Nuestras Voces, Our Voices

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices

Emerging Latina writers talk about their work

I decided to start  the "Nuestras Voces, Our Voices" series of guest blog posts by emerging Latina writers (of all genres) because if it is hard for Latinos to be heard among the voices of mainstream writers, it is doubly hard for Latinas. You might be tempted to think we are mute.

Part of it has to do with our upbringing. which more often than not tells us we should be self-effacing and modest. So we swallow our stories.

Sometimes we choose to go silent because our Latino hermanos take up all the air in the room. "At least they're getting heard," is what we say to ourselves then. "After them, it'll be our turn."

But it never seems to be.

Our stories —and those of our mothers and grandmothers — have mostly been heard in the company of other women: around the kitchen table, as we are making tortillas or tamales together, or when we are sharing a tequilazo or a cerveza on a night out with our comadres. 
Or whispered from ear to ear, mother to daughter and friend to friend.

And it turns out we have an astonishing set of voices. Voices resonant with joy, shadowed by harrowing experience, mysterious like a flare of light over unknown features. Proud, amazing, Latina writer voices.

I know, I've heard those whispers.

So I'm flexing my prerogative as an older Latina writer — you know the type, bossy and loudly insistent —to help as many people as I can reach hear the beautiful voices of my younger hermanas.

Think of the "Nuestras Voces, Our Voices" series as an incantation from the smoky depths of the cocina or cantina. You haven't heard these words before, and what they call up ... well, it's our magic.

— Sabrina Vourvoulias, 2013

Lisa Bradley, Iowa City

Lisa writes speculative fiction and poetry. She has work forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Mythic Delirium. Originally from South Texas, she now lives in Iowa with her spouse, child, and two cats. Her latest project is a weekly blog series, "Writing Latin@ Characters Well." She listened to "Why We Build the Wall" (from Anaïs Mitchell's album Hadestown) nonstop as she wrote the following essay.


I think about borders. A lot.

It's probably natural, considering I grew up in South Texas, just minutes away from the international border. Once when I was young and living with my grandparents, a couple of men came to our door. Wet, ragged. Exhausted, wary. I fetched Gram and after speaking with them for a few minutes, she went to the kitchen and put together leftovers in aluminum foil for them, then tersely sent them on their way. I remember being surprised that my grouchy grandmother was giving food to apparent strangers. She didn't even like it when I served myself too large a glass of milk. I asked her who those men were, and she said they'd just crossed the river. She was pensive the rest of the day.

"The river" was, of course, the Rio Grande. I was amazed that the men had crossed a river without a boat, that they were on the run. I tried to imagine how scared and excited they were to be in another country, to be doing something illegal. I hoped they got away.

Another time, I went to Bentsen State Park with my family. The river runs right alongside the park, and when I looked across the sunny water, I saw sparse trees, some happy, relaxed goats, some people. I remember thinking, "That's Mexico. Those are Mexican goats. Those are Mexican people." I had to tell myself, because otherwise I wouldn't believe. The land over there looked exactly the same as on the American side. So did the goats. So did the people. We waved to each other. "That's Mexico" I told myself, trying to make it real. Trying to believe.

Living in Iowa hasn't diminished my interest in borders. If anything, the physical distance has brought the concept of borders into sharper focus. The novel I'm revising now is set in a west Texas town that's been quarantined after an industrial accident. The town is surrounded by watchtowers, an electrified fence, and a trench. The residents trapped inside protect themselves from violent neighbors by building barricades and booby-traps. Before long, it's impossible to tell who is fenced off and who is trapped inside, who the walls protect and who they keep out.

Even when I'm not writing about physical or geographic borders, I'm thinking about the hazy lines that divide one community from the next, one cause from another, one persona from the multiple voices inside our heads. I like to find chinks in the fences. My blog series "Writing Latin@ Characters Well" is an attempt to help non-Latin@ writers nudge under the fence of Thou Shalt Nots that discourages them from writing the Other.

A friend asked me to write specifically about the differences between what (conversations) the Latin@ community shares among themselves and what it shares with outsiders. This is the kind of question I love, but perhaps I am the wrong person to answer it. After all, I am so fond of transgressing. Is there anything I keep solely to mis compadres? Or even mis comadres? And if I can't keep private matters private, am I likely to be trusted by the community I seek to represent?

In How to Tame a Wild Tongue, Gloria Anzaldúa wrote, "being Mexican has nothing to do with which country one lives in. Being Mexican is a state of soul — not one of mind, not one of citizenship. Neither eagle nor serpent, but both. And like the ocean, neither animal respects borders."

By this definition, I am Mexican through and through, from one liminal "end" to an infinite number of other quasi-endpoints. My fascination with gaps in the walls, with crossing rivers fences laws, is not a barrier to but an illustration of my belonging to this group.

So maybe I'm a fine person to ask "what is shared and what kept hidden in Latin@ communities?" I'll poke at the question the same way I do all the fences blocking my view. I may not find an answer, but man…

It'll be fun tearing down the wall.

— L.B.

Melissa Fontanez, Philadelphia

Melissa is working on a collection of poetry and her first novel. Her poem, "four ways of looking at the moon," was published in the chapbook Something in the Water. Books, photography and music consume her life but the love for her family shines the brightest. 

Picking at threads

If you pay attention and listen to the world around you, the magic of inspiration is not hard to find.

