Healing, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, Writing

Heartbreak, Love Potions and Curanderas

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it-Toni Morrison

Writing, especially novels is a long hard road. Sometimes people ask, “Are you finished yet?” “What’s happening with that story you told me about?”

Oh, that story. Well, three years later I’m finished with the Young Adult manuscript and I believe I’m ready for the next step: finding a literary agent or publisher to bring the novel to fruition.

The book is about an eighteen-year-old young woman named Maya who suffers from a heartbreak that is so bad that she, an honors student, ditches school and finds a job selling herbs and potions in a botanica (Botánica Sirena) opened by two curanderas.

Maya’s newfound knowledge of curanderismo (the art of healing) intrigues her but proves disastrous when her novice love potion backfires leaving her ex-boyfriend in love with her mother and her nana’s 75-year-old boyfriend in love with her. 

Her divorced parents are furious with Maya’s behavior as it disrupts the plan they had for her life: valedictorian, university, and a career in politics.

So Maya needs to make things right again but her novice potion is not something the local curanderas can help her with so off to Oaxaca she goes to meet with the Gran Curandera who might be able to help her with an antidote. The trip leads Maya to a journey of self-discovery.

But what is a curandera?

Curanderismo is a healing art and curanderas/os are healers in the Latin American world. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.

Curandera practicing her healing

 

A curandera/o uses herbs, ointments, and cleansings to cure illness. They also conduct spiritual healings. Sage, sweetgrass, and copal are used to cleanse a house, a room, or a person of evil spirits and negative energy. 

A spiritual cleansing, limpia, and is often used by bunching together selected herbs into a small hand broom. This is whacked across the entire body and removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects.

Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb energies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens and there are some variances to the ritual dependent on what the client needs.

The Latin American community believes the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal and they are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involves a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. 

When I was a kid, most mothers knew of a local curandera. When a mother thought her baby was ill a visit to the curandera would be in order; the likely culprit was mal ojo (the evil eye).

In some countries like El Salvador the infant would be given a red bracelet to ward off mal ojo; in Mexico, the curandera passes an egg over the baby’s head and body.

Herbal remedies from curanderas were brought to the U.S (many were in the Southwest before it was part of the US) and these cures were passed on for generations.

When we were kids my mother didn’t take us to a curandera but she used Vicks Vaporub for fevers and colds. If we vomited or had a stomach ache we drank 7-Up or any other lemon-lime soda. There was a special tea for stomachaches and periods, a rice water mixture for diarrhea, and a few dozen more for colds, coughs, and other illnesses.

The use of candles and ointments are also part of curanderismo. In our house, there was always some candle burning for some ailment, loss, or protection.

The subject of curanderismo is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel featuring curanderas. The story also has alibrejes (spirit animals) and other magic realism elements. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel.

The blue Jaguar is a spirit animal in the novel

And curanderas are just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican healers. There are also specialists for massage and herbs. But that is for another post.

There are websites such as Erika Buenaflor who can give you more information on curanderismo as well as other healing practices. She is a modern day curandera. I wish I had known about her site three years ago when I started my writing project but better late than never.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

Encouragement, Writing

How to Murder a Draft, Resurrect A Better Story

 

 

Do you ever want to throw your work in progress away? Chuck the manuscript you’ve worked on for years?

If you’re a writer, you’ve been there and done that.

The last few months I’ve taken writing classes with an editor, Toni Lopopolo and her assistant, Lisa Angle. We’re a small group of writers who brave the weekly sessions with Toni and Lisa so we can become better writers.

I’ve learned I must swing a machete through a draft to become a better writer.

Wield your writing machete like Danny Trejo

Machete-wielding is a dirty job. You must be merciless. This will hurt, but it’s for your own good.

