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About the author:
She is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. She currently divides her time between the United States and Central America but can always be found on Twitter @CarmenConnects.
What inspired you to write your book?
I hope you enjoy The Hidden Light of Mexico City. And I hope it makes you think a little, too.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“May I see what you’re doing?”
Strangers never spoke to each other on the street in Mexico City unless they were thief and victim.
Heart thumping, Luz raised her head and looked around.
The man who had spoken was standing about ten feet away, close enough to speak to her, not so close as to be threatening. His hands were by his sides, not in his pockets, to show he wasn’t hiding anything. There was no one else around, no potential accomplice, and there was plenty of room to run around him if she had to. She automatically checked that the Prada tote was still safely tucked between her feet. But he didn’t look like a thief.
He was tall; probably a head taller than she, and everything about him said upper class. He was quietly but expensively dressed in crisp khaki pants and a white ribbed pullover shirt, the trademark weekend outfit worn by wealthy people who had someone like Luz to wash la sopa out of light colored clothes. He wore a well-cut brown leather blazer over the white shirt, a pair of snub-toed casual shoes, and norteamericano Ray-Ban sunglasses.
The only thing about him that wasn’t standard upper class was his hair. It was only about a centimeter long, the sort of cropped military haircut that no one wore. Men of all classes wore their hair much longer and slicked back with gel.
“May I?” he asked. He gestured at the sketchpad. His voice was deep and strong, his diction clear and well-educated.
He took a few steps closer and pulled off the sunglasses, and Luz realized that he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. His face was perfect, with a high forehead, excellent cheekbones, and a wide jaw tapering to a firm chin. His skin was darkened by the sun–if that was possible in Mexico City–and the effect against the white shirt was striking. But his eyes were more than striking, they were startling. They weren’t black-brown like mestizo or indio eyes, not even pale brown like Señora Vega’s. No, his eyes were hazel, a warm greenish gray that practically shouted out his elite position in Mexican society. He was probably pure castellano.
Luz slowly turned the sketchpad around. She’d drawn the building, making the glass soar into the sky, elongating and curving it slightly like an El Greco structure. But the sun was glinting off the glass façade and the shading was all wrong.
“It’s very good,” he said. He stepped to one side, a small athletic motion, glanced at the Tamayo, then back at the drawing. He raised his eyebrows in admiration. Luz couldn’t help noticing they were perfect feathery lines above those remarkable hazel eyes.
An athlete, she guessed. He looked like pictures of European fútbol players, with clear smooth skin drawn tight over the hard edge of his jaw. The cords of his neck were well defined. The slouchy belt suggested narrow hips and a flat stomach. Maybe in his early or mid thirties, though, too old to be a professional player.
“Is this for the museum?”
“I’m sorry?” Luz realized she’d been staring and dropped her eyes.
“For the museum.” He gestured at the Tamayo with the sunglasses. His hands were well kept, but not soft. “Are you doing some promotional work?”
“Who, me?” Estupida.
“Yes.” He fiddled with the sunglasses. “The picture. It looks like something for the museum.”
“No, señor,” Luz said. “I’m just drawing. The Tamayo is one of my favorite places.” She turned the sketchpad back around and looked at what she’d done so far.
“Thank you,” Luz said. She looked up again and by some insane coincidence met his hazel eyes and forgot to put her stupid face on. For a moment they stared at each other. Luz caught herself before she smiled at him like some fool who didn’t know her place.
“But I’m having a lot of trouble with the light today.” Luz busied herself with her pencil case. “It’s too bright.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, taking a step closer.
Luz smelled leather and soap and citrus.
“Well, see this?” she heard herself say. Suddenly her finger was showing him where she’d drawn the reflection of the sun on the windows. “See how it’s darker here, near the roofline? I’m not used to drawing light, there’s usually too much smog. So I have to do it over and of course that sort of ruins the paper if I have to erase.”
There were rules to keep the different social classes from getting too familiar with each other. Everyone knew them and Luz was breaking them all by chattering away like this. She shut her mouth and found her good gum eraser, the one with the brush on the end.
“Do you usually do things over until you get them right?” he asked.
“I usually get them right the first time,” Luz said unthinkingly. She pushed up the sleeves of the pink sweater so she wouldn’t get erasures on the beautiful cashmere and started to carefully rub off the pencil marks.
“Ah,” he said.
Luz looked up, suddenly realizing how arrogant her words must have sounded. “I’m sorry, señor. That was a rude thing to say.”
“Not at all,” he said. “I can respect that. You’re probably very good at what you do.”
“Hardly.” Luz continued to gently rub at the errant pencil lines. “I’m just stubborn.”