My poetry reflects emotions, thoughts and feelings I have swirling around inside. The light touch of a breeze sliding along my skin. Standing under a tree at night, staring up at the moon. Watching my daughter purse her lips and the tufts of dandelion floating away with her wish. Listening to the stark quiet of a winter’s day. Admiring the vibrancy and rustle of fall leaves. The pleasure and pain of love. It all speaks to me and has me running for the nearest pen and paper, trying to capture it all. Writing poetry also helps me work out things that may be bothering me, or a way to remember all the good.

The novel I’m working on started with one red thread.

Each member of the writing workshop I belong to was told to close our eyes as our instructor placed a thread in each of our hands. I opened my eyes, ran my finger over it lightly until I started to write. From that prompt, came one of my main characters, Ines. She picked at the thread on her sweater, as she anxiously waited for some news. I can’t tell you what that is; you’ll just have to read all about it when I’ve finished the book, but just that simple, lone thread inspired me to do something I thought I never would.

I won’t sit here and say it’s always easy. Any writer can tell you that. I battle with loving and hating my work. For the longest time it was hard for me to even share it with others. It is a very vulnerable position to be in, but there is nothing else I would rather do.

I can only hope that someone will read my work and be able to identify with it in some way. That’s always my favorite part when I’m reading; to be able to connect with the words and find your voice.

So be open, to everything, and see where it takes you. 

— M. F.

Sujeiry Gonzalez, Los Angeles

 Sujeiry is a relationship expert, coach, author, and freelance writer and editor. Get relationship advice and view coaching packages on

Writing as therapy

Writing is my therapy. Instead of giving thousands of dollars to a therapist to dissect my innermost fears, I lay them out on the page. This is why my writing is so raw and honest. This is why many readers of Love Trips: A Collection of Relationship Stumbles — my first published book where I reveal my relationship woes — ask me in awe, "How can you share so much?" 

I do put it all out there. Read a few pages of Love Trips and you’ll learn about the bad sex that I've had, that I've willingly participated in drunk dialing sessions, and that I have severe abandonment issues stemming from my philandering, Dominican papi. 

Yet, I don't ever feel exposed. 

I write as if I were writing in a journal, as if the words and stories I create are just for me. I write without guilt or shame because I am not guilt-ridden or ashamed of the many mistakes that I have made and repeated. I write with candidness, openness, and humor because I am candid, open, and humorous. 

My writing is an extension of me. 

And so I utilize my voice, my experiences, my imagination, and my personality in my work. 

It is what makes my writing mine. 

It's not brain surgery. I don't have a magical writing process that leads me to create entertaining and well-received content. Although, I do have a knack for remembering the annoying details of every man I've ever dated. I am also very skilled in the art of introspection, which allows me to reflect when writing. Being introspective means that I can search within for ideas. That I can educate readers on all things relating to love, relationships, and self-awareness. Or as I often say, to be "self-first." 

Much like myself, my writing has developed. Although writing is still my therapy, it has become much more than an escape from a shrink's leather couch. My purpose has evolved. My inspiration now stems from a desire to heal...others. I write to help women, if only to save them a world of heartache and thousands of dollars. 
— S. G.

Ezzy Guerrero-Languzzi, Boston

Ezzy received her B.S from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is currently completing her MEd in School Guidance at Cambridge College, and plans to pursue a CAGS in Trauma Studies. She believes in the curative effects of bibliotherapy. She is a writer who is strongly influenced by the sciences, and is currently working on a YA novel with the working title, Where Hazard Meets New Hope. She also blogs at Sincerely, Ezzy. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, son, dog, and two chickens.

Writing authentically

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. A doctor, nurse, biologist, or astronomer, maybe, but a writer? Never. In fact, the thought didn’t occur to me until 2008, when I enrolled in an online grammar course through the Writer’s Digest. Something came alive in me during that grammar course ... a compulsion to continue enrolling in workshops. One class led to another, until I’d taken courses in the essentials: voice and viewpoint, dialogue, creativity and expression, plot and structure, and 12 weeks to a novel’s first draft —yeah, right— twice.

It’s also around then that I started to read books written by diverse authors, not necessarily ones you’d immediately find on the bestseller’s tables at Barnes and Noble. Imagine at my age, reading in print for the first time, thoughts I’d never shared with anyone, thinking that as the daughter of immigrant parents my feelings were unique. I’ve discovered voices I wish I’d read 20 years ago.

With each book I’ve read, I’ve also, realized how much I have yet to learn about storytelling. Certainly the workshops helped me hone my writing skills, but no workshop could teach me how to write authentically. This probably explains why, when friends ask about my work in progress, I change the subject and ask them what books they’re reading. First, because I love to talk about books, but second, because I’m superstitious. They remain unfinished.

Some (un)writerly quirks about me …

• I spend more time thinking about my story than I do actually writing it.

• My WIP is a cloud that follows me everywhere I go.

• For every four hundred pages I read, I’ll write maybe four.

• The best ideas come to me at the worst times.

• The main character in my current novel is who I wish I could’ve been.

• I’m structured about most everything, except for my writing.

• I both love and hate to write – simultaneously.

• Being focused on the journey, rather than the finished product, helps me keep my sanity.

My current novel’s narrator is a 13-year-old Mexican-American girl, who attends private school on a scholarship with her two younger sisters. The story is set in Southern California and takes place during her spring break, when a series of events and tragedies change her life. Sibling rivalry, family secrets, and cultural drama are a few of the topics I tackle, sometime, with a bit of dry humor. 

