to check out the next post in our blog tour:

Monday, Feb. 23: Paige Adams Strickland interviewed by Vicki Batman http://vickibatman.blogspot.com

Laughing face Veracruz Classic period

Laughing face Veracruz Classic Period

 

 

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The Hydra Effect

Clark Lohr tagged me for The Next Big Thing, where authors blog about what’s coming next. But before I tell you about The Hydra Effect, let me introduce you to Clark’s website at www.clarklohr.com and direct you to his fan page on FaceBook, The Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr.

The Next Big Thing is blog interviews with tagged authors about a book they’ve penned. Here’s my interview on The Hydra Effect Book One: Zihuatanejo

Series Title:  The Hydra Effect

Where did the idea for the book come from?

In 1991 I bought an old VW camper, packed my gear and German shepherd mix, and headed across the border to learn Spanish and visit the ruins of Mesoamerican culture. I thought I was going to write a book and had my mini-tape recorder, a portable computer (this was pre wifi and laptops) and a printer stowed on board—with a little Honda generator to run off my engine and power the computer. I could make camp anywhere, hook up the generator, seal myself into the cabin with custom no-see-um netting, flick on the lamp and write.

I spent a couple weeks visiting Pacific beach resorts and getting the feel of things. When it was time to get underway again, I remembered the words of my mechanic back home to follow the coastal route through Michoacán and avoid the mess of pot growers and Federales in the mountains. But all along the lonely Ruta 200, between Manzanillo and Playa Azul, I could smell the skunky ripening marijuana, although I never saw the fields for the thick forest bordering the highway.

At dusk, a shiny pickup sporting blinking colored lights in its grill zoomed up behind me and pulled into the on-coming lane, edging forward until two piggy, gold-laden men leered into my window. I thought my heart was going to stop. They wouldn’t pass, but pulled up enough to reveal the third man who pointed a rifle at me.

What genre does your book fall under?

Crime fiction.  Subgenre: Narco-thriller

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm, the main character, JadeAnne Stone, is the offspring of a Vietnamese woman and an American serviceman. She has auburn-hair and green eyes although her bone structure is Asian. Maybe Lucy Liu with contacts? Jade’s sidekick is, of course, a dog. Rex from the Australian TV series, Kommisario Rex is perfect. And JadeAnne’s love interest, Anibal? Since Eduardo Palomo has passed on, I’m considering Gael García Bernal. He’d look hot in the beach scenes.

Dulce de Ojo
Dulce de Ojo

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Private investigator JadeAnne Stone agrees to search for a Mexican banker’s wife last seen in Zihuatanejo, and soon discovers Mexico is more than beaches and margaritas when she and attack-trained, Pepper, are hijacked off the highway, and ensnared in a web of intrigue as oil politics intersect with El Narco’s grab for power.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m currently chumming for an agent, but I think I might publish Book 1 as an e-book to see if I can develop a following. Jade and Pepper are clamoring to be let out of the WORD file they reside in and show the world what they’ve got.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I spoke the first draft of the first four chapters into the mini-recorder as I chugged my bus between Acapulco and Mexico City in 1991. Twelve years later I wrote 50,000 more words during Nanowrimo. It took me eight more years and countless drafts to finally type El Fin. Book two is moving along much more rapidly.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ve been influenced by Don Winslow (The Power of the Dog, Savages), T. Jefferson Parker’s Charlie Hood series (especially Border Lords, Iron River, The Jaguar), but my work isn’t as dark and violent. The first book in the Hydra Effect series fits more closely with Lisa Brackman’s Getaway, Michelle Gagnon’s Kidnap and Ransom, Audry Braun’s A Small Fortune. I love magical realism but Zihuatanejo doesn’t use it as does Clark Lohr’s Devil’s Kitchen. Later books will incorporate a more as JadeAnne is immersed in the magic of México. And like Clark, I’ve been heavily influenced by non-fiction—books, essays, news articles and blog posts. Favorites are: David Lida, Ioan Grillo, Malcolm Beith, Deborah Bonello.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I inherited a love of spies and mysteries from my dad. I even worked with a PI for awhile. After the incident driving through Michoacán, the characters started talking to me. Writing is the only way to shut them up.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

People who are interested in Mexico and love Mexican food will enjoy my descriptions. I lived in Mexico for three years—without being abducted or shot off any highways—and I incorporate as much of what I learned into my novels as I reasonably can. Also, without giving too much away, JadeAnne has a wound that she is healing as she investigates deeper into the world of El Narco and her own past.

Check out these writers I’ve tagged to participate in The Next Big Thing blog chain. They’re scheduled to post the week of December 10th, 2012.

Robbi Sommers Bryant www.robbibryant.com is an out of the box woman who writes out of the box novels.

Jeanne Miller jcmillerwriter.com is the author of Vacation,—a novel of romance, loss and forgiveness to be released in April 2013 from Last Light Studio, lastlightstudio.wordpress.com

Advance praise for Vacation:

Miller delivers a complex romance—with funny, revealing dialogue and a strong sense of the sincere but precarious bonds formed among strangers forced together by a shared itinerary.               -Kirkus Review

Ann Philipp www.annphilipp.com is the author of the humorous cozy, Grand Theft Death, now available for Kindle.

Don’t forget to check out my tagger, Clark Lohr atwww.clarklohr.com or visit him at his Facebook page, Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr.

