I was on a tour of steamy Central America recently, traveling to ancient Mayan archaeology sites and present-day Mayan towns in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. Did you know that Guatemala has 37 volcanoes? It’s okay, I didn’t either. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of Guatemalans have been killed and whole towns leveled by earthquakes. Three of those volcanoes are still active on a daily basis. Below is a photo I took of a steam and ash eruption from Fuego, the “fire volcano” near Antigua.
But I digress, as I inevitably do. Decades ago, when I was in screenwriting school, I wrote a romantic adventure screenplay that I titled Call of the Jaguar. It takes place largely in Guatemala. The story is about a woman, Rachel McCarthy, who, on her 40th birthday, finally gives in to the mounting evidence that her materialistic husband, Brad, has been cheating on her. For years. After confronting her husband and his lover with a birthday cake and a knife and making the front page of the local news, Rachel goes off the deep end and decides to search for the man she should have married, the lover from the Peace Corps days of her youth. Patrick is now an archaeologist working on a secret location in rural Guatemala, which is in the midst of a civil war.
I’m not telling the rest of the story here, but of course, as I am at heart a suspense writer, things go terribly wrong on Rachel’s quest to find Patrick. Although I had spent time in Yucatan, Mexico, among the Mayan population, I had never visited Guatemala until this recent trip, and I wrote this screenplay long ago, pre-Wikipedia and other easily accessible internet sites. And like all authors, I live in fear that I totally invented the history of the civil war in Guatemala. After all, we only know what we read or hear, and the version we get is often totally different from the experience of the actual people involved. And we writers tend to be an insecure lot. Personally, I always tense up when someone opens a conversation with “I read your book.” Yikes, what’s coming next? (Please tell me I’m not the only apprehensive author.)
So it was with some trepidation that on my Central American tour, I quizzed our trip leader, a Guatemalan, about the civil war in Guatemala, which thankfully has been over for many years now. What was I going to do if I got it all wrong? Rewrite the whole dang screenplay? Sometimes it’s best not to ask, but if I totally screwed up, I was prepared to fall back on the “it’s fiction !” excuse.
But lo and behold, I somehow magically got the basics correct: federal troops vs rebels (federales and insurgentes in my story), with the federales siding with big landowners to take land and rights away from the common people (many of which are Mayan). Halleluiah! I must have had some idea of what I was writing about when I crafted Call of the Jaguar.
How sweet and how reassuring to be vindicated! I’ve had readers email me to say I made a mistake in one book or another, only to find out that the reader didn’t understand all the possibilities. Speaking of earthquakes, one of those readers wrote to me to say that the earthquake in the opening of my romantic suspense, Shaken, was all wrong. Earthquakes, she wrote, never ripple through the earth, but shake violently. Guess what, dear reader, depending on your surface location and the depth and position of the epicenter of an earthquake, the tremors you feel may roll through the ground like the incoming tide, shake the surroundings until they crack or fall, or simply slip sideways with single booming noise and resulting swaying after the slip. (I’ve had the joy of experiencing all three types.)
But I’m digressing again. I never came close to selling the screenplay version of Call of the Jaguar. (Hey, it’s really, really hard to sell screenplays!)
So I eventually turned the story into a novella, which I now give away on Amazon and elsewhere. My character, Rachel McCarthy, has quite the adventure among the Mayan ruins in Guatemala. And I had a good, hot, steamy time exploring ancient pyramids in the jungle, too.
I’m sure I got many other aspects wrong in Call of the Jaguar, but hey, it’s fiction!
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