Susanna Lo is an American filmmaker who was first noticed for her award-winning stylistic 35mm feature film, Black & White: A Love Story, which she wrote, directed, and produced at the age of 26. Born in Hong Kong, raised in Hawaii by a single father and his half-sister, Susanna has lived in Paris, Rome, Bali, Toronto, and Montreal. She is fluent in five languages, including Cantonese and Bahasa. Raised as a Catholic by her father and as a Buddhist by her aunt, she has been writing and directing films since she was six years old. Some of her work in television includes episodes of Star Trek: Voyager (Writer), Cold Squad (Director), and Seven Days (Director, Writer). Inspired by iconic filmmakers Jean Cocteau, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni, her upcoming feature film, Manson Girls (Writer, Director, Producer), is about the summer of ‘69 as seen through the eyes of the girls who committed the infamous Tate/LaBianca murders for Charles Manson. ALMA OF MY HEART is Susanna’s first novel and next feature film.
ALMA OF MY HEART is a timeless story of love, hope, and triumph over loss and despair.
Irena Montoya and Tatiana Jones come from two entirely different worlds. Irena is a poor, illegal immigrant who sneaks across the Mexican border and walks 46 days to Los Angeles where she hopes to find a new life for herself and her unborn daughter. Tatiana is a wealthy architect who has everything a woman could want - beauty, brains, money, and an adoring husband - but she can’t have children. After a year of struggling to raise her daughter as a single mother in the pits of L.A., Irena realizes the best thing she can do for her child, Alma, is to give her up. She leaves Alma at the steps of The Survivors Sojourn, a safe haven for abused women and children founded and built by Tatiana. The minute Tatiana meets Alma, she knows all her dreams will come true and she raises Alma as her own daughter. Seven years later, the tragedy of Alma’s death brings Irena and Tatiana together. Through pain and suffering, these two women find love in a way neither one expected because sometimes hope can come from great despair.
"Susanna Lo has taken me on a joyful, heartfelt journey. Filled with beautiful imagery,
this book is a must read.”
- Heather Matarazzo, Actress - The Princess Diaries, Hostel: Part II, and The L Word
"Alma Of My Heart is a novel destined to be a cinematic gem."
- John Corser, Academy Award-Nominated Producer
We know of no better way to set the stage and raise the curtain on this heartfelt story than to include Chapter 1 of ALMA OF MY HEART below.
Tijuana was a putrid, foul place for the poor. Death festered in every corner while drunken frat boys chugged beer and tanked shots of tequila like liquid gold. Oblivious to the poverty and grime of this Mexican border town, these privileged youth caroused the night for reckless fun and cheap cunt.
Gael Rivera Fonseca made a fortune from these wealthy brats, enough money to keep him in a life of luxury with a beach house along The Calafia Coast. He was smart enough to never do business in the heart of Tijuana’s Avenida de la Revolucion. He invited his clients to a nice lobster dinner at his restaurant in Puerto Nuevo and all transactions were handled over a fine glass of Don Julio. He even let them stay over in his guest wing at the beach house if they were too drunk to wind through the dark roads of Rosarito on their way back to their precious Estado Unidos.
Such a lovely man, Gael Rivera Fonseca.
Irena Montoya worked for Gael at his beach side estate. She cooked, she cleaned, and she wrote his e-mails as Gael was illiterate. He made one million pesos a month, close to nine hundred thousand US dollars a year, and paid Irena one thousand pesos a month, less than eighty US dollars. Some nights, he kept Irena so late catering to his clients that she would have to spend the night out in the laundry room, as there were no buses left to take her back to Tijuana. Irena never complained. She was grateful for the work. Not the cooking, not the cleaning. Irena was grateful to have access to Gael’s computer.
Gael slept until noon. He spent the late afternoons and early evenings looking for new clients in Tijuana. He ate his dinners in his restaurant and frequently didn’t return home until ten at night. This gave Irena much free time to use his computer, and the Internet, where she educated herself and learned to speak English.
When Irena was a child growing up in the poverty soaked hills of Tijuana, people always used to shake their heads when they looked at her. “Such a beautiful child, it’s a shame her mother is so poor and so proud. If she weren’t so poor, Irena could marry a rich man. If she weren’t so proud, Irena could sleep with many rich men and make lots of money.” Irena didn’t want to marry a rich man or sleep with any for money. She wanted to be educated. She wanted to make her own money. She wanted to marry a poor man, if he loved her and she loved him.
Roberto Quinones Chavez was a poor man. And he loved Irena. Although Irena cared deeply for him, she knew she didn’t love him. Not in the way that made two hearts pound as one while joy filled their souls. Her love for Roberto was the love for a friend. But not a day went by in which Roberto would say to Irena, “Marry me, have my children. My cousins live in Los Angeles, we can go there together and start a new life away from the filth of these hills.”
