Sunday, November 30, 2014


The Caribbean town of Portobelo is among my favorite places in Panama, as well as in anywhere else in the world. Christopher Columbus named the bay in which the Spanish colonial settlement is located—Beautiful Port—when, in 1502, on his last voyage to the continent, he sought refuge here during a violent tropical storm.

Portobelo rose to prominence in the late sixteenth century as the port through which the product of Peruvian gold and silver mines was stored and counted before being shipped to Spain.

The port gained such importance that it became the target of pirates, as the presence of four nearby forts attests. In fact, Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery while trying to capture the town—and it is said that he rests in a lead coffin at the bottom of the bay.

Today, however, the town has fallen on hard times. In spite of the natural beauty that surrounds Portobeloas well as its vast historical significancethe heat, the humidity, and the rugged terrain has kept it from becoming one of Panama’s required tourist destinations.

Still, there is much to see and do here, such as paying a visit to the miraculous image of El Cristo Negro, whose healing powers has made him one of Panama’s most venerated religious personages.

Erinn and I are privileged to have a friend who occasionally allows us the use of a modest—yet very comfortable—house she owns on the edge of the bay and about a kilometer out of town.

Here, we spend the days reading, relaxing, snorkeling, and kayaking. Sometimes, I even get to write here. And it is for all these reasons that Portobelo has become one of our favorite havens in Panama.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Arrival of The Yes Book

It’s official: The Yes Book is out!

I wrote about The Yes Book in the blog post titled “The Other Writer in the House.” Both my wife, Erinn Magee, and I have articles in this collection.  Our contributions are titled “My Marcela” and “Say Yes: Balboa Academy 2014 Graduation Speech.” 

The Yes Book represents Exult Road’s first publishing venture. Erinn and I are grateful to Jill Cooper for giving us the opportunity to express our thoughts on the importance of affirmation in our lives.

The initial reviews have been fabulous. Every one of them states that The Yes Book is a fabulous, compelling, and uplifting read. 

Please support the birth of a bold new publishing company by purchasing The Yes Book directly from Exult Road, or Amazon. It will make a terrific Christmas gift.

(First photograph courtesy of Jill Cooper)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Walking Caricature

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a walking caricature. There has always been something about my appearance that compels people with artistic ability to render me as a cartoon. The above caricature was done by a ninth grader last year. And like this one, there have been countless more student drawings. Sadly, few have survived the passage of time. But now, thanks to personal computers, I get to save them on my hard drive.

And computers are now playing a creative part in allowing me to live on in caricature. In a matter of seconds, for example, a student sketched this one last year on an Ipad.

And how could I not love this caricature commissioned by two former students—and today close friends—from my days as a college professor? This was carved and painted on wood.

Then there are those who use the more vivid medium of photography to caricaturize me.

But on occasion there is a true artist who persists in trying to capture my true essence. In this case, I’m referring to Sammy Fallas, currently a student at Ringling College of Art and Design, in Florida, who got plenty of practice honing his sketching skills thanks to me.

Here’s a rendition Sammy drew when he was a ninth grader. I guess I had significant girth at the time.

Sammy drew this caricature when he was an eleventh grader.

Then, as a senior, when Sammy was a student in a yearlong class I taught on Don Quijote de la Mancha, he came up with this.

And last week, as a freshman in college, Sammy doodled this masterpiece in a moment of boredom. It is, indeed, lovely to be remembered.

Still, Sammy’s greatest gift to me was this portrait of Don Quijote at the moment he goes insane from reading too many novels about chivalry. Erinn and I framed this wonderful rendition and it hangs in a place of honor in our home.

Thus, as anyone can see, being a walking caricature has its sweet rewards.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nicaragua 2014 Book Tour—The Farewell in León

On Tuesday, November 4, we drove from Granada to León for the final stop of the Nicaragua Book Tour.
After a long car ride, Kenneth Morris—author of Unfinished Revolution, a biography of Daniel Ortega—and I were thrilled to have arrived at our destination: Búho Books.

Of course, I’m always delighted to see Marthe Kalleklev, owner of Búho Books. She, together with Troy Fuss of Lucha Libro Books, made this tour a magical experience for my fellow authors and me.

Since we had a couple of hours to spare before our presentation, I walked to the Cathedral. While there, I got to take photographs of—and from—the rooftop, something I had long wanted to do.

It was then time for the concluding presentation of the Nicaragua 2014 Book Tour. Marthe, Troy, and I were confident beforehand that the show would turn out well.

I, as usual, enjoyed my time before the microphone.

