Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Hi there,
Today begins a couple of posts about santería and the purification ritual I had with a santera in the countryside outside Guardalavaca in north-eastern Cuba. This is a statue to Babablú-Ayé, otherwise known as Santo Lazaro or Saint Lazarus. I took it inside the shed where Isabel performs her rituals -- with permission. I was alone and it was night, on my second of many visits to Isabel's. She's really quite remarkable, my window on the character of Sara in my first novel, The Phoenix Lottery.

To give you an idea of how fact and fiction work in the novel, here's an excerpt that follows after another Phoenix Lottery excerpt that I posted about a week ago. It has a fairly concise description of the religion and its origins. (Voodoo in French-speaking Haiti and Louisiana.) Next post, I'll have more pix and describe the ritual I underwent.




Sara has been at Xanadu for ten years, employed by duPont on the recommendation of the local schoolmaster. She lives in the village with her mother, husband and four children in a three-room house built of wood and tin. Every morning before dawn she bicycles out to the mansion. Here, with other servants, she tends to the kitchen, does light housekeeping, and makes the beds of late-sleeping guests.

A striking, literate woman with a wry smile, Sara is a descendent of Yoruban slaves. Rulers of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, these Africans, from what is now southwest Nigeria, were brought to Central and South America by Spanish, Portuguese and French slave traders in the first half of the sixteenth century.

The Yoruba followed an animistic religion presided over by the one true God, Olofi. At the moment of creation, Olofi grew until He became so big it was impossible for Him to deal with the tiny problems of mere mortals. As a result, He created the orishas, a group of over four hundred sub-gods, each with a specific area of expertise. It is to these orishas that believers pray to this day, rather than to a preoccupied Almighty.

In this respect, the orishas function like Catholic saints, mediating between humankind and an all-powerful God. But unlike Catholic saints, the orishas were never living, breathing mortals. In a delicious irony, once-human Catholic saints embody notions of spiritual perfection, whereas the wholly ethereal orishas, like the gods of ancient Greece, are given to all manner of human foibles.

One of their appetites is for blood, particularly that of chickens and goats. Animal sacrifice was, and is, one of the primary payments to the orisha for the casting of a successful spell, and naturally compensation is important as sorcery is ultimately a business transaction between a willing god and a needy supplicant. Sacrifice is an easy sell, however, given the track record of the Yoruban gods in turning dreams to reality.

In any event, sixteenth century slave traders carrying their Yoruban captives to the Caribbean were understandably unnerved to discover that their human cargo was practising witchcraft below deck. They sought to stamp out the heathen practices. But the Yoruba camouflaged their faith by the simple expedient of adopting the religious forms of their Catholic masters. This was easily accomplished, given certain surface parallels between the two faiths. For instance, the Yoruba would hide dolls representing their orishas inside hollowed-out statues to Christian saints; and they would pray to their orishas using the names of these saints. The warrior god Changó was called forth by the name Santa Barbara; Babalú-Ayé, god of sickness and epidemic, was raised, appropriately enough, by calling upon Santa Lazarus; while the great god Oshún responded to prayers to Our Lady of Charity.

In time, African witchcraft and Christianity syncretized into Santería in Spanish speaking colonies such as Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the Portuguese colony of Brazil, the amalgam became recognized as Candomblé. Most famously, in the French colony of Haiti, it developed into Voodoo.

Santería is now so integrated in Latin culture that it numbers over one hundred million adherents throughout Latin America, with millions of other devotees belonging to its cousins Voodoo and Candomblé. Nor are these religions the preserve of the illiterate or outcast. Initiates include devout pillars of the community who attend Eucharist by day and animal sacrifice by night, a juxtaposition of rituals which should be readily understood by Catholic suburbanites; after all, the doctrine of transubstantiation, which claims communion bread and wine transform to the literal body and blood of Christ, turns orthodox believers into cannibals.

At least that is Sara’s view.

