Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home by Anthony Caplan: Interview & Excerpt

  A story of one boy overcoming dysfuntion, dislocation and distance…

When Father and Mother, a highflying young American lawyer and his party-hard bride, fall prey to the self-destructive lure of alcohol and sexual liberation, Will and his sisters pay the price in divorce and kidnappings that take them back and forth between the rain forest hideaways of coastal Latin America and the placid suburbs of Long Island. Will identifies with the oppressed workers laboring in his father’s fast food restaurant and longs for American freedom. Father remarries the daughter of a local aristocrat, and Will is sent off to the hothouse world of a New England boarding school.

Swimming in a sea of Fair Isle sweaters and LL Bean boots, Will discovers a core of resilience in himself that allows him to survive, thrive, and ultimately embrace the flawed and varied worlds he inhabits. Will reconnects with Mother, sinking into a New York City world of Irish bars and one night stands he cannot save her from. With a little help from friends, and a high school Shakespeare class taught by the school’s closeted gay athletic trainer, Will begins to see the possibility of finding his true path. Latitudes charts the birth pangs of a quest for self and soul — from a tropical childhood to a coming of age on the road.

Release Date: June 30, 2012 – Hope Mountain Press

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(Will and his sister Alexa are living with the parents of his father's girlfriend on the grounds of their former coffee estate in the foothills of the Andes mountains.)

Lorenzo’s seven children sometimes came out to visit their grandparents. One boy, Luis Antonio, who was about Will’s age, was prone to show up at any time. He carried a hunting knife, and was as good at climbing trees as Will. He took Will and Alexa and showed them how to swim in the mountain streams, starting up in one pool and shooting down between the rocks while holding their breath to end up in a pool below. Then he’d take out a stick of soap from his pants pocket on a rock and wash his hair while sitting in the river. He knew his way around the back roads and would dress, say goodbye and be gone on his way back to town. Anita despaired at his disregard for the ways of polite company, but he seemed to be her favorite nonetheless.
Sometimes they would drive with Anita and Alejandro down the road to the nearest house along the river next to a stand of bamboo, where people from town liked to picnic and light fires for barbecues. The man of the house would take off his hat out of respect as they drove into his yard. He was a tenant, a longtime farm worker, and one of Alejandro’s most trusted employees. He had resisted the tug of land expropriation and so was considered a kind of paragon, a man out of time, like the two of them.
"Doña," he would say. "Cuidese polque el sol esta que alde.”
She bought eggs from him and would arrange to have one of his children bring them up to the house. Then they would continue to town, La Victoria, with its butcher shop and bakery and general store, where all the shopkeepers knew Anita and chatted while looking for the choicest oranges and cheeses. She would peel oranges for them in the Jeep with her trembling, arthritic, but still strong fingers. Alejandro wore a dust mask when he drove, to stave off the clouds of dust raised when they drove on the back roads in and out of town. Often she would insist, to Alejandro’s mild consternation, on stopping outside the church on their way home. She would bring Will and Alexa, and they would sit by her in the pew as she sat and prayed, mumbling to herself. Then she would cross herself, open her eyes. Before leaving she liked to stop and explain some of the icons.
"This is the Virgin of Coromoto," she would say, for example, and encourage them to touch the statue of a dark Madonna. Jesus on the cross, his wounded feet and hands and side, his tortured nakedness, they could barely even look at. Then she would let each of them light a candle on the rack of candles by the entrance door and say a prayer to see Mother and Marina and Jeanette again soon.
On trips to the far reaches of what once had been the family property, they would drive for hours, fording multiple rivers, slowly jolting across a shallow stretch with water rising just outside the door. Alejandro held the wheel steadily in his old wizened hands, dust mask sometimes slipping off as the Jeep bounced up and down. Will clung to the side of the Jeep, grabbing the strap handle, never tiring of the wild ride. Alexa and he smiled at each other, momentarily on the same team. The track led higher and higher into the mountains, the former coffee plantation. The trees got taller and thicker, vines clinging to their trunks and, although they didn't own any coffee land any longer, Anita told how they once had built these roads. No mention was made of the poverty-ridden conditions that people still lived under. They came across family groups on the trail. Anita looked closely to see if she knew the people. They crossed the road and saw naked children, a mother carrying a load of firewood on her head. Alejandro never spoke. It was as if he were in another realm away from them, aware of the fact that they were hearing stories about him and his former tenants, but never commenting.
Despite the adrenaline rush of these trips, Alexa and Will felt trapped in that house, wondering when they would see Father and Cecilia. In the Jeep, Anita and Alejandro would discuss their affairs, while the two children listened from the backseat. They were in contact with Father and Cecilia by phone. The one telephone in the house would ring infrequently. When it did, it always raised their hopes. Once, it was Cecilia, and when she got off, Anita said, "Yes they're coming. In a few days." This lifted their spirits. The entries in the diaries reflected this, with more complete details, lists of mealtime food and descriptions of digging irrigation ditches between the rows of bean plants in a small garden by the avocado trees.
They came in the Mercedes-Benz, dirty after the long drive. After washing up, they had a reunion with Will and Alexa, a picnic lunch by the river. Cecilia had packed Serrano ham and Dutch cheese and loaves of French bread, and she doled it out, cutting the cheese with a knife with an air of domestic fanfare. Will and Alexa showed off their new ability to cross the river, jumping from rock to rock, and Will held his breath like Luis Antonio and flew from pool to pool under the current. The visit was tinged with sadness because they had been unable to find Mother and the two little girls. Father knew somehow that they were back living in Manhattan, moving from apartment to apartment.
A week or so later, Anita packed up their stuff, including the diaries, in a travel bag and put them in the back of the Jeep. They were driving back to Caracas, but it was unclear where Will and Alexa would go from there. Will had mixed feelings about leaving. He appreciated Anita for her kindness and the way she could get Alexa and him to stop fighting. He'd also come to love the darkness of night in that high-ceilinged, old stuffy room with the shutters closed.  And the sounds of Alexa’s breathing and sometimes talking in her sleep. And the Guardian Angels listening to his thoughts, filling in the blackness with their immensity and their hovering wings.

