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.
13 Replies to “Best Vacations by Guest Author, Susan Breen”
I love what you’re saying about finding magic. I think that applies to so many areas of life. The Fiction Class looks great! Do you have another book in the works?
Welcome to The Ball, Susan. Now I’m dying to go to Mexico! What an evocative piece.
The Fiction Class is a gorgeous book, btw. I just loved the mother-daughter story and you really brought the writing class to life so clearly. I felt like I’d been in the class too.
How is your debut experience so far? Any words of wisdom or observations?
Thank you so much M.W. I’m a great believer in looking for magic, and I’m surprised at how often I find it. I am in the midst of working on a new book, but it’s early stages yet. Lots of thinking.
Thank you Danielle for your kind welcome. I have to confess that I spent so many years worrying about getting a book published, that I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what would happen after that. The whole debut experience is validating and wonderful, but it’s also really fast. I was at a conference last week and a publisher said that the shelf life of a book is shorter than that of a container of eggs. I don’t think things are that bad, but I do think you have to make sure to make the most of every blog and conference and library talk and so forth. And yes, try to enjoy it all.
A container of egg?! Yikes.
You will never look at an omelette the same way.
I refuse to think about the egg thing.
However- I am adding your book to my to-be-read list. It looks fantastic. Thanks so much for coming out to the Ball.
Thanks for visiting, Susan. I checked out your website and your book sounds great. Am I the only one who wanted to hear more about the bullfighter kissing?
Hi Eileen. Thank you so much; it’s a pleasure to come to the Ball.
And thank you Joanne. Unfortunately I don’t remember that much about the bullfighter, because of the tequila, but that’s got to find its way into a novel one way or another.
Great post! I’m also a Plume author, I have your book on my nightstand, can’t wait to read it when I get back from the tour.
Congrats on the new book!
Hi Susan–thanks for joining us…Your book looks fantastic–I’ll definitely be picking that up!
Your aunt’s salons sound FANTASTIC! Your Mexico City memories do indeed sound magical.
Thank you Lisa and Jess!
Hi Susan! Mea Culpa for not joining along on Saturday. So glad to have you guesting here today. I was out of town all week and Saturday had no chance whatsoever to get online. Loved your post–it sounds so charming it makes me envious to have never had such a memorable summer as yours!
Thank you Jenny. I feel like I’m due for another memorable summer, but we’ll see. Thank you all for inviting me to the Ball.
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