Monday, April 4, 2016


I am overjoyed to announce I won the Lumina fiction contest judged by Roxane Gay. My story "I, Succubus" is a little bruja tale, part of a longer series of bruja tales I've been working on. I probably have a enough for a collection, I don't know. I just love writing them. I was able to celebrate this weekend at AWP with most of the friends I love most. I am exhausted from AWP but damn, really really happy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

machete writing

I'm at the very end of my book and ay, it hurts in a really weird way. I've been in a strange dance of transition over the last few month, shifting away from old, harmful patterns of anxiety. One of the biggest gifts has been the writing. I've been working on the fantasy book(s) for five years. I started in 2011, I wrote a little more than 50,000 words. I was happy with the book, I cried in places, I fizzled in wonder at my own imagination. I was curious about my character's backstory, began sketching it out, then I knew: I had to write that book instead. I had to build the world, or let the world tell me how it wanted to be offered to the reader. I started that in 2012, and now, four years later, I'm finally finishing it and ay, the grief.

I'm not a fast writer. I can be, when I write short stories they pour out of me so fast that sometimes I have a hard time keeping up. I've stopped writing poetry. But the novel writing process has been an unraveling, a process of finding each thread in the story, asking how to weave it into place. The story is weaving, the writer unravels. I say that as I've had to strip away so much of what I thought I wanted and trust that it would work out. I unravel, I am denuded. I've had to learn to really trust myself and that has been the hardest part of all. We are born trusting and somewhere along the way it is taken from us.

I think one of the scariest things about this is that I feel so incredibly alone in the journey. I feel like I have the machete in hand. I'm trying to do something new. I want to take a step forward but first, I machete. Idea: machete. World-building machete, machete, machete. Characters, machete. Fear, machete. I know I'm not alone, that story is as old as the first curious eyes that wondered at the world, but this particular story is mine. That's hard. I'm trying to do something I don't think has been done, at least not that I'm aware of.

I haven't talked much about what I've been writing, at least not online because I've been protective of it, scared to tell the world what I'm doing in case I fail, or in case there are hungry eyes who want to satiate themselves in theft. I know all writing, and especially a lot of fantasy, is derivative. And I'm writing the book I wanted, the book I needed as a young adult.

The world I'm writing is fantastical, but instead of being informed or inspired by the popular fantasy I was enamored with (am still infatuated with,) I'm writing a world informed by my ancestral cultures. Mesoamerican. Indigenous. I say informed and not inspired because I've made the active choice to attempt to create the magic, spiritual and social systems, not take or "borrow" anything from living or transitioned cultures. Those aren't my stories to tell, not right now, maybe not ever. But the landscape is home, the jungles and deserts, the ancient cities built by astronomers to reflect back the stories the stars dictated, the temples, the clans. I've inhabited my world with characters who look like me, my family. Brown skin, dark eyes, dark hair. The magic/spirituality is based on elemental magic. The magical creatures are echoes of the land, my Jaguar women, my desert Fire Warriors, the shamanic lineage my protagonist is born into. Matriarchy. Balance. Unrest. Prophecy. Loss.

I'm proud of the work I've done. I've written some really good shit. And I know I have work to do. The story and writing is only one part of the work. My fears are real and probably something all writers face. I don't know if the world of readers will respond. I can hope they do if/when this book is offered to an audience. This story is what I wanted when I was growing up: a story in a world where I could place myself without having to change my skin color, eye color, a mythic fiction where I felt I belonged.

There have been a ton of conversations right now about diversity in literature, and along with those conversations, especially lately, there have been dialogues about cultural appropriation. Because I'm writing a world of indigeneity, I am hyper-aware of appropriation. There are places, most likely, where I have fallen short. But the big things, the rituals, the belief systems, the archetypes I've tried to build, have been shaped to not appropriate. I hope. All I can do  in this moment is hope. And hire beta readers who will tell me where I've fallen short. I will listen. And do the work.

I love the world I've built. I love the clans. Utan, Airan, Ilkan, Ka-Lit. Dreamer. The temple city of Alcanzeh, the wider landscape of Mita. I love Indir, my gentle protagonist who has been thrown into a chaos she wants nothing to do with. Her two big secrets, one that can change the wider world, and one that changes her on a deep, personal level. Her two sisters, Delu and Zeri and the strange, often beautiful triangles of sisterhood. I love my bad guys, their complications are human and cruel. I love my magical creatures, stunning Ilkan Raru of the Jaguar clan who is all instinct and emotion. I love the strange little character Dua who showed up and fucks shit up in the greatest of ways. All the little seeds I've tried to plant along the way, watching them take root and grown. Pounding the plant against stone to extract the fibers, the combing and washing, the thread-making and weaving. The stones of the temples, the altars. The Songs. The ceremonies of birth, death and everything before, during, after.