And again, visit author Terry Ambrose at www.terryambrose.com

For more “tagger stories” go to booksgoneviral.blogspot.com

Please visit my blogs: https://anaelectures.wordpress.com, http://saintsandskeletons.blogspot.com, http://intheshadowofsonomamountain.blogspot.com, as well as www.anamanwaring.com

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Expose Yourself for Art

This morning I awoke from a disturbing dream: I had left my MAC with some friends in a computer lab in Mexico City and needed to communicate. When I finally made it across the city, I found my equipment disconnected and not where I left it. The attendant of the computer room turned out to be Fernando, one of my Spanish teachers from the language school I’d attended in Mexico City. Fernando had been a sweet, easy-going fellow. In my dream, he had turned manipulative and controlling. He spoke politely, I had committed some error and I was not going to use a computer, and no way was I going to collect and carry away my own equipment. In fact, he planned to take it—he wanted to suppress my voice. I woke up frustrated and feeling very vulnerable. I haven’t thought of Fernando in eighteen years. What could this possibly mean?

I turned to my journal, wrote down everything I could remember about the dream and assessed everything I was feeling. As Julia Cameron says, “Writing it out, I stepped back to safety. Writing it out, I experienced my vulnerability and used it to find strength.” As I wrote something shifted. I left my morning pages feeling positive and ready to face the day.

But that isn’t all. I began to uncover meaning. I’m not in Mexico, and I don’t have connection to people from my school anymore except through my memory and my writing, but I’ve got the right to speak! Don’t I? I used Amber Lea Starfire’s prompt #6 under the chapter, Authenticity, in Week by Week to explore my feelings: Free write for ten minutes about the fears you have about doing what you think you’d love to do. What might happen? Is it okay to be happy? Why or why not? Write about the worst and best that could happen….

In my memoir, Saints and Skeletons, I’m talking about some things that some people, including me, may not want to share with the world. I’m writing about things that make me vulnerable, but that’s good. If I write from a place of vulnerability, I’ll be speaking honestly. I will practice in my journal. The journal will allow me to break out of my patterns and create myself in a new way, using the vulnerability and honest talk as a tool to describe my life and direct it. I’ll clear out some of the brush that hides the truth about me and my life—in this case, about my life in Mexico. I’ll use the journal to make myself brave enough to stand up to the Fernandos of the world, and tell it like it was, openly and compassionately when I get to the ‘for publication’ pages.

I’m discovering that as I write to my vulnerabilities, I make myself more transparent—to myself—and more open to what it is to be human on earth now. In a way, I’m developing a greater depth of compassion for myself through journaling, a compassion that spills over to my fellow humans (I never lacked animal compassion!) Julia claims that if she writes it, she begins to practice it, and ‘it’ is more empathy for people—a fine skill for a writer to embrace.

The idea of writing from a place of vulnerability can be frightening. It can leave the writer exposed and uncomfortable. I’m no different but I’ve noticed that once I write about something and let it go, I don’t own it any more, or maybe in the writing, I’ve dialed down my vulnerability and I don’t feel so uncomfortable. Maybe it’s easier when I remember that I want to express myself, and to do that I must poke around inside to find out what I feel and why. Practicing in my journal is my first step to creating the art I want Saints and Skeletons to be. I can embarrass myself, contradict myself, and change my mind in long hand until I find my authentic, honest voice. Then I can take it to the computer, yes, the confiscated MAC, and imbue my work with my tender, vulnerable heart. Fernando won’t be able to take that away.

Class prompt: Julia Cameron’s Honesty Initiation Tool from The Right to Write

I call this tool the “Flashlight.” Putting things in black and white gives us a flashlight to find our way through the gray. We begin by honestly asking questions. We answer until we arrive at honest answers. The writing itself is the clue to when we are on the right trail. When we are writing honestly, the writing heats up and we can feel that. When we get cold feet about the truth, our prose goes cold as well. The we need to pry the icy surface and see what we can dig up. We can try sentences like:
“If I let myself admit it, I…”
“If it weren’t so risky, I’d…”
“If it didn’t scare me, I…”
“If it weren’t so stupid, I’d…”
Under the surface we find our conflicting feelings, the “yes” and “no,” the “I love him but…” specificity of emotional honesty. We can trick ourselves by word games into self-disclosure when we are stymied:
What animal is he?
What season is it?
What kind of music?
What food?
Using language, there are a hundred different ways to excavate our buried truths, to arrive at our difficult knowings.
“If it weren’t so threatening, I’d admit…”
“If I let myself know it I feel…”
“If I let myself feel it I should…”
“If I let myself entertain the thought, I should…”
“I’m not ready yet, but eventually I need to…”
Any of these gentle prods moves us closer to honesty. When we arrive at internal honesty, internal clarity, it becomes far easier to take external actions. It is a matter of breaking down actions into very small, do-able increments. The page is an ideal place for lists, for brainstorming, for venting and inventing.

Assignment for class: Work with Julia’s prompt. Focus on some unresolved anger. After you’ve asked and answered your questions and feel you have a grasp of this anger, write a rant! It may be a song, poem, short fiction, personal memoir, or a scene in you current project. How much energy, honesty, and vulnerability can you pack into your rant? Bring it to class and let us hear your vulnerable, honest voice.

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