Leighton Gage’s Legacy

Leighton Gage’s Legacy

On Wednesday, 13 May, Facebook reminded me that it was Leighton Gage’s birthday. I found the reminder somewhat disturbing.

Salute to a Pioneer

Disturbing, because fellow mystery author Leighton Gage passed away some time ago. I never met him, but respect him tremendously as a pioneer. His was the first commercially successful mystery series I encountered with a Latino central character.

Chief Inspector Mario Silva is Brazilian.

Not American. Not British.

book coverrelated post: Book Review: Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage

At the point I read an article about the series, and rushed out to get the first Chief Inspector Silva book, I was still smarting over advice received from an Important Author who assured me that a book in which all the characters were Mexican would never sell.

Huh.

related post: Why Write a Book About Mexico

RIP, Social Media

Facebook wants me to celebrate Leighton Gage’s birthday. Goodreads wants me to suggest books to him.

The social media machinery doesn’t know when we have passed away. On one hand, this reassures me that we are not yet robots; embedded into social media so much that it knows our every move, every thought, every hope and dream.

But on the other, it is as if our lives never stop. Without being able to log in one last time and cancel an account, our personas last forever inside The Great Web.

Memory trumps machinery

So much for Great Thoughts on life and social media. I choose to regard Facebook’s prompt as a gentle reminder of a great mystery author, who if he got the same advice I did, chose to ignore it.

We never met, but his choice unlocked a door and made all the difference to me.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

One Heart, Three Tragedies

One Heart, Three Tragedies

Three places I love are bleeding and all I can do is watch and pray.

Mexico

As many readers know, my years in Mexico and Central America provided the impetus for my mystery and thriller novels and part of my heart will always be in Mexico. But the country has been rocked by the horrific story of the September 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the rural teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, “a college with a tradition of left-wing political activism,” according to BBC reporting.

flag printAuthorities in Mexico City say the students were rounded up by police “allegedly on the orders of the mayor of the nearby town of Iguala, “who wanted to prevent them from disrupting a speech his wife was giving at a public event that evening.” The students were then handed over to a gang known for violence. Gang members killed the students, burned the bodies, and discarded the remains in trash bags. One student has been identified from the remains. No closure for the other 42 families as of yet, despite more arrests.

Gang members, the mayor, his wife, and the police chief have all been arrested. Now there is a call for an investigation into the army. Meanwhile, the hashtag #YaMeCanse (I am tired) has become a rallying cry against Mexico’s drug violence and the mounting numbers of missing.

Related post: Entitlement, Mexico Style

If all this wasn’t enough, as federal investigators were combing the hillsides of the state of Guerrero (where the Emilia Cruz mystery series is set) they kept finding other mass graves. How much is too much!?

Surely there will be an end to the violence someday. In the meantime, I’m praying for answers.

Greece

I also have wonderful memories of living in Greece and regularly correspond with friends who are still there. In fact, Greece is where I wrote the first, 800-page (!) draft of The Hidden Light of Mexico City. We treated the crazy Greek bureaucracy, radical protests, and garbage strikes with humor. But in time we realized these events reflected systemic failure.

broken old potteryThis coming Sunday, Greeks will take to the polls in yet another drama related to the country’s ongoing financial crisis and overwrought political scene. Riding high is Alexis Tsipras, from the far radical left Syriza Party which would do away with the austerity measures Greece was forced to adopt in order to get billions in bailout money from the EU. The Wall Street Journal reported that the already beseiged Greek economy is in a tailspin over a potential Syriza win at the polls.

Should Tsipras win and make good on his promises to walk away from Greece’s promises to the EU, it would mean an epic financial crisis. But maybe he’s got support because austerity has simply exhausted the Greek spirit. The Economist reports that “Although the economy is now growing again, Greek voters remain understandably enraged that GDP should have shrunk by almost 20% since 2010 and that unemployment is still as high as 26%.” According to UK newspaper The Guardian, “Many Greeks will be inclined to vote for the insurgents as much out of hopelessness as helplessness.”

No matter what the outcome, I’m praying for restraint.

France

I went to college for a year in Paris, long before there were euros and the internet. My best friend and I lived in the 17th Arondissment–the high rent district. It was a year of important life experiences, set against the backdrop of the City of Lights.

Girl Meets Paris book coverBut the news coming out of Paris this month has been nothing like that. Terrorist rampages, manhunts, sleeper cells, mass shootings. Like so many others, I’ve been glued to the news, remembering locations and events that brought me so much joy, and shocked by what today’s  journalists are reporting.

