Though Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar is set in the jungles of Colombia, it's an intensely personal story of my actual life.
For example: I am a single-mother-by-choice and so have experienced firsthand the ridiculous stigma put on single mothers. I've been assaulted nine times in my life, though never raped, and so am part of the global community of assault survivors, like the women of Tartatenango. I live in California and have experienced firsthand the anxiety that's caused by drought and extreme weather. That's also why this book is set in Calexicobia: an entirely fictional place, but one in which my personal location – California – can be part of the story, not exclusively someone else's country. And the intense love between women, sexual or otherwise, is one of the cornerstones of my life as a bisexual and a radical feminist.
Here are some other key ideas from a recent "Interview with the Author":
Q: Explain to me how this is a feminist story.
There's no tolerance in the town for violence against women for example. Sometimes I think of it as "#MeToo comes to Macondo." Weddings are not sacred and not a way to divide 'good girls' from bad. You notice there aren't any sex workers in the story. An ancient philosopher said "women's virtue is man's best invention" because of the way that the concept of 'virtue' is used to oppress women, keep them locked up (like in a harem or just a suburban home), or cordoned off (as in a red-light district), or to make their children 'unworthy' of support or recognition. It's also a feminist story in that it addresses Orietta's extreme beauty: people hate her for it, or hunger for her like she's a foodstuff. How men feel excused from morality in the face of beauty, how defining beauty is for a woman.
Q: Why is so much of the plot of this book tied up with water and extreme weather?
Living in California the droughts have become so severe that they really work on your subconscious. The anxiety of watching trees die and everything become dusty is very intense. The extreme weather in the story is a commentary on the current state of the world with climate change. Droughts, floods, heat, weather no one has seen in centuries. I thought it was an apt metaphor. Additionally, it is a fact that water will be the most valuable commodity within the next 10 years.
Q: Describe some of the themes in the book:
· the intense love between women
· the oppression of single mothers
· the violence and sexual oppression of women
· extreme weather and the anxiety it produces.
· the way a women's beauty changes her reality.
· the temptation to use one's beauty as leverage.
· the restorative power of community
· the use of men by men as cannon fodder
· the unique connection between twins
· the frailty, some would say the chimera of legitimacy vs illegitimacy, paper and cake.
Q: Some would criticize you for writing about the Latinx experience when that's not your ethnicity. What is your response to that?
That was of concern to me because I take very seriously the issue of cultural appropriation but much of this is from my own experience. As I mentioned above, I am a single-mother-by-choice, I've been assaulted nine times in my life, though never raped. I live in California in anxiety over drought and extreme weather. That's also why this book is set in Calexicobia: an entirely fictional place, but one in which my personal location – California – can be part of the story, not exclusively someone else's country. And the intense love between women, is one of the cornerstones of my life as a bisexual feminist.
Q: What about the men in the story?
I love the men in this book. Gonzago is luscious. I actually get choked up thinking about Old Man Orjuela and what he does for people. The fey men who dance in the bar. Cosimo the swindler was supposed to be a minor character, but he wouldn't leave the stage and so became a key character. And Dr. Valdez and his tiny hands making love and birthing children, what can I say?