Here’s a glimpse into one of the novel's scene:
A tricked-out, neon purple car crawled low to the ground toward us, like a cat ready to pounce. Had it not been for the synthesized music turned low I might not have heard it until it was too late. It wasn’t until the car pulled up under the street lamp that I made out the silhouette of El Flaco sitting in the back seat of the car. Amber flecks lit up behind him like fireflies. Somebody smoked in the seat next to him.  
Fear ran through me, covered me like a sheet of ice. I couldn’t move and sensed Celeste had taken a step back.
El Flaco leaned out of the open back window, looking like he did every day, without a care in the world. The hazy street lamp barely illuminated his dark features. “You ladies wanna party?” 
Somehow I knew that my kind of party, the kind with balloons, a cake, and piñata, was not the kind of party this gangbanger had in mind. 
“You better get out of here before my papi comes out,” I said with an uneven voice. Then the words just spilled out. “Can I ask you something?” I might as well have started digging my own grave. 
El Flaco laughed and motioned to me with his chin. “Shoot.” I could barely make out his black eyes under the bandana he wore. He’d rested his arm on the side of the car. That’s when I saw for the first time that he had a tattoo of the Virgin Mary running the entire length of his upper arm, from his elbow to his shoulder. He wasn’t all that flaco, either, had some meat on those bones after all. 
“Why’d you have to burn my parents’ shop?” 
“That wasn’t us, morenita.” 
“You’re a liar. I don’t believe you. You did it to get back at my father.” 
“I don’t care what you believe,” he said, settling back inside the dark vehicle. “Maybe you should check with your old man." 
— E.G-L. 

Teresa Jusino, Los Angeles

Teresa Jusino is a New Yorker who  lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her pop culture criticism has been featured on websites like,, Al Dia,,, Newsarama, and 2012 saw Teresa’s work appear in two Doctor Who anthologies: Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press) and Outside In (ATB Publishing), and she was also published in Mad Norwegian’s Whedonistas. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, and she is currently writing a webseries based on the short film, Incredible Girl, by Celia Aurora de Blas, which is coming in 2014.

Writing as escape

I got my first, and only, detention in the eighth grade. In English class. For writing too much.

I was working on some story the way I always did in every class — furtively, with a notebook hidden underneath whatever book we were supposed to be looking at, taking passes at writing words during a lull in class discussion, or when my teacher wasn’t looking, or when someone was asking a question…

I was good at listening to what the teacher was talking about and writing short fiction at the same time. I got straight “A’s” in English. Lay off.

In any case, I was working on some story or other and one of my best friends was sitting next to me and wanted to read it. So, I passed it to her at the exact moment my teacher decided to look in our direction. Thinking we were passing trivial schoolgirl notes as opposed to the literary genius that was actually taking place, Ms. Lind gave us both detentions.

Even honor students get in trouble sometimes. Still, it’s pretty funny that the one time I did get in trouble at school was for sharing writing in English class. That’s how big a nerd I was. I wrote so much that I got in trouble for it.

But that moment captures just how important writing has always been to me. It’s not something I can stop. It’s something I’ll willingly get in trouble for, because the alternative is worse. It’s either write or go crazy. It’s either write, or die.

However, there’s a huge difference in how I approached writing before and after I made the decision to do it professionally. I’ve been a writer since I could pick up a pen, but when I was about 10 or 11, I decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was a huge fan of Beverly Hills 90210 (the original, not the stupid new one), and I loved reading articles like “A Day in the Life on the Set!” I thought to myself, That’s a job?! Hell yeah! I like pretending to be other people! I like dressing up! I wanna do that! And I did, I joined drama club in junior high, and continued in it all through high school, eventually becoming the club’s president. I went to NYU and got a BFA in Drama from the Tisch School of the Arts. I spent a good six years after college trying to make a life as an actor.

But the writing was always there. During all my free time (and even time that wasn’t so free, as illustrated by my detention story) you would find me with a notebook and a pen, scribbling for dear life. In fifth grade, I wrote reams of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alien Nation fan fiction, and friends would accost me during recess to read the latest “episodes.” In Junior High, I created a world of cartoon characters I called “bug people,” which eventually led to the comic strip, Cutsie-Wootsie and Friends, which told the story of Cutsie-Wootsie, her boyfriend, Hungry Boy (never w/out a hot dog in his hand to show you how hungry he was), her best friend, Maggie, and a cast of characters that lived surprisingly soap-operaesque lives for people who looked like little bugs. I drew that comic on looseleaf and passed it around to friends during French class. One of those friends STILL has them. Throughout high school, I was writing short stories and a “novel,” I submitted pieces to our literary magazine, and during my Junior and Senior years, I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was the girl who secretly cheered when teachers assigned essays, when all the other students were going “Awww, man!” In college, I was primarily there for an acting degree, but I double-majored in English Literature, because I just couldn’t let writing go.

This continued after college. I would write during auditions and play rehearsals. I would write in line for movies and museum exhibits. I would write on my commute to and from work. I would write at work the same way I did when I was at school - furtively, when I was supposed to be engaging in other things.

Writing was the best way I knew how to express myself. Despite my acting ability, I was never more clear, or more honest, than when I wrote, even when I wrote fiction, so I always sought it out and craved it.

Then I got older, and I decided to try to make writing my living.

