Today’s special author guest is Willard Thompson. He’s chatting with me about his new suspense novel, La Paloma.
During his virtual book tour, Willard will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit his other tour stops and enter there, too!
La Paloma is Willard Thompson’s 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.
Welcome, Willard. Please share a little bit about your current release.
La Paloma is a novel inspired by newspaper headlines. Several stories in the recent press came together in my head over time to form this story. To begin with, I learned that an undocumented alien could receive an AB540 scholarship to UCLA. Then The newspapers and internet were full of stories about DREAMer, young people who were being deported from the U.S. for not have green cards and the debates over their futures. Then we learned that border walls were being built to stop migrants. Finally, the press was filled with stories about violent Mexican cartels.
My novel was inspired by all of the above, but it is not a gritty crime story, it’s a coming of age novel about a young undocumented Latina college student searching for her place in the world. Is it Mexico, the land of her birth and heritage? Or is it California, the land of opportunity she has been led to aspire to? Teresa Diaz, the primary character, falls down a rabbit hole when her undocumented father is deported to Mexico and she must go in search of him to save her family. Her world and everything she thinks she knows is turned upside down. The story unfolds from there.
What inspired you to write this book?
The headlines described above were a start, but first, and foremost for me, the character is primary. As I continues to think about my character, Teresa Diaz, I became more interested in understanding the conflicts in her life. Who was she and what did she want in her life? The contrast between the Latino community in which she lives and the upscale world of UCLA and Westwood, California. All that is a very prominent part of the novel, so in a sense it is a coming of age story. It poses questions Teri has to answer and perhaps engages readers in answering the questions for themselves.
Excerpt from La Paloma:
Stepping off the bus from Westwood in Monte Vista is like stepping into an alternate reality for me. Two white-haired Mexicans wearing droopy mustaches and ostrich boots are sitting like statues on the bus stop bench. As I start off toward home, they talk to each other in short, machine-gun-like, bursts of Spanish. One looks up as I pass. “Hola, Señorita,” he says, smiling so I can see his tobacco-stained teeth, “Often I see you at this time. From where are you coming?”
I have no idea who he is, but I return his smile. “From UCLA,” I tell him.
He nods. “Ah, Trojans,” and lapses back into silence.
“No. Bruins,” I tell him, and keep going, smiling to myself. It must have been the tenth time the old man had asked me the same question.
The air is heavy with the aroma of simmering pork from a taqueria I pass, but it morphs into the smell of warm bolillos at the panadería next door. Farther along, three middle-aged women in drab house dresses, stockings rolled down to mid-calf, stand at a table of Norteño CDs. They’re listening to Ramon Ayala’s voice coming from inside the store and chatting back and forth.
Hurrying home, I pass two big-bellied teenage girls pushing baby carriages. They stop to look up at the marque of our movie theater showing “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and then admire the riot of red, white, and green piñatas hanging in the doorway of a shop spilling all sorts of imported merchandise onto the street.
When Connie, my little sister, was a toddler, she used to be dazzled by the sights and smells of the stores along Peck Road. Even now, a curious fourth grader, she loves to linger over the assortment of trinkets when papa takes her window shopping.
I never liked these shops the way Connie does. For me, Monte Vista is my nightmare, haunting me with the memory of little Antonio. It isn’t my world. The bus to Westwood each morning is my escape, three buses actually, and two hours each way.
“This is your culture, Paloma. Your people,” my papa used to tell me, holding my hand, walking together up Peck Road to Mass on Sundays. “Embrace it,” he would say. “Es lo que somos.”
“I hate it, Papa,” I told him. “I want to be an American girl.”
Two shaved-headed gangbangers in baggy clothes, begin following me down the street, trash-talking to my back.
“Did ya see the nice tits on her?” one of them says loud enough for everyone on the sidewalk to hear. “They were peeking out at me on the bus. How soft they would feel in my hand.”
I cringe and quicken my pace. I want to turn around and tell them to leave me alone, but I know to keep my mouth shut. There are enough people on the street that I feel safe.
“But her legs, man,” the other one responds. “Think how those long legs would feel wrapped around your neck.”
I do my best to shut out their words. I speed up, but they keep pace. Men and women on the sidewalk give them a wide birth.
At Garvey Avenue, they turn left after shouting obscene good-byes that describe what they would do to me if they ever got me alone. When they disappear down the street, I feel the tension release from my shoulders.
