Susan Breen’s debut novel, The Fiction Class, was published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin, on Feb. 26, 2008 (which she considers to be her new birthday). She teaches fiction classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan and she writes a blog too, which you can find at www.susanjbreen.com. Susan lives in Westchester, New York, with her husband, children, two dogs and a cat.
This is going to get me in trouble because I’m supposed to be writing about “best vacations” and I suspect I should be discussing my honeymoon (which was wonderful) or my family trips with my children (also wonderful) and yet my dream vacation—in every sense of the word—was the one I took when I was a teenager and went to Mexico City. That was when I kissed my first bullfighter, drank my first tequila, and climbed my first pyramid—although not in that order.
Just to put this in context, I was not a rebellious teenager. I spent the Summer of Love reading a book. My home town of East Meadow, Long Island, was sprawling and anonymous; a very safe place to grow up, but not at all in keeping with my romantic dreams. I wanted to live life and have excitement and that’s a little hard to do when you live in a place where the Memorial Day parade starts at the Burger King and ends at the Dunkin’ Donuts.
So imagine my amazement, when I turned 13 and my Aunt Lee got divorced, moved to Mexico City, got a job as a reporter for a bullfighting magazine, and invited me to come visit. I can still remember the moment I stepped off the AeroMexico plane and heard the mariachis playing—just for me! Because my aunt had arranged to have them there. I smelled the beef from the taco stands, saw those huge sloping volcanoes towering over the landscape, and, even more remarkably, went up to the customs line, and got bumped to the front because I was blonde. This seemed to be an accepted rule at the time, and I thought, Wow, I’m not in Long Island anymore.
That was a summer of dreams. My aunt took me to the Plaza del Toros every Sunday at 4:00 and there we sat in a special booth that we shared with the trumpet players who sounded the opening notes of the bullfight. Quite often the matador would come to the middle of the ring and lift his hat to my aunt (and the president of the ring, who sat behind us). On Saturday nights my aunt would hold “a salon” in her apartment, and everyone would be there—artists and bullfighters and writers and smugglers and Hollywood actors and ghosts (who my aunt told me to talk to) and fortune tellers, and years later, when I was writing The Fiction Class, I remembered one of those fortune tellers and used him.
Actually, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my time in Mexico City. When I first started to write, my children were little and everyone assumed I was writing children’s books. But at that time, I was spending so much time with my children that I didn’t want them taking over my imagination as well. So my first short stories were about Mexico; what fun it was to spend the morning at the park with my kids, and then, when they were napping, to tiptoe into my office and dream about Mexico City. This is the great part about being a writer, is that you get to live out your dreams because you’re making them up. You can go wherever you want to go. No limitations.
Now the funny thing is that my kids are growing up and going away to college, and I find myself dreaming (and writing) about when they were young, because now that is the magical time I want to call up. I guess the important thing is to find the magic, and write about it. Dream on.