Fiction doesn’t pay right away, so I decided to go the non-fiction route, and built a name for myself in geek pop culture journalism. For a while, I was passionate about that, as I got to write about things and people that excited me. It was thrilling, too, to chase interviews, and come up with new angles through which I could examine the sci-fi and fantasy that I loved.

But after several years of that, I was burnt out on trying to come up with new ways to talk about the same limited sphere of interests. I’d written myself into a box, and what’s worse, that writing sapped my energy from the writing I wanted to be doing.

I missed telling stories.

And yet, even now, as I work two part-time day jobs that allow me the flexible schedule I wanted so that I’d have more time to write, the writing doesn’t come as furiously as it used to. It used to be that I couldn’t contain my writing. It was how I spent all my free time. I had boxes and boxes of notebooks of things I’d written. I had several stories constantly going on at once.

Now, I wrestle with finishing one at a time.

Writing was my way of escaping other parts of my life. Now, though, there’s less that I want to escape. When I was younger, I did a lot less participating in the world around me, and when I did I was always on the periphery, never wanting to get too involved. I was afraid, insecure. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into myself, and become the kind of person that wants to experience everything. To me, it’s more important to tend to my relationships or try new things than it is to have a successful writing career. Don’t get me wrong, a successful writing career is my biggest goal - but not if it comes at the expense of the rest of my life. And maybe that means that success will come more slowly for me, if at all. But I can live with that.

Yet writing continues to be my truest, most long-lasting love. It’s just that our relationship has evolved. It’s not only the way I best express myself, but the way I best process my thoughts and feelings. For example, I’d never really thought about my writing in these terms before I was asked to write this guest post and talk about my writing. Suddenly, as I started to put words on a page, my feelings started making sense. More than talking, or drowning my sorrows in food and drink, writing is how I best understand myself and the world, which is strange considering that it used to allow me to hide from those things.

I don’t feel the physical need to write that I used to. It isn’t compulsive anymore. But perhaps that’s a good thing if it means I’m happier with the rest of my life. I have a balanced, healthy, adult relationship with both my life and my writing at the moment, and I’m very grateful.

— T.J.

Lorraine C. Ladish, Sarasota

Lorraine is the editor in chief of, an online publication for Latina moms. She is the mother of two young daughters and lives in Sarasota, Fla. with her blended family. Fully bilingual and bicultural, she has written 15 books of non-fiction (in Spanish) and two novels (in Spanish and English). Click here to go to her Amazon listings. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecladish. 

It started with books

I still remember the smell of ink of my grandfather’s printing press. The press spat out leaf after leaf of paper with printed words. The mechanical noise was comforting. It had a pattern to it. My sister and I would help collate the pages after they had been guillotined. Covers were glued on. They then became books. That happened on Saturdays. I must have been around six or seven years old. 

My grandfather wrote. He wrote all the time. Longhand. On pieces of paper he would sometimes lose. He wrote wherever he was. He wrote poetry and read it to me. My father wrote too. He wrote on notebooks, using precise penmanship. He wrote with a fountain pen. At ten years old, so did I.

One of my schoolteachers once asked me for an autographed copy of one of my dad’s books. I gave her the book. She asked me whether it was autographed. I said yes. I didn’t know what autographed meant. She looked at the pages and told me the book wasn’t autographed. I took it back home to my father. He signed the book. I promised myself that from then on I would always ask what a word meant. I also realized it was important to autograph a book. One’s own book. 

At 12, books were my best friends. I was shy. Very. I preferred books to people. Saturday mornings, it was the printing press, but the evenings were spent at the bookstore. We had more books than toys. 

I thought everyone spent their free time reading and writing. My family did. Eventually I realized other people had other interests. But I continued reading and writing. 

At 29, after years of writing just for myself in journals, I felt I had to do something important before I turned 30. I wrote a book. I managed to get it published. Don’t ask me how. But it happened.

Readers wrote to me. I felt like I´d done something of value. It felt good, so I wrote more books. All I wanted was to be a writer, a published writer. Yes, I could write in my journal, I could write for me … but I also wanted to do it for others. 

My first book was non-fiction. My second book was too. My publisher didn’t want me to switch to fiction. It wouldn’t sell as well. I wrote more non-fiction. And I liked it.

I wrote novels too. Some were rejected. Thankfully. Eventually, two were published. Others were not. Thankfully too. 

I continued writing … in my journal, in books, magazines. I even taught writing. Well, not really. I taught losing the fear of writing. Well, again, not really. I challenged people to lose the fear of writing. Some have gone on to publish books. They write e-mails letting me know of their accomplishments. I feel happy for them … and for me.

I had kids, and they have more books than toys. They see me write. They write too. I ended up publishing seventeen books. It sounds like a lot, but it feels like nothing. I need to write more. Like I need to drink water.

I became an editor … and yet I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t stop communicating. I wrote more books, I wrote blog posts, I wrote e mails.
I write. But I also run, draw, dance, speak, love and live. Because yes, I’m a writer, but most of all I’m a communicator.

And I’m OK with that. 

— L.L.

Yvette Marquez, Highlands Ranch (Colo.)