Only neighborhood people are sitting about on their porches when I reach Magnolia, my street of small, pinched, two-story stucco houses, with iron-barred windows and doors, secure behind chain-link fences. Our little house, two in from the corner, is my father’s pride. Even though it’s rented, he always has the best-looking lawn and garden on the block. At Christmas, our house is a riot of blinking colored lights, competing with the neighbors’ over-the-top decorations for the gaudiest display award.
A boy in a navy watch cap straddles his bike on the corner, chatting up three girls. They are twelve- or thirteen-year-olds, heavy with makeup and budding breasts, competing with each other for the boy’s attention.
Across the street, an older couple sits in folding chairs by their front door. Protected by their chain-link fence, they watch the teenagers while tending a small hibachi on their front stoop.
“Hello, Mama,” I call out in the direction of the kitchen, heading for the staircase. “You home? I smell dinner.”
“Teresa Maria, come back here.”
My mama hurries into the hall. Wiping her hands on her apron, she comes to the bottom of the stairs. “Your papa not home yet.”
“Probably stopped for a beer with the men, Mama. I’m late for work.”
“You eat with us when he gets home,” she scolds.
I continue to the top of the stairs. “I have a test tomorrow, Mama. No time to eat anyway. Hey, you,” I call out as I go past my brother’s room. I get a grunt in return. I stop and backtrack to his doorway.
“How was practice?”
“I did good, Teri. Coach says some guys from the junior college will be lookin’ at me during the season.”
“You, the man,” I say. Then give him a more serious look. “How was the math test?”
“Not so hot.”
“I can help.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” It’s Rico’s standard response.
Connie and I share a room. Busy with scissors and paste on a school project, she looks up and greets me with an ear-to-ear smile, showing missing front teeth.
“How was school?”
“I’m making a hand puppet, Teresa,” she squeals with glee, sweeping her dark bangs out of her eyes with the back of her hand. “We’re having a puppet show in class tomorrow. Do you like my wolf?”
“Cool,” I tell her. “He looks big and bad.”
I change into my uniform, throwing my hair into a ponytail and fastening the red and gold baseball cap around it. Before leaving the room, I kneel by the side of the bed, facing the icon of the Virgin on my night table. I whisper a prayer for Antonio. Connie stays respectfully quiet. When I finish, I hurry back downstairs. Opening the front door, I call over my shoulder, “I’ll eat at work, Mama. Tell papa hello.”
“No good for you,” I hear from the kitchen. I start back up the street.
I get off work at eleven. Dreading two hours of cramming still ahead, I hurry home. I keep throwing quick looks over my shoulder, thinking about the gangbangers. Turning the corner onto Magnolia, I’m startled to see my house ablaze with light. I stop for a moment and stare. The house should be dark, with everyone in bed. I run. The front door is open. Silhouetted just inside the living room, Mama sits hunched over on the edge of the couch. Coming closer, I can see she’s crying.
“Mama…” I run the last few steps to embrace her. “What’s the matter?”
“He don’t come home, Teresa Maria.” A sob escapes her throat.
I start to feel apprehensive. My father doesn’t hang out drinking with other men “Did you call around, Mama? That’s not like him.”
“No one see him.” She starts crying again. I put my arms around her, holding her until she stops crying. We talk about what to do.
“Don’t call the police,” she warns me.
She agrees to let me call County Hospital. I ask the woman who answers if José Diaz has been admitted to the Emergency Room. She is impatient, telling me there are four Diazs in her computer just now, and it would take her several minutes to pull up each one to see if any are in Emergency. “I’ll wait,” I tell her, adding a little attitude to my voice. “This is important.”
Papa was not there.
What exciting story are you working on next?
Don’t know. Could be a sequel to La Paloma if readers like that story enough, or an historical fiction set in California 1820-1910 with a young woman and her sisters as the leading characters.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Well, it’s always what I wanted to be. But life, marriage, supporting a family get in the way for a while. I got serious about 20 years ago and started writing just about full time and have never looked back. It hasn’t been easy and not very lucrative, but it’s been a rewarding life nevertheless.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer! I wrote my first novel at age 13, seeing myself as a midshipman at Old Ironsides in the war of 1812.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I hope they will read La Paloma and my other novels: Dream Helper, Delfina’s Gold, Their Golden Dreams and The Girl from the Lighthouse and let me know what they thing by going to my web page.
Thank you for being a guest on my blog!
Thanks for having me.