Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guest Blog: What Am I Doing In Richmond?

I'd like to give a big welcome to Erica Orloff, also known around my house as "the writer I know who's published a lot of books." Emphasis on the I know part. :)

Erica's blog is one of my favorites because she always finds a way to tie anything in her life to writing, creating wonderful lessons for other writers in the process. I've learned from her than most of my other writing friends combined, and she's also the kind soul who offered a Synopsis Boot Camp a few weeks ago, helping me turn my one-page mess into a two-page masterpiece. Or something like that.

Her latest book, Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass, (written as Erica Kirov) debuted this month. The back cover says:

"The one and only Harry Houdini was killed for it, the most powerful magicians have battled for centuries to retrieve it, and even the Ancient Pharoahs feared its power.

What would you do for an hourglass that stopped time?"


Thanks to Melanie for having me. I found her blog through Spy Scribbler's and I have been a big fan ever since.

When my four children and I lived in South Florida, we met many Latino people and felt totally at home. My children's father is Mexican and they have the Mexican surname equivalent to "Smith." People would meet us, and we would have what we called "The Latin Connection"--some sense of shared background or understanding, perhaps. Then we moved to Richmond, Virginia . . . and we have lived here three years and have met TWO Hispanic families--neither Mexican. Occasionally, a schoolmate has said something very ugly about Mexicans to my kids. (I usually refer to it about once a school year as the "Mexican Incident"--it's not a daily thing--but it happens.) Sometimes I wonder "What am I doing in Richmond?"

Which makes me wonder about the role of ancestral culture in my kids' lives. They have a proud nature of their heritage--BOTH sides (Russian/Slav and Mexican). We eat out at Mexican restaurants, and we play Russian folk music in the car. If you asked them about themselves, I would think they would identify themselves as Mexican-Americans, which no doubt incites irritated comments sometimes of "We're ALL Americans, why do people hyphenate?" They hyphenate because they have at times been made to feel different . . . and because their ancestral culture is a piece of them they love and adore. We visited South Florida for Spring Break, and as we drove down the street, I watched my little girl (age 11--spunky as heck) press her face against the windows staring at the sidewalks, teeming with Latinos, and she giggled, "My peeps! I'm here with my people! I missed it here."

When I wrote The Magickeepers, about a rogue clan of Russian magicians who live all together in an enclave of Russian culture within their mystical casino and hotel, it was a nod to memories of my own. Of eating Russian food, and the stories of my grandmother. I had never had Russian characters before in any of my books, but as I went to write my first middle-grade fantasy . . . I found that thread flowed out of me so easily . . . it was just a part of my life. Not my WHOLE life, but a piece of what makes me . . . well, me.

What piece of your family heritage do you still have flowing through you?


Thank you Erica!


Benjamin Solah said...

Interesting post. I admire people who can be proud of their heritage in countries like America and Australia where racism is a bit too in my face for my liking.

I'm white, so being proud of my heritage isn't the same. I don't go there.

This might be weird to say but I'm proud of my class background. I'm proud to have some from a working-class, union family that acknowledges that we've done all the work, we've had to work had to keep where we are. Whereas I've met some people that seem to get everything handed to them on a simple platter.

And I will have to subscribe to your blog. I'd love to see how you relate everything to writing. I kind of do the same, try to link my kind radical political ideas to writing.

Pink Ink said...

Great post, Erica and Melanie!

I used to try to write AROUND my Filipino heritage (I guess trying to blend in with the majority, or something), but then realized I can mine it for treasures.

It's always going to be a piece of MY life, just as my American experiences will, I'm sure, figure into my stories someday.

Erica Orloff said...

I'm a radical from way back too.



Erica Orloff said...

Pink Ink:

My younger daughter (I have four kids) wants to be a filmmaker and screenwriter (she's 11). I imagine that someday, like all writers, she will find a way to work some of the unkindnesses she has already faced into her work. As well as some of the joy. I think it what makes each of us a unique stroyteller no matter the art form.

