Family, Latino culture, Mothers, Strong Women, Wisdom

Hurricane Mother – Part 2

 

SuperMom Logo by Jose Rios, Flickr.com
SuperMom Logo by Jose RIos, Flickr.com

 

Last week I wrote about gathering the puzzle pieces of my mother’s first 25 years of life. This made me think about how often we don’t know the stories that our loved one’s carry.

The tragedies, lessons, and life skills my mom learned in the first part of her life set the stage for her next 25 years.

I’m filled with mixed feelings about writing this portion of her life. I wasn’t an observer during this time, I was living this part with her, as a child and a teenager. At that time, I mainly thought of what I and my siblings were going through, as a result, of her choices.

Mom was gone from morning until late at night. We saw her on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and the weekend. Babysitters came and went, some pretty nice, some not.

The nicest one we called Sugar, she didn’t speak English except for the words to the song “Sugar, Sugar.” The meanest babysitter roared instructions. Mom had a cancelled class and caught the woman chasing my brother with a belt. She threw her out on the street.

Although Mom barely reaches five feet and was petite, she knew how to fight like a bantamweight boxer, a skill she learned sparring with her older brother. This was also a survival skill we saw displayed a couple of times when defending her children from drug addicts or an irate neighbor (that’s another story).

 

More Puzzle Pieces 

A new life meshes into her own. The stigma is great-“Unwed Mother.” Her baby girl passes off as little sister.

Years after the Korean War ends, the town is still surrounded by military bases. Everything changes when the USO women came to the neighborhood.

“Come to the dance. Free food, good music, appreciative servicemen…” “Sounds fun, what’s the harm, oh, come on,” said among giggles of the single young women.

A gaggle of men, handsome in Air Force uniforms, swarmed the newcomers. One sat behind mom, content to talk, unaware that his soft blue eyes, blond hair, and Kentucky accent mesmerized her into silence.

Her beauty brought him into the barrio, had him speaking Spanish. They married. He adopted two year old little sister/daughter. An anomaly of a couple, even in California.

Three more children, all in a row. Almost a big “Leave It To Beaver” family until alcohol, fear and anger tore them apart. She told him to leave. A regret to this day, even beyond his death. The good recalled with much more frequency than the bad.

Back to stifling packing houses, a heavy apron, aching back, wet wrinkled hands from sorting vegetables. Worked ten hours in silence, not allowed to turn her head left or right, the rules you know. Plenty of time to think of the future: a secretary, a police officer, a social worker.

Bus across the tracks to adult ed to get her high school diploma. The drive to want more accompanied the three-mile walk back, at ten p.m., three nights a week.  At thirty-two years old, she graduated and decided to  attend community college.

Ridicule, jokes, shaming comments from neighbors and relatives. “Who does she think she is, what kind of mother isn’t home for her kids after school, leaving them in the evening, sin vergüenza…” She carried books of knowledge along with her guilt through dark nights on the city bus.

In the early morning she knelt before the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the staircase niche. In the evening, a votive to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Weekends at Mass.

Government canned food, powdered milk, the kindness of her siblings fed her family. She pawned her wedding ring when the cupboards were empty. Hunger was the only thing that almost broke her.

Every summer for eight years she sent her children to her brother and his wife, angels to the rescue, so she could go back to the packing houses, save money, remove the cross tattoo on her hand, send her kids to Catholic school.

At forty, she graduated from community college, found her first office job, but still wanted more.

Commuting to a university filled her with hope for a future alongside the fear of what was happening at home, her children now teenagers living in the barrio where success stories are few and far between. We moved across the tracks. Strict rules, education, education, education, drummed into our ears.

Strikes, boycotts, Si Se Puede, self-determination. A community activist, volunteer, doer. Doors opened, scholarships bestowed, a donated car from a women’s group. No time for romance, no time for breathing.

Baby daughter left to college after Mom graduated with two Bachelor’s of Arts degrees, at forty-five.