I'm in grief. The breaking of the shell, the vulnerability of saying Yes, world, I followed my dream and now I'm going to offer it to you. I'm a ways away still, there are edits I need to make but the heart of it is there;  it is a true heart, my heart. And then the process of shifting from writing to the business side of it, trying to find an agent who believes in the work and all that can possibly follow. I'm grateful to be at the end of this project at a time when there are dialogues about diversity. The timing seems divine, but perhaps (yes, if I believe my own stories and I do,) all timing is.

Here's the song that made me want to write this book.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Cantinas, Swooning and the Fermented Fat of Endangered Species

My dad sent me to Mexico this weekend as an early birthday gift, to surprise my grandmother for her birthday. I haven't been to the ranch alone in years and I was thrilled. I'm near the end (at last! at last!) of my fantasy novel and was looking forward to calm days of writing on the patio. Ha. Ha ha.

Turns out grandma was in LA. I had the house to myself for a couple of days before she arrived Saturday. Perfect. Time to write, wander, allow myself the indulgence of true Mexican time, where a day lasts a week, punctuated by mealtimes and gossip. The first night I sat up late on the patio, writing, every cell in me thrumming with the joy of being in my ancestral homeland. In the morning I got up early (or late, by ranch determination, the sun was up, cows milked, cheese cooling. . ) and wrote some more. Went to town with a cousin. Spent time with an aunt and the former-arch nemesis of my grandmother. I discovered that my great-grandmother used to run a cantina in the village! There was no electricity back then so it was lit by gasoline lanterns. One of my great-uncles was in charge of the music, he changed the records on what sounded to me like a freaking Victrola. My uncle described it as a record player with a large horn attached to it, so yeah, Victrola. I must investigate more next trip down.

I spent only a little time in the fields. The weather is unseasonably hot for February so the men were frantic with the beans, trying to get them picked before they dry out. They were sucking the river dry to keep the chiles hydrated as well. I rode on a tractor a bit, just because, then stretched out in a rope hammock and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the leaves above me getting it on with the wind. We went home just before sunset.

Then I got sick. My lungs started aching, burning. My grandmother's former arch-nemesis insisted I needed just a couple of teaspoons of fermented sea turtle fat and I'd be fine; she knew a woman who knew a woman. . . What you do is take the fat from a sea turtle and pour it into an empty coconut. You bury the coconut for a week, don't bury it so deep the heat from the sun won't hit it, it needs the warmth to ferment. After seven days, dig it up, bottle it and cure everything that ails the lungs. I, of course, said no thank you. I can handle a cold but the guilt of sucking down the lipids of an endangered species? Not so much.

The next morning I woke up feeling like I'd been UFC fighting in my dreams. Add to that the lovely polyester sheets I was sleeping in, I was miserable. My cousin took me to town to see a doctor. Doctors in Mexico are so damn affordable. I paid 30 pesos, about $2 to see the doc. He listened to my lungs, symptoms and told me I had an upper respiratory infection. He gave me a syrup for the cough that would soon come and then told me to go to the pharmacy next door and get an injection, an anti-inflammatory injection.

I've been getting shots in the ass for years. When I lived in San Miguel de Allende 2003/4, we used to get vitamin b-12 shots before nights of partying, for energy and hangover prevention. My doctor here injects me with anti-inflammatory shots when I get sick too. No big deal, right? The nurse at the pharmacy had me lift my dress, swabbed me with alcohol and injected me. It hurt. I could feel the liquid seeping into the muscle, it ached. I shook my leg a bit to move the medicine then I got hot. Fever hot. Hot-flash hot. And dizzy. The world went fuzzy, I leaned on the counter and said Estoy mareada and then I fainted. I came-to in a chair, my cousin fanning me with a cardboard box while the nurse was trying to get me to sip pedialyte. I had never fainted before, it was very 19th century of me to do so, in a maxi dress, in another language.

