Please welcome Michel Stone, author of the debut novel, The Iguana Tree!
by Michel Stone
Three events happened relatively simultaneously in the broad spectrum of my life, and their nexus provided fertile ground for the kernel that grew to be The Iguana Tree.
The first event was the birth of my second child, a daughter, who weighed in almost three weeks ahead of schedule at 5 pounds, 11 ounces. She was perfect, but, even so, her early arrival coupled with ankles the girth of my finger reminded me of the fragility of life.
The second event was my developing a friendship with a young (twenty-something) couple of Mexican immigrants and their two-year old son who had confided to me that they did not possess the proper papers to be in this country.
The third event was my attending a writers’ workshop at which I received this writing prompt: “In a paragraph describe an object you know intimately.” I wrote about the rocking chair in my infant daughter’s nursery; I’d spent many late-night hours there nursing her, listening to the mysterious sounds of my sleeping household as I rocked in the soft glow of my daughter’ closet light, filtering through slats in the louvered door.
I remember feeling at the time that this writing assignment didn’t stimulate my writing juices. Any fourth grader could write such a paragraph, right?
But that instructor had bigger plans for us. When we finished writing our collective paragraphs, the instructor told us to remove our objects from their familiar settings and plop them somewhere completely unfamiliar to us. “Now,” he said, “Describe your object again in a new paragraph.”
I considered the young Mexican mother I’d recently met, and, not for the first time, imagined her mindset and the determination she must have had to smuggle her young son across the border into America. I loved my newborn with a ferocity that felt akin to heartbreak, and I suspected my Mexican friend felt the same way. Don’t all new mothers feel that way, regardless of their nationality, age, socio-economic situation, religious views, or political alignment?
So, I moved my rocker to a tin shanty in a third-world village. I envisioned a teen mother nursing her infant in the dark corner of a small room. How was her experience in that chair different than mine? What did she hear beyond her window? What did she smell? Where was her baby’s father? What did this mother fear? What would she do when the sun rose?
And with that prompt I was hooked. All the emotions I experienced having recently had a baby mixed with my intrigue and genuine interest in the young Mexican family with whom I’d recently become acquainted. I couldn’t leave the paragraph I’d written that day, and it grew into a short story. That story, “Dance of the Coyote,” won a couple of writing awards, one local and one statewide, but I didn’t want to abandon those characters, and over the next few years I continued writing, expanding the story to The Iguana Tree, my first novel.
People ask if the book is based on a true story. The answer is no, but in my research I did interview quite a few immigrants about their experiences. I also read nonfiction books about people-smuggling and our country’s border with Mexico. I visited Mexico twice during the writing of this book as well. All of these experiences added flavor and texture to what became The Iguana Tree, but none of them alone are the story that is this novel.