Thursday, August 27, 2009

"The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico"

Sarah McCoy graduated from Virginia Tech with a BA in journalism and public relations and Old Dominion University with an MFA in creative writing fiction. She has taught writing at Old Dominion University and the University of Texas at El Paso.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Cue the finger-wagging: Page 69 of The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico catches the protagonist, 11-year-old Verdita, in the midst of shenanigans.

On page 69, Verdita’s Papi walks in while she and her young cousin are stealing sips out of the coquito punch bowl. (Coquito being a Puerto Rican Christmastime coconut rum libation.)

At first glance, I thought, “No, no, this isn’t representative of the book. It makes Verdita seem too naughty.” But upon a closer look, I retracted that statement.

This coquito scene is much more than a young girl disobeying her parents. It captures the essence of coming of age: pushing boundaries, making decisions, and facing their possible consequences. On the cusp of adulthood, didn’t we all do things we knew we shouldn’t? The forbidden is so seductive. It’s a human fundamental. Look at Adam and Eve. In that sense, it absolutely encapsulates one of the novel’s central themes and illustrates the intrinsic conflicts we face growing up.

This page also gives a sense of the types of characters I love to write. Dichotomies: people who are strong but weak, who love and hate, good and evil, both sides of the humanity coin. They ring most true to my head and heart.

Here’s a taste:

“Ay bendito!” She grabbed at her throat, her mouth turned down, and her nose flared. After a moment, she licked her lips. “It’s not bad.”

“Sí,” I said, and out popped a laugh. I covered my mouth and looked to the door. Still no Papi or Mamá. We took three more spoonfuls each; but then Tío Benny stopped singing, and I quickly licked the white off the back of the spoon and slid the plate over the bowl.

Papi came inside with Señor Lopez and some other barrio men.

“Don’t you want to hear the troubadours, Verdita?” He palmed a couple Schlitzes from the fridge and handed them around. The men popped open the tabs and sucked the fizz, their eyes glittering silver, their thumbs beating rhythms against the tin cans.

Papi went to the bowl of coquito. His hand was next to the serving spoon. He stood for a moment. I swallowed my heart and felt the thump-thump in the bony ridge of my throat. The heat of the coquito must have filled up my face. Sweat beaded above my lip and across my forehead.

He took off the plate, dipped his thumb in and sucked it.

“Venusa!” he called.

I closed my eyes. My eyeballs were hot under their lids. I had my defense ready....
Read an excerpt from The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, and learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue