Spotlight on Claudia H. Long
When did you start writing, and how does it tie into your “regular life”? Oh my… I started writing fiction when my oldest child was born, and she is now 31 and going to have her first child herself! I wrote the world’s worst romance novel, and a publisher called me and asked if I could rewrite it as a Regency…I didn’t do it but I was hooked on writing. Since that day, back in the mists of time, I’ve written 5 published “women’s erotic fiction” books under a pen name, a mystery (Weave Her Thread with Bones), three historical novels about Colonial Mexico, and one story of women’s role in the labor movement in 1920 San Francisco—as seen through the eyes of a prostitute. In my regular life I’ve raised two children to chronological adulthood, and I’m expecting my first grandchild in June. I’m a lawyer-mediator and I work both in a private firm and for the State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. I’ve got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, enjoy belly dancing, and cook like a demon. I edit for Extasy Books and I’m on a board for Fair Employment law. I have other not-so-fun family obligations, and on the fun side, we have four dogs and a cat. I don’t sleep.
Why do you write about Colonial Mexico? I grew up in Mexico City, and consider it my first home. In college I wrote my senior thesis on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and had an absolute crush on her—what girl in the 70s wouldn’t? When it came time to write a “serious” novel, of course I turned back to Sor Juana, and I wrote Josefina’s Sin as a result of that passion. As I was writing Josefina’s Sin I came across historical information about the Crypto Jews of Mexico. I knew that I was a descendant of Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal, and in my family’s immediate personal past there was the hiding of identity as a result of World War II, so the stories merged in my heart and The Duel for Consuelo was born. Chains of Silver, coming out with Five Directions Press later this year, was the natural conclusion of the stories of the courageous women of the world I had created. What are your favorite sources when it comes to research? Women are not prominently featured in the historical texts of the times, nor are they much studied by historians—at least as accessible to the public. My favorite way to research women who have been unsung and unwritten is to look at artistic creations of the times. Portraits, paintings and illustrations show women in the clothes they wore, in the places they occupied, and through the lens of the times. Plays give a sharp insight into how women spoke, what they were allowed or expected to say, and how they were expected to live. Putting that into the known historical context gives me a rich texture of the lives of women in my chosen era. What are you working on now? Ah, that’s a secret! But it will be very, very different from anything I’ve ever written! What’s in your TBR pile? I read at least a book a week, so that pile never gets too big. I’m reading Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson as part of Black History Month. In the past 6 weeks I read the new Rivers of London book, The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch, The Dead in the Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, Autonauts of the Cosmorout by Julio Cortázar, Hillbillie Elegy by J.D. Vance, and Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Next up is Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, by Carole Firstman.
Excerpt from Chains of Silver, coming in 2017–18
The price of a secret
When the Inquisition came for my parents and my grandfather, I hid in the laundry cabinet. Tiny as I have always been, even at the age of fourteen I was easily concealed by the linens my mother had just taken from the beds as she put clean covers out for the Sabbath.
The arrest had taken less time than would seem reasonable to end the comfortable life I had known since birth. From the window I saw the scarlet crosses emblazoned on the black cassocks at our door, heard the mezuzah, so inadequately concealed in a niche, hit the steps. I threw myself without pause into the cabinet, piling the linens over myself, curling into a shaking ball.
"There is a child—a daughter. Where is she?"
The blankets and my heart barely muffled my father's curses, and though I heard nothing from my grandfather, my mother's voice cut clear. "We have sent her to the convent in Xochimico to finish her education. She is not here."
It was the only time I heard my mother lie.
For hours I lay in silence, until at last our maid found me the next morning, desperately in need of a chamber pot. I ended up on a cart, again under heaps of blankets, and was conveyed to the Castillo hacienda under cover of darkness in the final auto-da-fe in Mexico, in the year 1720.
Claudia H Long is the author of Josefina’s Sin (Atria/ Simon & Schuster), The Duel for Consuelo (to be re-released by Five Directions Press soon), Chains of Silver (Five Directions Press, 2017–18), and The Harlot’s Pen (Devine Destinies.) She lives and practices law in Northern California with her husband, a cat and four dogs.