The sickness took over anyway, despite the swooning injection and cough syrup. My grandmother arrived that afternoon and we had a party. I wasn't really a part of the "we" though. I was wrapped in polyester sheets, alternating between sweats and chills, coughing and fever-dreaming. Of course my family hired a band and they were set up right outside my window. Thus my fever-dreams had a soundtrack, featuring an accordion. All the aunts and cousins made a show of checking on me, coming in to touch whatever part of me wasn't wrapped in purple polyester to declare, ah, yes, she's sick. I was diagnosed with everything from mal aire, bad air, to pregnancy, to the dengue chikunkuya. I was told I'd be sick for months, or that it would pass if I just took a linty pill scrounged from the bottom of a purse. At one point I woke up the sound of a cat screaming from having it's claws ripped out but it turned out it was only a cousin, drunk on three bottles of Two-Buck-Chuck, serenading my grandmother with the help of the band.

Around midnight my grandmother came in and declared that my mother would forever hold her responsible if I died on her watch so I had to go home. Plane tickets were arranged and I got home last night. The sickness, of course, has now almost passed from my body. It was lovely to sleep in my own bed, Hari beside me. We took an hour to sit on our balcony and talk before bed, as we do. My happiest of places.

A few interesting threads I cannot right now weave into the longer narrative:

The village, normally tiny, has about doubled in population with migrant workers from Southern Mexico. They sleep in huts literally made from black garbage bags. Entire families going into the fields at dawn, returning after sunset. Many don't speak Spanish, they speak an indigenous language from their home. At night they play music, singing in their language, dancing. They don't interact much with the locals, sending their children to buy the few things they need from the women in town who sell eggs and slaughter chickens.

My grandmother's former arch-nemesis told me about giving birth to a breech baby. She figured out the baby was breech when she was washing clothes in the river and felt something odd between her legs. A baby foot. Hanging out of her vagina. She pushed it back in, kept washing clothes and resigned herself to a difficult birth later that night.

The cousin of a cousin died after receiving an injection at the same pharmacy where I received mine. They injected him and he fell to the ground immediately. The doctor came out, looked at him and said "He's dead."

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Quietest Year

2015 has been my quietest year on this blog since I started posting years ago. Busy year and quiet year, moving into this adult phase of living, partnership, solid plans and growth. Oh the growth is a motherfucker, this year wasn't easy in many places, I had quite a few dark days, probably more like weeks and months wherein I cycled downward into a grief I didn't understand. It wasn't a specific. I know biochemically I'm prone to depression and anxiety but this felt more, to quote a friend, an initiation. I came out softer and wiser. This artist/seeker/bruja/storykeeper/dreamer path is humbling as fuck. And also ecstatic. I wouldn't trade it.

The writing this year has been the best of my life. I have stories bubbling up in me that feel channeled at times. I look back at the writing and think "Wait, what? I wrote that?" I'm publishing more. I'm finally at peace with a struggle I've been struggling with for years. I had so much fear and impostor syndrome over being a writer outside of academia, community college dropout, no MFA, no piece of paper telling the world I followed a set of rules that spit me out on the other side "writer." This year I'm grateful I don't have any of that shit, I wouldn't be writing the stories I'm writing had I gone down that academic path. It wasn't for me and I think a program would have hurt me.  I'm sure it makes lots of people happy but here, in the sidelines and with a partner in an MFA program I see the writing on the wall. There will be a backlash against MFA programs and I think, the idea of college/university in general. I call it.

H is wonderful and happy in his program and he works his ass off. I work my ass off too, but in different ways. We're both writing a ton, sharing work, celebrating each success, nodding at the small disappointments and moving along, in our love/life/passions. I wouldn't be writing the stories I'm writing if it weren't for our late night balcony conversations. Wine, wind in the bamboo, Meow-Meow the alley cat back and forth between our feet. H and I go places in those conversations, not always, but often enough that I've come to count on them for sparks and inspiration. Stories and poems are born with a line one of says, with a memory tossed around, with wormhole talks that take us places we didn't even know we wanted to go.

The other day my sister called me to come over to her house. She had a story for me, one of the first stories I wrote in 1990, I was 11 years old. I wrote about becoming a butterfly but almost no one saw me and if they did, they called me a liar. Oh sweet little 1990 Lizz, impostor syndrome even then, invisible, wanting to see my wings/beauty/uniqueness recognized. In the story I fly up to a cloud and sit on it to cry. A blue jay comes and asks me not to cry anymore and tells me to eat a piece of cloud if I want to turn back into a little girl. The bird flies away. I eat the cloud and transform back into a child and go home. When I get home my mom hands me a butterfly made of crystal and tells me a blue jay dropped it off.

