Friday, March 24, 2023

Novelist Explores Cacao and Cross Dressing in Second Novel


Even though her main character, Puri, is a accomplished chocolatier in The Spanish Daughter, author Lorena Hughes swears she herself is not.

"My cousin's wife is a chocolatier and I've made chocolate with her and watched the whole process," she said. "But I don't make chocolate now."

Puri travels to Ecuador from Spain with her husband in the early 20th century to collect her inheritance from her father's estate; he was the owner of a cacao plantation. Cacao is one of Ecuador's largest exports and has a long history there of medicinal uses and national pride. During their cross-Atlantic trip, Puri's husband is murdered. In order to free herself of obstacles to her freedom and her inheritance, Puri dresses as a man and impersonates her husband Cristobal.

"I was interested in cross dressing as something more than comedy, the way it is so often treated," Hughes said. "I found that women did that through history--dressing as soldiers, for example--so I had the idea to do that. It is an interesting trope."

Hughes herself came to the U.S. when she was 18, accompanied by her brother. "I came to go to college at UNM. I had an aunt who lived here and my brother was living with her before me. So my father wanted me to be near family." She graduated from UNM and later became the coordinator of an annual writer's conference there. "That conference was cancelled two years ago, just one month before we were to hold it," Hughes said. "I would bring in agents and editors mostly from New York City and choose keynote speakers among authors from all over. Local writers could pitch their ideas to editors and find agents, so it was really good for them." She is not certain if the conference will be continued.

Now she writes full time. The Spanish Daughter teases a sequel; Hughes was working on that when we spoke.

"It takes place in Colombia and she has a different disguise. It introduces new characters. I am Palestinian on my dad's side and there are Palestinian immigrants all over Latin America. I'm having fun with it." Kensington Publishing Corp. expects to publish the second novel in the series sometime in 2023.

The sequel is part of a two-book contract she signed with Kensington and she lauds their public relations and social media efforts on behalf of The Spanish Daughter. Her first novel, The Sisters of Alameda Street, didn't fare as well. Her editor quit just after publication and the former publisher was not supportive in her sales efforts. Kensington, on the other hand, has entered the book in Once Upon a Book Club, a monthly reader service that has gone a long way toward selling her second novel, among other promotional efforts. "I was very happily surprised by all their staff can do," she said.

As to the sequel, Kensington is not rushing her to finish. "I appreciate their patience and think it's going very well," she said. In the meantime, the publisher has sold rights to print The Spanish Daughter in Spanish, Dutch, Arabic and--Russian? "We don't know what's going to happen with the Russian rights yet," said Hughes.


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