“Do you mind if I watch?”
Luz swallowed hard. “Not at all, señor.”
She brushed away the erasures and selected a soft lead pencil. She redrew the shading, her eyes moving between the Tamayo building across the plaza and the paper on her lap. She was acutely aware of the man watching her, glorious in his leather jacket and hazel eyes, sunglasses dangling from his hand.
Luz switched to a harder lead to fill in the three story stairway behind the glass facade, then chose yet a different one to soften the roofline with some fluffy clouds. As the drawing emerged in sharper detail, the humor was evident. The line of the building curved as if it was preening while the clouds leaned curiously, trying to see behind the glass.
“You’re fantastic,” the man standing next to her said.
Luz glanced up and electricity drilled right through her.
He was smiling a wide genuine smile that lit his face and made the hazel eyes sparkle. His teeth were perfectly straight and white. He could have been a toothpaste ad, the kind with “Cleanliness is Healthy” on the bottom.
“What are you going to call it?” he asked.
“My sketches aren’t good enough to name,” Luz murmured.
“I don’t believe you.”
“See for yourself.” Luz held out the sketchpad.
“Do you mind?” He indicated the bench next to her and Luz nodded. He sat down–not too close, not too far away–and clipped the sunglasses to the neckline of his shirt. She handed him the pad; it was half-filled with about 15 sketches.
He studied the pictures. “These are very good.” He flipped to a detailed sketch of Santa Clara, all sepia tones and sad gravestones. “There’s a lot of soul in these pictures.”
“Thank you,” Luz said faintly. There was a humming sound in her ears and she was dangerously and inexplicably happy that this beautiful stranger liked what she’d done.
“But the funny ones are the best.” He turned back to the picture of the Tamayo. “This one is important. You have to name it.”
“Definitely.” He handed back the sketchpad.
Luz selected a red pencil. She drew a tiny tomato sitting on top of one of the stairs about halfway up the flight. It was the only spot of color in the otherwise black-and-white drawing. She gave it a green stem and it became a perfect miniature vegetable, poking fun at the grandeur of the preening museum. She started to grin as she wrote “Tomato Tamayo” at the bottom.
Luz turned the sketchpad so he could see it.
“Tomato Tamayo?” He gave “tomato” the English pronunciation; he had understood the rhythm of the words right away. “Excellent. Very clever. But you didn’t sign it.”
“It’s just a sketch.” Luz folded her hands primly in her lap, very conscious that he was solid and confident and knit together with a sort of taut energy. The humming sound was still in her ears. She fought a crazy urge to reach up and feel the muscle over his jaw and the smoothness of his shave. She put the red pencil back in the case instead.
“You should sign everything you do,” he said seriously.
“All right.” She found a pen and wrote “Luz de Maria” in black ink across the bottom corner. “There.”
He cocked his head. “Your name is Luz de Maria? Is that right?”
“Luz de Maria. That’s lovely.”
“Thank you,” Luz said. The humming mixed with the scent of leather and soap and citrus to make her lightheaded.
“I’m sorry for not introducing myself sooner. I’m Eduardo. Eduardo Cortez Castillo.”
Of course his name is Eduardo Cortez Castillo, Luz thought wearily, crashing back to earth. There were no two more Spanish surnames in all of Mexico. He could probably trace his bloodline directly to Hernán himself.
He looked at her expectantly.
“I’m Luz de Maria Alba Mora,” Luz said, feeling all over again that she had no business talking to him.
He offered his hand and she shook it. His grip was firm and dry. He didn’t try to hold her hand any longer than was appropriate or do anything else but give it a friendly shake.
“It’s been a pleasure meeting you this morning, Luz de Maria Alba Mora. Thank you for letting me see an artist at work.”
“You’re welcome,” Luz said. The humming was gone and she felt vaguely dishonest and foolish. Dishonest for letting him think she was a real artist, foolish for feeling so let down.
Some people walked by, heading for the museum, and Luz glanced at her watch. He saw her looking at the time and stood up.
“I guess the museum is open now?”
“Yes.” Luz felt cold. She pulled down the sleeves of the pink sweater.
He took a step backwards and looked at the museum. The huge doors were open. “Thank you for your time,” he said.
“Enjoy the exhibits, Señor Cortez.”
He nodded at her, almost a bow. A formal, old-fashioned gesture. He walked a few steps toward the museum then turned back to her. “Are there any exhibits you’d recommend?”
“Oh. Well.” Luz tried to look nonchalant and not supremely happy he hadn’t just walked away. “I have the review of October’s artists if you’d like to see it.”
“There’s a review?” he asked.
