It’s not what his Brazilian characters would call a mamata-a “gravy job”-but Lloyd Hill loves his work. As a fossil preparator for the Dallas Museum of Natural History, Hill assembles the skeletons of dinosaurs and prehistoric turtles. And now, to his great surprise, he’s an author at the age of 54. His collection of stories, The\ Village of Bom Jesus, will be published this month by Algonquin Books.
A Dallas native, Hill grew up enchanted by stories of the mysterious Amazon River and the vast rain forest. In the mid-’60s, he found himself drifting to Brazil. “I don’t know my thought processes,” says the laconic Hill. “I just thought, heck, I’ll go.”
He spent four years growing corn and sugar cane in the rain forest, married a Brazilian woman and started a family. They returned to Dallas in 1970, but Hill wrote nothing until his divorce more than a decade later left their youngest daughter feeling “pretty much abandoned,” To lift her spirits he wrote a story about a mysterious Brazilian cat named Bom Jesus (The Good Jesus). A literary agent urged him to expand the story into a book.
“I never really dreamed anyone would publish it,’ Hill says, “so I wasn’t in much of a hurry.” The manuscript, finished in 1987, was rejected by several publishers before Algonquin bought it in 1990.
Given his keen eye for nature, it’s no surprise that Hill’s stories teem with snakes, spiders, piranhas and ubiquitous millipedes “I’ve seen so many books and movies where the authors just didn’t do much research,” he says. “You know, South American monkeys with prehensile tails in old Tarzan movies.” However, he also blends fantasy with his realism.
“That’s the way things sometimes happen,” Hill says. ’They come in with a mystery and go out with a mystery.”