The audience—of which this photograph presents only a partial view—was highly engaged throughout the presentations. The question and answer period went on for well over an hour. The exchanges were both insightful and entertaining.

Afterward, we spent the night in the lovely hostel Calle de los Poetas that Marthe and her husband, Rigo, own.

The morning of Wednesday, November 5, we headed for the airport. I can never thank Troy Fuss enough for the countless hours he put into organizing the tour. I hope the event lived up to his expectations. 

If you are a reader who resides in Nicaragua, please support bookstores like Lucha Libro Books and Búho Books who seek to serve Nicaragua’s English-speaking population.

For me, the tour concluded on a wonderful note—for the first time ever I saw one of my novels, Bernardo and the Virgin, on sale at an airport.

I’m taking the sighting as an omen of good things to come.

Hasta pronto, Nicaragua.

(Several photographs are courtesy of Marthe Kalleklev and Troy Fuss)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nicaragua 2014 Book Tour—Granada with Ninth Graders

The morning of Monday, November 3—Panamanian Independence Day!—the 9th grade class of the American-Nicaraguan School traveled to Granada. The purpose of their visit was to take a historical tour of the city, collect water samples for analysis from Lake Nicaragua, and spend some time with a Nicaraguan-American writer.

We met in the Plaza, where I had the chance to greet Lisa Lippay—the 9th grade English teacher who has been wonderfully supportive of my writing efforts—and Jeffrey Davis, the High School Principal.

After a brief chat, I got to play Pied Piper, leading the students to the Palacio de la Cultura, where we would exchange ideas. On the walk there, Alex, the Student Coordinator of the event, kept me company.

I loved that this audience could relate fully to the stories I’ve written. We share an appreciation for Nicaragua’s culture, history, and people.

After the question and answer period, we visited Lucha Libro Books, sponsor of the book tour. Outside of the bookstore, I got to be the celebrity of the moment, posing for selfies with the students.

After getting to know Lucha Libros Books, we crossed the street to have lunch at The Garden Café. While there, I visited every table to harass the students. They asked me to move back to Nicaragua so I could teach at their school. Regretfully, I had to tell them that I was committed to Panama, for there I have 9th graders of my own to torment.

After lunch, the students and their teachers walked to the lake to collect water samples. Before saying farewell, I had the chance to pose for one last photograph with Mr. Davis and Ms. Lippay. I love knowing that I have a strong base of support at the American-Nicaraguan School. I look forward to returning next year to meet a new batch of 9th graders.

(All photographs courtesy of Lisa Lippay)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nicaragua 2014 Book Tour—Granada

The evening of Sunday, November 2, we were geared up for the main event in Granada—a four-author Día de los Muertos celebration of storytelling, politics, and writing. Lucha Libros Books sponsored that night’s literary affair, as well as organizing the entire Nicaragua Book Tour.

Before our presentations, we were invited to a Day of the Dead toast at the Hotel San Francisco.

While there, I had the chance to greet friends of old, including Marthe Kalleklev, owner of Búho Books in León—where our tour ends on Tuesday night—and Beth García, Head Librarian of Kaiser University, in San Marcos.

At the conclusion of the Day of the Dead event, everyone walked across the street to the restaurant La Hacienda, for a discussion on literature and politics.

We were blessed with a large, attentive audience who asked insightful questions.

Of course, as usual, I had a terrific time reading from The Saint of Santa Fe.

When the event concluded, I got to say farewell to dear friends of old, as well as dear friends of new.

I then went to bed early because the following morning I had to gear up to deal with the entire 9th-grade of the American-Nicaraguan School. They were coming expressly to Granada to arm wrestle with a Nica-American author. I'll tell you how that went in my next post.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nicaragua 2014 Book Tour – San Juan del Sur

On Friday, October 31, I arrived in Nicaragua to begin a book tour that includes Kenneth Morris, author of Unfinished Revolution and Joseph Frazier, author of El Salvador Could Be like that.

I was fortunate enough to spend that day and morning in Granada, where I had a chance to stroll about and take a few photographs—one of my favorite things in the world to do.

At noon the following day, Saturday, November 1, we left for San Juan del Sur, where we would conduct our first roundtable at the bookstore and coffee shop El Gato Negro.

As usual, I had a terrific time talking about the craft. And it was fun listening to my fellow writers’ stories, theories, and ideas.

What has also been enjoyable is to experience a moment in the sun thanks to the article “Silvio Sirias leading Nicaragua literary tour” that appears in The Nicaragua Dispatch.