Determined to become a santera, a member of the Santerían priesthood, Sara has already gone through the initiation of Los Guerreros and is now an aleya in the eighth rank of her religion. She has seen much that Western eyes would scarcely credit. To her, it is beyond question that Junior has seen the Pillow Lady hiding in the chandelier. Let Western materialists think what they may, she knows the household is in need of a spell. She forgoes lunch, pedalling to the home of her spiritual leader, the babalawo at the corner of Avenida Tercera and Calle 48. She confers with him briefly, promising a chicken and a bottle of rum by week’s end, and returns to Xanadu in time to serve pre-dinner cocktails.

Emily is upstairs with Junior, distracting the boy with rousing Baptist hymns; a triumphant progression of big fat chords belted out in no-nonsense four-four time. Kitty considers Emily’s sing-alongs unspeakably déclassé, but there can be no denying their power to entertain the very young. What Baptists lack in subtlety, they make up in exuberance.

Meantime, Althea is holding forth in the library with a dry martini. “Our Joseph, may his soul rest in peace, was a war hero. He didn’t want to grow up to be a Christmas angel. He wanted to grow up to be a soldier!” With that, Althea sets her glass down firmly, serving notice that cocktail hour is over. She and Henry navigate their way upstairs to dress for dinner, leaving Edgar and Kitty to knock back a pitcher of Mojitos.

Sara seizes the initiative. “Forgive me, but I hear the little one cry. I see his eyes. He is in some danger, yes, for he is haunted by an Espíritu Intranquilo. You call that in English, I think, a Restless Spirit. Please, do not worry. I have seen the babalawo. All will be well. You make for your son a resguardo -- a talisman, yes? To do this, you sew a small, white bag. In it put garlic, yerbabuena and perejil . Camphor also -- evil spirits love their camphor. Sew this bag shut tight and dip it in the holy water of seven churches. The Espíritu Intranquilo who frightens your boy will go away.”

There is a pause. Kitty smiles graciously and says, “Thanks ever so much, Sara. I’m sure you’re trying to help, but that’s not how we do things in Ontario.”

Sara considers this. “You are right. I do not know the ways of Ontario.” She clears the sideboard and exits. Edgar leaves Kitty with the Mojitos and follows Sara to the kitchen, picking up a pencil and notepad en route.

“Sara, I’d like to have a word with you.”

“I am sorry if I interfere.”

“Not at all. About that talisman... Where can I find some perejil ?

Friday, March 26, 2010


My first novel, the Phoenix Lottery, uses lots of other references to Varadero, besides the duPont mansion featured in the last two posts. Above is the lobby of the Melia Varadero. (Go back two posts to see the duPont mansion in the distance with a bunch of beach in the foreground. That shot was taken twenty years ago from the spot where this hotel would be built.)

Above is Playa Corales, where I snorkelled for the first time -- a bare-bones beach about a twenty minute taxi or moped outside the town. Corals come right up to the shore and then out about a hundred yards and extend for two miles. A round trip is about $20 by cab, or as I mentioned, you can moped. (Roads a little dicey.) There's a guy who'll look after your stuff for a dollar, like a hat check only for belongings, and you can absolutely trust him to make sure your stuff stays safe. If you go by cab, tell the driver how many hours you'll be there and he'll come back to pick you up on time. You can get roast chicken or lobster at a little outdoor grill. Heaven.

And these are twenty-year-old shots with a very old film camera inside the Caves of Bellamar, outside Matanzas, the capital of Matanzas province.

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The story is that the caves were discovered by a Chinese worker in the 1800s when they were building a railroad here. Apparently, he dropped an implement that accidentally fell through a hole in the rocks.

The caves are vast and go all the way out the to the ocean. Some places can make you claustrophobic, but the entrance is vast, deep and majestic. Imagine this as where the Phantom of the Opera would like to hide out.

So... next time, off to the eastern end of the island and my introduction to santería.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


As mentioned in my last post, Varadero features heavily in my first novel The Phoenix Lottery -- especially the duPont mansion. As an experiment, I'm posting the first chapter here. For photos of the setting you're reading about, check my last post. (Next post, some things to see off the beach. :)



Varadero. December 15, 1958. Two weeks before the revolution triumphs.