I’ve been tinkering with a memoir, based on my letters, of my year in Paris. “Girl Meets Paris” captures all the joy and excitement of discovering Paris.

Maybe publishing could be part of the healing process, because I’m praying for recovery.

 

The Right Fork

The Right Fork

A number of years ago, when my children were young and we were living in Mexico, my family was invited to the residence of a NATO ambassador and his family for a New Year’s Eve dinner.  Our children were all the same age and the wife and I were close friends, both of us dealing with the challenges of setting up house in a new country, helping our children adjust, and learning a new language.

I’d been told that dinner would be casual but it was in the formal dining room with a table that could easily seat 30. Placesettings were as elaborate as if this was a diplomatic affair, with enough sterling silver on the table to make a small battleship and rows of wineglasses above each fine china plate. The meal was served in courses, starting with an array of caviar and smoked fish on a tray passed around by the butler.

My son, then eight, was seated next to me and watched the butler’s progression with alarm. “What fork do I use?” he whispered urgently.

There were four forks at each place: salad fork, dinner fork, fish fork, dessert fork. I silently thanked the fact I’d been brought up near the Oneida Silver factory store where Oneida silverplate was the mandatory gift for every occasion. “Start at the outside and work your way in,” I replied out of the side of my mouth.

The next course came. “Which fork this time?” my son asked.

“The next one over,” I told him.

“There’s a fork on top,” he said worriedly. “Dessert,” I hissed.

“What if dessert is flan?” His whispering was beginning to sound like a bad off-Broadway ad lib as our host’s mouth twitched with suppressed laughter.

“Use the spoon.”

“Which one?”

And so the long night wore on.

When we got home, I realized that my children needed to learn a few more skills in order to be prepared to go anywhere and participate in the world in any way they chose. I wanted them to be able to learn from and ultimately be enriched by the culture around them no matter where they went.

In an increasingly mobile world, we can travel anywhere, talk to anyone anywhere around the world, all at the push of a button. Citizens of the world. But what does that mean?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1.  Manners:  A World Citizen is aware of the local cultural norms and social etiquette wherever they go. They know what is polite and what is regarded as rude. They actively try not to offend.
  2. Desire for Information: A World Citizen has an open mind and is ready to put in the effort to learn about other cultures, the history that has shaped them, and why that culture is what it is.
  3. Connected:  A World Citizen uses technology to seek out information and connect with others.
  4. Tolerance: A World Citizen accepts that others will have a different belief system, or none at all, and does not judge (at least not in public.)
  5. Environmental Awareness:  A World Citizen realizes that we aren’t getting any more real estate on this planet and doesn’t trash up their part of it or anyone else’s. They respect efforts to renew and reuse and understand the need for basics like water and sanitation.

I’ll be sharing more here on what it means to be a World Citizen and asking you for your own ideas and experiences. Connecting across cultures isn’t a new concept but reading the news on any given day suggests we haven’t gotten very good at it.  So let’s start a new dialogue and see where it goes.

Maybe if we know what to do with all the forks, we won’t need so many knives.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Finding my Audience

Who do I write for?

This was a simple question posed to me a couple of months before The Hidden Light of Mexico City was released and it was simple to answer.

Me.

Well, not just a readership of one! But when I started writing, it was for myself and all my girlfriends in Mexico City who watched the dance of Mexico’s social classes and wondered what would happen to the country in which we’d invested so much of ourselves.

We were smart, educated, and capable women from different countries: the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Australia, etc. Although we had different nationalities, we had one thing in common: we were all from cultures that embraced and practiced gender equality.

All of us found that wasn’t the case in Mexico, although I hope things have improved since then. But at the time, we often found ourselves talking about people and situations we encountered in Mexico City that made us uncomfortable because inequality was so tolerated.

These conversations really inspired me, at first to write a non-fiction book, and then later to change it to a novel that would entertain as it informed.

My readers are

  • Interested in current events
  • Curious about the rest of the world, especially Mexico
  • Appreciative of a good action story
  • Likes a bit of spice, too

Does that describe you?

 

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

The Hidden Light of Mexico City contains a number of references from my own experiences in Mexico City.  I’ve already written about the  class struggle of simply standing in a line but also wanted to share a sadder, more compelling event that helped shape the book’s narrative through the character of Father Santiago.

