Friday, September 24, 2010

Things We’ve Handed Down.

by Susanna

My great-grandmother Cleo lived in simple, wood-framed house on her family’s farm. During her lifetime the road running in front of her home wasn’t paved or even named. Her mail was directed to a rural route number. Behind her house was a large barn filled farm equipment, feral cats, and towers of hay that were as close to mountain climbing that a kid from the sandy, flat lands of South Georgia could get.

When I asked my father about my great-grandmother, he shrugged and said she was an orphan and came from people named Hornsby.

She died when I was around ten. Being a selfish child, I coveted the upright piano that sat on her back porch. Yes, she had a piano on her porch that weathered the harsh heat and electrical storms that built up in the afternoons. The keys looked like old, yellowed, chipped teeth and made an awful twangy sound when pressed. I was so upset when my father came home with his grandmother’s inheritance: a stack of old quilts. Practical things that were made from unmatched scraps and intended for warmth. (Keep in mind these were the years before quilting became chic.) I was a disappointed little girl, no piano for me, just ugly, useless, old quilts.

Two years ago, when visiting my childhood home in South Georgia, I found the quilts rotting in a closet. I pulled them down and examined them again. This time, I didn’t see the ugly scraps, but the beautiful patterns and the slightly uneven stitches done by my great-grandmother’s own hand. Maybe from my years of writing in silence, I felt this odd sorrow that her work should be stowed away and forgotten. So I bundled the quilts in my car and brought them home. I washed them on the gentle cycle and let them air in the sun. Now they are displayed on the chairs and bed in the guest room where I write. Maybe I’m a little woo-woo, but I like having my great-grandmother’s art around me, keeping me silent company as I write my stories – my own art.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Liz Fichera discusses CAPTIVE SPIRIT

Today Liz Fichera is stopping by the Mojito Literary Society to answer some questions about her awesome book Captive Spirit. Liz’s vivid prose captures the culture and surroundings of the Hohokam, a tribe of Native Americans that lived in the desert around modern day Phoenix. Her book is a fabulous coming-of-age/ adventure / love story that is suitable for both adults and young adults. I gobbled her book up in a day and a half. The pacing is exhilarating as Aiyana and Honovi escape Spanish traders and outwit Apache tribesmen.

Your book Captive Spirit is set in the lands around Phoenix in the sixteenth century. Can you tell us about the archeological evidence that shaped your story?

First of all, thanks for having me on your blog today! It’s fun to take a break from our usual Facebook discussions about chocolate, wine, and Italian food—although not always in that order.

It wasn’t the archeological evidence as much as it was Hohokam history that shaped and inspired CAPTIVE SPIRIT. The Hohokam Indians lived in what we now know as southern and central Arizona from approximately 300 BC to 1500 AD. They traveled to the Sonoran Desert from the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures and existed peacefully as farmers and master canal builders until around 1500 AD when they vanished for reasons unknown. It was the Pima Indians who called them “Hohokam” which means “Those Who Have Gone.” That, specifically, is the nugget of information that intrigued me to write the novel.

Regarding archeological evidence, my Phoenix neighborhood literally sits upon what was once Hohokam land. Archeologists have found traces of their pit houses, pottery, and bits of jewelry and clothing, most of it is catalogued and housed in the Phoenix Heard Museum where I spent a lot of time doing research. You’ll find petroglyphs on rock faces in lots of places in the desert. I’ve included some of them in the CAPTIVE SPIRIT book trailer, which will also give you a flavor for the terrain. Much of it is still very rugged today.

Did you draw inspiration from other Western writers or Native American myths when writing Captive Spirit?

I am so intrigued by Native American culture and legends, not just the Hohokam. It’s hard not to be inspired and awed by it when you’re surrounded by so much of it in Phoenix. As far as I know, I’m the only person who’s written a novel about the Hohokam. Given their cool history, I cannot for the life of me understand why.

The story moves across many miles. Did you drive or hike Aiyana and Honovi’s journey?

Oh, yes! Aiyana and Honovi’s journey covers not only the Sonoran Desert but the mountains known today as the Mogollon Rim. I travel to the little mountain towns of Payson, Forest Lakes, Overgaard, and Heber on a regular basis as we have a cabin near there.

Can you describe your writing process? Do you outline your entire story, or do you plot just a few chapters ahead? Do you write an entire rough draft, or do you polish each chapter before you progress? Do you use note cards or a flowchart?

I wish that I were that organized but I am not. Generally, I start with an idea in my head and take it from there. While I might jot down little bits here and there, most of it stays in my head. So, usually my first draft is horrible. I spend a lot of time on rewrites and editing. That’s really the hardest part. Getting the story on the page and seeing it come to life is pure fun.

How did you learn that Carina Press wanted to publish Captive Spirit? A.K.A “The Call”

Last January, I saw a tweet from Angela James where she said, “We’re hungry for historicals! Our editors want historicals!” So I shipped off CAPTIVE SPIRIT and hoped for the best. In March, as I was having coffee with a couple of my girlfriends, I got “The Call.” Much hyperventilating ensued and I think I may have choked on the scone that I was noshing. The rest is history.

Thank you so much for stopping by! You can read an excerpt of Captive Spirit at Liz's website: or buy it at Carina Press and other booksellers.