“I read it every month.” Luz dove into the Prada tote for her notebooks and found the current Tamayo review. “Let’s see. There’s an exhibit of ‘vast multi-dimensional multi-medium works reflecting the solitude and insanity of the polar winter.’ It’s by an artist from Finland whose ‘works were expressed directly onto his personal structures.’”
Luz looked up. “I think that’s a nice way of saying big murals with odd things jutting out of them, done on a barn door. And that he used lots of white.”
Eduardo Cortez Castillo laughed, the wide smile lighting up his face. “Thank you for the translation. I think. What does what does ‘multi-medium’ mean?”
“Like this.” Luz picked up her pencil case and rattled the pencils inside. “The pencil and the paper are my mediums of creativity. It just means what the artist uses to create. This artist just used many different things to create a single piece of artwork.”
“I get it. So this ought to be pretty good?”
“Well, there is a new exhibit from Nadia Porov. She’s Russian, very clever.” Luz read the review to him. “‘Nadia Porov proves once again that she can enthrall and stimulate the viewer with her exceptional choice of materials, elevating the mundane and juxtaposing the ordinary with the necessary to achieve the sublime.’”
He gave her a questioning look, seemingly on the brink of laughter.
Luz fought a great wave of silliness. “Nadia Porov is really quite good. I saw one of her exhibits two years ago. Took up the entire wing.” Luz gestured at the left side of the Tamayo. “It was amazing. She’d made this enormous ship, all out of . . . of . . .” Luz trailed off as she remembered.
“It’s not important.”
“But now I need to know,” he said, as if she was making a joke.
“Toilet paper,” Luz replied, her face scarlet to be sure.
He threw his head back and roared unabashedly.
“Are you laughing at me?” Luz started to giggle.
“Yes,” he said breathlessly. “How many rolls?”
“Seven thousand four hundred and two.” It had been a memorable exhibit.
He dropped onto the bench and his shoulders shook with laughter. The silliness rolled over Luz and she found herself nearly hysterical. Several people in the plaza looked at them, helpless with mirth on the bench.
“Ah, Madre de Dios, I needed that.” Eduardo Cortez Castillo took a deep breath and shook his head. “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.”
His eyes sparkled at her. The museum and the woods and the people in the plaza all faded away. The sun shone brightly and Luz felt happiness bubble up inside her.
They kept smiling at each other, something connecting, the electric current humming again, until Luz remembered who she was. She closed the notebook and picked up the pencil case just so her hands would have something to do.
“Right. Of course,” he said and stood. “I guess I’d better go see some art before the crowds get too bad. My apologies again for intruding on your time.”
“Not at all.” Luz didn’t meet his eyes. “It was very nice meeting you, Señor Cortez.”
“Egualmente, señorita.” He bowed again, that beautiful formal gesture, then turned and went toward the museum. Luz watched him go. He had a powerful, athletic stride; one foot precisely in front of the other. The back of the leather blazer swung gently from side to side as he walked away.
Luz leaned against the back of the bench and closed her eyes. She needed to head to the zoo or el lago and come back later. If she went into the Tamayo now she’d see him again and do something stupid.
As she bent over and put everything back into the Prada tote, she suddenly found herself looking at the crisp hems of a pair of khaki pants.
“I don’t suppose you would consent to take some time off from your work to play tour guide?” Eduardo Cortez Castillo asked.
Luz craned her neck.
“I hate listening to those recordings, you know,” he went on. “The kind you carry around that tell you what you’re seeing.”
“They don’t have them at the Tamayo,” Luz said faintly.
“Ah, well.” The perfect eyebrows went up and down in mock consternation. “Right.” The sunglasses tapped across his thumb. “So. The problem is worse than I thought.”
“A predicament, señor,” Luz said. Her bones left and she sagged against the bench.
“You would be doing the art world a great service.”
“Educating the ignorant.”
The sun was still shining. He stood there and smiled at her. Luz drank in the close-cropped hair, expensive clothes, hazel eyes. She simply had to walk away.
“I would be honored to be your guide, Señor Cortez,” a voice like hers said. Luz stood up and put the Prada tote on her shoulder, straightened the Chanel sweater, and flipped her ponytail loose from where it had gotten caught up in the Hermés scarf.
“My friends call me Eddo.” He held out his hand and Luz shook it for the second time that morning. Maybe it was her imagination or just wishful thinking but the handshake lasted a little longer this time.
“Eddo, then,” Luz’s voice said.
“And do your friends call you Luz de Maria or just Luz?”
“Luz is fine.”
He made a courtly little gesture for her to proceed and together they walked across the plaza and into the Tamayo.