My oldest daughter is a classical violinist . . . (she is an adult). She likes Russian composers. It's really interesting to see her link to our heritage.

Melanie Avila said...

Hey! The party's already underway and I just rolled out of bed. :)

I find it interesting that Mexico has worked it's way into all of my stories. It's not my heritage yet, but I suppose once we have children it will be.

Mark Terry said...

The Russian heritage aspects of The Magickeepers was one of the aspects I enjoyed the most.

I don't have any particular heritage short of American to fall back on. My family is English and French, but it goes back so far as to be insignificant. My wife argues, in her case (some German, some Dutch) that her real heritage is "redneck." I'm an honorary redneck even though I tend more toward the "intellectual elitist" category, although not "East Coast Intellectual Elitist." Is it possible to be an intellectual elitist redneck? Is that heritage?

Jude Hardin said...

There's no strong sense of heritage in my family, but I've always felt an affinity for Scotland for some reason. I think I lived there in a former life. I've had dreams about playing golf with ancient wooden clubs (I don't even play golf). I'd love to visit Scotland some day, and I know enough to stay away from the moors. ;)

Stephen Parrish said...

I'm a Viking (Norwegian) and proud of it. I'm most comfortable around my own kind: people who descended from pillagers.

Magickeepers arrived just ten minutes ago! Now I have to steal it back from my daughter.

Allen said...

Hi Erica!

Mexicans in Richmond? Of course. Try Don Pepe's on Hull Street. Great food and wonderful people. They let me bumble through my Spanish without laughing until I leave. VERY reasonable prices.

The people eating there will be a mix of us gringos who wandered in and Hispanics from all over the place. The owners are from Mexico.

being from the South, (I think I am the only native born Virginian left in the state) I can see much of my heritage played out in the buildings and people of my neighborhood.

I do, however, enjoy the opportunity to make our own heritage from the friends and families surrounding us. Someday, our families will look back at how we adapted to our surroundings and developed our own ways and beliefs. I wonder what they will think of us?

BTW, my son, 20, is studying Film at VCU as we speak. He left the house this morning with a tuition check and a bag lunch of peanut butter and jelly, about all that was left after the check clears.

Glad to meet up with you in Melanie's place. If you get to Don Pepe, let us know what you think. I'll be watching your blog for the updates.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

My heritage and culture are Jewish, even though Judaism is a religion. It's just part of who I am and how I think and behave and of course, what I eat! I've met many people in my life who have never met "a Jew." They are always surprised because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I grew up where everyone I knew was Jewish - I didn't know Jews were a minority until I went to college! I now live in a very racially and ethnically diverse area where it's not unusual to be whatever one happens to be, and that's nice. But my past seeps in and I often wish my kids had more than a handful (a small handful) of Jewish classmates.

Janna Qualman said...

Great piece, Erica! And thanks for introducing us, Melanie. :)

I'd have to give some thought to my family heritage, and what it means to me today. It's an interested topic!

LurkerMonkey said...

If it weren't for an unknown relative lurking not too far back in my family tree, I'd have the most boring heritage possible. We think this interloper was Greek, perhaps Italian, maybe Jewish. But we'll never know ...

Other than that, I'm like a John Hughes movie. A WASPy Midwesterner from an expensive suburb full of hard-working folks who are honest as the day is long.

Melanie Avila said...

Stephen, now the random Viking comments make sense...

Sarah Laurenson said...

My heritage? Hmmm. Mostly WASP though there are oddbits here and there. French and Russian in small amounts with a lot of German and something slavic - probably Swedish. Rumors of Native American as well.

My cultural heritage is something else entirely. The Steve Martin joke "I was born a poor black child" is not too far from my truth. We were poor and living in an inner city Black neighborhood. Then we moved up in socioeconomic terms and moved to a Jewish neighborhood. Plus I watched a lot of the BBC on television. So culturally, I'm a mishmash.

Then we moved to the South which was a major culture shock.

Loved The Magickeepers!!

Erica Orloff said...