Edgar and Kitty, along with four-year-old Junior and private secretary Emily Pristable, have arrived from Havana to celebrate Christmas and welcome in the New Year. But the main purpose of their visit is not relaxation. The couple hopes to use the holiday cheer to mend fences with Kitty’s parents, Henry and Althea Danderville.

Edgar had once been the Dandervilles’ darling. He’d met them at their Caledon estate, claiming himself a comrade of their late lamented son. They brought him to the drawing room where his three-hankie recollection of Joseph’s heroic death in battle earned him both a sherry and a job.

Bright and enterprising, Edgar rose quickly through the ranks. Then, betrayal! Elopment with their daughter Kitty! Imagine! And her a Havergill debutante!

The Dandervilles sought to have the marriage annulled, but Kitty proudly announced herself pregnant. Swallowing hard, Althea contacted her second-cousin, Irénée duPont, the French-born American industrialist. Within the week, he had the young couple out-of-sight-out-of-mind in Cuba, where Edgar was put to work on family interests in Havana. Oh the howls and recrimation, when Kitty’s pregnancy evaporated in the hot Cuban sun. Even the birth of grandson Junior, some years later, failed to melt the northern cold front.

This visit may change all that. Winter is increasingly hard on the Danderville bones, and for once the invitation to Christmas in Cuba has been accepted. Edgar is determined the breach be healed -- no Havana apartment for his in-laws. Rather, leaving nothing to chance, he has arranged for the family to stay at Xanadu, the private retreat of Irénée duPont.

The redoubtable duPont, now a fierce eighty-four, is vacationing in the south of France and is only too happy to give Edgar the keys to his estate. Edgar, after all, has served with distinction for the past eight years: he’s a young man with a future, a ‘comer’ and drinking companion to boot. As for Althea, she and that Danderville fellow of hers raise damn fine horses on their Caledon estate. Definitely our sort.


When Irénée duPont arrived at Varadero in 1928, the little fishing village was an outlying section of Cárdenas, a city once renowned as “The Holland of the Americas”. Created out of swamp by French, American and British interests, Cárdenas was the first Cuban city to have electric lights and the second to be serviced by a railroad. While these amenities spoke to its power as a centre for sugar and coffee, its attractions were more than economic. The endless, unspoiled beauty of its Varadero beaches brought tourists by steamer and sailboat as early as 1872. In fact, Varadero was the first beach to see Europeans dressed in lightweight bathing attire. Unfortunately, Cárdenas had unravelled when nationalists razed its plantations and destroyed its rail links at the close of the nineteenth century. From that point it had been in progressive decline, its people mired in poverty, its magnificent architecture ravaged by neglect, and its tourism reduced to a faint sea-breeze.

A French-born American industrialist, duPont was a visionary who saw an opportunity to recapture the lost glory of the area, or at least of its beaches. A philanthropist of the old school, he financed a purification plant which delivered potable water to the area, underwrote the village school which provided free education to the peninsula’s children, and paid to rebuild the local church, the Iglesia Católica de Santa Elvira, when it was decimated by a cyclone in 1933. He also invested over $1.5 million to create his spectacular Xanadu retreat.

Set on 512 hectares of land on the east end of the Varadero peninsula, Xanada features an airstrip, a yacht harbour, a nine-hole golf course and a stunning three-story Spanish colonial-style mansion. The mansion, perched atop the San Bernadino butte, boasts impossibly high ceilings, green tile roof set against white stucco walls and a parade of elegant mahogany-framed windows and balconies. Surpassing these in magnificence is its piece de resistance, an expansive semi-enclosed rooftop bar which commands a breathtaking view of the powdery white sand beach along the peninsula’s north coast, as well as a suggestion of the distant village.