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Inspiration, life lessons, Strong Women, Wisdom

8 Life Lessons from Women Writers

On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed
On Character by Joan Didion, photo by Buzzfeed

 

Joan Didion looks way cool in that Corvette. Reminds me of me, back in the late 70’s, in my blue metal flaked Chevy Malibu. But back to the life lessons.

In my section of the Southern California coast the marine mist appears in the early evening and grays over the landscape. This becomes a perfect time for reflecting on the day and writing in my journal.

Today I cleaned out one bookshelf and selected 25 books to donate to the library. The first 10 books were an easy choice, the last 15 much harder. A short task took a few hours. Any reader knows how you can get lost in a book, even if you’ve read it before.

I flipped through pages, reread paragraphs, remembered characters, and debated whether the book made it into the donation box. Many times I pulled a book out and put it back on the shelf.

At the end of the book donation I wrote down a few life lessons that made their way into my heart again.

One of the books was from Joan Didion. Here are seven more life lessons from other women writers:

 

1. Kindness can be a lifesaver.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop…Naomi S. Nye

2. Always be true to yourself.

“When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are…” Sandra Cisneros

3-Heal your wounds. You have more strength, more resilience, and more inner wisdom than you think you do. You’ll get through it, survive and thrive. 

 

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise…” Maya Angelou

4–Leave the past in the past.

“Remember the past, but don’t get lost back there. Celebrate the blessings of the past in the present, but remember to live today. Today is built on the past and tomorrow is evolving from both the past and the present. The future? Quien sabe? (who knows)” Denise Chavez

5-Age is a number and an attitude.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

 

6. Solitude can be valuable. It’s all in your perspective.

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up. ~Pearl Buck

 

7. You can begin again.

Joyce Meyer
Joyce Meyer

Only one of the books that contain the above quotes made it into the donation box. Can you guess which one? Where do you find your life lessons?

 

 

Books, California Department of Corrections, Female Offenders, fiction, Latinas, Strong Women, Women in Prison

Meet My Characters: Orange is Not the New Black

1012013-orange-is-the-new-black
Piper, main character in Orange is the New Black, Netflix series

When people ask me “What’s your novel about,” I usually say it’s a teenaged Orange is the New Black –the Netflix version, not the book- featuring a naive 17 year old mother who’s an immigrant.

I’ve been asked, by YA author Evelyne Holingue, to talk about the characters in my YA novel. Her novel, TRAPPED IN PARIS, took me on an adventure through the streets of Paris.Evelyne continues to take me on an exciting jaunt  through her blog and now through the Meet My Character blog tour.

I’m so glad she asked me to join the tour.

In case anyone wonders, I began writing this novel in 2008 before OITNB was published. I wrote it based on my 28 years experience working within the California Department of Corrections.

Now, I’d like you to meet some of the characters in my novel:

1. What is the name of your character (s)? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Juana Maria Ivanov is the fictional main character. She frequently has a look on her face just like Piper in the photo above. The similarities end there, but the description gives people a quick picture.

Juana is younger, Mexican, and without Piper’s resources or language skills. And, she is not like the Latinas featured in OITNB.

The antagonist in my story is Jester, who is one of the gang leaders. Juana’s friends are two outsiders, one an idealistic protestor and the other a pastor’s daughter.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set within the twelve foot chain link fences of a correctional facility in California in the late 1980’s. This was the time of “Lock ‘Em Up,” laws and when there was little recourse or rights for teenagers in the criminal justice system. Sentencing laws and due process were different for young men and women under the age of 18 years old.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Sweet, helpful and unintentionally funny, Juana is basically an optimist. Sometimes these qualities don’t serve her. She thought she was going to be part of the American dream when she married her first sweetheart, nineteen year old Alek Ivanov, a first generation Russian American that she met while working in a border town. When she has her baby, they move to Los Angeles  where  she learns that he is abusive, more so when he is under the influence of alcohol.

