An Afternoon Visit to an Empty Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church sits along the San Juan River in Northwestern New Mexico, photo by author

The Church

The church was built in 1920 and still stands on a bluff overlooking the beautiful, aqua green-colored San Juan River. It’s a small building, but apparently the congregation has moved away or now attends mass somewhere else. I just happened across this place last Sunday and was struck by the awesome locale of the small church. Not far away is the Navajo Dam and behind that is the man-made Navajo Lake, but if you approach this special place from the south, you would never know that they were there.

The interior of this church captures the afternoon light on a spring day with great grace.

Inside

In the afternoon light, the church interior took on an almost mystical air, as the intense Southwest sun filtered through the small window above the altar and illuminated the sacred space with sunlight. Fortunately, the camera easily captured this event.

 

A vase with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits in one of the church windows, photo by author

Our Lady of Guadalupe 

According to Catholic Online the Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego, a 57 year old Aztec man in 1531, near present day Mexico City. Even from the beginning Juan believed in what he saw on the hillside, but the priests at the nearest church were not so convinced. Gradually, over a few weeks, more appearances by the loved Saint along with a miraculous cure convinced the church elders that the Holy Virgin was present in Mexico.

Here she took on the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her likeness, which mysteriously appeared on a Spanish tilma back in 1531, has been reproduced and copied all throughout Mexico and the Southwest USA, numerous times. Many churches of the region, both small and large, bear her name as does this small chapel built in 1920.

Advertisements

A Few Words On Writing Historical Fiction

1024px-Boston_Tea_Party-1973_issue-3c

Fact or Fiction

Fact and fiction are a strange pair of bedfellows. One might think that fictional episodes might provides the strangest stories, but in reality, it is often true episodes that provide the most bizarre tales.

Spoofing History

When I was in grade school, I acquired a Smother’s Brothers LP, where they did a short sketch on the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Though short, the routine was hilarious and may have provided a bit of inspiration to this story. Looking at the success that these two brothers had in spoofing America, one can only conclude making fun of our past might lead to some success.

Getting Your Facts Straight

Just because you are presenting an alternate history to the mainstream version, does not mean that you can skimp on the little details of everyday life. Things like dress, architecture, mannerisms and even language should fit the times as best you can. This may take some research and in the process you may surprised as to some of the information that you might come across.

When writing Colonial Capers, I wanted to use the type of Elizabethan English that might have been used by the Pilgrims. During my inquiry, I found out that by the time of the Revolution, this style of speaking had all but died out, so I dropped all the thees and thous. Nonetheless, I did come across some very colorful Colonial slang that was used in the years just prior to the Revolution.

My Venture

My venture consists of a short story, based on events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, which occurred in December of 1773. The tale is called Colonial Capers and is set before, during and after the famous action. The story is meant as a satire on the Colonial era and American history in general. Presently, it available through Smashwords. Here is the link.

 In a darkened boathouse on the edge of Boston Harbor, Phineas Phillips and a small band of dissidents sit                   quietly watching two British ships that are at anchor along the Pearl Street Wharf. Soon a band of heathen              Indians will board the two schooners and toss all the tea into the harbor. With advance knowledge of what                may happen, Phineas and friends have a different plan in mind.

 

ColonialCapers

Native American Authors

Poster by TC Cannon, an
Poster by TC Cannon, an Oklahoma Native American artist, who died tragically in 1978.

American Indian Arts in the Twentieth Century

November is Native American Heritage month and so I thought that I might shine a spotlight on U.S. Native American authors, writing in the English language. I was completely unaware of the official designation until I chanced upon a table of books authored by American Indians. This small  display was located in downtown Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Public Library. By coincidence, the Institute for  American Indian Arts (IAIA) exhibition space is located just down the street. This institution is a national arts college for American Indian students, where many disciplines are taught, including creative writing.

