Guest Blogger: Laura A. H. Elliott Talks About Writing Latinas and Mariachis

Laura_ElliottWhen fear’s as blind as love, how far would you go to find your happily ever after? Winnemucca is a story about a teenage girl’s enchanted road trip to her true self. The main character, Ginny, is Latina but has grown up in a largely non-Hispanic culture. Nonetheless, she is drawn to the cultural roots that run in her blood and her road trip is a means of allowing that part of her to blossom. In this excerpt from Winnemucca, Ginny is on the road with Las Rosas Rojas y Adoradads, a group of mariachis:

 

Morena De Mi Amor was my fingers’ favorite, once they got tough enough. It turned out my fingers and my strings understood darkness the best. Morena means darkness––the song means, The Darkness of Love. I lost myself in The Darkness of Love, the world of rodeo, of mariachi music, of Las Rosas Rojas y Adoradas and sleeping under the stars. The stars twinkled just as bright in Avenal, but sleeping under them the way I did every night on the road with Las Rosas, it was like I’d never really seen stars before. By the end of my time with the boys at our last rodeo, any and everything Carlos said tormented me in new ways.

“Mija,” he’d say, “you know what rodeo means?”

I rolled my eyes, sick of the way he liked to play with me.

“It’s from the Spanish rodear. It means to circle,” Carlos said.

He said circle like he knew the power circles had over me and my family. I felt as much a prisoner as ever. Maybe he was reminding me that it wasn’t in my nature to be free. Carlos sensed my misery. I could tell by the way his sad eyes wanted to say something but didn’t quite know how. But there’s only so many things a man can share with a woman. I still knew exactly what I wanted. But as time wore on it was as though Espy had slipped through my fingers like my sacred dirt. And then, it happened.

Carlos said, “Your father never gave your mother a single red rose, did he?”

“No,” I said, part-angry, part-bewitched, willing Carlos to dig up what had been buried.

“La Güera, Dios Mio, was a great lover of them. She grew two hundred different kinds, as many as she could find seeds for. She collected them. Each rose smelled better than the last. Enchanting, in fact. She had surrounded herself with them for so many years that their scent permeated her skin. For this reason alone, I keep them with me constantly.”

Carlos bit his lip as a person does when they speak of things they shouldn’t and raised his eyes to the sky like God, Himself, might strike him down.

Carlos hopped into his van and after a few minutes he stepped out more stooped over than before, wearing a sombrero, a pair of jeans with fringed leather chaps, armitas he called them, and a white pressed shirt with a lariat of braided rawhide in one hand. “I found myself surrounded in the jungle,” Carlos said.

I barely recognized Carlos out of his mariachi outfit.

“I’d been captured. By cannibals,” He looked off at the rodeo where a man rode a bull so violently I was certain he’d fly off, head-over-heels. “They had me surrounded. Truly, I was overpowered.” Carlos turned toward me and our eyes locked in a gaze that turned hypnotic. “For days I didn’t know if I would be their next meal. When I’d be their next meal. They kept me in a cage. Feeding me. Staring at me. All I had was my guitar, you see. And so I played. They never took it from me. It was because they hadn’t seen anything like it. I played and played and it saved me. My dear, what I’m telling you is I didn’t know if I would live or die. And I’m telling you, they let me go.” His eyes brightened.

I held my vihuela close to my chest.

“You don’t understand,” Carlos said, “but soon, you will. Blood finds blood,” he handed me the lariat and had the same eyes-to-the-horizon look Daddy got when nothing good was about to happen. I swung my vihuela behind me and held onto the lariat with both hands, letting one end spiral down into the dirt.

******

Although I didn’t grow up in Latin America, I did grow up in Latin America. My father worked in many countries including El Salvador, The Dominican Republic and Venezuela. While most kids read Dick and Jane at school, Dad brought home Topo Gigio books in Spanish, along with steel drums, mariachi records and amazing stories. I loved my Topo Gigio books and particularly loved them because they weren’t cut in the shape of every other book of the time. The books were cut in the shape of Topo Gigio, the mouse. I loved flipping their mouse-shaped pages. But, I loved Mom’s and Dad’s stories the best.

The exotic sensibilities and fantastic stories that whirled around our family dinner table were nothing unusual for me. Neither were the many guests from far-away places that sat around our dinner table. Yet, as I grew up, it became clear that my family’s experiences were unusual. I bring these same sensibilities to my stories.