DuPont’s extravagance caught the attention of the world’s politicians, entertainers and mobsters. Varadero began to change. While duPont maintained his Xanadu mansion at a discreet remove from other habitation, he sold off snippets of land at its west border to members of America’s social elite. Soon luxurious pied-a-terres of white stucco and terra cotta tile dotted the shoreline. Film stars like Cary Grant could be seen jogging along the brilliant sand, while gangsters like Al Capone grilled lobster on their marble beach front patios. Offshore, Hemingway indulged his passion for deep-sea fishing, while regattas and a dizzying spin of lavish private parties provided endless recreation for the socially inclined.

Varadero has never looked back. By 1958, it is in full Renaissance. Its name alone conjures Latin rhythms, romance and intrigue. It is Heaven with a twist; Paradise straight up. Small wonder, then, that Edgar and Kitty have chosen it as the fairy tale backdrop for their planned reconciliation with the Dandervilles. But life, in the form of witchcraft and revolution, is about to provide the couple with something quite other than a fairy tale ending.


The Dandervilles arrive fresh from a Miami stopover on a private plane arranged by Edgar. This is only the second time they’ve been to Cuba. It’s also the first time they’ve seen grandson Junior since Kitty flew him up to Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital for neurological tests when he was still an infant. The atmosphere is electric. Fortunately, the Dandervilles have had a good flight.

“Kitty, Kitty, Kitty. My own, dear Kitty,” says Althea, emerging from a formal embrace on the tarmac. “You ought to have told me the good news immediately, my dear.”

“What good news?” Kitty enquires.

“That you’re in the family way, my precious. That your Junior will soon be having himself a little playmate.”

“ I’m not!” Kitty splutters.

“Oh but you can’t fool me, with those pudgy cheeks and thick waist.”

Kitty bursts into tears. “Mama, you know what the doctors said!”

“Oh my angel, forgive me. However could I be so cruel? Why, then, it must be the happy marriage that has you so nicely fleshed out. As for the problem ‘down there’, please don’t cry. I’m sure with a little prayer the good Lord will see fit to bless you with another wee one. What do doctors know anyway? In the meantime, if I may be permitted a word of advice, mind the sweets. A mother worries.”

With that, Althea sails off to the waiting convertible, her perfect hourglass form encased in a tasteful linen ensemble, her pale skin shaded from the sun by white gloves, an enormous soft-brimmed picture hat and a large floral-print umbrella carried by her doting husband, Henry.

Junior is waiting for them on the front steps of the mansion. Emily has dressed him in a blue blazer, grey wool shorts, knee-high socks and a polka dot bow tie. He is four, but confronted by Granny D. he quickly regresses.

“Aren’t we the proper little man?” Althea enthuses with what she presumes to be grandmotherly affection. She turns to Kitty. “Why he’s cute as a button.” Extending her hand to Junior she says, “Would you like to shake Granny’s hand?”

Junior shakes his head, thumb stuck firmly in mouth.

“But it’s your Granny Danderville,” Kitty encourages. “You remember your Granny Danderville, don’t you?”

Junior shakes his head and hides behind Emily’s skirts. His pants itch. He scratches his bum.

“He’s just making a bit strange,” says Emily, placing a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Some things never change,” Althea replies darkly. She remembers well the five-minute encounter with Junior she and Henry had endured at Sick Kids’. The boy had not only refused to look at them, he’d kept his hands clamped over his eyes. They’d tried coaxing a peek. No luck. Not to be denied by a tadpole, Althea had pried the screaming boy’s hands from his face finger by finger. But the stubborn beast, undaunted, had kept his eyes squinched tight shut. Not even a bribe of chocolate could tempt the creature to open them.

“Not to worry,” Althea brightens, “lots of peculiar children grow up to be normal.”

“Would you like to play horsy, Junior?” Henry asks, dropping to all fours.

“Henry, please! That’s what servants are for.”

The company passes through the foyer and enters the main reception area. Tension is instantly relieved with a chorus of appreciative ‘ooo’s and ‘ahhh’s; servants have decorated a sixteen-foot pine tree flown in from New England for the occasion. The boughs bend beneath the weight of crystal icicles, colourful balls of eggshell porcelain, seasonal figurines, and large cones gilded with gold leaf. Atop the tree is a large Christmas angel with a glittering halo and a flowing robe of real ermine studded with jewels.

