Lentil Soup

Sisters Born, Sisters Found is not just an anthology of women writing about their 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 continue our blog tour with us on:  Monday, Feb. 23: Paige Adams Strickland interviewed by Vicki Batman http://vickibatman.blogspot.com

 

Your comments can be left for this interview at http://anaelectures.wordpress.com  Sorry for the inconvenience!

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 at www.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: http://anaelectures.wordpress.com, http://saintsandskeletons.blogspot.com, http://intheshadowofsonomamountain.blogspot.com, as well as www.anamanwaring.com

 

Pepe's Trailer Park, Playa La Ropa, Zijuatanejo

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Mexico City

Las Torres de Satélite fade out of the haze as our plane cuts through the yellow smoke blanketing Mexico City. Memories rush back to me—a deluge of nostalgia: Chocolatte was born here. My two Fernandos from Tlalnepantla.

The Towers pass, I see La Villa then the Viaduto and the airport. Apprehension clutches me. It has been fifteen years since I’ve lived here. Am I up to dealing with the airport and the car rental? Can I find my way to Casa Gonzalez behind the Embassy in Colonia Cuauhtémoc?

It is rush hour and the Circuito is jammed with cars, but the sun shines and the air is warm. We end up on Insurgentes. The familiar sights, VIPS now connected to Wal Mart, but used to be Sam’s Club (why did Mexico have to get the worst of the US?) A Sanborne’s, but not the Zona Rosa Sanborne’s where I went to read American magazines. And then Reforma with it’s monuments, it’s parades, and it’s protests. What are they demonstrating now? We turn right and look for our entry into the embassy district but end up circling “winged victory” at Rio Tiber before finding our way into the maze of streets that make up Cuauhtémoc. I am struck by the fortress of the U.S. Embassy with an endless line of Mexicans seeking visas outside the guarded gates. It butts up against the Sheraton, open and inviting in contrast.

I’m here. I’m on the street listening to the symphony of Mexico City.
I’m smelling the smells, the tacos, the burning chilies, the diesel exhaust, the sewage, and I know I’m home.

 

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Colonia Cuauhtémoc

We find Casa Gonzales, white stucco with blood red trim, on tree-lined Rio Sena across the street from the back door to the British Embassy. Parked cars choke the street and our gate is marked with a street number different from the one provided by our hotel wholesaler. David noses the rental into the entry and I jump out and ring the bell. In time a woman opens the gate and much ado is made over juggling vehicles in the narrow driveway before we are able to squeeze in and the metal gate clanks shut.

The casa is actually three houses with 22 guest rooms, representing three generations of the owner’s family. Jorge is the most recent. The main house was built in the 1920s or 30s and has an old fashioned feel, a bit run down at the heel, but still holding it’s head up. The compound occupies almost a quarter of a city block and is surrounded by the expected twelve foot wall. Inside, gardens and courtyards lure me to forget that we’re in a city with over 20 million people, that is until I hear the police shrill by. I order a cappuccino from the barista in reception and rest.

Casa GonzalesCasa Gonzales 

We draw the second house as our residence. Next door a gaggle of noisy co-eds party into the wee hours and upstairs are our new friends, John and Anita from Canada, who we meet at dinner. Our room is pretty awful. I reserved a double with a “matrimonio” sized bed and we have two tiny twins, their thin mattresses sagging into the wooden bed-frames.

Casa Gonzalez bedroom image

Casa Gonzal

 

The view from our tall, multipaned window looks over a service patio, housing water heaters and garbage bins. I close the curtains after we marvel at the beautiful but uneven blond, golden and red oak parquet floor. David flips on the ornate gold pendant-light strung with grimy crystals that form the bowl and picks the bed by the door. I slump onto my bed and drag my journal out of the jumble of my carry-on.

Dinner is delightful: sweet, ripe melon balls in lime enhanced sopa de lechuga, breaded whitefish, crisp-tender green beans, asperagus quiche and pan tostada. (The vino tinto was cloying, and the sulfites clogged me up.) For dessert we enjoyed helado de sapote—an ice made from the black sapote fruit. Yummmmm. The dining room, in the original house, is hung with striking portraits obviously painted by the same artist as the sultry woman under her white mantilla, contemplating me from her frame on the opposite wall as I write. Anita tells a story about Jorge’s grandmother who refused to allow the painter to set up a portrait studio in his room, but he managed to paint every beautiful woman who passed through. Were the paintings given to the family in lieu of rent? The woman in our room wears a carved wooden cross nestled in her cleavage and her dress and earrings are sumptuous.

We have coffee with Anita and John. They met in Paris, at the Louvre in 1959. John was born in England but has lived in Canada most of his adult life. Anita is a Capitalina, from right here in Mexico City.

John and AnitaJohn and Anita 

They direct us to a nearby Superama where we pick up some snacks and bottled water for our room. It turns out that Wal Mart bought the Superama chain. I am disappointed by this news. I find the fresh pan dulces and eat three before bed. How cold I resist?

We wander the Colonia: past the US Embassy back door where young Marines guard shiny, black limos parked in the lot, around the corner onto Reforma and say “good evening” to the embassy guards at the main gate, although they don’t appear to understand, and past the Sheraton and Starbucks. It is on Rio Tiber, roaring with traffic racing Zona Rosa that David says, “You’ve come home.” I am pleased he notices how I love Mexico City and in a way, yes, I am home. And I love California, too. Can’t I divide my time?

We'll stay here next time.We’ll stay here next time. 

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