An Overview of American Indian Writing

Though American Indian oratory has been an important part of American history for many years, creative Native American writing has been largely a contemporary phenomena. In recent years, American Indian writers have become more noticeable in the literary marketplace. Perhaps, all of this began, when M. Scott Momaday published House Made of Dawn, a short novel that achieved literary fame, when the tale of the Southwest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. Following is a quick look at Native American writers, who are readily available in most bookstores, along with a short selection of eclectic writers, who may not be as readily available.

The Big Names

Sherman Alexie – Mr. Alexie has been writing novels for years, but when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007, the author from the Spokane reservation in Eastern Washington was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. Most of his captivating titles are readily available in any bookstore.

N. Scott Momaday – Already mentioned for his Pulitzer Prize, Momaday is an Oklahoma native of the Kiowa nation, who has written may books of stories and fiction. Besides The House Made of Dawn, you might come across The Way To Rainy Mountain along with some of his more obscure titles in your search for Native American authors.

Louise Erdrich – Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. She has written many novels and stories about Native life in the upper Midwest and Great Plains. She also owns and operates a Native American bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Linda Hogan – Though more obscure than the above three authors, Ms. Hogan (Chickasaw) has over the years put out an impressive array of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles. Some of her more prominent titles include Mean Spirit, Solar Storms and People of the Whale.

Leslie Marmon Silko – Leslie grew up on the edge of Pueblo society in central New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, she would receive national acclaim for some of her stories and books. Her short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant shortly after the story was first published in 1969.

Lesser Known

Not all Native American writers produce written works that go on to find national distribution and acceptance. Still, that does not mean that these “lesser works” are without inspiration, merit or good storytelling. Many of these writers have found an important niche as observers of the American scene on a local or regional level. Following are a very select few taken from a much larger group that always seems to be getting bigger. Please note that only a few of the following  poets and writers work solely in the literary mode.  Many have expanded their voice to the realm music. To paraphrase one Native American poet turned performer, Roxy Gordon, “you have to go where the audience is”

Louis “Little Coon” Oliver – Louis died in 1991 and during his lifetime he only published two books. Nonetheless, his ramblings about tribal life and modern society filled with his humorous and satirical observations were enjoyed by many. Louis was born in Oklahoma, when it was still a territory and was a part of th the Muscogee Creek nation. He was ostracized by many of his tribal members for attending high school and actually obtaining a diploma.

Joy Harjo and Poetic JusticeJoy Harjo is an Oklahoma (Mvskoke Creek) poet , who after publishing several books of poetry, decided to form  a band and go on stage. Still essentially a poet, Joy often performs around the country with her musical ensemble, Poetic Justice.

Joseph Bruchac – Though a long-time resident of the Iroquois country in upstate NY, Joe comes from Vermont, where he is connected with the Abanakis. Not only has Joe written numerous articles, stories and books about the Indian life in the Northeast and elsewhere, but also he is a major organizer of Native American literature and American Indian authors. Check out his Greenfield Review Press, for a major who’s who in tribal literature.

Without Rezervation – Without Rezervation was a Native American rap group from Oakland, California. During the 90s they cut 2 CDs and achieved some notoriety as on of the few (or possibly the only) Native American rap groups. The trio consisted of Chris LaMarr, Mike Marin, and Kevin Nez. The members of this group had Native roots in California (Pit River) and Arizona (Navajo)

 

 

 

It Takes More Than a Few Malcontents To Start A Revolution

Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze
Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze

Washington at Valley Forge
‘Twas bitter cold and up spoke George
Vo do do, vo doe doe de o, doe.
No–you don’t say?”

from Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes – lyrics by Irving Aaronson

Happy Birthday America

Today marks the 248th anniversary of the signing of  the Declaration of Independence. Hooray for hot dogs and hamburgers grilled outdoors, but let’s not forget that the Revolutionary War dragged on for many  years until Lord Cornwallis finally laid down his sword at the battle of Yorktown. Then there was the French Navy, who at the time of surrender, had blockcaded British ships from coming to the aid of their landlocked general. During this time period, the Revolutionary Army had very few victories. In fact, you might say that the deck was pretty well stacked against them. During the conflict, the fledgling new nation had many enemies besides the most obvious, the imperial motherland of Great Britain.