Junior has been in awe of the angel since he first laid eyes on her. He’s so proud to show her off that he forgets he’s shy. “Look at the angel! Her hat is as wide as Granny’s.”

“It’s called a halo, dear,” Kitty intervenes with a nervous smile.

“I want a halo!”

The adults smile indulgently, but Junior is not to be patronized. He has found his vocation. “When I grow up,” he announces proudly, “I’m going to be a Christmas angel. And I’m going to wear a beautiful dress and have a big halo and long, golden hair, and fly around giving presents to poor people. Everybody will want to kiss me.” He begins to dance around as he imagines the Christmas angel would dance, with his hands high in the air and his long, imaginary hair flowing in the breeze.

“Yes, well,” says Edgar brusquely, “Anyone for rum punch?”

It is at this point that Junior lets out a hair-raising scream, drops to the floor and skitters backwards into a corner like a crab. Terrified, he scrunches into a ball and points at the ceiling. “The Pillow Lady’s in the chandelier!” he screams. Emily runs to comfort him. “Pillow Lady! Pillow Lady!”

“He’s still going on about the Pillow Lady?” Althea demands, her right eyebrow arching off her forehead. “I understood those Toronto head doctors had put an end to that.” Her gaze swoops to the unfortunate Kitty who collapses sobbing at Edgar’s feet. Edgar, in turn, implores Henry with the helpless look of a man who knows he ought to be doing something, but can’t figure out exactly what.

No such indecision affects Sara Pérez, the head maid. She knows she must visit the high priest, the babalawo, immediately. There is witchcraft afoot.

Friday, March 19, 2010


When I first went to Varadero, Cuba, in 1990, I was blown away by its twenty kilometres (1.2 miles) of almost unbroken white coral sand beach. At that time the last hotel, the International, was at about the halfway point. Then one took a moped out a dirt path which ended up at a golf course which is part of the old duPont estate. After that, the mansion and more sand. Now hotels extend the full length of the peninsula. However, unlike most major beach destinations, with the exception of the small downtown, only one row of hotels line the ocean. It's the busiest of Cuba's resort towns, but extremely quiet by most standards.

Dupont arrived in 1930 and built his million-and-a-half dollar estate in the middle of the Great Depression. Its elaborately carved railings and supports are all mahogany, and it includes a pipe organ and one of the first private working elevators. He also bought up lots of beach to keep his privacy. This is the view from his balcony looking over his golf course. When he was here, the resort in the distance didn't exist. (There was also a private airport runway.)

Dupont introduced potable water to the area -- unlike some other Caribbean destinations, its tap water is safe to drink. And he provided schools for the area's children. When the local church was destroyed, he rebuilt it:

He was an acquisitive/philanthropist of the old school. When he left at the revolution he asked the authorities not to destroy it: "Let history know I was here." The beaches are now all public and the mansion is a restaurant, although many of the rooms are exactly as he left them. Here's the dining room with organ:

Oh, and here's his bedroom. Actually, his wife's. He slept just off it as he drank a lot and snored:

A lot of my first (adult) novel, The Phoenix Lottery, is set in this mansion. Next post, will be the chapter that introduces Vardero and then some posts on my experiences with santería.

Till then,


Monday, March 15, 2010


Once upon a time... I wasn't so old. The picture above is of me and Daniel twenty years ago, back when we had hair -- and glasses were kinda big. It's taken at dusk in Varadero outside the restaurant of what was a then-3-Star hotel (HAHAHAHAHA) the Kawama. Before the revolution it was a casino. It's just down the beach from Al Capone's old pad, on a strip where Cary Grant, half of Hollywood, and REAL gangsters -- like The Godfather gangsters -- used to jog, gamble and barbecue. Anyway, the Kawama has subsequently been renovated. (Collapsed in a hurricane and was rebuilt.) I believe it's now a 4 Star. (HAHAHAHAHA)

This (above) was our room on the beach. It was actually a shed at the side of a large house divided into rooms. The wood supports were crawling with termites which you could see if you looked behind where the concrete had broken away. Which might explain why it and the other buildings like it collapsed. Hurricanes aside.