I laughed and cried when I read the story, remembering how invisible and ugly and sad I felt at that age, trying to cling to the invented magic of childhood, the secret world I inhabited because this world was too much for my tender heart.  And oof, the blue jay, the messenger dropping off a reminder to me of who I really was. I was in the myth of it, even then. Confirmation this is a long path, a long game, and worth it.

This year I restarted Brujas y Bellas Writing circle. What a gift to cycle back to. ByB back in the day met on Tuesday nights, mostly girlfriends and we drank wine and read poems and bitched and cried, chismeando and joyous. This time I structured it more, meeting Sundays during church hours, our holy time for writing and sharing. The group was mostly women of color, diverse in background. We had everything from a high school student to academics to elders and spiritual teachers. Every single one wanted to write. I structured it so that we had time to check in with each other, clear space, write, share and dialogue. (Being in a relationship with someone who teaches arts facilitation was invaluable in structuring it, thanks H!) When the session finished last week we were all sad to let go. It was something to look forward to and we all connected. I'm going to start it up again in January.

I finished a story yesterday that gutted me. Dark and vulnerable, I had to get up and walk away from the computer at times. But I love it, I do. I have quite a few stories in the chute right now, some start and fizzle out but others are patient, waiting for me to be ready for them. Every day I'm more ready.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Whole 30 Complete, now give me my corn

Today H and I finish our Whole 30 thing. It both feels like it lasted way too long and it flew by. 30 days cigarette-free is a record for H. H got all the benefits, he's glow-y as fuck, has lost all the bloat, beer weight, and has toddler-like energy. I did not get all the benefits, even though I did lose some bloat. I have hives on my face, so lovely, and crazy eczema all over my legs. I've been exhausted and pretty damn cranky/weepy. So it goes. We learned some habits and unlearned a few more. My ancestors are riled up, showing up in my dreams like: "Puta, we are the people of the motherfucking corn, eat your corn."

Tonight I drink wine. Tomorrow I eat corn.

I did learn I can be the queen of willpower. Mom made tamales chiapanecos, and I didn't eat one. Probably because she made pasteles at the same time and I gorged on those, with atypical carb-starved wildness. The family had a birthday dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant and I didn't eat anything with soy or black beans or sugar or cornstarch, a miracle.

Glad it's over. Though the entire family is doing the Whole 30 again in November, I'll probably join them. Thought it might be more like the Whole 20 because if anyone thinks I'm not going to have stuffing they have another thing coming.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Whole 30, Day 5

My angry busker isn't angry or busking anymore. I guess it must be true that nicotine only lives for three days in the body and after it passes, the cravings are emotional. I, on the other hand, am still living with a sugar monster on my back, especially at my morning coffee.

Coffee is something I've been drinking my whole life. I used to spend a lot of time with my Puerto Rican grandparents when I was a little girl and coffee was part of our morning rituals. I'd sit on the high, wicker-backed chair at the counter while my grandmother brewed coffee and my grandfather sliced French bread. I loved our mornings together, they're some of my favorite memories from childhood. My grandparents had a chicken coop out back and my sister and I would go out in the mornings to find the shit-covered eggs, still feather-warm, and bring them int the house. While the coffee was brewing my grandmother would put a small, enamel pot filled with milk on and watch it carefully to make sure it didn't bubble over. I remember her sticking her finger into the pot to catch the skin on the top of milk and licking it off her finer. I tasted it once and hated it. She'd pour coffee into a mug for me, stir in heated milk and then pour in coffee. Heaven. My grandfather would sit next to me and dip pieces of bread into my sugary coffee and feed them to me. I loved the taste of sweet, milky coffee. Even as an adult, that first sip of coffee, the acid balanced out with sugar, reminds me of being deeply loved.

So emotional attachment to sugar. My parents didn't really have a lot of sugar in the house, because my sisters and I would attack and destroy it, we weren't allowed soda or candy. It didn't matter too much because we lived in such a Mexican neighborhood and Mexican candy isn't too sweet. It is spicy and salty and that was, and probably is, my favorite flavor. Even now, at 36, I have bags of Mexican candy squirreled away here at the apartment. 

Last night I was what H and I called "Roam-y." I was restless, un-still. All I wanted was to roam, in my thoughts, in my body. I wanted dark chocolate, something artisan, probably salty. Instead I munched on cashews and self-hated. I'm still having trouble falling asleep. The weather has been stupidly hot and humid and I have hated the feeling of my own skin touching my own skin. Yeah, not normal. I've been spreading out like a starfish so my legs don't touch each other, so my arms don't touch my body. Showering multiple times a day. I'm tired a lot, physically, even though I feel mentally sharp. My body still aches.

