by Willard Thompson
When Teresa Diaz’s father is arrested in an ICE raid in a Los Angeles area city and deported back to Mexico, her family begins to come apart. She is a student at UCLA on a scholarship for undocumented aliens (Dreamers) looking to have a life in the U.S. in communications. Her brother in High school and her elementary school sister begin having serious troubles without a father in the household.
At work in a fast-food drive-through, Teri, as she wants to be known is approached by a Mexican gangbanger who offers to take you to her father. Doubting the guy wants more than picking her up, she resists, but day by day, as her sister is sent home from school and her brother is brought home dunk by the police, she gives in and goes across the border with him. Against her wishes, he takes her to a beach house in Tijuana and leaves her. She learns that illegal activities are going on in the house but without transportation, and without a birth certificate –either Mexican or American– she can’t cross the border alone.
After several days, virtually a prisoner, the owner of the house, a fat woman known as Mama Gorda arranges to get her across the border with a young Mexican man who rides a fast motorcycle. On the way, he takes her to lunch and there offers to talk her deeper into Mexico to find her father. She agrees, travels in his private plane and begins a romance while searching for her father in Michoacan state. The more she becomes involved, the more she is involved in activities she doesn’t understand but suspects they’re illegal.
Returning to Monte Vista, her LA area home, still without her father, she finds she can no longer return to UCLA, seeks a job, connects with a Latina who bullied her he school. When her brother is arrested for jobbery, Teri returns to Mexico seeking help from the people she suspects to belong to a cartel.
Ultimately, she is sponsored by the people in Mexico to participate in the Miss Mexico contest, not realizing it is the Cartel that is promoting her. In the end, she will face a life-changing decision whether to continue her romance with the son of the cartel’s head or try to stand on her own. And whether to remain in Mexico or return to LA.
Javier looks over at me from the pilot’s seat. He must have noticed my clenched hands, or my pallor or the way I sit slumped down in the seat. “First flight in a small plane?” he asks.
“First flight, period.”
He laughs. “An American girl like you has never flown?”
I think I hear a hint of sarcasm in his voice when he says, “American girl.”
I am an American girl, but not a privileged one. Mama wasn’t anxious to go any place that might require IDs. There was no extra money for vacations to places that required a plane ticket. At first, our family spent all our holidays with Rogelio and Lupe, but after Antonio died, mama and Lupe drifted apart.
“There’s only one place I’d want to go,” papa always answered when the question of travel came up, “back to Michoacán where mama and I grew up. I’d like to show you the beautiful land we came from.” At that, he always paused, getting a kind of sad-eyed look. “But we can’t go there, my little dove. So, we’ll go to Disneyland or Magic Mountain instead.”
To Javier, I’m an American girl, To Ryan, I’m a Latina. Mama Gorda said I was neither. She said I was lost. Who’s right? Who am I? I feel lost in this airplane. I sit up straighter in the cushy leather seat next to Javier.
“I am American,” I tell him. “I guess I’m a pretty naïve one though, jumping into a small plane with a man I hardly know. You think I’m a fool, don’t you? Or something worse.”
“Not a fool, Teresa — please let me call you that — but perhaps too trusting. That could get you in trouble in Mexico. Here it is better to trust no one.”
“Not even you?” I tease.
“Not even me.”
I hadn’t expected that. “Tell me why?”
“Please call me Javier.” His smile is warm and genuine, but he keeps his eyes straight ahead and his hands on the controls.
I wait for more.
Reluctantly, in little bits and pieces, as the plane flies on, he tells me about himself. He says his family is in the export and distribution business. They’ve done well, and he is benefiting from it. A little embarrassed, he says he hasn’t done much to contribute to the family business since graduating from Stanford.
“So why were you at Mama Gorda’s?” The question has bothered me from the start.
His eyes scan the horizon. It’s several seconds before he answers. “We each have our embarrassments,” he starts. “Sometimes it’s good not to ask too many questions. I won’t ask you about what you were doing at Carmen’s house, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. Suffice it to say my family’s company does some distribution work for her. Most of her business is over the Internet, of course, but we deliver some DVDs to L.A.”
“Smuggling, you mean?”
“As I said, some questions should not be asked or answered.”
We fly on in silence and land in Culiacán to refuel. Javier leads me into the tiny airport restaurant where we eat a quick lunch in silence. Questions ricochet in my head like the bullets that killed Antonio. What kind of danger am I in? Am I in danger with Javier? Who are all these people? Ever since I agreed to cross the border with Knobhead, it feels as if one bad decision after another is plaguing me. My life is out of control.
Sitting at a table in the small airport lounge, Javier breaks the silence as I sip an iced tea. “Look, I’m sorry if I shock you. I thought it was better to be honest with you from the start. You don’t understand life in Mexico so let me try to explain—”
“Explain? What’s to explain? You all but said you are a smuggler, Javier. what’s to explain?”
Discussion Topic: What inspired you to become an author
My mother taught me to read books when I was very young. I read adult historical fiction while I was still in grammar school and was captivated by the adventure and romance of those stories. Getting older, I read the Horatio Hornblower books and Kenneth Roberts novels of New England in the Revolutionary War.
By the time I was 13, I had started my own first novel. I talked my parents into taking me to Boston to see Old Ironsides and when I got home, I started my autobiographical novel about my life as a midshipman about that ship.
I majored in English Lit in college and when I graduated, after military service, I began a career in a New York City advertising agency. Marriage and children came along, but my success in the marketing world always came from my writing ability. Eventually, I learned the business world was not my cup of tea. I left it and supported my family for several years as a freelance journalist. That led to my wife and I publishing two trade magazines and running a small publishing company.
I began my first serious novel, Dream Helper, while still being editor and publisher of the magazine company. I participated in a writers’ group run by two authors who encouraged me and I attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference where my work earned a prize. I was encouraged to submit the novel for publication.
Then came literally 100 rejection letters from agents and publishers. Frustrated, I arranged a meeting with a New York publishing house editor at an historical fiction writers conference. I pitched Dream Helper to her and watched her eyes glaze over. So, I asked her what was the problem? She said it had nothing to do with my writing, but she couldn’t sell my book to her publisher because the book buyers at B&N and Borders didn’t want that kind of fiction.
On the plane home I realized I had two choices: put the manuscript always in a file draw or publish it myself. That’s what I did, and Dream Helper won a gold medal the following year from the Independent publishers Book Awards.
La Paloma, my new novel, is my fifth novel and sixth book independently published. Having studied the market, I see no reason to have an agent or publisher. Independent publishing has its challenges and hassles but they’re my hassles and challenges and I like that.
Writing and storytelling are a part of me; always have been. I’ve been inspired and encourage by any number of people. I’m grateful to all of them. But I was gifted with a writing talent. I could not ultimately have been anything else.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
La Paloma is Willard Thompson new suspense/adventure/romance novel inspired by current headlines. It’s set in present day Los Angeles, California, and various cities in Mexico.
The Girl from the Lighthouse published last year is Thompson’s Award-winning historical romance set in California and Paris, France in the 1870s.
He is the gold medal-winning author of Dream Helper, the first in The Chronicles of California series of three historical novels set in the early days of the Golden State. He and his wife live in Santa Barbara, California.
Barnes and Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/la-paloma-willard-thompson/1136266389
Willard Thompson will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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