These tips will help you murder your draft:

  1. Pluck out backstory in the first pages.
  2. Delete the flowery prose that serves no purpose. This includes adverbs and -ing words.
  3. Hack out the ‘terrible 20‘ words that result in the passive voice.
  4. Throw away the ‘filler words.‘ They’re the excess fat.
  5. Cut out the numerous body parts “Her head swiveled,” “eyes squinted,” “eyebrows arched.”
  6. Take out stage directions disguised as physical movements.
  7. Remove events that don’t affect the goal. Either it doesn’t belong or the writer hasn’t communicated its importance.
  8. Slash the conversational dialogue.

These tips can revive your murdered or half-dead draft:

  1. Read “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne and Dave King, before you start your revisions.
  2. The story must start on the first page.
  3. Write in scenes. A scene has a beginning, middle, and end (mini-arc). Each scene must drive the story forward. Tips on how to write a scene.
  4. Events, characters, description all must mean something. Remember Chekov’s gun?
  5. Enter a scene with the story already in motion, then leave early with an important outcome left hanging.
  6. Put a comma before ‘said,’ and a period before or after an action.
  7. Add danger and desire for drama or tension.
  8. Pump in great dialogue that’s confrontational, with opposing agendas. This drives the story forward.

Check out Toni’s website and find many more tips.

I enjoyed this presentation: The Most Important Writing Skill to Master and ‘What is Voice.”

Thanks for reading, double thanks for sharing this post. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Writing

Write or Die-Valuable Tips to Keep Your Writing Alive

The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California
The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California

Write or die.

This is the message my October writing life sent me. To that end, I went on a writing retreat with my group, WOmen Who Write (WoWW), attended SCWBI’s Writer’s Day, enrolled in an online University of Iowa workshop (free), and attended the Los Angeles Writer’s Digest Conference.

I’m a little tired from all this, but I have to tell you about our writing retreat in Carlsbad, California and share some writing tips.

We, eight women, arrived at Casa Villaseñor by way of Airbnb, never expecting to meet the esteemed writer Victor Villasenor, author, and owner of the home. After producing nine novels, 65 short stories and close to 300 rejections, he sold his first novel, Macho!, which the Los Angeles Times compared to the best of John Steinbeck.

Rain of Gold became a national best-seller and translated into seven languages. Another of his books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I mention this about the author because his body of work evidences his persistence as a writer, the write or die philosophy.

We were surprised to find Mr. Villasenor on the grounds of the home. He was in another house (his casita) because he was finishing up a new novel. I can’t tell you what it’s about but I can say his joy of finishing the work was shared with all of us.

Through conversation, I picked up some valuable writing tips and I’m sharing these with you:

Every sentence needs to do one of the following:

  1. Scare the brain

  2. Touch the heart

  3. Inspire the soul

“Writing is about the moment, you are nowhere else, you are totally there…cause the person to live the moment with you.”-Victor Villaseñor

A few of us made a mad dash for our writing projects and examined our first pages. Sure enough, there was plenty of revision to work on.

The local chapter of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s (SCWBI) put on a “Writer’s Day,” at the Cal Lutheran University campus.

I attended a panel composed of literary agents and editors which I enjoyed. This is what they look for when they decide to read the first page of a Middle Grade or Young Adult work:

  1. Is the language child or teen-focused?
  2. Are there too many characters?
  3. Do I know whose story this is?
  4. Is the writer guilty of violating R.U.E? ( Resist the Urge to Explain)
  5. Where are we in the scene?
  6. Can I get a sense of the protagonist?
  7. Is the description embedded in action and dialogue?
  8. Do the details further the story?

If your first 250 words make it pass those eight questions the agent may read on to the next page. I venture to guess these tips apply to most fiction.

The esteemed University of Iowa, Writing Workshops has a free online course titled “Storied Women.” You can get a lot of writing bang for no bucks if you take this course. Although the course started Oct. 21, 2016, it doesn’t close until next month. You can still view the video’s and notes on voice, identity, point of view, plot, and structure.

 

Closer to home was the Writer’s Digest 2016 Writers Conference in downtown Los Angeles. I chose to drive into LA rather than stay at the storied Westin Bonaventure.

Friday traffic was crazy with the rain and the morning commute. The skyscrapers blended into the bleak sky, dark jackets and umbrellas scurried on the sidewalks.

