THE MORNING OF THE WORLD
In 1990, I happened to be browsing in the book section of the gift shop of the Honolulu Academy of Arts when I came upon a particularly attractive volume, its subject, the rituals and ceremonies of the Pacific Rim. I randomly opened it to a page midway through and encountered an astonishing image, that of a leyak, or at least a ceremonial depiction of the mythical vampire witch of Bali. I wasn’t entirely ignorant of the entity, or the cultural belief system from which it evolved. Several years before, I had visited Bali and became infatuated with the island’s mystical landscape, its people, and their mythology.
It wasn’t until some years later after I had completed my first novel that I returned to Bali to revisit a world that had earlier gripped my imagination. This time, the Hindu concept of duality and a unique outlook on the role of good and evil struck a personal and spiritual chord. It led me to revisit the concept of the leyak, a being that psychically feeds off of the human spirit. This character invited me to wed a particular paradigm with a story line that satisfied my various interests and needs – my background in anthropology, a nod to a certain philosophical viewpoint, and a desire to create a rich, character driven suspense story that immerses the reader into a world both exotic and real, and regrettably all too likely to be lost due to globalization and the homogenization of the human experience.
The evolution of this tale reflects to some extent the cycles of my life – seasons of despair rooted in personal and political crisis, periods of writer’s block, as well as bursts of creative energy. I am sure a close read of my work is undoubtedly reflective of that struggle. I believe the act of writing is by its very nature an uneven and imperfect attempt to explain one’s life experiences and viewpoints.
For me, writing isn’t a career but a creative outlet, and for both myself and my audience, a window into my subconscious. Any creative process, be it painting, song writing or the fabrication of an imagined set of characters and situations involves impulses and insights whose origins may be unrealized by the author at the time they are conceived. Subliminal messages and those bothersome unresolved “issues” keep emerging, whether desired or not. I won’t elaborate on my own thematic demons other than to acknowledge that there are reasons one writes. On a personal level, the outcomes of these efforts are sometimes therapeutic, and often times decidedly unhealthy. Yet for those of us who write, who a love-hate relationship with this loneliest of endeavors, we seem to go on for reasons that are sometimes beyond our understanding. That said, I hope you enjoy the story.
-Santa Fe, 2013
STILL LIFE IN A RED DRESS
I suspect for many Americans the Nicaraguan Civil War that took place in the late 1970′s is a distant, vague memory. For a generation of younger Americans, that war, along with the subsequent Contra War and the Iran-Contra scandal, most likely fail to even register on the radar. As for me, that particular Central American conflict still manages to resonate in my consciousness. Perhaps it is only my leftist leanings or the fact that I am a junkie for current events that explains my fascination for that time and locale. And it probably explains why an obscure article in a long since misplaced newspaper or magazine caught my attention.
The article in question related a little known incident that took place during that conflict, the subject of which was a woman by the name of Nora Astorga. I suspect the article may have appeared on the anniversary of her death in 1988, but I can’t really be sure of the timing or the circumstance that led me to delve further into her story. I invite the reader to Google her biography for more details of her life.
Her story, a fascinating tale of intrigue and bravery, is worthy of a Hollywood treatment. Subsequently, reading about her stirred my creative juices. But the idea sat on the back burner of my imagination for years waiting to evolve into a story line I might use in a fictional work. When I undertook writing STILL LIFE IN A RED DRESS, I had only the vaguest idea of weaving her story into my novel. The story line finally evolved with its usual false starts and dead ends.
This story is a work of fiction. The characters and circumstances arise from my imagination. Only the basic germ of Ms. Astorga’s experience serves as the central plot device. Instead of an attorney, the Nicaraguan woman in my story is an artist- a painter. Her lover, a young American working for the US Agency for International Development, is also imagined, as is his friend in the CIA. Only the details of the pivotal episode that vaulted Ms. Astorga into the annals of history are borrowed for the dramatic underpinnings of this story.
The heroine of my story, and by extension Nora Astorga, may seem iconic on some level. By that I mean her story serves as a reminder that it is only through great courage and struggle that circumstances change, that worlds move and a different future can be realized. On the other hand, her saga should not be taken as some leftist anthem to an idealistic revolution, for the political and social progress that has been made in Nicaragua is uneven and is a work in progress at the very least. Patriotism has many faces, some that present a countenance we might find unsettling. Still, her story is a universal one of heroism and sacrifice. I hope you enjoy it.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
THE EYE OF GOD
Recently after finishing my third novel, it dawned on me that my novels seem to have a common theme – an obsession with searching – for something, for someone. I might well title them THE SEARCHERS – A Trilogy. This is undoubtedly a common and timeless premise in storytelling. That being said, I can surely connect the dots between events in my life and the underlying thematic issues in my fiction.
THE EYE OF GOD is a story about friendship, obsession, and what I surmise is a common source of refuge, mystery, and regret for people who reach an age that lends itself to contemplation of the past. One finds them self wondering about the fate of someone from their youth. Whatever became of him or her? The ‘what ifs’. The roads not taken. There is also undoubtedly quite a bit of “What was I thinking?” If one is fortunate, these musings will make one appreciate the wonder and reward of the road one did follow. But I suspect for most of us, these musings are a mixed bag.
As a baby boomer, I wrote this novel as an ode to those who came of age in the turbulent late 60′s and early 70′s, a time of recklessness and liberation, optimism and despair, and a fair degree of decadence. THE EYE OF GOD is about looking back and searching for that someone who might hold the key to understanding what happened and why you became who you are.
An integral part of the plot also deals with shamanic plants, both real and imagined, and the unharnessed power and promise of a natural world that is in danger of being lost to our modern world. It was written also in the time that the AIDS epidemic had taken close friends, and therefore touches on that loss.
It also brings to life the character of Jess who is unabashedly based if not entirely on the biography, than at least on the persona, of a dear friend, my first cousin Chuck, born two days before me, and for a good part of my life my tortured soul mate, whose passage through this life intersected my own, marking me indelibly. ‘We were born under the same star twice’, we were fond of saying. And Gemini’s at that.
Needless to say, this story was a very personal one for me. That said, it’s fiction – a story populated by what I feel are some really good characters, with a few surprises for the reader, and reintroduces the thematic demons that lead me to write. I hope you like it.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2010