I guess heritage is what you make of it. ;-)

Erica Orloff said...

I have some friends who have an affinity for places they have never been, too. Maybe past lives?

Erica Orloff said...

Very cool. Tell Sarah I said hi!

Erica Orloff said...

Been there. ;-) Actually . . . our family has gotten to know the people who own Mexico's on Hull Street down toward Winterpock (we like the food there better). And years ago, when we lived here before (we left for 15 years and then moved back), we used to go to La Siesta on Midlothian Turnpike, also owned by a Mexican family. My significant other works in a country club and much of the kitchen help are from elsewhere--El Salvador, Russia . . . Guatamala, I think. It's the way of the restaurant world. Anthony Bourdain actually talks a lot about that, very wittily, in Kitchen Confidential.

Nice to "see" a fellow Richmonder. If you're around, I'm at the Barnes and Noble on Commonwealth Parkway tonight from 5-7, for a signing.


Erica Orloff said...

Amy Sue:

I could see that . . . the idea of hoping for a few more people who share a common background . . . .

Erica Orloff said...

YES . . . but given your stories, it's more like a John Hughes film on acid. ;-)

Erica Orloff said...

As a New Yawker . . . moving to the South was culturally shocking to me, too. I got a scholarship to a small, private Southern university and the offer of $$ and so on was the best of multiple scholarship offers--so I took it without even knowing if I would fit in, without even knowing much at all about the south. It was 1981 . . . and I was stunned at some of the lingering racism. It was very different, less of a melting pot . . . yet there were pockets of that Southern warmth you hear so much about.

spyscribbler said...

That's cool. One of my students on Sunday said, "I'm Asian, and this means..." We had a really good conversation.

As for me, I've always been a "not really." My dad was French, but I wasn't linked by blood and his family didn't like my mother, so I didn't know much of them, plus he died when I was ten. Even though I was adopted, my mother was linked by blood, but she didn't bring me around her family much. They're part American Indian, back a bit. My mom married into an Italian family while I was forming my identity, but once I got out in the real world, it was odd to realize that although I felt a bit "Italian" inside, I wasn't... not really.

Erica Orloff said...

On my own blog, I have shared that my mother-in-law loathes me with all her being and disowned her only grandchildren (my kids) rather than have anything to do with me--over a DECADE ago. Last night, essentially without my permission, they were taken to meet her. They said she was nice to them, pleasant, civil. My little girl today though was filled with tears--she wants a relationship--and trust me, their grandmother does not--and she wants to know about where she comes from on that side. I think that when chidlren are cut off sometimes from that, it can feel . . . lost a little. They are far more in touch with their grandfather on that side (there was a divorce decades ago) . . . but they feel the missing piece. Unfortunately, you can't make someone have a relationship with their grandkids. Or . . . scratch that, make them have a healthy relationship with them.

J.T Wilbanks said...

At first glance, yes, I'm very, very, very, pale. Mostly because of my Irish genes, and the fact that sunlight + J.T. is equal to an overcooked thin and crispy pizza from PizzaHut.

I don't know what I've received from my French, Swedish, Scottish, or Finnesh genes.

I'm 1/16 Cherokee, which my accont for very little, but I feel very close to that little bit of blood running through my veins. My Father, unlike his vampiric son, is extremly dark skinned. And my great grandmother was even darker than that.

Who knew genetics could be so interesting.


Erica Orloff said...

Hi JT:
My younger daughter has parents who have dark hair and dark eyes, one parent of whome is Hispanic. And she looks like the most Irish little kid you ever saw, with pale blue eyes and freckles. Such a sweetie! You're right. It's amazing how unique we all come out and our heritages.

Penguin said...

As a child growing up with such a grandparent, you are doing that child a favor by not letting that person around them.
I can see all the harm that one person can do to a family(Aunts,Uncles, cousins, sisters), it is devastating, and it keeps repeating throughout the great grand kids. Stop it now for their sanity.

And I want to add that it is nice to meet you.
It is good that you teach your kids where they come from.

