My Wandering Ways III

luis

I sometimes have to tell starting writers what it costs to write. I have to rejoice in the rwards, of course--who could fail to love postings on the blog or emails from readers? I've been hearing from our soldiers sailors in the Iraq war. I can't believe my books are showing up there. And, of course, we have all the toys you start to be able to afford...like a house for starters. If you knew me back then you knew there was no way I'd ever buy a big house. No way. All thanks to my tireless two-finger typing.

But it costs something, too. I am the least disciplined of people, but it takes discipline. One of the zen masters once said: if you wish for mastery, first you must sweat white beads.

Lately, more and more people have been contacting me about the old stuff, like Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border. It's amazing to me--I don't even think of the books that came before the 21st Century. That one took me ten years of fruitless struggle to publish. Rejection after rejection after rejection. One brilliant NYC editor told me, and I quote: "Nobody cares about starving Mexicans."

It finally managed to be published in 1993, and it has gone on to many editions. You can sell a first edition if it's in good shape for $175.00 US cash money. In the days when I was living the across the wire experience, I would have cried if you'd given me $175! One Christmas, my mom and I had nothing for our holiday dinner, and one of the church boys drove me to 7-11 and I bought her a small canned ham. Sad awful days.

That is part of what it costs--the soul tax. But some of the other things are harder to tabulate, and tougher to explain. More of the wandering ways I have been so famous for in my own bedroom and living room. Like this:

When we were working in Tijuana, feeding the poor, we were given any number of opportunities for astonishment. Floods, prairie fires, death, blood. We drove into the Tijuana garbage dump every two weeks on our Thursday Short Run. It was, in those days, on a hill to the south of downtown TJ, across the highway from the big Mexican army battalion headquarters when you're going to the Ensenada toll road. Every once in a while, the city would close the dump and barr outsiders from entering it. Including us.

One way to do this was to station those bored soldiers from the big base at the entrance. With guns.

So, one day, we were driving in, and there was a machine gun on the bluff to the starboard side of the vans. Five or six soldiers slumbering in the dirt. We blithely drove through the ambush and parked. Pastor Von, my own personal Moses, called me over and said, "Luis! Why don't you take those guys some donuts!" DONUTS? I gasped. Von had deep faith in the power of chocolate frosting to tame savage beasts and soldiers. He gave me a plastic bag of donuts and gave me orders to go on a suicide mission to get the soldiers to allow us to enter--after we had already defied them and enterred.

So I walked up the hill. The soldiers rose. I tried to look really friendly. They did not. I held up the bag of donuts. And here's the part I will never forget: one of the soldiers took his machine gun and placed the end of the barrel on my crotch. Right at my testicles. I said, "Hey guys! How about some donuts!"

I have not forgotten how power and intimidation work. I put it in Hummingbird in many scenes. Oh yeah, and I never forgot that chocolate can work, too. I put that in the book, too.

The soldiers glowered at me for a moment, then asked for chocolate milk. When I said I'd be HAPPY to get them some chocolate milk, the machine gun left the vicinity of my reproductive engines and we all sat in the dirt inspecting the weapons and wiping melted chocolate off our faces.

I don't know how to put that in a writing workshop, or a reading. It sounds so macho. And it sounds so removed from sitting and typing. But it's part of that soul tax I paid so I could write what I write.

I hope you have lots of chocolate and lots of wandering and no guns.
Ciao, mi amici--L

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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