Ramblings on how this series came together.
I think all cultures need a day of remembering the dead. I find mainstream American culture lacking in this. The cultural legacy of Halloween or Samhain has been reduced to a costume contest and a night to get drunk. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just don’t find it very spiritually satisfying. I’ve also found the All Saints/Souls celebrations in the churches I’ve attended to be less than inspiring.
I’m a gay man of an age that lived through the HIV holocaust of the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s. I use that word because for our community, especially in the large cities, it seemed as if we were being wiped out by the plague and no one cared. In the beginning, the government turned its back to us and jokes were made. Who cared if the fags were dying? And we were dying. In the beginning, quickly wasting away covered in Kaposi lesions. Then the first wave of drugs arrived with their horrid side effects prolonging the inevitable. So many of my brothers were no more.
I believe the dead stay with us, especially if they were significant to us. The role and process of mourning and grief isn’t to “get over” the loss of a loved one, but to enter into a new stage of the relationship. This is critical, but the relationship isn’t over, one partner is simply absent physically. Personally, I needed a way to honor my feeling that my loved ones were still with me.
Although I’m a Florida boy, I’ve lived a considerable amount of my life in Arizona. When I was in high school my family moved from the Fort Myers area of Florida to Tubac, Arizona—a village about twenty miles north of the Mexican border. That was a culture shock in so many ways! I then went on to live in Tucson during college.
Although I wasn’t a fan of the desert, I found the Mexican culture of southern Arizona fascinating. I had moved from one side of New Spain—Florida, to the other—what had been Mexico. There was a veneer of familiarity in the use of Spanish names—although much more present than in Florida, and the Moorish and Mediterranean inspired architecture. (I have to admit, I have a bit of stucco and arch fetish.) It reminded me of the oldest bits of the Florida I loved. But there was this bright colorful richness of the Mexican culture that was very enticing to me as a young man.
In my journey to manhood, I had the good fortune to have the Rev. Bernardo David as one of my pastors. He was an associate pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church in Tucson and had a mission church down in Nogales. He taught this Protestant boy a lot about Mexican-Catholic spirituality. He introduced me to Mamá Lupe, aka The Lady of Guadalupe. I love his telling of the story of Juan Diego and his encounter with the Virgin, because it had such a subversive liberation theology angle to it. For Bern, it was very important that the Mother of God showed up to the peasant and not the Spanish bishop. The Mother of God, i.e. the Divine Feminine, became very central to my personal theology.
Over the years, I kept bumping into the Dia de los Muertos holiday, but for the longest time, I didn’t pay it much heed. It was just the Mexican version of Halloween right? Well when I was living in Minnesota, I had several Hispanic friends set me “straight” about the whole thing. It was a celebration of all your relations around you—the grand family getting together for a party. This wasn’t a day to put a scary pumpkin at your front door to scare the spirits away, but a day to invite them in for a bite to eat and a shot of tequila. God, I liked that. God I needed my lost friends to stop by. I mean they were there anyway, why not acknowledge it in a celebratory fashion?
In the fall of 2013, I set out to write a short story about a guy that never went to Halloween parties because the dead stopped by his house. That’s the story I wanted to write. The Muse had other ideas. Alex and Mateo came on stage and Mamá Lupe showed up, because Alex needed a good talking to and that’s what she does. Much to my surprise, I ended up with a story about the Day of the Dead. In that story were the seeds of Mateo’s family in a little town down on the boarder and Mamá Lupe herself. Those seeds set there for the last three years. They didn’t seem to do much, but maybe a thready root grew a bit and poked some part of my mind.
After completing Return to Cooter Crossing, the fourth book in my Bennett Bay series, I felt the need to get out of Florida for a while. A friend on Facebook had been posting a number of photos from high school, which stirred up the mixed feelings I had about Arizona. I thought, I’d go back to my little short story about Alex and Mateo and see what happened when they made it down Santo Domingo for the celebration. Well that was the intention, someday I may learn about what I intend with a story and what actually happens.
Along the way, Paradise Valley in Silver Cross County came into being. Santo Domingo, an old colonial outpost, rose from the dust along with two competing ranches, and a human trafficking cartel. Amazing how that happens. Oh and of course, Mamá Lupe is there to add a bit of southwest magical realism. Of Paradise and Purgatory is the story I ended up with. Like my other work, the stories in this series will be character driven and the setting plays an important role—character, in the story. Signup for my newsletter to stay apprised of new work in the Santo Domingo series.