I wrote “The Golden Chalice of Hunahpú” because of love and rage. I fell in love with Norita. Her mother’s family was from Guatemala. For our premarital honeymoon, we drove there from San Francisco in her blue convertible VW. She looked for, and found, her Guatemalan family. I was in love with her, then I fell in love with Guatemala- the Maya, the Ladinos, the mountains, Lake Atitlán, and the brutal history of the place.
I don’t think you can write unless you are in love. With someone, something.
Rage, too. Guatemala, Central America, and much of Latin America is a caste society, much like India. Odd that both regions are romanticized for their misty origins and spirituality. Maybe Carlos Fuentes is right. Maybe the geographic border between the U.S. and Latin America is also a metaphorical border within each individual on both sides.
The trips to Central America over the years brought up rage at how the Mayans were getting trashed. Again. On a trip to Xalapa, Mexico, in 1981, to visit Norita’s family who had fled the violence, some strange transformation happened. Her cousin, the artist Emanuel Paniagua, took us to an art show. Here were contemporary drawings of Mayan children. Villages burnt, helicopters floated in the air raining fire down on running families, rifles shot mothers. This current war attacked children. I took pictures. By focusing into each child’s colorful drawing, my ability to distance my self was destroyed. With that intense focus, the experience became palatable. And kids don’t lie when they draw.
Back in the States I read. I found Mayan writings of the time of the arrival of the Spanish. I fell love again. The writing style was poetic. The language was nonlinear. Phrases repeated and folded back on themselves creating a lyrical world of mythology and war. And, I fell in rage again. This time at the clash of civilizations that destroyed one. Or at least tried to destroy one– the Maya. Didn’t. But did substantial damage.
I had an image that seemed to come from nowhere. A Mayan on horseback. Who was he? How did he get the horse? Where did he come from? What happened to him?
The novel tried to answer.