Yvette draws culinary inspiration from her grandmother's old-world northern Mexican recipes and her mother's comforting south of the border home-style dishes. Though she writes primarily about her culinary adventures on her blog,, she also contributes recipes to Betty Crocker and Her cookbook Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor (Hippocrene Books), written with her sister Veronica and mother Evangelina, was published in October 2012. Besides her blog, Yvette has also been featured in Latina Magazine, and the websites of The Pioneer Woman, SAVEUR, Siempre Mujer, and Gourmet, among others. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two children. You can follow her on Twitter @muybuenocooking.

Words about food

I was a fulltime graphic designer and mother – always creative, but always working for someone else. I loved to entertain and I loved to cook for anyone who visited.

One summer my mother was visiting me and we cooked a lot of the recipes I grew up eating. Recipes my late grandma would make for us, favorite recipes my mom would make, and it inspired me to develop my own Latin-inspired recipes. I started writing down every recipe and I took lots of photos (not professional by any means). Then my 8-year-old daughter gave us the idea to write a cookbook. At first we were going to self-publish, but luckily got the nerve to send a proposal and our manuscript to a publisher. They loved our three-generation Mexican cookbook idea and especially loved the photos that were captured by my friend Jeanine who is a professional photographer.

Fast forward a couple of years later and we have a published cookbook and now I am self employed. I still love graphic design and even designed our cookbook and blog. I also am a full-time food writer for Parade Magazine and develop recipes for Betty Crocker, KitchenAid, and Clabber Girl just to name a few.

When my grandmother passed away in 2004 I was afraid her recipes would die too – thankfully my mother knew how to make every one of her recipes. And together, with my sister, we co-wrote a beautiful cookbook that not only shares recipes but the memories and stories that go along with them. It is a delicious family love story that I am so proud to leave behind for my children and future generations.


Silvia Moreno-Garcia, British Columbia (Canada)

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia writes speculative fiction (from magic realism to horror). Her short stories have appeared in places such as Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. Her first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, is out this summer. She is raising funds to complete a novel, Young Blood, about vampires in Mexico City. Go to her web site

Predisposed to lies and subterfuge

There are two sources of inspiration for my writing: my personal life and my great-grandmother. I know it sounds dull to admit that what I write about is what I see around me, but it’s true. Fragments of conversations, moments from my childhood, people I’ve met, they all filter into my stories. 

My great-grandmother is the other big engine behind a lot of what I do. Born into poverty, she never learned to read beyond the second-grade level. She couldn’t write without copious mispellings. She also told stories. Stories of her childhood, of what it was like growing up in the Mexican countryside. The fantastic often mingled with reality. There were witches in the shape of fireballs cackling from the trees. There were nahuales and serpents with feathers. 

Although she provided solid facts (I’m still surprised discovering that some of the things she said were very accurate, such as descriptions of life during the Mexican Revolution), she filled the cracks with fantasy. 

I believed everything she said until I was a teenager, at which point the stories of ghosts and spirits just didn’t make sense. 

To this day, I’m not sure who my great-grandmother was. Her story of her marriage to my great-grandfather was a tale of great love, but she failed to mention the man who had impregnated her when she was a maid working in a wealthy house. There were other omissions, fabrications, half-truths and question marks. My grandmother always complained her mother was a cold and distant woman, but great-grandmother was always warm to me, brushing my hair and telling me stories. 

On the other side of the family, I also have liars and tall-tellers. My grandfather was, for lack of better words, a swindler and a cad. Also a radio announcer with a booming voice. He left his family one fine day, just vanishing into thin air with his mistress. 

My father is also a liar. Also charming in his own way. Also an asshole. 

I am genetically predisposed to lies and subterfuge. Rather than becoming a con artist, I prefer to tell stories. 

I think every good story has a kernel of truth to it. That is what makes it beat and draws people to it. We connect with the truth and recognize it. You take that truth and swaddle it in a bunch of lies. That’s a story. A storytellers is nothing but a liar who allows you to see a fraction of her naked heart. 

That’s pretty much what I am. 

—S. M-G.

Jessica Olivarez-Mazone, South Texas

 Jessica is a South Texas writer, mom, former teacher and grad student, who is raising two bicultural children, embarking on a real food journey, and crafting. Follow her on Twitter @tejana_made. 

La Lechusa: Why I blend folklore with contemporary fiction

I found a book among the dusty shelves of my rural school, a relatively obscure book titled Stories that must not Die by Juan Sauvgea. Inside those pages was a cultural legacy that held all the different leyendas and cuentos that had been around South Texas communities for decades. 

I embarked on a literary journey soon after reading that one book. I became obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and his poem, “The Raven.” That one poem with the devious raven scoffing at Poe was reminiscent, to me at least, of the whisperings of the oral legend, “Lechusa” 

Even that one word “Lechusa” sounds just as ominous as “Nevermore” 

Lechusas somehow gained the ability to shapeshift from human women to giant owls. Everywhere across South Texas, oral stories were spun about these huge birds. Each variation discussed how they tormented but never how they gained the ability to shapeshift. 

Every time I found a “scary story” book about the leyendas of my youth it was always just a retelling. It was the same thing, a generic one-sided look at these amazing characters. 

I began to experiment with re-writing these oral legends and creating an environment for them that was modern. I rewrote them all: the Llorona, the Cucuy, El Guapo Extranjero, Bailando con un Fantasma. But the one that struck a chord with me was always the Lechusa. 

The Lechusa , a powerful female entity, was only trying to keep her own sense of balance while actively finding ways to strike fear in the very culture who cast her aside. It was more than just a witch who could shapeshift: she was often just as cruel as the owl inside her. 