I am a first generation American, on my father’s side. Americans, I believe, are uniquely able to tell multicultural stories because we all come from somewhere else. There are so many parts to us. In my own stories, I like to explore the parts of myself that I don’t know. Perhaps parts we are all in search of. I play with the idea that the ancestors we don’t know can follow us into the future and meet up with us somehow. I never knew my father’s mother and father. And I guess, because I knew my other set of grandparents so well, there was an ache in my heart. Like Ginny, my main character, there are parts of me I will never really know, but want to. Like Ginny, I didn’t know my heritage until relatively recently. My uncle liked to comfort me by saying if I ever want to know the grandparents I never knew, all I need to do is look at my palm. Or look at my own face in the mirror. They are there.

I think the most amazing thing about stories that include characters from other cultures or planets is that the best parts of these stories, IMHO, usually involve our common bond. Our shared humanity. In Winnemucca, assumptions are challenged and wisdom is gained through a multicultural prism which throws a light on the concept of freedom and forgiveness.

Read the first chapter of Winnemucca here:

 http://laurasmagicday.wordpress.com/excerpts/

 View Winnemucca’s trailer here:

http://laurasmagicday.wordpress.com/winnemucca-trailer/

 I have a blog called Laurasmagicday [http://laurasmagicday.wordpress.com]. On my blog, as in my novels, I like to focus on the magic of the every day. Next to love, I don’t believe there is anything more magical than a story. The way it lifts people out of themselves. The power it has to transform.

 My next book Thirteen on Halloween, a story about a girl’s birthday wish that goes horribly wrong, will be released this September for The Kindle on Amazon. This first book in the coming-of-age fantasy series explores popularity and what it means to have it all. Thanks for having me guest post on your blog Alicia. It’s was a lot of fun!

 You can read more about Laura at her website http://www.authorlaura.com

On Twitter: @Laurawriting

Or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Laura.A.H.Elliott

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Comments   

 
0 #14 Laura A. H. Elliott 2011-09-06 17:54
Thanks for stopping by Heather! And thanks for your kind words about Winnemucca. I hope you enjoy the story.
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0 #13 Heather Cashman 2011-09-06 17:17
It was good to get to know you better. I love the pic. It really helps me when I can put faces to these names. Your story sounds great.
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0 #12 Laura 2011-08-30 07:37
Glad Grandma liked the Mariachi thread in the story:) Be sure to tell her hello from me :) And thanks again for having me on your wonderful blog!
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0 #11 Alicia McCalla 2011-08-29 23:19
Laura, my grandmother was so excited about your post when I told her it dealt with Mariachi music. Lots of people have a soft spot. Cool beans. :D
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0 #10 Alicia McCalla 2011-08-29 23:17
Kendall, I had no idea that you were Italian American. How cool is that! Let me know when you all decide to visit Italy again and the McCallas will go with you all. :lol:
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0 #9 Alicia McCalla 2011-08-29 23:16
Hi Sharon:

Laura has a great story. I'm glad she decided to share her post. Hoping that I have more awesome guests like Laura.
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+1 #8 Laura A. H. Elliott 2011-08-29 18:05
Dear Saralee,

Thanks for your kind words. It must have been a big adjustment to move back to The States at 14, you were a Freshman, huh? Now, there's a story! Mariachi music is fascinating. Its history goes back to the introduction of the guitar by the Spanish to the native people of Latin America. Mariachi music is rich in storytelling. Lydia Mendoza was one of my touchstones for one of my characters. If you want to read about her, I wrote about her here: http://laurasmagicday.livejournal.com/261767.html
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+1 #7 Saralee Etter 2011-08-29 17:30
Sounds like a really interesting story, Laura! I grew up in Mexico--my family moved there when I was 7 years old, and we moved back to the States when I was 14--so I have a soft spot in my heart for Mariachis and Mexican culture.

Best of luck to you!
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0 #6 Laura A. H. Elliott 2011-08-29 16:50
Kendall, Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Sounds like you have a story there too! It's so great that you took your kids with you to meet your relatives. How happy that they are still alive and able to share stories with you. What a gift!
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0 #5 Laura A. H. Elliott 2011-08-29 16:49
Glad you stopped by!
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