How Popular Was the Revolt?

In the initial stages the effort of the Colonists to obtain independence from Great Britain was quite popular. This can be seen in events at Concord, Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party. However as the war dragged on the war effort lost appeal to many Colonists. On top of this there were a substantial number of New World residents, who saw many economic advantages in retaining close ties with England. After the war, many Loyalists, as the Tories were sometimes called, chose to relocate to other parts of the British Empire, such as Canada or the Caribbean. It is estimated that during the war, as much as 20% of the white population remained loyal to the crown. Still, the war effort would not have been successful without widespread support throughout the Colonial population. To complicate matters for the British, many European powers, including the French, Spanish and even the Dutch, ended up supporting the birth of a new nation on the shores of the New World.

Myths of the American Revolution

Here is a list of seven myths compiled from a Smithsonian article by John Ferling.

1. I. Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into
2. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism
3. Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry
4. The Militia Was Useless
5. Saratoga Was The War’s Turning Point
6. General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist
7. Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull

Happy Fourth of July and enjoy those hamburgers, hot dogs and beers.

Is Magic Realism Just A Latin American Thing?

“Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”             by Wendy B. Faris and Lois Parkinson Zamora

Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nuts and Bolts of Magic Realism

Nowadays, it is generally believed that anybody can write Magic Realism, not just verbose Latin American authors. Just to prove how widespread this idea is, I will recent a recent article in Writer’s Digest that explains the basis of such a literary task. Among the building blocks of Magic Realism that author Kristin O’Keeffe cites is creating a realistic and mundane world from which your magic elements can spring forth. Miss O’Keefe goes on to say that no logical explanation is needed for those strange things that might occur during the course of your story……they just happen. Still, keep in mind that Magic Realism is not fantasy, for it is always grounded in a real (and often mundane) world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing
The Hummingbird’s Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing

Golden Age of Magic Realism

The Golden Age of Latin American Magic Realism probably occurred during the 40s, 50s and 60s, culminating with the Marquez classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today, the popular genre has been replaced by more realistic historical and political stories about some of the horrendous and tumultuous events that have shaped some Latin American nations in the second half of the 20th century. For example, Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of Butterflies, sounds like it be of the genre. But instead it is basically a historical novel underlining the cruelty and barbarity of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Alvarez’s story may be typical of what is going on among Latin writers today with a movement away from the slightly unreal to the coarse reality of everyday life.

Heart of the Jaguar by Pax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism
Heart of the Jaguar by Jax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism

Magic Realism Abounds Today

Just as authors South of the Border may be moving away from floating and flying characters, numerous other writers from the U.S., Europe and Asia, seem more than ready to embrace the concept. A Magic Realism reading list put forth by Kristin O’Keeffe embraces such literary stars as Toni Morrison, Huruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Karen Russell and Alice Hoffman. The Magic Realism of Folk Tales To my way of thinking, Fairy Tales are a great source of Magical Realism that has been overlooked by this literary discussion. True they do have strong fantasy elements, but for the most part, the stories are grounded in rather real and mundane worlds, especially if you consider the time period, when they were written. What is most important here is the way fairy tales have been re-adapted and re-told by contemporary authors to convey a modern dilemma. With this genre contemporary writing has a rich and fertile ground from which to introduce new elements of magic to readers everywhere.

The Passing of a Multi-talented Artist

Dateline: On May 28, 2014, the writer, Maya Angelou died at age 86. Over the years she had received many awards for her writing. Perhaps, her most prestigious was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barrack Obama in 2011.

