My guest today is fellow author Misa Ramirez, whose most recent book was inspired by one of New Mexico’s most cherished legends: La Llorona, the weeping woman. I asked Misa to write about La Llorona and how her myth inspired Misa’s modern work. And here’s Misa:
Inspiration is all around us, and as a writer, I never know when it will strike…or how long after I’ll apply that inspiration to a novel. This is true whether I’m writing my Lola Cruz Mysteries, my new Magical Dressmaking Mystery series, or my romantic suspenses (A Deadly Curse, available now, or A Deadly Sacrifice, coming in late May). My ideas usually stem from something I’ve read, heard about , or have in my memory banks. From there, it develops, often requiring research to flesh it out.
This was especially true when it came to writing A Deadly Curse. It’s based on the legend of la Llorona. My husband, Carlos, grew up hearing the tale. His parents, tias, and tios, and every other adult around, would tell the kids the story of the Crying Woman. Their purpose? To frighten them enough so they wouldn’t wander off alone.
La Llorona was the Mexican boogyman. I first learned about the legend of the Crying Woman after I met Carlos (we’ve now been married 20 years and have five children, so la Llorona has been part of my consciousness for a long time).
We’d go camping with his brothers and sisters and their spouses, sit around the campfire, and invariably, the stories would begin.
Before long, a low, haunting sound would float through the air. La Llorona. It was as if the ghost was right there, her wails drifting up from the banks of the river through the trees, circling around us as we huddled together.
It didn’t take long to figure out that it was my husband making the haunting sounds, but the legend itself was spooky and stayed with me from the first time I heard the story. A woman kills her children by drowning them in the river. After she realizes what she’s done, she drowns herself. Legend has it that the woman has been haunting riverbanks ever since, looking for her children. Kids are warned to stay away from the rivers so la Llorona doesn’t steal them, thinking they are hers. Creepy. Yet fascinating.
Slowly, the idea of la Llorona being the central element in a romantic suspense plot began formulating in my mind. Before too long, it took hold completely and I began plotting A Deadly Curse. But I needed to learn more about la Llorona.
Where did the legend start and why did she drown her children? These things, I figured, would inspire my plot. Little did I know that the legend of la Llorona was far more complex than I’d ever imagined.
What I learned was that there are actually four different stories behind the legend. My husband’s family knew only one of them. Everyone I’ve talked to since then has only known one, or possibly two different versions. No one has known all four of the stories.
The woman in each story was called something different: La Ramera (the harlot), La Bruja (the witch), La Virgin (the virgin), La Sirena (the siren). Needless to say, learning about the four different stories sent my plot in a new direction. The knowledge created new opportunities and obstacles for my characters.
My research into la Llorona opened doors for me, helping me take A Deadly Curse in fascinating directions I couldn’t have created if I’d tried.
I’m so proud of this book, thrilled to have used a piece of a culture I love, and I hope all of you will enjoy it, as well.I’d love to hear from you.
Are you familiar with the legend of la Llorona? Which version are you familiar with?
Misa Ramirez, who also writes under the pseudonym Melissa Bourbon, can be found online at:
Stripping down characters on The Naked Hero, giving away free books at Books on the House, writing about Killer Characters, and contributing to The Writer’s Guide to ePublishing. She’s on Facebook and Twitter. She’s the marketing director for Entangled Publishing, teaches creative writing at Southern Methodist University-Cape, and teaches online with Savvy Authors. A Deadly Curse at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Characters are just like their writers. They may know they need to change…but they have to be ready or they won’t do it.
You can raise the stakes, but high stakes don’t always create change in real life. If you doubt me, sit in on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and listen to the stories of people who let their lives fall apart before they changed.
Backstory is your best way to make change credible. Backstory can reveal your character’s first awareness of the need to change and also her process of avoiding change and deciding it was necessary.
With the first two steps of the change cycle in your backstory, your story can focus on her preparation, including trial and error and frustration, and her ultimate choice to change forever.
Then all that’s left for the wrap-up is evidence that she’s going to be able to sustain the change.
Did you know your eye movements can help focus your attention while you write?
And eye movement controls work even if your eyes are closed.
If you’re trying to remember what someone told you, keep your eyes level and look left. That’s the auditory remembered location on your mind/body.
But if you want to write better dialogue, try this sequence:
Look up and right to “see” your character or characters.
Then level your eyes and look to the right to “see” or make up what they’re saying.
Are you pushed and pressured from every direction? Feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things on your to do list?
Would a little perspective help?
Here’s a simple visual method for dealing with overwhelming pressures. It’s based on NeuroLinguistic Programming, and it may seem a little strange the first time you’ve tried it.
Close your eyes and see all those pressures as if they were looming over you, towering over you, pushing at you. Stay right there in your body and feel the pressure rising.
Lift your hands, palms out, and hold them to your face as if you were defending yourself. Now slowly push your hands out and away from your face and body. Let your hands move everything back and away from you, toward the far horizon.
As the images move away, you’ll begin to get perspective on the situation. It’s like using the zoom lens on your camera to get distance and perspective. Now you can see the bigger picture instead of the fuzzy close-up.
From your new perspective, choose the next step to take to solve the problems. Do remember Paretto’s principle: 80% of the results come from 20% of the work.
Is it possible that 80% of the overwhelming issues are things you don’t even need to do? Or that if you focus on what matters most and do that 20% first, the rest will begin to resolve themselves?
Either way, there’s nothing like a fresh perspective to cut life down to size.
Every writer needs lists. And I count a few favorite lists as if they were templates or cheat sheets. All treats for the muse, who comes out to play for rewards like any pampered child.
One of my favorite character lists is based on the four ancient elements. Divide a sheet of paper in half vertically and list the four elements:
- Fire – for passion, whether it’s political, career goals, spiritual or hobby
- Air – what the character knows, studies, researches, believes and reasons from
- Water – emotions, relationships, spiritual practices, meditation, feelings and intuition
- Earth – external conditions, body type and appearance, home, work, daily routines
First fill in for the heroine or protagonist. Then give the villain or antagonist (or the hero in a romance novel) something else at each level. You want qualities to draw them together, but also qualities to create friction.
Do you feed templates and cheat sheets to your muse?
No? Then you’re missing play time–and you know how muses love to play.
There’s a cheat sheet on my desktop (okay, on the desktop for both my main computer and my netbook) that includes keywords for the hero’s journey, plotting questions from Alicia Rasley, a few character keywords from Steve Barnes.
If you already have a niche, March and April transits are a perfect nudge toward making it stronger and narrower. If you don’t have a niche to call your own, March and April offer a little extra help in finding it.
The keywords for Aries are “I am”, which refers both to ancient “know-yourself-first” wisdom and to the self-knowledge you need to define a niche.