4. What is the main conflict? 

After a beating, Juana runs away and takes her baby to her sister. When she returns she is arrested for Alek’s death, convicted of manslaughter and given a six year sentence. She is heartbroken over his death and leaving her baby, who she is certain will forget her. She desperately wants correctional staff to believe that she didn’t leave her husband to die, but she has no evidence except her word that he was alive when she ran away.When she finds out that her sister can no longer care for her baby and her mother-in-law files for custody, she has to find a way to keep her child.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Figuring out how to survive prison, learning whom to trust, how to find help and how to stay strong are Juana’s goals.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

STONG WOMEN GROW HERE is the working title of this fictional novel. To download a free 17 page excerpt you can use this link. SWGH is a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Semifinals are in late June 2014.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

There’s no definite answer on this one. If the story is picked up by Amazon it could be published within a year. If it’s not a finalist, I hope to find an agent to represent my novel.

 

Now I’m tagging Jennifer J. Chow, author of the award winning, The 228 Legacy, who is now typing away on her next novel.

Make sure you check out Jennifer’s post on June 16, 2014.

She has an adorable protagonist and I hope you will stop by to read about her story.

 

#WeNeedDIverseBooks, Diversity, Latina writer, Strong Women, Women Prisoners, Writing, Writing Process

Writing Strong Women

 

http://amzn.to/1kDIjNW Graphic by DigitalProduct-Mock book cover
http://amzn.to/1kDIjNW Graphic by DigitalProduct-Mock book cover

Last year, I read “The Sandoval Sisters,” an award winning historical fiction book by Sandra Ramos O’Briant and enjoyed it so much that I began to follow her blog, www.bloodmother.com.  I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me to be part of a blog adventure initiated on Twitter #weneeddiversebooks and #diverselit, in which we answer four questions about our writing life. 

In my third year of college, I took Criminal Justice classes and visited prisons and juvenile halls. I met many people who had backgrounds similar to my own: poverty, single parent homes, and abuse. Some of my friends achieved college degrees and became leaders, while others became gang members or drug addicts. This made me wonder what differentiated non-offenders from criminal offenders. 

After college, I began my 28 year career in the California Youth Authority, now part of the California Department of Corrections, as a Youth Counselor. Later, as a Manager, I wrote gender responsive treatment programs for young women and established an area for them to meet, discuss, and learn about themselves in a supportive environment. Their experiences and my own made their way into my stories. 

1-What are you working on?

My Young Adult novel, Strong Women Grow Here, is a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. After 10,000 entries, Amazon whittled the group to 2,000 entries and then to 500 entries. The next stage, on June 23, 2014,  is the selection of the top five novels in five categories. 

The story is about 17 year old immigrant, Juana Maria Ivanov, who is torn from her baby after she flees from her husband. He was alive when she ran from his beating but when the police arrive, they find him dead and she is sentenced to prison.  When evidence surfaces that her husband died from injuries inconsistent with his fall, her hope helps her navigate not just the unspoken rules of incarceration, but the drugs, violence, racial tensions, and the maze of love triangles where she finds herself entangled.  The answer to who is responsible for her husband’s death may be what frees Juana from prison and reunites her with her daughter. 

To download a free 17 page excerpt click here.

I am searching for an agent to represent a second YA novel, working title “The Ding List,” about 15 year old, Jacqui Browne, whose pending expulsion from St. Bernadette High, for late tuition, will impact her chance at a Stanford scholarship. Her dad is in prison and her mother tries to support five kids. In desperation, Jacqui lies about her age to find a job and is unknowingly manipulated into trafficking drugs. She has to find a way out of this mess without putting her family in danger. 

Currently, I’m revising an Adult Contemporary book, working title “A Winter Without Flowers,” about a woman in mid-life who is arrested for drunk driving. This sets off a series of crises with her kids, her best friend, and her ex-husband who is a police captain.

2-How does your work differ from others in your genre?