Irena liked the idea of moving away from the filth but she did not want to marry Roberto or have his children.
In The Hills of Tijuana the underprivileged spent their nights drinking and gossiping to forget the pain and suffering. They spent their days on the decayed concrete of the highways and roads that lead to San Diego; dreaming of the better side while laboring for a precious dollar that could feed the whole family for a night. They required their children, young and old, to walk the sidewalks, selling cheap Chiclets with a toothless, decayed smile and trading in a carefree childhood for a lousy meal.
Irena’s mom was a single mother, common in The Hills, where the men left for better pastures across the borders with a chaste promise to return. The women, foolishly falling for the fake declarations of chastity and love, would send their men off with tears and the loss of their virginity never to see them again. Mothers took care of daughters as grandmothers took care of mothers too young to take care of themselves and a child. It would lead to a life of despair, crime, tragedy, that only drinking and gossiping could soothe.
Irena and her mom were often gossiped about. They were too smart to sell Chiclets at the side of the road; too proud to spread their legs for the soldiers that crossed the border for a moment of pleasure. Each morning, Irena and her mother took the bus to Rosarito Beach then walked two miles to the luxury homes in Calafia to work for the wealthy. They made less than the women who gave it up for the American pigs that streamed in each night, but they were happy. They had each other. And they were proud.
Which is why The Hills were lit with gossip the night Irena fell from grace. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t her fault, she asked for it. It didn’t matter that it caused her great pain and suffering, she deserved it. It didn’t matter that she was one of their own, she wasn’t. “Irena Montoya got what was coming to her”, they praised.
The day started off like any other day. Irena would wake up at five in the morning to shower first and make her mother a special breakfast of onion and tomato frittatas. Irena’s mother was originally from Barcelona, Spain and moved to Ensenada with her parents when she was sixteen. That would explain her fair skin and Spanish green eyes. And her love for frittatas. Irena wanted to give her mother as much extra sleep as she could. Her mother’s health had been poor of late and Irena wished for nothing more than to be able to take care of her mother and let her rest in her older years.
As they took the steep walk towards Calafia, Irena’s mother started breathing heavier than usual. Knowing this was not a good sign and realizing they didn’t have the money for a proper doctor, Irena insisted her mother head home and she would cover her work for the day. It is for this reason that Irena was late arriving at Gael’s home and needed to stay longer to finish her chores and his emails.
At 10:00 pm, Gael returned home with three young men from Los Angeles wearing USC Lettermen jackets. Relieved that Irena was still there, he had her make them her specialty Pina Coladas, in a way only Irena could make them. Irena had an amazing knack for cooking and drink making. Her food tasted like delicacies from heaven and her cocktails were magical potions.
She made them each a glass and blended an extra pitcher, spending an additional hour cutting the pineapple and cracking fresh coconut to squeeze the juices from. By the time she was ready to leave, it was too late to make it back to Rosarito and catch the bus to Tijuana. She would have to spend the night in the laundry room on the makeshift bed created from the table she used to fold Gael’s clothes. Although his house had two wings and eight bedrooms, it never occurred to him that he should offer Irena one of the rooms for the night.
She was exhausted when her head hit the wooden table and her eyes quickly drifted off to sleep. She didn’t hear the door to the laundry room open. She didn’t see the three men enter the room until it was too late.
Her screams were useless. Gael was the only one who could hear. And just like it never occurred to him to offer her a room in his house, it never occurred to him that she was suffering, in pain, crying for mercy as the three men violated her. The only thought that crossed Gael’s mind before he fell asleep was, if she didn’t come back, how would he be able to find another girl who could make mole as well as Irena and also be able to type.
Irena curled herself into a ball and cried herself through the night. She dreamt of a hot shower and the comfort of her mother’s bosom. Years later she would still remember the stench of the drunken men’s breath and the brutality of their bodies as they rammed into her.
In the morning Irena left for home, painfully walking through the winding road towards Rosarito. Gael had woken up for a brief moment and hoped she’d remembered to make her special onion and tomato frittata before leaving. He promptly fell back asleep before giving it a second thought.
The people on the bus ignored her partially torn skirt and bruised legs. They ignored the swelling in her right eye and looked the other way. As the bus approached The Hills, Irena considered staying on it until it reached Avenida de la Revolucion. She wanted to spare her mother the pain of finding out what had happened to her. She wanted to save her mother from the incessant gossip of feeble minds.
She lived at the top of The Hill; by the time she reached her home everyone in town knew what had happened. And for once, they were happy. Except for Roberto who started to cry. And Irena’s mother, who had a heart attack and died.