Anyway, Daniel and I are off on Friday for three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia, so I'm trying to do a series of prescheduled posts... because I don't think I'll have much time for the Internet while sailing on Halong Bay or crawling over the vines and banyan trees at the jungle temples of Angor Wat. To keep this blog alive while I'm gone, I thought I might do a series of posts about Cuba. I've been there over forty times. It's inspired large parts of my first novel (The Phoenix Lottery -- now out of print but which you can buy from me). It's also where I go to unwind and snorkel. And where I had my santerìan purification ritual -- Spanish voodoo, very common in Florida -- which fairie_writer at Livejournal asked me to talk about.

Cuba has changed SO much over the years. Things are far from perfect, but the vitriol you hear on FOX "News" is mainly recycled stuff from the Cold War days. What hasn't changed is the warmth and generosity of the people.

Also, the beauty of its waters.

I'll be talking about the changes, and also including chunks from Phoenix Lottery in sections where the book touches on my real-life experience or describes things I've seen. I'm picturing a kind of writer's-eye view where the real and the imagined come together. Not sure if it'll work, but we'll see.

Oh, here, by the way, is one of the old American cars that were still running in 1990. (I saw them as late as 2000, now hardly ever.) Still, imagine cars lasting fifty years today!

And here is a view of the beach -- and of the duPont mansion, now the Las Americas Restaurante -- where we'll pick up next post.



Friday, March 12, 2010


I've been very bad about posting these past two weeks. BORDERLINE has just come out and I'm racing against a first draft deadline for my new novel. (Title initials G.R.A.) I know, excuses, excuses. And okay, my official deadline is really May 1, but I'm going to be away in Vietnam and Cambodia as of next Friday, so I made this unofficial deadline to kick my ass in gear. I have never been late for a deadline in my life, and as an Obsessive/Compulsive that fact exerts ever growing pressure on me as I age. I have this idea that if I was ever late my life would completely fall apart and I'd never get anything completed again, ever. Okay, I know that's irrational, but there you are. :)

Anyway here are some shots of what's inspiring my latest -- a Middle School-and-up fantasy set in the Middle Ages. You'll recognize the top photo either as the Disneyland or the castle of King Ludwig of Bavaria. Actually it's the real deal -- Disneyland used it as its inspiration for the Magic Kingdom. Here's another shot:

The following shot of 'the far mountains' -- the Bavarian Alps in real life -- came from a castle parapet leading to a simulated grotto under a castle theatre. Upstairs they'd be playing Wagner, while Ludwig would listen from his grotto and brood.

Ludwig was reputed to be crazy, but I personally think he was just very much in the closet. Think Michael Jackson, without the music or the sex charges, or... well, okay there are a lot of differences, and maybe he was a little crazy too. But still. He built these amazing piles in Bavaria, and even if he ruined Bavaria's finances, the people loved him because building all those castles meant they had full employment. Call it "Stimulus Spending" in the nineteenth century. He drowned in a very shallow lake, despite being a fine swimmer. At least that's what the doctor who was with him said. Calling Nancy Grace. Well, not her -- AAA! -- but Bavaria Vice, say.

More impressive than the Disneyland castle, at least on the inside, is this castle, where Ludwig actually lived. Every room is mirrored on all sides, with a jungle of gilt swans and lilies rising up from all the corners and over the roof. He lived here totally alone in the middle of nowhere with his male servants. They'd sleep all day, then drink and go on all-night sleigh rides. I asked my tour guide about my theory that Ludwig was maybe a little bit gay. She said she'd never heard that before. I pointed at the gilt swans and the lilies and the mirrors and said, "Uh, have you taken a look around?"

Here is his parents castle. Ludwig's Disneyland place is on the mountain above. Freud would have a field day.

And here's part of a medieval fence in Oberammergau where they do the Passion Play every ten years because apparently god spared the village from the plague. Everyone in town paints murals of fairy tales all over their houses. It's quite a sight.

