April 2021 Virtual Book Tour — Leigh Ann Thelmadatter

Like so many foreigners, Leigh Ann Thelmadatter came to Mexico to spend a couple of years and never left. Teaching English paid the bills and supported an obsession with traveling throughout Mexico to learn about its culture, particularly its folk art. Her “apprenticeship” came in the form of writing Wikipedia articles, then a blog called Creative Hands of Mexico, which lasted for 5 years (until the pandemic). 

Both projects have brought home the severe lack of documentation of Mexico’s handcrafts, especially the more regional and innovative ones. Fortunately, the blog led to a column of the same name in the Vallarta Tribune. Since 2019, she has been writing regularly about cultural topics in Mexico News Daily, which is now working on a series of Mexican artisan profiles. She published Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste, and Fiesta with Schiffer in 2019 and currently works on two more books. One on cloth dolls in Mexico and one about foreign artists who live in the country. The first is to give credit to the housewives whose creative talents and economic contributions are often overlooked. The second is an outgrowth of many years of contact with Mexico’s fine arts community.

The work on Creative Hands led her to learn about Mexico’s highly developed but almost completely unknown paper mache crafts, collectively called cartonería. They are figures made almost exclusively for the many festivals on Mexico’s calendar. The best known of these is the piñata, but also include effigies of Judas Iscariot for Holy Saturday, skeletal figures for Day of the Dead, and more. 

In the past 20 years or so, modern cartonería artists have been looking to push the craft as a true “folk art,” not only creating pieces that will be used for the festival, then destroyed/thrown away but as collectors’ items. 

The book begins with a definition of cartonería and its history in Mexico, themselves somewhat controversial as cartonería fulfills many, but not all, of the country’s definitions of “traditional handcraft.”  The following chapters profile important figures such as Pedro Linares and the Lemus family, traditional items made with the technique (and how they are used), modern masters, and what the present and future hold for the craft.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge Reflection Post 2020

And another A to Z Blogging Challenge comes to an end! I have to admit, with all the other things going on in April (COVID-19, quarantine, new kitten, gardening) I didn’t get to visit as many other blogs as I would have liked. Fortunately, I had written all my posts in January, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the challenge either. 

Probably for some of the same reasons, I didn’t get as many visitors as I did previous years. There’s not much to be done about that, I suppose. The value I got out of participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge this year was that I advanced towards finishing the two self-publishing books I’m working on. I’m not there yet, but I hope soon I will be. 

book weaving course cover   book it book cover

As for next year’s participation….well, if I can come up with a good topic between now and then, perhaps. As it stands right now, I’m not sure. Any ideas?

Regardless, the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020 was another satisfying experience for me. How did it go for you?

Blog to Book Project–Zero Spelling and Grammar Errors

Just make sure they are in the right order!

I know that we’ve come to the end of the alphabet today. Unfortunately, your blog to book project probably isn’t quite ready. There are a few things we need to discuss.

One topic that must be addressed before you release your book is editing! No matter how many times you read your written work, errors will get overlooked. Some suggest reading your book out loud backward when checking for errors. That might not catch all of those pesky mistakes though. Recently I read a book where the author talked about riding a mope head. If you read mope head out loud, it certainly sounds like the intended vehicle, moped, but it just isn’t.

Grammar and spelling errors diminish your authority on a subject. Therefore, the fewer the better. Zero errors are ideal, but may not be possible taking into variations of English (or whatever language you are writing in). For example, British English and American English have a number of spelling differences.

We’ve already talked about how using the Hemingway App can make your writing more succinct. Today I’d like to talk a little about Grammarly as a potential writing tool to add to your arsenal.

Grammary has both a free and a paid version. For casual writing, the free version is perfectly fine. If you want to up your game in the spelling and structure department, then consider Grammarly Premium.

Grammarly lets you choose whether you would prefer British or American English, which is a nice option. I write in American English, so when I copy and paste my writing into the app, it checks for spelling errors for me.

I used a draft of a blog post as an example here so you can see what sort of errors Grammarly picks up on. Spacing and punctuation errors are easily fixable. I tend to not use the Oxford common when I write, but Grammarly likes to. I also use Mexican Spanish words on occasion. My audience will know what I’m talking about, but Grammarly doesn’t so marks it as an unknown word.

Indicating a word is overused helps me be more specific in my descriptions. Grammarly will give you some alternatives, but I don’t always use those. Grammarly is utterly opposed to the use of passive voice and will highlight each and every use. According to Grammarly, using active voice will make your writing stronger, but I’m not sure I agree 100 percent.

Squinting modifiers are places where you can clarify ideas. Using this, that, these, and those as adjectives is all well and good when you can point to an object, however, your readers might just need some additional information. Sentence fragments are typically in need of some restructuring.

At the very bottom, you can see that Grammarly has graded my post. I didn’t do very well with this draft post, did I? As I change or ignore Grammarly’s suggested edits, my score changes.

There are other editor apps out there that as just as good or better than Grammarly. The Premium version is a tad expensive in my opinion. You could hire an editor as well. In fact, most writing manuals suggest doing so. Another pair of eyes is never remiss in your quest of zero spelling and grammar errors in your blog to book project.

Assignment: Check your spelling and grammar. Then check it again.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I haven’t finished discussing all the relevant points in your blog to book project even though we’ve reached the end of the alphabet. Stay tuned in upcoming weeks for more helpful posts here at Creative Content!

Sor Juana de La Cruz

In honor of Poetry Day, I’d like to share a little information about Mexican poet Sor Juana de la Cruz.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born on November 12, 1648 near Mexico City in San Miguel Nepantla. Her mother,  Isabel Ramírez de Santillana de Cantillana, belonged to the Criolla section of the Mexican population. Her father was a Spanish Captain by the name of Pedro Manuel de Asbaje y Machuca.

She was raised on her grandfather’s hacienda in Amecameca. She was somewhat of a prodigy if the accounts are to be believed. Educating females was strictly forbidden however somehow Juana was able to write in Latin by age three, do account by age five and composed a poem on the Eucharist at age eight.

Her astonishing accomplishments didn’t stop there. As a teenager, she was versed in Greek philosophy, teaching Latin to younger children and fluent enough in Nahuatl, which she learned fom the slaves on the hacienda, to write poems in that language.

In her teens unable to attend the university because of her gender, she became a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy’s court. The Vicereine Leonor Carreto became her patroness. She declined several offers of marriage and instead entered the St. Joseph Monastery in 1667 as a postulant. She took her vows in 1669 at a different monastery, el Convento de San Jerónimo, because she desired “Vivir sola… no tener ocupación alguna obligatoria que embarazase la libertad de mi estudio, ni rumor de comunidad que impidiese el sosegado silencio de mis libros”(to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study).

As penance for her traitorous words and actions as a radical feminist who believed in educational opportunities for women, she was forced to do penance which included giving up her books, musical and scientific instruments. Sor Juana contracted the plague during her ministrations to other nuns and died on April 17, 1695.

You have to admit, some of her poems are pretty intense. You can find several translations of Sonnet #145 here. You can also find an English translation of Hombre Necios (Foolish Men) here. I don’t think I’m up to the task myself.