About Liz:

Liz is an author from the American Southwest by way of Chicago. She likes to write stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things, oftentimes against the backdrop of Native American legends. Her debut historical romance novel was published in June 2010 by Carina Press. Don’t hesitate to connect with her around the web and especially at her web site because it can get real lonely in the desert.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Susanna Ives Interview

One of the founding members of The Mojito Literary Society is interviewed on Book Lovers Inc. Find the interview here and learn more about Rakes and Radishes, her FIVE-STAR reviewed historical romance and literary sensation.

In Memorium: Barbara Parker

If anybody ever asks me to trace my development as a mystery writer, I'll plant a big X on the spot marked by Barbara Parker. Her "Suspicion" series featuring Miami lawyers Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana showed me what crime fiction could be -- intelligent, sharp, laced with tension. She grounded her plots securely in the motivations, secrets, and desires of her characters, who were flesh and blood on the page, fully alive in the reader's imagination. I could smell Miami, feel the salty money-drenched heat of it. Most importantly, she created a relationship between her characters that was real and flawed and seismic. And hot. Pyrotechnic.

I didn't know she'd died until this morning, when I was researching her for a piece I'm writing on the craft of the short story. I was lucky enough to participate in a contest she was judging, luckier still to be a finalist and receive my manuscript back along with her notes in the margins, and a five-page letter offering some of the most spot-on feedback I've ever received. I retooled the piece as suggested, like the other finalists, and when I won, I knew it was because I'd received a master class crash course in the art of short crime fiction.

And today I learn that she died last year. I read her guestbook, filled with praise and glowing tribute to the person she was, the writer she was. I can attest to both.

So I'm lifting a mojito to you, Barbara Parker, a real one with yerba mate and cane sugar and muddled lime. I still have a crush on Anthony Quintana. I'm convinced he's in Miami right now, tangible and warm, reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, smoking a fine cigar, his dark curious eyes casing the boulevard.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Her Face is a Map of the World

OK, I am not a billboard fan. There they are, large and ugly, trying to make you buy stuff you really don't need. Occasionally, there are a few entertaining ones, and the odd one that distracts you from your driving as it reminds you not to text because that will distract you from your driving. But I have a dark sense of humor. The only ones I tolerate are the South of the Border ones because they occupy my children for a good 40 minutes on the highway.

Still, the other day, I saw one which just got under my skin. Which is sort of what the advertiser wanted, but in a whole different way. It was a for a plastic surgery outfit, and it promised that with some Botox, a little stitching, and a couple other procedures, I could reveal the “Real Me.” You know, I'm just not certain that the real me is skinny, perky (but numb) boobed, and incapable of expression. The real me scrunches up my face a lot, from laughing, from frowning, from being puzzled, and from just trying to make kids laugh. The real me has had and nursed 3 kids, you can imagine where my breasts are. And let's not even discuss the skinny thing.

I know I am not supposed to love my body. I know there is a whole industry devoted to making me feel bad about it, and offering reassurance, or solutions. My body is fat and old – or at least old as defined by a popular culture that put female obsolesce at about 30 -- and sometimes it doesn't work that well. But here a little secret for you: I love my body. I really do. It lets me walk about, it made me a bunch of babies, it breaths, it eats, it lets me do fun things that I think my parents would rather not read about but which do require full sensation, and it gives my soul a place to live.

It shows the real me, the real me is not an airbrushed image that stand still and looks pretty. The real me has rough hands from washing dishes (try as I might to avoid that.) The real me has eaten far too many meals, but I enjoyed them for the most part. Not to mention the odd drinking bout. I'm not going into any details here, but academics like to pack it away and get pickled. So don't bother, I can drink you under the table. I'm sun burnt and wind burnt and scared in odd places. That's the legacy of traveling to all sorts of places and falling off a wide variety of things. I've been sun burned in India and the Outer Banks. I have scars from falling off French rocks, and since I didn't die from these adventures, I'm pretty pleased with my souvenirs, even if my most recent sunburn was at the playground minding my children. And them, boy howdy, they have given me the waist length breasts and a wide variety of lines around my face. A friend of mine's mother refers to her wrinkles as battle scars and wears them with the same dangerous defiance as a viking warrior with one eye and giant gash. The real me, at least part of the real me, is a mother and I'm OK with showing that.

What I would not be OK with, is erasing all that. In a sense one is remaking one's image, but in another one is removing one's physical history from one's body. And that is a sad thing. I've always loved Harrison Ford's face and all those rugged men who look like they have seen places and done things. Why is that so wrong for a woman? Why can't “her face be a map of [her] world?” (And her still a beautiful woman?) Why are we so encouraged to unmake our histories and stay in a perpetual teenage-hood? True there is pressure for plastic surgery, hair implants, and girdles for men, but not the same as there is for women. Is it a reflection of societies disquiet with powerful women, an urge to keep us young and compliant (with pliable skin)? Or is it that we so worship youth; equating it with vigor, vitality, and above all healthy fertility? Is society's compulsion due to convention or genetics? Or is it simply marketing? We can remake you and make money, so let's do it? Much like Listerine and halitosis. First came the cure, then came the defect.

Still I love my body, and I'm good with it being part of the real me.