Oh, and here's the town square of Bremen, which in how I imagine market square in my fantasy capital of Nebelstad. (Did I mention I took these on a reading tour of Germany for my German publisher dtv? DTV is great. And so is Bremen! I heartily recommend a visit, as well as the Ludwig tour you can get out of Munich.)

And here are two shots of the great forest Finsterholz (my name) -- which you'll recall from my trip to Argentina. (Love that rubber tree in Recoleta.)

This mountain cliff below, though, is a view from one of Ludwig's turrets. Check out the (still used) rope bridge on the middle right,

And now I better race back to my draft.

BOOK GIVEAWAY ALERT: Holly Cupala has a book giveaway for my new novel, BORDERLINE, at her site: www.hollycupala.com The post is dated March 11, and the contest runs till Monday.


Monday, March 8, 2010


Okay, so this post is way late. But anyway, every year the Toronto Public Library has a swanky do to raise money. People and companies spend a fair chunk of change to go to a ballroom in the Royal York Hotel, see a fashion show based on popular novels, and eat fabulous food with a writer at their table. The writers are basically court jesters, there to amuse the guests.

This year I was asked to be one of the writers. It's a great honor and I had a fab time, although I must say cocktail parties aren't really my thing since I stopped drinking. I'm great in small groups or addressing a crowd, but put me in a cocktail party and I get lockjaw. I mean I grin like the Joker -- and not the Heath Ledger kind, more like the one on TV -- and my temples get so tight I swear I'm going to have a stroke.

For this event, I also had to wear a tux, which for me was a life first. I like to slouch around in jeans or a ratty bathrobe. But -- whoah -- here I am in a tux!

This is how I feel in a tux:

As I mentioned, the event was great and came with a silent auction and everything. Here's my place setting.

And here's the runway for the fashion show.

There were eight novels showcased. The best fashions were in a Bollywood number for Slumdog Millionaire. Great dancing. Also great dancing for the Outlander piece, although the dancers moved so fast I couldn't really get pix.

There were two other standout numbers:

Fashions for Breakfast at Tiffany's:

Fashions for Spartacus:

Quess which one got the most applause. :)

(Out of curiosity, how many of you who grew up in the 50s and 60s loved gladiator movies ? I'll never forget Rory Calhoun in The Colossus of Rhodes -- Rory's best friend gets a huge bell lowered over his head, and it gets gonged and blood comes out of his ears. Jason and the Argonauts with those sword-fighting skeletons was also pretty cool. )

Oh, BTW, only two people worked for the company that bought my table. But they had terrific family and friends -- originally from Peru, Pakistan, Switzerland, and Winnipeg. The kind of fun mix that makes Toronto such a fantastic city to live in!) A really fun time for a great cause.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Okay, I've been very good about writing about fun travel adventures. But my new book BORDERLINE comes out March 9, so please forgive the forthcoming writer's ego. (Hey, it's my birthday today, too, so gimme a break, eh? I am too damn old for complaints, okay? :))

Anyway, BORDERLINE HAS HAD FANTASTIC REVIEWS AND BLURBS. I've posted them below -- BUT -- between each one is a picture of my kitty-kids. So have a good scroll. And please know that Daniel and I have bought our tickets to Vietnam/Cambodia for a trip the end of this month -- and I'll be posting on writing in Cuba before then -- so please bear with me cuz there'll be lots of travel soon. :)


“A powerful story and excellent resource for teaching tolerance, with a message that extends well beyond the timely subject matter.”

“A tautly paced thriller with well-crafted characters and realistic dialogue. It is the plausibility of the plotline that makes it, ultimately, so disturbing... A great fast-paced read... also notable for its characterization of a strong male Muslim who is true to his faith and struggles to do the right thing throughout.”

“Tense and compelling... Stratton’s grasp of daily Muslim life breaths life into this story... A fast, exciting read with weighty underpinnings.”