On Saturday morning, the downtown was eerily quiet. No rain, no rushing, no noise.

The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.
The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.

I have to say, Writer’s Digest gives good workshops at a reasonable price. Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, presented last night. Alas, no photo of Ms. Smiley, but you can see some interesting photos of the Halloween Party (which I didn’t attend) on Twitter. Look under #WDNWC16. I do love the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Writer’s Block” costumes.

My favorite workshop was “Openings That Sell,” presented by literary agent and editor, Paula Munier.

“This is why I keep reading,” she began. Your first pages must have:

1-Strong voice

2-The level of craft is high

3-The character makes me feel something: there is an emotional impact in the first scene

4-Something happens (aka you have an inciting incident, a call to adventure)

5-A unique story or a story with a unique twist.

6-There’s a market for this story. 

7-The writer has gained my confidence and the page passes “the ahh test.” They provide a certain kind of experience.

8-It’s clear what kind of story is being told by the language.

9-The prose is clear, clean, and concise. Opt for clarity all the time.

10-Free of grammatical errors.

A great story is life, with the dull parts taken out-Alfred Hitchcock

Larry Brooks presented “The Most Important Moment in your Story.” There was a lot of material in this workshop about concept, premise, and the dramatic arc. He has a website, StoryFix.com, where you can visit and read all the good stuff he has for writers.

I hope you found some tips in this post to use or share.

Keep calm and write on.

Amazon Kindle, Character building, Encouragement, show don't tell, Writing, writing tips

Three Ways To Skyrocket Blah #Writing To Amazing

"Life in the Wall" project, by M. Ali, photo by Tim Green, flickr.com
“Life in the Wall” project, by M. Ali, photo by Tim Green, flickr.com

 

Last night I read my short story to an audience of 80+. My son, brother, and some friends came out to hear me read and accept my award, which made me a little nervous but their presence meant a lot to me. The positive comments afterward helped lift me up from the weariness I and other writers often experience since we usually work in isolation.

Most writers want to write AMAZING prose. Words so delicious that readers can’t wait to scoop up every tasty morsel and flip the page for more.

We want readers to feel emotion when we compose our sentences, to get goosebumps and shivers of excitement. We want readers to be inside the story. We want them to see what we see, hear what we hear, and be right where we are in our head.

Writers want to take the reader into the ghostly forest, a medieval castle, far-flung flung planet, or inside a prison.

So how do you amp up your writing?

  1. Describe what the characters experience without telling them the emotion, i.e. fright, sadness. Describe the sensory details. Use the five senses: Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. There are really six, but more about that one later.

    Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

 

This is my stack of books on writing. The ones by Stephen King, Ann Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg are hiding somewhere:

books on writing, books on revision
My Books on the Craft of Writing-www.alvaradofrazier.com

 

All of these are great books for the mechanics of writing but my go to book isn’t in that stack. It’s on my Kindle.

book on writing craft, emotions thesaurus, writers companion on character expression
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

This book describes the sixth sense: Emotions. There are 75 emotions described by the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. I also have the companion e-book called Emotional Amplifiers. (The latter book is free). 

2. Create compelling characters who have strengths and weaknesses, who are unique in their own way, and who have qualities worth rooting for or caring about. Show some physical characteristics, some language quirk and some personality. Give the reader a character worth remembering.

3. Create the mood by describing the setting. Again, the reader needs to be immersed in the story by visualizing the scene.

Here are some helpful tips on how to incorporate sensory details in your writing:

Creating sensory details in fiction
Tips for Creating Sensory Details

 

And here’s some handy tips for creating the mood of your scenes.

Tips on creating mood in stories
Tips on How to Describe and Create a Mood in Fiction Writing

 

These books, The Setting Thesaurus, aren’t out yet, but I’m watching Writers Helping Writers website for the launch date, which right now is June 13, 2016. I’m excited and marked my calendar for their arrival.

I’ve pinned these charts to my “Writing Tips-Fiction” on my Pinterest boards for future reference. You might want to do the same.