I wanted very much for my main character and the Lechusa to have that deep protagonist and antagonist arc. 

What would cause the Lechusa to steal children and harass others? 

Could she be summoned? 

I wanted to know the why behind the tales. I also didn’t just want to make it modern but I wanted to create an entirely different world filled with people that had powers (curanderas) fighting against the Lechusa. 

It became an obsession really, creating these two characters, one a young girl and the other the Lechusa. I always knew that whenever I wrote about my characters I would set them in the only place that I knew. 

South Texas. 

Texas is full of towns isolated from each other. I wanted to bring that sense of isolation to these stories. It is still a place where the dark haunts us. These stories are whispered even after all these years, manifesting the dark we hold within ourselves. 

Sometimes, I feel it is the essence of a culture dying. 

It isn’t enough to just tell the story but to reinvent it. 

— J.O-M.

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara and New Orleans

Melinda is an award-winning poet and novelist. Her poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place 2009 award. She is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams (ASU Bilingual Press 2011), for which she received the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the 2012 International Latino Book Awards and a 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, (Tia Chucha Press 2012) was a finalist for the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Award and the Patterson Poetry Prize. Read more of Melinda's work at

Think, Dream, Write

My inspiration and writing process continues to evolve. Sometimes the change is so drastic, I wonder if I have a personality disorder because I don't favor routines. Even my favorite foods and color vary.

When it comes to writing, whether it be fiction or poetry, what motivates me most is getting the story right. I don't need to be in the same room every day in order to write. Rituals are lost on me because I often take my laptop and work in a different area of my house. Speaking of houses, I live in two different cities, Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Therefore, I can't rely on setting or mood.

Much of my inspiration for storytelling involved looking at old family photo albums. My grandmother would point to pictures of relatives I had never met and would tell me who they were and what they were doing when the photograph was taken. The photographs gave me a strong visual sense. I didn't realize it until I heard California Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, describe looking through old photos with his mother as an early act of poem making. Poem making and myth making through stories of family photos are some of my earliest memories. With three or four phrases from my grandmother, I would craft a whole story in my head and dream up an entire narrative.

Before I sit down to write, I like to apply the Think Method, as seen in the 1962 film the Music Man in which a con artist teaches a small town's children how to strike up a band and make music by thinking, rather than practicing. I'll often spend hours and weeks thinking of new scene, chapter, or essay before I compose with pen and paper. At some point, I transfer my draft to the computer. Given that I'm dyslexic and cannot read my writing, I rely more on thinking and remembering my initial idea. Sometimes, the ideas come to me in dreams. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed because as much as I will myself to remember, I often forget the idea by the next day.

While I love variety and working in different genres, especially fiction and poetry, what I truly enjoy most is revision and the noise a crumpled paper makes when it lands in the recycling basket. This is more fun than a virtual manuscript and garbage can on the computer screen.
My motivation doesn't change. I still want to write the best poem that I can possibly write, the best book, or the best blog post. My secret is to read my work aloud. All the hiccups and extra words stand out better when I read something out loud. This is a step that's easy to skip when I am on deadline, but I'm much happier with the work when I slow down and take the time to read my draft out loud from a printed page. 


Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, the Bronx

Lisa is a secretary by day, blog writer by night and mami round the clock. When Lisa’s son, Norrin, was diagnosed with autism in May 2008, she found herself in a world she did not understand. In 2010 Lisa founded the blog AutismWonderland. AutismWonderland is an award winning blog that chronicles her family journey with autism and shares local resources for children/families with special needs. In between work, blogging and advocating for Norrin, Lisa is also working on a historical fiction novel A Thousand Branches. A chapter excerpt (The Last Time of Anything) received an Honorable Mention in Glimmertrain's Family Matters October 2010 competition. You can find Lisa on Twitter as @laliquin. 

The more I wrote, the more inspired I was to keep going

I grew up in a home filled with books. My father worked in a book factory and he’d bring them home. I can still hear the crack of the cover as I opened each book for the first time; I still remember the way the pages felt as I thumbed through them.

As a girl I spent countless hours reading about people I could not identify with and neighborhoods that didn't look anything like mine. I didn't realize I was missing something.

I was twenty years old the first time I read a book written by a Latina. It was Esmeralda Santiago's When I was Puerto Rican and I read it in less than two days. Her words filled a void, I didn’t know existed. It was the book that inspired me to write, except I had no idea what I want to write about.

Writing professors encouraged me to write what I knew. And over the next few years, I wrote about the things I thought I knew, but nothing worked. I had yet to create a character that haunted my every thought.

In the winter of 2004, I took a vacation to Puerto Rico to visit my godmother. During my trip, we visited the small island of Vieques. It was there that I began to visualize character, a family, a story. I spent the next few years reading, researching, writing and revising.

I began graduate school in 2008 hoping to complete the historical fiction novel inspired by my vacation years earlier. But my son had been recently diagnosed with autism and there was little time to write. Working full time during the day, going to school at night while trying to navigate the special education system was challenging, and my novel was put on hold. I was exhausted and lost my inspiration; suddenly my characters and their world seemed incredibly far away.

I was forced into this new world that I knew nothing about. I didn’t know a single person with autism. I didn’t even know what autism was. I turned to books for comfort, for guidance, for knowledge. I found all of those things yet it still wasn’t enough.

