Introduction for Lisa Scheffer
August 20, 2018
by Virginia Bellis Brandabur
Lisa Sheffer did not come to the writing life on a straight path. Rather, she spent fifteen years as a family doctor and as a medical consultant for human rights and social justice issues, working and traveling all over Latin America. All along, however, she was taking side trips as a writer, penning bios for newspapers, dipping her toe into writing programs, and escaping into her science fiction stories. Then she took the incredibly brave step of quitting her day job to work on her novel, write an illustrated children’s book for kids in two-mom families, and to start up a small publishing press.
Lisa’s novel, La Florida, is the story of the 1539 Spanish expedition, led by Hernado de Soto, into the territory of what we know as the southern United States – from Florida up to Tennessee, south again to Georgia, then west all the the way across the Mississippi into Oklahoma – pillaging and plundering, enslaving and killing, spreading disease and cultural destruction – all for the sake of God and gold. This novel, for Lisa, has been nearly as epic, requiring years of historical research on a period of time about which little but the conqueror’s narrative exists. It has been said that the less known, the more freedom for a novelist. Lisa used that freedom to set herself another challenge, which was to write this story from the perspective of the hired gun, a conquistador, and to make us love him, so that we might better experience and perhaps learn from his journey – from impulse to action, from tragic consequences to genuine repentance, and finally, to redemptive choices.
La Florida, at its heart, is a declaration of the importance of bearing witness. To bear witness is to show that something exists or is true, to assure us that our stories are not only heard, but that they transcend time. To bear witness is to set the wheels of justice turning. This novel ask us to consider what happens when there is no one to acknowledge our story? Does it hold the same significance, the same weight? Does the absence of a witness alter our reality? And what happens if we, as witnesses, do not speak up?
Maya Angelou once wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” For Piloto, the narrator of La Florida, this is the truth. In writing about the years after the expedition, he says, “My nights were tormented by voices and dreams. In them I stand before the Lord. He is in a white robe and His head glows like the sun. I approach, and He speaks in a voice filled with sorrow and wrath. Where are my children? He says. Where are those fine towns, those green cornfields, those baskets overflowing with grain that I gave to the people of La Florida? Who will remember the glory of Talimeco if you in your greed have desolated the land?” Compelled by God and by his own humanity, Piloto writes his account of the expedition, and in doing so bears witness to the destruction of the native peoples of this continent. And in writing this novel, Lisa has borne witness to a story that has for too long gone untold.
Please welcome Lisa Scheffer.