The YA novels that I’ve written are realistic, urban, and feature very young women, who are mothers, in prison or involved in drug trafficking. Although my protagonists and most of the secondary characters are from different ethnicities, cultures, and lifestyles, they suffer similar teenage angst, feelings of isolation, and confusion. Themes in these novels are similar to others in the genre. They include coming of age, self-awareness, love, loneliness, hope and friendship. 

3-Why do you write what you do?

I feel compelled to write about young women whose voices aren’t heard, who were abandoned and abused and made wrong decisions. How they pick themselves back up (or grab onto a helping hand) and do better are stories worth telling.  I’ve seen the worst in people and also the best. Some of my writing comes from my own challenges and choices.  

4-How does your writing process work? 

“Pantser,” best describes my writing process. I type by the seat of my pajamas, early in the morning, with plenty of coffee. When I begin a story I don’t know where it’s going. I know the beginning but not the middle or end. I follow the voice of the main character and keep typing until I’m finished with a rough draft. This takes about two months. I write five to six times a week for two to three hours. Reading two to three novels a month also helps my writing process. I’m a late comer to writing and reading poetry, but I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful when writing fiction.

I belong to a fantastic writing group, “WOmen Who Write,” (WoWW) where seven of us critique pages twice a month. I’ve been with them since I began writing in 2008. Working with a supportive group of writers is essential when it comes to meeting deadlines, inspiring creative thinking and for revisions. 

My thanks again, to Sandra Ramos O’Briant, who invited me to participate in this series of posts about diverse literature.

On June 2, 2014, look for posts from Linda Rodriguez, author of the award winning Skeet Bannion police series. You can find her blog here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Kindle, Books, Family, Inspiration, life lessons, Strong Women, Writing

Strong Women Grow Here-Free Excerpt

 

Strong Women Grow Here-Free excerpt on amazon.com-alvaradofrazier.com
Strong Women Grow Here-Free excerpt on amazon.com-alvaradofrazier.com*

Have you ever felt like you’ve been down for so long it’s hard to take that next step.

I know most of us have had those times. So it’s the little things that keep a smile on the face, and the eyes looking forward.

And sometimes, just sometimes, something comes along that puts the pep back in that step. Something BIG.  I’ve been doubly blessed, I have two BIG things:

My brother is now recuperating fairly well after a tortuously long operation and three week hospital stay. Care taking has been a little difficult for the past month, but it’s worth seeing the tiny progress each day.  I can’t go into detail, he’d been very cross with me, even though he doesn’t read blogs.

The other bright news is that Amazon announced their Quarterfinalists in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) 2014. 

Amazon capped the entries at 10,000 for five genres. In March , they whittled the entries down to 2,000. On April 14 they pared the submissions to 500 novels.

My heart thumped like a snare drum gearing up for the big game when I found out I made it to this round.  

From now until May 23, 2014, Publishers Weekly reviews each Quarter-Finalists’ full manuscript and scores it on prose, plot, hook, etc.

Amazon customers can download the 17 page excerpt to their Kindle, or  download a free Kindle reading app for IPhone, IPad, Mac, or Android.

When you click on the banner above, it will take you to my novel page, (that’s so exciting to say!)  and you will see an image on the right hand side that looks like this:

Look for this image to download a free Kindle reading application
Look for this image to download  app

Any customer (sign up is free) can download, rate, and review excerpts and/or provide feedback to Amazon Publishing Editors about submission.

You can read the reviews for Strong Women Grow Here and a two page excerpt here.

Customer reviews are important to me and I’d love to read any constructive feedback you have on the excerpt.

Semi-Finalists are announced on or about May 23, 2014.

Those lucky enough to be a finalist receive a publishing contract and a cash advance.

Amazon then creates a poll asking customers to vote for their favorite of the finalist’s excerpt. The one with the most votes wins a larger advance and Grand Prize.

What an adventure! Thanks for reading and I do hope you will take a few seconds to read the excerpt on my YA novel, Strong Women Grow Here.

 

*The image of the woman’s hands in chains comes from an art exhibit and was untitled. The artist name is Kelley Connelly.