Not a single autism book was written by a Latino or featured a Latino family like mine. I could not identify with any of the men and women sharing their stories. The women wrote about quitting their careers to stay home with their children or moving to smaller house, some even moving to another state so that they could afford services. I knew I couldn’t quit my job as a secretary and my husband couldn’t quit his job as a Fed Ex courier. Living in a two-bedroom apartment, there wasn’t much we could downgrade to, and moving out of The Bronx wasn’t an option.

Two after my son’s diagnosis, I started writing about our autism experience, my son’s progress, our concerns, frustrations and joy and the search for an appropriate school placement. And the more I wrote, the more inspired I was to keep going.

Autism isn’t openly discussed among the Latino community and I write to help other parents know they are not alone and to know that there is hope. I want to encourage parents to advocate for their kids, to know their rights so that they fight for what their kid needs. I write because I love my son and I want the world to know what our version of autism looks like. I want people to know how much my son has inspired me.

One day I will finish the historical fiction novel I started. But for now, I will continue writing about raising a son with autism because it’s the story I am compelled to write.

— L.Q-F.

Elianne Ramos, Baltimore

Elianne is principal and founder of Speak Hispanic, a marketing and PR consultancy focused on non-profits. She's also vice-chair of LATISM. She is the winner of the 2012 Game Changers Award from Politic365, and was recently nominated to the 2012 Yahoo Women Who Shine. She's also a columnist at Huffington Post, NBC Latino and Mamiverse. Her website is You can follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.

Writing: Your heart on display

If I were to give it some thought, I’d say there must be something really wrong with all of us who decide to write for a living. Why else would you decide to put your heart and innermost thoughts on public display? And yet, we continue plodding on, one word at a time, in the hopes that transcribing the crazy thoughts swirling in our head can somehow orient us, help us find meaning, validate us. 

The act of writing, in my case, serves many purposes. It’s a chance to understand life. To reimagine. To reminisce. To calm down or get fired up. To battle on. To BE. Inspiration, capricious goddess that it is, tends to show up unannounced, at odd times, always unwilling to give in to humanly-imposed timelines or expectations. Many a times, she’s triggered by completely random things: A phone call. A line from a forgotten poem. A tweet. My daughter’s laughter. A starry night. Trova music. Mandelbrot fractals. Justice. 

Yet in my experience, she’s always willing to come along with me while interacting with people. Which is ironic, to say the least, coming from someone who grew up as a geeky, awkward girl with her nose in a book. I was never what you would call a social butterfly. Yet somehow, immersing myself in the fictional worlds of Allende and Marquez and Benedetti awakened my curiosity for the gazillion stories that surround us, everyday, everywhere, in every person we meet. Stories of challenges met, of travails overcome, of hopes crushed and regained… 

There is something I find absolutely fascinating about the kaleidoscopic and relentless nature of the human spirit: People who aren’t afraid to claim their birthright to be awesome, magnificent, creative; who don’t wait for life circumstances to be perfect; who dare to rewrite their own roles and become the heroes in their own life. 

As we step into the private chambers of someone’s story, we are given permission to flip through the pages of their life, to become a character in their stories of escapism, of turmoil, of redemption. We get a glimpse at the core of their very self. And at that magical moment, our souls recognize and embrace each other, like friends reuniting at long last. It is then that we realize that all our stories are really but one story: the story of humankind. And that glorious realization, to a writer, is what makes it all worthwhile.

— E.R.

Julia Rios, Boston

Julia is a writer, editor, podcaster and narrator. She hosts the Outer Alliance Podcast (celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction), and is one of the three fiction editors at Strange Horizons. Her fiction, articles, interviews and poetry have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Stone Telling, Jabberwocky and several other places. Her website is, and she's @omgjulia on Twitter.

Embracing diversity

My father came to the United States from Yucatán, Mexico when he was a teenager. My earliest memories are filled with his melodious voice, deep and still bearing an accent that marked him as different from my mother's WASP family. Though he spoke English fluently, and even got a PhD in Psychology from the University of Southern California, his English speech patterns remained slightly off. He never taught me Spanish, but I managed to absorb some of his foreign markers all the same. To this day, I sometimes use the wrong prepositions, or not quite usual English constructions when I'm tired. "Put it in the table," I'll say. "Close the lamp."

Most of the time when that happens, it amuses me, but sometimes it makes me angry, or profoundly sad. My father wanted me to be proud of my heritage. More than once in mid-September, he took me to Mexican Independence Day celebrations on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, he made sure I knew Cinco de Mayo was not "Mexican 4th of July" like many advertisers claimed, and he shared stories and food from his home with me in between our infrequent visits to his family. But for all that, the reason my father didn't teach me Spanish was because in Southern California, Latin@s abound, and unfortunately, so does racism. My father wanted me to pass for white, to assimilate, and to have the privilege accorded to people who didn't speak Spanish at home.

As an adult, this push and pull of pride vs. shame is still confusing, and I spend a lot of time thinking about who I am, which communities I belong to, and why. I realized a few years ago that as a child I loved the show I Love Lucy, because it presented a comforting family structure. There was a white mom and a Latino dad who had an accent, yelled a lot, and also liked to sing. It was very similar to my own home. When I asked my sister if she liked it, too, she was surprised and said yes, and that it was weird we'd both liked it because it wasn't a particularly new or popular show during our childhood. It should be obvious though that there's nothing weird about us wanting to see ourselves reflected in our media.

