Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Adventures of Hercules Mendoza: Tease #1

So, everybody who reads thunderstrokes knows that I’m working on a novel based on Greek mythology.  The Adventures of Hercules Mendoza is a reimagining of the classic story of Hercules and the Twelve Labors.   Except in this version, Hercules is a fourteen-year-old (almost fifteen) Mexican-American boy who lives in the rather nondescript Southern California town of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego.  His father has recently remarried, some three years after the death of Les’ mother (by the way, he prefers that you call him Les and not Hercules; you’ll understand why when you meet him), and the arrival of this strange new woman changes everything for the worse.  His father seems different, and their relationship is growing more difficult and confrontational day by day.  Furthermore, Les is convinced that this new woman does not like him, even though she pretends artfully enough whenever his father is around.  He has the distinct feeling that she would prefer he were somewhere – anywhere – else.  Naturally, he can’t stand her. 

El Cajon, if you don’t mind me deviating briefly, is Spanish for ‘the box.’ If you’ve ever been in El Cajon (perhaps passing through on the way to San Diego, like most of us half-baked Arizonans), you may have noticed that the town is hemmed in by hills and mountains on three sides, thus the name El Cajon.  However, the idea of boxes, and being boxed in, and how to break out of the boxes we occasionally find ourselves in, or put ourselves in, happens to be a central theme in the novel.  Purely serendipitous choice of location, as it turns out.    

By now you may be beginning to wonder where the Greek mythology comes in, as the story seems to concern itself primarily with the adolescent angst of young Les Mendoza.  Well, hang on now; don’t get your chiton in a twist.  Even though the story is set in contemporary, post-9/11 America, Greek mythology does play a powerful role in the book, exerting an undeterred influence on everything that happens to our pobrecito protagonist.  As if he didn’t have enough worries to keep him going, Les finds himself transported one day to a bizarre and barren realm, where he subsequently learns he has been given the opportunity (read:  he has no choice at all in the matter) to attempt the same daunting feats once accomplished by the great Greek hero himself.   

If only Les had been paying attention to all those stories about heroic Hercules that his aunt Lucinda liked to tell, and that he despised so much.

Well, what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

As Les begins to piece together exactly what he’s supposed to do, he also gradually discovers (and we along with him) that the gods of Olympus were never quite as imaginary as any of us believed.  The stories of gods and heroes and monsters were never really myths at all, but histories.  Sure, they may have become slightly exaggerated with the passing eons, and they certainly contain their fair share of inaccuracies, but – and let’s be honest here – what history isn’t and doesn’t?  The point is, the gods are very much alive and well (well, alive for sure; when it comes to gods, well-being is such a difficult thing to measure, especially from a human perspective of immortality).  They are living in a place that is both impossibly far and surprisingly close, and in a time concurrent with the mortal men they once ruled. 

You, the thoughtful reader, no doubt now have several questions.  Allow me to anticipate just a few if I might.  Where did they go?  Why did they go? Where are they now?  What are they waiting for?

Ah, those are all excellent questions.  Excellent questions.  I wish I could provide you with answers, but I’m still in search of some of them myself.  All I can do is defer to the superior wisdom of a friend of mine who never seems to tire of repeating the phrase “all will become clear in due course” in response to questions such as these.  Come to think of it, we had a certain Jesuit teacher in high school who used to say the same thing quite frequently… I never did find out what he knew.

Anyway, questions about such weighty goings-on can only distract us from the real purpose of the story, which is simply to find out if poor little Les Mendoza of El Cajon, California, can somehow manage to survive the challenges before him.  See, it won’t be as easy as simply repeating what the first Hercules did.   For one thing, Les is no Hercules (trust me, if you saw those two together you’d never even guess they’re related), and so throwing a chokehold on a lion just isn’t going to be an option.  Secondly, the Olympians haven’t exactly been sitting around doing nothing for the last three thousand years; they’ve been busy, and for some of them, inventing improved ways to torment and punish humans is exactly the kind of thing they don’t mind devoting a great deal of time and attention to.  Brings them a certain kind of satisfaction they just can’t seem to get anywhere else, I suppose. 

Come to think of it, perhaps survival is a little too optimistic for our hero-in-training.  Well, if he does die, at least it will be a very short trip.  And if he lives, his reward is that he gets to go home to the very life he so desperately wanted to escape. 

How’s that for a win-win?

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