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About Michelle Ruiz Keil
Michelle Ruiz Keil is a Latinx novelist and playwright with an eye for the enchanted and a way with animals. She teaches writing with a focus on fairytale, divination, and archetype and curates All Kinds of Fur: A Fairytale Reading Series and Salon in Portland, Oregon. She has been a fellow at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Lit Camp. Her published short fiction can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue, and she has a forthcoming theater piece in collaboration with Shaking The Tree Theater. All Of Us With Wings is her first novel.
A Visit From Xochiquetzal
Writing All Of Us With Wings happened in fits and starts. The whole thing actually started as a dare when the teenagers at my daughters’ Free School wanted to try NANOWRIMO. I was invited to join the group as a co-teacher, I suspect because I was a known night owl who would allow all-night writing marathons at my house. By the time November was over, I had fifty thousand words and knew I had…something. I just wasn’t sure what. I worked all the rest of that winter, spring and summer until I had a very messy first draft but was only marginally closer to understanding the story I was trying to write.
Being a Virgo Ravenclaw, I turned to research. I started with the names of my characters. My writing method tends toward extreme pantsing so the character names were literally the first things that popped into my head. As a witch, I believe all words have inherent power, so understanding the character’s names was definitely the place to start.
I began with my protagonist, Xochi. I first heard the name at one of my twin nephews’ birthday parties. It belonged to a very nice little girl who told me it meant flower in Nahuatl. I’d done a cursory search early on to procrastinate drafting and found the god Xochipili. I expected to learn more about the Aztec party god when I researched the name in earnest. Instead, I found his sister, the goddess Xochiquetzal. As I read, I began to get serious chills.
Xochiqutzal is a pansexual maiden fertility goddess who loves one god but is kidnapped by another. Butterflies and hummingbirds fly in her wake in a heaven of bleeding trees and winds that blow knives made of obsidian – a harsh Garden of Eden where Xochiquetzal, like Eve, can’t help but pluck the forbidden fruit.
I remember taking a deep breath. I was excited, a little shaky. My Xochi’s story was definitely about agency stolen and regained and laced liberally with hummingbirds, heavens, and Garden of Eden imagery.
As a lifelong student of the work of Carl Jung, I’m convinced the collective unconscious is a real thing. I believe that stories can tap into archetypal material, that we carry ancestral stories in our DNA. But when I read about Xochiquetzal’s feast day, I jumped out of my chair: on the proper day in the Aztec calendar, supplicants would pierce their tongues, passing a piece of straw though the perforation for each of their sins. Afterward, the straw was burned, the supplicant purified.
The thing is, in one of the earliest scenes I wrote, my Xochi is alone on the street at night and takes refuge in a piercing shop, open late on the vernal equinox for certain special nocturnal customers. There, Xochi is compared to Persephone, who shares some of the Aztec goddess’ attributes, and discusses the spiritual reasons a person might choose to get pierced with the owner of the shop. When he offers to perform a piercing, of course Xochi chooses to pierce her tongue.
So, the collective unconscious is one thing. As a tarot reader and fairy tale maven, I’m used to signs and symbols. But this coincidence was so specific, I have to admit – I was shook. As I learned more — that Xochiquetzal was a patron of midwives and sex workers, that she was a deity associated with water, that her hair was said to have woven the first fishing baskets, that her many stories contained images of water serpents, honeybees, and the moon, I marveled again since this imagery was also associated with scenes I’d written about Xochi’s past and with the creatures in my book, the Waterbabies.
My excitement over these connections fueled the years (yes, years!) of revision it took to learn to tell the story that would become All Of Us With Wings, and helped me find the heart of my Xochi, a half- Mexican girl disconnected from her heritage, searching for her identity. It was as if the goddess herself reached out in her midwife aspect and helped pull my story into this world.
Title All Of Us With Wings
Author Michelle Ruiz Keil
Pages 360 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date June 18 2019 by Soho Teen
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
Michelle Ruiz Keil’s YA fantasy debut about love, found family, and healing is an ode to post-punk San Francisco through the eyes of a Mexican-American girl.
Seventeen-year-old Xochi is alone in San Francisco, running from her painful past: the mother who abandoned her, the man who betrayed her. Then one day, she meets Pallas, a precocious twelve-year-old who lives with her rockstar family in one of the city’s storybook Victorians. Xochi accepts a position as Pallas’s live-in governess and quickly finds her place in the girl’s tight-knit household, which operates on a free-love philosophy and easy warmth despite the band’s growing fame.
But on the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a concert afterparty rages in the house below, Xochi and Pallas perform a riot-grrrl ritual in good fun, accidentally summoning a pair of ancient beings bound to avenge the wrongs of Xochi’s past. She would do anything to preserve her new life, but with the creatures determined to exact vengeance on those who’ve hurt her, no one is safe — not the family Xochi’s chosen, nor the one she left behind.