Monday, December 15, 2014

Local Flavor--How to Spice Up Your Stories (without including recipes!)

There is a benefit to becoming an avid reader at a young age... you get to travel the world and experience many cultures and customs before you're old enough to drive.

This is especially good when your family vacations were always at nearby relatives' homes.

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and my only "travels" were to visit Dad's family in Roswell, New Mexico and the surrounding area or Mom's family in Chihuahua, Mexico. Disneyland vacations were not something most people in my neighborhood did. Since holidays and vacations were always spent in the same geographical area, we never experienced anything but what we'd always grown up with... and that included holiday traditions that I'd never read about in a book.

From the time I was old enough to read, I was always engrossed in a book my dad had ordered from Reader's Digest called "The Book of Christmas". In it were several condensed versions of Christmas classics, including "A Christmas Carol". To me, reading about the way that the Cratchit family celebrated Christmas was akin to reading science fiction: They had goose for Christmas? What in the world is plum pudding?  We always had turkey and ham... and why didn't they have tamales, like we did?

Other stories introduced foreign customs, like caroling. We didn't go caroling; we had posadas for nine days before Christmas, reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for lodging. We didn't have gingerbread cookies; we had bizcochitos, cinnamon and anise flavored cookies that were only made for special occasions like Christmas or weddings. A neighbor whose mother-in-law came from England for the holidays brought Christmas crackers; to us, they were a bit like hand-held piƱatas! And while eggnog wasn't unheard of--we called it rompope--most of the time, instead of hot chocolate, we had champurrado, a hot drink made with corn flour, milk, chocolate, and anise (trust me, it's an acquired taste!)

As I got older, it occurred to me that the world-view I was acquiring from books very rarely included the world in which I had grown up and still inhabited. So when I decided to become a writer, I took to heart the old oft-repeated advice to "write what you know". While I might not know much about murder (trust me!), I do know a lot about the area where my Black Horse Campground characters live... it's where I grew up and where I still live. And readers will get a glimpse--and a taste--of life in Bonney County, which is probably very different from where many of them live.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas... wherever you are!

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