Related: Read HIDDEN LIGHT’S First 2 Chapters

Father Richard

Father Richard Junius–or Padre Ricardo–was the pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Mexico City when I lived there.  He was an Oblate Missionary who had been in Mexico for years, ministering mostly to the rural poor.  St. Patrick’s was a sizeable urban parish  in a fairly tough neighborhood. It was the only designated English-speaking church in the city.

Fr Richard Junius

Years ago the church had sold off the school building next door. Funds from the sale  were held in escrow by the diocese for maintenance of the church and attached rectory.  The previous pastor had been removed due to a number of misconducts; when Father Richard arrived we were all cautiously hopeful that the new priest would set things right.

St. Patrick’s sacristy was a place I came to know well; the ladies of the parish cleaned it up for the incoming priest, removing layers of grime and polishing the few silver items the church possessed. My son was an altar server and I remade and cleaned all of the altar server vestments, hanging them in the room’s small closet.  The description of the sacristy of the church of Santa Clara in The Hidden Light of Mexico City is based on St. Patrick’s.

 

Father Richard was old and patient and tireless in his efforts to reach out to the local community and deal with their family issues. He made his new English-speaking congregation aware of prison irregularities in Mexico and didn’t flinch when an armed drug addict, stoned out of his mind, walked through the church and accosted him on the altar during midnight Mass.  He spent nothing on his clothing, wearing threadbare corduroy pants and sweaters that became the fictional Father Santiago’s wardrobe. 

Controversy

Father Richard had spent most of his time in Mexico in rural areas. Now in Mexico City, he seemed naive in the midst of Mexico’s spiraling crime and drug war. 

Twice he was assaulted and robbed while alone in the church counting  the Sunday collection. When parishioners insisted that the funds be handled differently, he disagreed, adamant that church funds were solely his responsibility and that he would not close the church at any time. 

He lent a substantial amount from the maintenance funds to an unscrupulous businessman man who never repaid the loan. Father Richard contracted for the bathroom repair without consulting with the parish council. Again, funds disappeared. The job was left half done and toilets didn’t flush.

Never afraid of controversy, he petitioned the bishop to change the church’s status from English-speaking to multi-lingual. The move angered some of the original congregation, but was welcomed by local families.

Much of the English-speaking congregation moved on, angered by his financial floundering. Several years later I was to learn that he’d been murdered.

A violent death

In August 2007, Father Richard was found stripped, tortured, bound and strangled to death in his bedroom in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City.  His body was found the morning after a fire had broken out in the basement of the church late at night.  Initial Mexican news reports speculated that the death was a result of “sexual misconduct,” and downplayed the fire as well as the theft of several items from the church.  The charges were heatedly denied by Catholic Church officials in Mexico, thousands of faithful, and the  Oblates, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Other reports of his death noted that he’d been in conflict with the owner of  a bar near the church whom Father Richard had publicly called out for serving alcohol to minors. The Oblate website reported that “many believe that the brutal crime was in retaliation for Fr. Ricardo’s efforts to impede the drug traffic and the sale of alcohol to minors in the neighborhood. He had reported to the police that such activities were taking place in a building near the corner of the parish church.”

From the family

Fr. Richard’s cousin got in touch with me in April 2016 as a result of this blog post. In an exchange of emails, she related how she was informed by the Oblate Provincial in Belleville, Illinois that Fr. Richard was murdered:

“After I explained my connection, the Provincial began hesitantly stating, “I don’t even know how to say this.” When I asked what he needed to say, he responded that Father Richard had been murdered between the Saturday night Mass of Anticipation and the early Sunday morning Mass. I later heard that his sister expected his body to be returned to Eagle Pass for burial near the grave of his cousin, my uncle Father Bernard C. Junius, OMI. Sadly, the Mexican authorities buried the body quickly in Mexico City.
 
Prior to his death, Father Richard had written a lengthy letter to my uncle Paul explaining all of the activities he was involved in – a thrift store, a radio show, marrying Spanish and Anglo couples. His passion for service and love of those he served threaded through the letter. His death seemed like the waste of a true servant of the people.”
 

Catching his killer

Father Richard was 79 at the time of his death and only a month away from celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest.  To my knowledge, his murderer has never been brought to justice and the official record remains death by misadventure.
 
Not content with that, I wrote “The Angler,” a novella based on the murder of Father Richard. In “The Angler,” Detective Emilia Cruz, the first female police detective in Acapulco, faces a similar crime. This time, the murder is solved.
 

The Angler by Carmen Amato

 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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