Vacation! Writing a novel is a great excuse for travel. “Honey, we need to check out the beaches of Fiji for my book’s frolicking sex scene!”
Those of limited means face a conundrum. If sci-fi or fantasy is your genre, sip a strong Starbucks and travel via imagination. But if your novel is ‘realistic’, your first choice is to set scenes in places you know. My novel, the nearly complete Eloisa, is challenging, since she’s a Mexican pop star. It’s no coincidence we follow Eloisa’s U.S. concert tour through Chicago, San Antonio and Tucson, all places I know.
Mucho Mexican-themed literature features the immigrant experience and “cultura de la frontera” (border culture). In Eloisa, I avoid L.A. barrios and Tijuana like the swine flu. Think off-beat Mexico City and provincial Michoacán. Part of my novel’s humor is the interplay of protagonist Jim, an American corporate CFO, and Eloisa. Different cultures, languages, and careers.
When Jim visits Eloisa, he’s a fish out of water. Though he imagined seeing the great museums, Aztec pyramids and the art of Orozco, Garcia and Kahlo, Eloisa has a different itinerary: “real Mexico” locations devoid of tour buses. How does one find quirky settings in places you’re not that familiar with? You can type “things to do in Nowheresville” at TripAdvisor.com, which also has handy tourist reviews.
I haven’t yet been to Mexico City’s Museo Trotsky; who has? Half-asleep in college Russian History class, I’d learned something about Leon Trotsky. Museo Trotsky ranks rather low, Trip Advisor’s #57 Mexico City attraction. Perfect! I wanted a memorable setting for Jim’s first extensive interaction with Eloisa’s eight-year old daughter, Darisma. Eloisa is at a calendar photo shoot, leaving Jim to entertain Darisma, with the usual entourage of bodyguards and the girl’s nanny. Darisma has seen most everything, presumably TripAdvisor’s sites #1 through 56.
“Then, I suppose you’ve seen all the monuments. Anything you want to see? Besides Lucha.” Out the window, two dogs barked at each other.
Darisma said, “Museo Trotsky.” The nanny’s eyebrows rose.
“Trotsky? Leon Trotsky? The exiled Soviet? You know about him?”
In polite company, don’t talk of religion, politics or sex. Sex is to novels as E.L. James is to royalties, but no one enjoys preachy ‘political’ novels. Luckily, neither Democrats nor Republicans have anything invested in the long-dead Bolshevik, Trotsky. Century-old communism has nada to do with my plot, though the fact he was murdered in Mexico contributes to my subtext of danger.
Eloisa hides Darisma in her walled mansion, away from paparazzi and potential kidnappers. The girl doesn’t get out often, except for the same old things, smothered by grandma and bodyguards. The Trotsky expedition gives her a chance to be a girl. Describing the trip through the museum anchors the scene’s dialogue.
“Qué padre!” Darisma pointed at a wall where dozens of bullet holes marked a failed attempt on Trotsky’s life. Stalin’s death squads hadn’t screwed around. She reached into her front jean pocket and fingered an imaginary revolver she fired at the wall, her “Fear Factor” shirt fluttering with her jerky movements. The bodyguards smiled, but the nanny did not.
I was encouraged most of my Mexican-American friends had no idea the Museo Trotsky existed; the one who did was utterly amazed at little-ol’ gringo me. TripAdvisor might offer a setting, but how do you describe it in a plausible way?
John Gurney’s guest blog continues later this week with Part 2 and Part 3. You can follow John’s blog at WordPress at Everything2Laugh4.