Eh, it'll pass. I know this first week is supposed to be the most challenging as my body adjusts to the shifts in my consumption. Next week will be better. I'm heading to Chicago for a few days to see a friend and will have to plan my meals while traveling, and have no deep dish pizza, which doesn't sound that appealing anyway. As long as I can have a Jibarito  (without cheese or mayo) I'll be ok.

Also, H is amazing at this. He is so damn good, to me, as always. Making me breakfast, coffee with coconut milk, packing my lunch every day. Now, even over three years into our relationship I look at him sometimes and think "Who ARE you and why are you so incredible?" 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Whole 30 Day 3

(haven't blogged in a while for various reasons but here, this is something.)

Day 3: That lovely just hit by a bus feeling is all up in me today. Second night of tossing and turning, turbulent dreams filled with ex-lovers and the ex-lovers of former friends leading me through the deserted streets of places we used to live. Everyone else who writes about this Whole 30 writes about meals and bloating, food prep and energy levels, I am engorged with metaphors, of course.

H and I decided to W30 after seeing my parents, sister and bro-in-law complete it last month. They were all dewy, flat-bellied and bright and we too wanted that self-righteous glow in our eyes as we turned down the offered brownies. Yes, we are (were?) ridden by the beasts of grain, sugar, dairy and alcohol but also, we smoke. Yuck! Ew! Nasty! Yes, all of that. But we’ve justified our relationship with tobacco by weaving it into our love story, long nights on our balcony surrounded by smoke and poetry, wine stained mouths. Cigarettes smoked on rooftops, rebel postured, all last-century glam; we hang in the green smoking section of our local bar where the really interesting conversations happen. But I want to live a long life composed of deep breaths and I want the same for H. We’re struggling.

The first day was okay. I’m not as addicted to the smoke as H is, I‘ve gone for long periods without any butts in my life. H, on the other hand, smokes like a film noir sad guy. He decided he needed something to distract himself when the cravings hit, he chose juggling. It’s like living with a busker on the edge of a breakdown. He juggles a tennis ball and two lacrosse balls in our living room while clenching a popsicle stick between his teeth for the oral fixation. I sit on the sofa and plan imaginary vacations and brood while he drops balls and yells.

The first night was hellish. We always enjoy an evening libation and both tossed and turned all night, sheets got twisty. We growled at each other several times in the night, not the good kind of growls. We woke up droopy, exhausted but determined to go it another day. Lots of juggling. Lots of deep breaths and avocados. Lots of me peeking at the “before” pics on my phone and wondering when I allowed myself to make the decision to only buy pants with elastic waistbands.

God, we’re eating a lot of eggs. And this whole no dairy or sugar in our coffee is for the birds, but I get it. The other meals are easy enough, I happen to be a great cook so I’ve whipped up spiralized zucchini noodles, ghee and caper whitefish, frittatas that would made Martha wink and other edible things that don’t taste like Pinterest. I know the food is supposed to be the focus but everything I read talks about the food hardly anyone talks about the FEELINGS. I’m experiencing motherfucking turmoil.

Last night, the end of Day 2, we were beasts. We ate. H settled in to get his teaching notes finalized, he starts teaching today, a lit class and a creative writing class, plus he starts the last year of his MFA. I brooded, I have discovered I am exceptional at brooding. I am also exceptional at draping myself all over the sofa in various positions that convey malaise. Very 19th century heroine of me. When we tried to go to bed all of our small aggressions coalesced and we were snappy with each other. My body was aching, H threw out his neck. We decided to sleep in separate rooms so our various physical maladies wouldn’t collide in the night. I kept rearranging my pillows like a frantic gerbil in a new cage. I was angry at my sheets for wrinkling beneath my body, didn’t they know how fragile I was? Then into dreaming, another night of all my cravings showing up as specters from my past. I bellowed at my alarm when it went off, like a baby mastodon watching it’s mama get sucked into a tar pit.

Another day. Yay veggies. I want a thick cup of honeyed yogurt, but I’ll settle for coconut milk and chia pudding with raspberries. I want to devour a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips but I’ll crunch my teeth on jicama instead. I want to swirl mouthful after mouthful of dark, red wine but I’ll squeeze lemon into hot water instead and think about letting go. I want to put my legs up on our balcony railing and light an American Spirit, inhale that first delicious lungful and exhale it as a prayer to the stars, watching the smoke shape itself into disappearing faces as it makes its way up to the heavens, but instead I’ll just breathe. Letting go sucks, but I’m pretty sure holding on is worse.