Last week, I gave you the cover reveal for a short story project that I've been working on for some time. This week, I want to tell you a little more about the story and how it came about.
Some stories, well a lot of stories, are written to market. That simply means that a story is constructed to adhere to reader expectations in such a way as to make the story more salable to publishers. There is nothing wrong that—every author writes to market if they hope to be published, but sometimes, every once in a while, a story doesn’t quite adhere to market expectations.
That is sort of what happened with "La Santisima." The story wasn't deemed to be quite genre enough for certain venues, and the genre tropes provided less appeal for the literary market.
That certainly wasn't my intention. "La Santisima" began with marketable aspirations. My original idea was for a drug story that incorporated some kind of supernatural suicide revenge. There was going to be horror and blood pacts and all sorts of badassery, but I wasn't precisely sure which supernatural elements to incorporate into the tale. I contacted a friend and asked her advice. Sabrina pointed me toward La Santa Muerte, a saint most associated with the drug cartels.
Outside of the most garish Hollywood nonsense, I had no idea what La Santa Muerte was about, either as a cult or as a symbol. I turned to Google and stumbled onto Eva Aridjis' documentary La Santa Muerte. She filmed a very compassionate look at the people who live in some of the worst poverty and the most dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico. After watching the interviews in La Santa Muerte, I realized that my original idea was not going to work.
About the same time, I saw an advertisement for another documentary, Who is Dayani Cristal? I have not seen this particular work yet, but it is about a man who died in the Arizona desert while trying to cross the border. The medical examiners' only clue to identifying the corpse was the name Dayani Cristal, which was tattooed on the body.
Out of curiosity, I looked up some facts and figures on the Sonoran desert just to see how many people die there every year in an attempt to cross the border. According to the non-governmental human rights organization, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, over 2,500 men, women, and children have died trying to make that dangerous crossing since the year 2000.
Those are the ones who are found.
I brushed up on my faulty Spanish and started reading about migrants, why they want to leave their homes and homelands for a country that is just as foreign to them as Latin America is to most U.S. citizens. I tried to imagine what would make someone want to cross a border with little more than the clothes on his or her back. One man talked about getting up before dawn and working until nine at night at back-breaking labor that did nothing to raise him out of his poverty. One day he woke up and decided that he just couldn’t do it anymore—he started walking the tracks, looking for something better.
His hope of finding a better life remained with me as I read more and more about the migrant experience. Through documentaries, I saw the conditions in which people are forced to live—in poverty and in fear. I read through the Coalición de Derechos Humanos’ website where they have listed the people found dead in the desert. Of all the bodies that were located, only a few had names. Most were listed as "unknowns," and I wondered about the families they left behind. I wondered about the whys and the hows and what would happen if.
"La Santisima" is the product of that wondering. I wanted to put myself in someone else's life and see the world differently. I wanted to understand a complex problem by giving faces, names, and histories to the unknowns found in the desert.
I'm not here to give you an answer on the topic of immigration, because I have none. I'm just not that smart. I do wish that we, those of us on both sides of the border, would spend more time trying to understand one another rather than seeking to blame. I'd like to see us reach out and find a more humanitarian solution to the issue, maybe something that is less about erecting walls and more about reaching out. Men and women, who are simply fighting to survive, are lost to the shadows, nameless and forgotten. Meanwhile politicians point fingers and argue patriotism, but we all know the truth about politicians—the dollar is the bottom line.
Only sometimes it's not about money, at least not to me.
I could have changed Sebastian's story, added a little gore and given La Santa Muerte a larger, more sinister role—I'm a writer, words are my business, badassery could have abounded.
But sometimes a story feels right, the characters feel true, and that is what happened here. For better or for worse, "La Santisima" is what I wrote, and I knew that if I tried to cram the story into a mold, I would have broken my characters' spirits; I would have cheapened their sacrifice—the story might have sold, but it wouldn't be the same.
I couldn't bring myself to do that.
I am going to bring you something very soon. It will be a gift, something that I choose to give in exchange for all that you have given me.
I see you out there on the Internet, pulling for me, offering me words of encouragement every day, and I know many of you by name. I am indebted to you for all of the beautiful diversity that you’ve brought into my life.
You know who you are.
Mis mejores deseos,