Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flirting in Spanish by Susan McKinney de Ortega | Interview, Excerpt | Memoir

Flirting in Spanish, What Mexico taught me about love, living and forgiveness by Susan McKinney de Ortega

Susan McKinney de Ortega is a Philadelphia-born writer living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico since 1992. Selections from her memoir, Flirting in Spanish, What Mexico taught me about love, living and forgiveness (Antaeus, 2011) are included in Mexico: A Love Story (Seal Press, 2006); Not What I Expected, The Unpredictable Road from Womanhood to Motherhood (Paycock Press, 2007).  McKinney is the director/instructor of the Teen Writers Workshop, part of the San Miguel Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 
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Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it? If so, can you share it?
It would be my prologue.  In a little over a page, I describe where I came from, the life question I was facing, and the person who showed up to put a spin on it all. It hints at the romance to come.  Well, more than hints at it!
Name three oddball facts about you.
·         I rode in the victory parade in downtown Portland when the Trailblazers won the NBA championship in 1977.  I was in the convertible with then-Assistant Coach Jack McKinney, my father. 
·         While I can pronounce many difficult words in Spanish, I still have not mastered the art of opening a beer bottle with a car seat buckle, a feat at which my Mexican husband is adept.
·         I was St. Dorothy School eighth grade spelling bee champ.

Who should play you in a film of your life?
People have said I look like Meg Ryan, which I love, although she has far better hair, but I’d need someone who is around 33 years old, the age I was when I arrived in Mexico.  That cute gal from Blue Crush – Kate Bosworth – any of the cute girls from Blue Crush, except Michelle Rodriguez.  She could play my sister-in-law.  I’ve always believed Gael Garcia Bernal will play Carlos.  He is so talented and he has an eternally youthful look. 
What is it you like to do when you are not reading/writing?
I like to stalk my kids’ Facebook pages – ha!  Not really, they highly discourage it.  I do like to ride horses with my teenaged girls.  They ride dressage and have all the talent.  I trot along with them and try to keep up.  Recently, I’ve taken up Tae Kwon Do.  It’s becoming an obsession.  I just might become one of those fools going for belt after belt.
What do you think makes a good story?
First, you hit it on the head.  What I want from any novel, memoir, short story or movie is story.  Lots of beautiful prose doesn’t mean a lot to me if a good story is not being told.  And I will excuse pedestrian prose for a good story.  That said, I think a good story brings up a big question, then includes a lot of tension and a lot of human emotion before it is answered or solved. 
What book are you reading now?
I am reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  Wow.  I read a short story of his in one of the Best Short Stories of … books, and was knocked out and have wanted to read more by him ever since.  Oscar Wao epic and intimate.  It tells a wonderful family story in an unorthodox form, and slips in a lot of recent Dominican history and folklore too.  I love learning history through fiction. 
Has someone helped or mentored you in your writing career?
Several people have helped form my writing.  First, Sister Marita Edward who liked the first short story I ever wrote in eighth grade.  James Rahn of the Rittenhouse Writers Group in Philadelphia, who took my writing seriously and treated me as a Famous Writer even as I was struggling to consider myself a writer.  Next there were two great pals who formed an informal (but serious!) writing group with me in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Beverly Donofrio, author of Riding in Cars with Boys and Looking for Mary, and Sandra Gulland, author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun.  Lucky me to live in beautiful San Miguel, which draws writers! Next, I met Fred Hills, former editor in chief at Simon and Schuster.  He helped me get my memoir, Flirting in Spanish into its final shape.  All of the above are extraordinary editors and I am grateful to all of them.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
I do.  Edit! Then edit some more.  Resist the urge to upload and publish your first draft.  Also, Spellcheck is your Friend.    
It’s been great to have this virtual chat!  You can find more about me:

(from Goodreads)
"Running from paralyzing memories of an attempted rape and the decade of silence and shame that followed, Ortega lands in Mexico at 33, trying not to fall for a much younger local. In 1992 the author, the daughter of champion NBA coach Jack McKinney, was teaching English to Mexican teenagers when she met 19-year-old Carlos, who ardently pursues her despite the age and huge cultural differences. She resists at first, due to their divergent backgrounds--Ortega's childhood was one of summer vacation rentals and white gloves at Mass, while Carlos was a high school dropout who didn't have running water until age 10. But when she realizes that she is surprised a man could be kind to her like her father, "I didn't feel like a nervous wreck of a person anymore." It's not an instant happy ending as Ortega contends with the extreme poverty Carlos and his family live in, the machismo culture, and her own lingering doubts, with one foot in Mexico and the other wavering. When she finally achieves hard-won contentment, it's a joyous moment." --Publishers Weekly

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October, 1992: San Miguel de Allende
It is an October night in 1992 and, despite the chill in the air outside, I am wearing a sleeveless powder blue velvet top with front darts atop my low slung black jeans.  My clothing choice would be vintage and hip in downtown Philadelphia where I routinely roamed four months prior, but here in a discothèque in the heart of central Mexico, the irony is lost and I suspect I even look a bit old-ladyish.  Around me, Mexican adolescents dressed in shiny pants, short skirts and high heels shimmy to the disco beat but I have stopped noticing the teens because I am kissing one with my eyes closed.
His name is Carlos and he is my 19 year-old student and I have tried to resist him because I am the teacher, but not really.  I haven’t been trying to resist him at all; I’ve only told myself so.  If I had, I wouldn’t have agreed to come out with him on a Sunday night, when the disco closes earlier than other nights so it seems more innocent.  I have brought along my teacher friend, Gussie to pretend to myself I am not going out with a student but the ruse is rapidly falling away.  Muted squares of light from the disco ball above fall across our faces and Cristian Castro is singing, “Babe, I love you so.  And I want you to know.  That I’m going to miss your love, the minute you walk out that door.”  Then he sings, “Please don’t go.  Don’t gooooo.  Don’t go away.”  And there is a deep sadness to the words already because I have been asking myself in the cooler days of October why I am still in Mexico.  I am a 33-year old coach´s daughter, teaching English a few hours a week for less than minimum wage and it is something, but not much, so I also ask, not only for how much longer will I stay, but what would be my destination should I leave.  And now I am kissing my student and the questions will never be asked in a carefree way again.  
But tonight, under the glittering disco ball, shuffling in a small circle on a wooden floor, one arm delicately around Carlos’ shoulder, the other hand clutching the too-long sleeve of his paisley button-down shirt, realizing his lips are so soft because he has almost no facial hair, I am not thinking of my life’s direction or lack thereof.  I am just una muchacha besando a un muchacho, not wanting the song or the kiss to end. 

Enter for a chance to win a digital copy of
Flirting in Spanish
Follow Susan on Twitter for a bonus entry.
Comment on this post for a second bonus entry.
Giveaway ends March 3rd 11:59PM CDT.


sparklejewelsp59@yahoo.com said...

love 2 win i just love 2 read sounds like a good read

Laurie said...

The giveaway winner is Lely. Congrats!!