“Explodes with political relevance... The curtailing of civil rights, the explicit targeting of young Muslim men and the manic, dangerously unchecked power of U.S. and Canadian anti-terrorism forces are deathly realistic dangers in this vitally educational page-turner.

"Intelligent... Entertaining... The novel examines with genuine care what it must feel like to be a teenage boy living in an environment in which people of Middle Eastern heritage are suspect by virtue of their looks and religion... Family loyalty, justice, and the shifting nature of truth are all examined in Borderline, and Stratton leads us through Sami's tribulations with a graceful hand that makes this thought-provoking novel a pleasure to read." -QUILL AND QUIRE, FEATURED REVIEW

"Absorbing. An eye-opening mystery and adventure story."

"A compelling coming-of age-novel about acceptance, The Other, and fear, wrapped in a fascinating adventure/thriller/mystery. All these elements are shaken mightily in Allan's Stratton's latest -- as are we."
-GARY SCHMIDT, New York Times bestselling and Printz and Newbery Honor Author

"Allan Stratton spins these otherwise ordinary lives on a dime and a secret. Borderline is as astonishing as it is all quite possible."
-RITA WILLIAMS-GARCIA, National Book Award finalist for Jumped

"Smart, meticulously plotted, and thrilling. The scariest thing about Borderline is how utterly believable it is."
TIM WYNNE-JONES, author of The Uninvited

"I'm Pooped!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Well... Last post I asked what people would like to read about -- and I got emails and comments at livejournal and elsewhere that a number of you want to hear about my new book -- BORDERLINE. So okay. For the next week that's what you'll get, because, hey BORDERLINE is coming out March 9, so if I don't talk it up a little now what's the point of having a blog, eh? :)

(Above: Me talking stuff up.)

First though -- and very connected to BORDERLINE: Holly Cupala, one of the readergirlz divas is posting an interview with me -- and also doing a BORDERLINE book giveaway -- on March 11 at her site www.hollycupala.com . You should visit her site anyway, because, like the readergirlz site, it's really good. Anyway, today I'll be giving a sneak preview of the interview, by letting you know what I told Holly when asked what the book's about and why I wrote it. I'll also be tossing in a few pictures of me working because, hey, just hearing writers puff their books is a bit, well... pushy? One kind of wants a writer's ego to be broken up with, uh, their ego, eh?


Okay. BORDERLINE is a coming-of-age mystery/suspense/thriller. The hero is Sami 'Sammy' Sabiri, a funny, gutsy, Muslim American. Sami has problems with a bully at the private boy’s school where he’s been stuck by his over-controlling father. But these problems are nothing compared to what happens when the FBI and Homeland Security swoop in and arrest his dad, claiming he’s part of an international terrorist plot. Aided by his best friends Andy and Marty, Sami risks everything in his struggle to discover the truth about his dad and save his family. It’s a roller coaster ride in which nothing is ever what it seems.


Three things, probably.
My mom left my dad when I was a baby. Growing up, I was soon aware that the father I knew was very different from the father my half-brother knew, and even more different than the father my half-sister knew. As a teenager I thought, “If I can’t really know my dad, how can I know anyone? How can anyone know anyone?”
Also, one day when I was eight I was hiding under the picnic table and eavesdropping on a conversation Dad was having with my grandparents about capital punishment. I remember breaking into a cold sweat, overcome with the certainty that one day I’d be executed for a crime I didn't commit. The idea that life isn’t fair has stuck with me ever since -- and that horrible sense of how helpless we are in the face of rumor, gossip and fear.
Finally, I was a gay kid in the 1950s and 60s. Unable to be open even to the parents and friends who loved me, I instinctively learned to hide who I was in order to survive. I learned about the borders that keep us from each other, about the lines that separate and shape us. And I learned that ‘The Truth’ and ‘The Whole Truth’ are very different things.
In fact, come to think of it, these three experiences connect to the thematic core in all my work: my obsession with secrets, loyalty, betrayal, justice, and the absolute importance of living with truth.

Next post, if you can bear it -- some GREAT REVIEWS!!! Broken up with very cute pictures of my kitties. :)