Mark Terry said...

It's possible that Jude's affinity for Scotland--I have one as well--has something to do with brooding mountains and castles.

Or, Glenmorangie and Glenfiditch and all the other Glens.

EMC07 said...

Hi Erica,
Great Post. Love your name *wink wink* Nice to see you here! Thanks to Melanie for working this out :)

As for my heritage, there's not much to tell English/Irish... I suppose there's always a battle brewing between the two (explains my mood swings LOL)

My brother is native american, and he has faced a lot of adversity in his life. Since we're originally from California, when he moved to Michigan there were a lot of people that called him derogatory names (hate speech). It's such a shame people can be so ignorant. It's also sad that he has that extra issue to contend with.

I think Depeche Mode said it best, "People are people so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully... I can't understand what makes a man hate another man help me understand." (copywrite?) Better be careful. Don't tell okay?

My precious God-Daughter is Guatemalan, and although she is being raised here, her adoptive parents never let her forget where she is from.

Great discussion folks...


Nadine said...

*waves Hi to Erica!*

My family's heritage is still very much a part of my life as I am a first generation American and I am so proud of my European roots. I long to return to Europe to live there for at least a little while(apart from the summers I spent as a child), but so far life has taken me other places.

I've never written about my heritage, because although I grew up straddling two cultures, I never felt I knew either one well enough to write about. I'm at home both places, but in a way, I'm also a stranger both places.

Erica Orloff said...

The cool part about Magickeepers is my hero, 13-year-old Nick, didn't even KNOW he had this heritage until he was kidnapped by his clan of cousins. So . . . he gets to learn it and doesn't have to be an expert.

Melanie Avila said...

I am LOVING this conversation! I'm learning so much about all my friends. :)

EMC -- I love that song...

Joe Barone said...

Oh my! You have opened up a flood of feelings. Three of my four grandparents were immigrants. My father was the superintendent of a state mental hospital. I grew up among the mentally ill.

I always thought my father understood struggling people because he and his family struggled in the early 1900's as an Italian immigrant family. My own strong defense of the left out comes from that background.

My father returned to Italy to get his medical degree (and was then licensed in the U.S.) He never said this, but I always thought he went back to Italy because in the 1920s and 30s American medical schools discriminated against children of immigrant families. He probably spent his life helping other struggling people because he knew what it was to struggle.

The same with my mother. Her English-immigrant father (a farmer)died when she was a teenager. Her family was poor. She was farmed out to work in people's houses with the kinds of abuse that causes. Her nursing degree was an escape.

I think much of what I am comes from where I came from, who my ancestors are. In one of the most conservative states in the union, I support a sane immigration policy which encourages immigration and helps struggling immigrants become citizens because if it hadn't been that way in the 1890s when my grandfather came, I wouldn't have the blessing of having lived in the USA.

So how much of my life has been fed with the streams of those who came before me? All of it, and I thank God for that.

PS After a while, people drop the hyphenated part. My dad was a dark-skinned Italian, but by the later part of his life, people seemed to forget that.

Erica Orloff said...

Wow . . . that is really an amazing sotry. You come from quite a line of people who are inspiring, no doubt. Thank you for sharing!!!

Mark Terry said...

It just registered on me that your aunt is Karen Dionne. She's practically a neighbor. I ran into her at a booksigning a year or so ago in Romeo. Small world.

Melanie Avila said...

Mark, yes she is. :)

I think our smiles are the same -- I probably resemble her more than my own mother.

I wish I could be there for her events, especially the Backspace conference!

Robin said...

Fun post, you guys! I loved reading all the comments and learning about everyone.

Adam is of half German and half Russian heritage. I'm all Russian Jew from both sides. I think our family is a little inbred, and that's why we're all nuts. Just a thought.

Both Adam and my father are physics professors. They are both really funny and zany. I really like my family. I'm looking forward to learning something about Russian heritage in "Magickeepers"!

Erica Orloff said...

I hope you enjoy it! Thanks!