5 Questions for...Alma Luz Villanueva
Written by
Five Questions
October 2013
Written by
Five Questions
October 2013

Alma Luz Villanueva is the author of four novels, most recently Song of the Golden Scorpion, as well as a book of short stories, Weeping Woman: La Llorona and Other Stories, and eight books of poetry, most recently Gracias, which will be published in 2013. She Writer Laraine Herring, author of three non-fiction books and three novels, had the opportunity to study with Alma Luz while earning her MFA, and she jumped at the chance to interview her here and help welcome her new book into the world. Below, Alma Luz discusses her connection to the world of story and the importance of honoring ancestors and intuition with Laraine.


Laraine Herring: My experience in workshops with you illuminated for me your sacred connection to the world of Story. How do you feel Stories and Writing have helped transform you as an author?

Alma Luz Villanueva: It all began with my Yaqui Indian grandmother, Jesus Villanueva, who taught me dreaming from the time I could speak. She also taught me poetry to recite by heart; I watched/heard her recite very long poems by heart on the church stage, her long grey hair to her waist loose like a young woman. Poetry is a deep source of transformation...prayer, magical words/chants...which led me to stories, and, finally, to the novel. Poetry, stories, the novel—all lead to transformation, the re-inventing of the Self/Spirit. The canto hondo/deep song questions/themes we ask in our work always are answered in very mysterious ways. That long journey of the fictive dream. This novel took me six years, and my characters would often appear in dreams to tell me something crucial, directly, as I wasn't getting it in the “waking state.” They were patient with me, with the transformation. Once Javier appeared to me in a dream—I was stuck in a crucial scene/time midway through the novel—he looked at me very gravely and said, “It's not on the map, it’s in the blood.” I woke up and wrote it down, and it un-stuck me...the canto hondo of his words.

Laraine Herring: Song of the Golden Scorpion is a boundary-less and borderless love story. Without giving too much of the book away, can you speak to the origin spark of the novel?

Alma Luz Villanueva: When I started writing about la chispa/the spark in my Countdown to Publication at She Writes, I realized it truly began with a shaman I met in New Mexico...our conversations, sharing of our dreams (as I used to with mi Mamacita). We met about once a month to talk and our central “theme” always revolved around the Hopi/Pueblo emergence into the Fifth World  (the Mayan Sixth World). Weaving in our own stories/dreams as well; but the heart of our talks always returned to “What's coming up in our human evolution?” He told me to get hold of Book of the Hopi, Frank Waters, which had a record of the Hopi Prophecies, as well as an in-depth view of a very ancient, Earth/Sky sacred culture. At the back of the book is a Hopi language dictionary, each word reading like a poem...tuawta, Vision: one who sees magic...polikwaptiwa, Butterfly sitting on flower...masawistiwa, Wing spreading over earth...kuwanlelenta, To make beautiful surroundings. I began to write poetry using these beautiful words, which will appear in my new book, GRACIAS, this year.

The central storyline of the novel follows the love affair, relationship, between Xochiquetzal and Javier—an older woman, younger man relationship. In our patriarchal culture, older man, younger woman, is much (much) more acceptable...women who do this are “cougars.” This is not a “cougar” scenario—it’s a mutual exchange of love and respect, and it’s also very erotic. I had fun, and experienced joy, writing it. I have four grown children, so my “life experience” and love of the erotic, Eros, provided a full sense-ual recall. Then I had those usual “second thoughts”: my grown children will read this. And as with my first novel, I asked myself, “Is this a hobby or your life’s work?”

Laraine Herring: Your fiction seems to me to take place “beyond time,” even though each novel is clearly rooted in a specific time and place. How do you relate to time, either in fiction or in “real” (ha) life? What sort of character is time?

Alma Luz Villanueva: I think it goes back to mi Mamacita, that dreaming...“A dream is dreaming us.” Bushmen (women) quote. I truly had to re-train myself to pay attention to “waking time,” and having four children certainly helped. In Carlos Castaneda’s books, his teacher, Don Juan, states that a warrior is either a “dreamer or a stalker.” I'm a natural dreamer who had to learn to also be a stalker...someone who also lives/creates in the world. As poets/writers, that's a very valuable kind of cross-training for us, to do/be both. I also like Deepak Chopra's explanation of time (The Book of Secrets): “The universe runs on a switch with only two positions, on and off. ‘On’ is the material world with all its events and objects. ‘Off’ is pure possibility, the changing room where particles go when no one is looking...the universe can be changed without regard for time and space.” I think the time we spend in the 'Off' fictive dream/poem switch keeps our DNA younger. I love to play with time, the dream; as I know it plays with me, endlessly.

Laraine Herring: Your characters, and not just in Song of the Golden Scorpion, have connections to a dream-life, to deep intuition, and/or to a rich past of ancestors. How does intuition weave its way into your writing process?

Alma Luz Villanueva: I think the above answers really cover this dreaming/writing process, and I'd add that the “stalker” (the balance of the “dreamer”) joins me as I revise/re-vision the writing, but s/he's a good editor, on my side, haha. For the moment, the entering of the fictive dream, I pull the “Off” switch and give no thought/worry as to who will read what I'm writing. This moment, fictive dream, is between myself and the characters who have arrived to take part in this long, dreaming journey. If I do give it a thought/worry, I’ve pulled the “On” switch—when I return to the fictive dream, the “Off” switch. My advice: While shopping for the perfect mango, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, sweeping, watching your child’s track meet, or just taking a day off (traveling) and enjoying the “On” in the world switch...carry a notebook and pen. When the dream that’s dreaming you intrudes, and your characters have something to show you, something to say—write it down immediately.

Laraine Herring: You’ve often spoken of your grandmother as an inspiration. What writers have served as your “story ancestors”?

Alma Luz Villanueva: Here’s a few: First, when I was twelve, Walter Farley, The Island Stallion series...I was the boy on the island with the black stallion, our secret world. I read, and re-read, every book. The Diary of Anne Frank I read when I was thirteen, introducing me to the memory of human-made evil. Her words, “I still believe people are good at heart.” Walter Farley, my own world, the dreamer. Anne Frank, the world as it simply is, stirred the “stalker.” The poets: Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Audre Lorde, Rosario Castellanos (poet/writer...I quoted one of her poems for the opening of my first novel, The Ultraviolet Sky), Rumi, and more. The writers: Herman Hesse, Colette (her Earthly Paradise, the most beautiful prose I've ever read), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz—and some current ones, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison (I’m grateful, daily, that she was born), Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Luis Alberto Urrea, Barbara Kingsolver, Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s Women Who Run with the Wolves, my Goddess Bible: “The wild feminine is not only sustainable in all worlds; it/she sustains all worlds.” And there are so many more...and I’m grateful that each writer I’ve listed was born to write the poem, the stories, that sustain all of us.

Song of the Golden Scorpion published on October 12th. For more about the book and Alma Luz, visit her website, www.almaluzvillanueva.com.

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