Because of that, I have been paying more attention to what I put into my fiction lately. I started out writing with default straight white viewpoint characters, because that was what I'd understood was "normal" in commercial narratives. Now not everything I write includes Latin@ content, but I've issued an open invitation for those aspects of my background to come out and play. I think about all the other people out there who long to see representations of themselves, and I take that as challenge to embrace my own diversity.

I'm not just a Latina. I'm Mexican. I'm American. I'm bisexual. I'm a feminist. I'm left-handed. I love cats. All of these things are part of me, and none of them alone make me who I am. My story "Oracle Gretel" recently appeared in PodCastle and is forthcoming inHeiresses of Russ 2013 edited by Steve Berman and Tenea D. Johnson. It features a bi protagonist and a talking cat. My story "Love and the Giant Squid" will appear in July inPen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Lisa J. Cohen and Talib Hussain. It features a character who has a lot in common with my own father, though he's very much a fictional person. I don't know what the future will bring for my writing, but I do know that all of it will be in some way Latina, because it all will come from me. If I want to encourage my Latin@ peers to stretch out and embrace their full identities, whatever they may be, I guess first I must start with myself.


Gina Ruiz, Los Angeles

Gina is a freelance writer, poet and book reviewer whose first love has always been books. Gina has maintained several blogs over the years: Doña Lupe’s Kitchen,AmoXcalliThe Camellia Project and Twirling and Typos. Her poetry has been published on and her book reviews and articles published on La Bloga and Xispas, two web sites with a strong Hispanic/Latino focus. She  is also a columnist with and has been a panelist and social media person for the Cybils awards for the past six years. She is a member of SCBWI - Los Angeles Chapter. She has a short story in ¡Ban This!, is sometimes a featured writer on and has a new short stories in the upcoming anthology, Lowriting. She is currently working on a novel about La Llorona.

Telling stories about cholos and aliens, La Llorona and life

Sabrina told me via Facebook that I promised months ago to write about what inspires me in my writing and I am wondering what madness possessed me when I pledged such a thing. 

I’m 51 years old and it took me fifty of those years to become an author. A writer — that I’ve been all my life. I can’t remember when I first picked up a pencil and started writing, but I do remember I wrote on anything and everything. I kept journals daily. I wrote stories in my head on the way to school. I made up stories at bedtime for my children, because they wanted personal, not just the things I read to them in books. I started writing poetry early on too, but it wasn’t until my grandson Aiden was born that I became a published poet with Cien Años, the elegiac poem I wrote in honor of his birth and in remembrance of my grandfather, Salvador Camarillo. 

If I have to say what inspires me, and try to wrestle that muse down, I can’t do it. There is no one thing and it’s rarely the same thing twice. Inspiration is like lightning — it falls where it may, when it wants and sometimes it misses. A lot of what I write comes from ancestors, that grandfather I mentioned was a hell of a storyteller, and I’m half Irish — a whole culture with a deep history of storytelling. Memories of a certain smell, the feeling of wind on my face or the simple act of teaching my granddaughter how to bake can become a story or a poem

I think the writer’s job is to be an observer and I’ve had good training there. Early on in my career, I worked for a vocational rehabilitation firm. We studied our injured worker clientele carefully — watched for pain behavior; tested their reach, grip, walking ability, punctuality, grooming, speech, interests, dexterity and even their personalities with tests and copious notes. We wrote behavioral observations every 15 minutes for the six-hour work day. Those very detailed notes and test scores eventually became a voluminous report that went off to insurance companies, lawyers, and counselors.  

It was important work and it was taken seriously. Sending an injured worker back to his or her job at the wrong time could re-injure them and cause permanent damage. I worked for some of the best in the business and I learned a lot. Later, at another vocational rehab firm, I took others' notes and transcribed them into reports, listening to observations rather than making them. I also worked with an occupational therapist as a translator in that same firm and learned from her how the body works. 

 All of this has made me a keen observer. I watch without realizing I’m doing it. I could be on a morning train to work and the way a person sits tells me they have a low back injury which makes me wonder how it happened, which leads to me making up a story about an accident. On the way home, I could be waiting at a bus stop watching a tree bend slowly in the breeze and that tree becomes two jacarandas — the beginning in a something I am working on, called Llorona.

“The sun is warm, even in the coolness of the courtyard and it warms her skin, brightening the hair on her arms with its light. The two jacaranda trees sway in the distance, gently moving, leaves swinging in time. She is fascinated by the trees, her body unconsciously swaying with it. She notices that though they grow together, each tree reaches in an opposite direction — like angry lovers. The sky is such a pale blue that it is almost colorless and she blinks, remembering eyes like that and shakes her head to force the memory of them out.”

I write about cholos in East Los Angeles too. People often ask me why and to be honest, I don’t know really. I grew up in barrios and I’d watch them. They’ve always lived around me and I around them and they are the guys that actually stand and give me a seat on the bus, or hold open a door when everyone else is pushing past me in the morning or afternoon rush. 

 I’m comfortable with the gente and so I write about their imagined hopes and dreams. I give them unlikely heroes that defeat aliens, speak to ghosts and rise above what they are given. You can read about my cholos and aliens in the book ¡Ban This! (Broken Sword Publications, 2012) ; herehere and here at; and in the upcoming Lowriting (also Broken Sword Publications). I also review books and write about food, culture and tech on my blogs (including 

What inspires me? I guess if I had to sum it up in a word it would be life.


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