Inside the Flame Nebula  Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; 
Inside the Flame Nebula 
Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech;

Many Artists

Today in our media-crazed society there are many artists, both known and unknown. Sometimes there are so many that they seem like stars in the sky. I guess with the exploding population on our planet (it’s now around 7 billion) and the proliferation of Indie artists and authors on the internet, it’s a miracle that anyoneever  gets any mention, at all. Perhaps Maya Angelou was lucky because she came of age, when music was recorded on vinyl LPs and books were made from dead trees. No idea how she would have fared in today’s topsy-turvey world of social networking and self publishing. But nonetheless, here’s a brief  tribute to a spunky lady who had a popular nightclub act, played a major role in the “Roots” TV drama, read poetry at Bill Clinton’s inaugaration, plus penned a series of seven autobiographical novels that brought inall  kinds of awards and recognition.

Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou's first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.
Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou’s first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.

Who Was Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis. She picked up the nickname in early childhood from her older brother, who couldn’t quite pronounce my sister and so he just used the simple phrase, “Maya”. Then in the her twenties she married a Greek man by the name of Angelos. Although the marriage did not last all that long, the name, with a slight twist did.

My Experience With the Writer

Back in the nineties I read two of Maya’s autobiographical novels. The first was titled All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: and then I read her classic I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Looking back now, I think the Traveling Shoes tale of going back to Africa and coming across a village, where several residents looked like they could be her identical twin, has hag the most lasting impression on me. Anyway you look at it, picking up any one of her most remarkable novels and sitting down and having a good read is well worth the time invested.

Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP
Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP

“A Black Grandmother In the White House, My Goodness”

Not too long ago Maya spoke these exact words on the Anderson Cooper Show. My only question is whether she was referring to Barrack Obama or Michelle Obama. Both have black grandmothers, though Barrack has one, while Michelle has two. But if she is referring to the Barrack children, their black grandmother could only come from their mother’s side. Is this a put down of Barrack Obama or perhaps just a little bit of sisterhood bonding with the First Lady. I suspect the latter.

In Conclusion

Probably nobody sums up Maya Angelou’s amazing and tumultuous life better than John McWhorter of the New Republic:

“And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, and eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday, and Abbey Lincoln.”

Who could ask for more?

Ola, What Exactly Is the Cinco de Mayo

This Cinco de Mayo stamp was issued by the United States Post Office in 2005
This Cinco de Mayo stamp was issued by the United States Post Office in 2005

The Fifth of May Explained

The Cinco of May is nothing but a Spanish expression for the fifth of May; the date, when a famous battle took place in Old Mexico. The year was 1862 and the place was the Colonial town of Puebla. Though outnumbered two-to-one the Mexican army defeated the French regulars lead by General Lorencez. At the time the US was involved in a bitter Civil War and so they were unable to take sides in the conflict.

Cinco de Mayo BattleofPuebla2
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862

French Intervention In Mexico

During the 19th century the French made two attempts at colonizing Mexico. The first was called the Pastry War and it occurred in 1838. The second begain in 1862 and for five long years. This invasion was known as the Maximilian Affair.

After thie Fifth of May defeat at Puebla, the French retreated to the Gulf Coast at Veracruz. Here, they regrouped and then were able to dominate Mexican affairs until 1866, when the Mexican militia forced the European occupiers to begin their departure. In 1867, the Mexicans took back Mexico City and executed the French Emperor of Mexico, an unpopular fellow by the name of Maximilian. This stormy period of Mexican history underscores the difficult struggle that Mexicans faced, not only with Spain, but other countries as well.

 

Cinco de Mayo poster in the US
Cinco de Mayo poster in the US

An American Holiday

If you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo…..don’t go South of the Border……. There’s nothing going on. To really get in the swing of things on the fifth of May, you’ll have to cross the Rio Bravo (for all you gringos that’s the Rio Grande) and visit an appropriate U.S. city or state. Go to the right place and you will see a parade and maybe some bar specials promoting liquid refreshments from our southern neighbor. Cinco de Mayo in the United States has been a time for Mexican-Americans to public celebrate their heritage.

Cinco_de_Mayons