Does travel play in the writing of your books?

Yes, I grew up overseas and had what someone described as an unsettled childhood. And then I spent twelve years after college living and working in Seattle, Mexico City, Caracas, London, the west of Ireland, and finally moved back to the States after the birth of my son. An editor once rejected one of my novels because he said it read like a travelogue. It was sort of a travelogue. It was semi-autobiographical.
Tell us about your current release.

Latitudes is a story of a boy who survives what on the outside might look like a privileged upbringing, international, well-educated, but on the inside the children were kidnapped, witnessed parental violence, there was alcoholism. So the children are all damaged in various ways and it's about the long process of healing that begins in his teenage years when he realizes he is strong enough not to be a victim any longer. It's about growing up emotionally disabled.
Plotter or Pantser? Why?

I try to be a plotter. I really do. Once I get the idea for a story I spend a lot of time working out the plot points and outlining, but once I start writing it usually goes out the window. I write, and then I edit and edit and edit. For me a writer is like a sculptor. You're trying to discover what's there in the raw material you've written. If it weren’t an exploration it wouldn't be fun.

Tell us about your family.

My family is the most important thing in my life. I had a fairly tough childhood, which I largely used as an inspiration for Latitudes, so I feel like the luckiest man in the world to have a wife and children that give me purpose even in the worst of times.

What group did you hang out with in high school?

I was the kid who hung out with the different groups but didn’t really belong to any. I had a fairly unconventional upbringing, and when I got to high school I found I was like a fish out of water. I didn't fit in at all with the dominant cliques. But I played sports, and I took academically challenging classes, so I had friends in different groups, but my main group of friends was the rebels, who scoffed at school spirit and prided themselves on being the poster children for apathy. Teachers hated us. Now I'm a high school teacher and I know there is a God because He's up there laughing at His little joke.

Do you play any sports?

I still run, which was my main sport in high school.

Anthony Caplan is an independent writer, teacher and homesteader in northern New England. He has worked at various times as a shrimp fisherman, environmental activist, journalist, taxi-driver, builder, window-washer, and telemarketer. He and his family tend sheep and chickens, grow most of their own vegetables, and have started a small apple orchard from scratch His road novels, BIRDMAN and FRENCH POND ROAD, trace the meanderings of one Billy Kagan, a footloose soul striving after sanity and love in the last years of the last century. His latest fiction effort, LATITUDES – A Story of Coming Home, is a young boy’s transformative journey overcoming dysfunction, dislocation and distance.

Connect with Anthony Caplan at:
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