By Kevin Andrew Murphy
I’ve created a great number of characters for the Wild Cards series, but one of my favorites is Rosa Loteria who first appeared in Inside Straight. My inspiration for Rosa started with a young woman I met years ago in San Diego, wearing a shirt printed with loteria cards, and many years later, a deck of cards nearly falling off the edge of a bargain cart into my hands. A true bargain, only $1 for a full deck of the out-of-print Zarela loteria.
I collect tarot and playing cards, but I’d yet to stretch my hobby to loteria cards. The Zarela cards were different from any loteria cards I’d seen before, being done as full paintings on high quality cardstock. I happily got them, then obtained the matching placemats online that doubled as loteria mats. (There was even a whole collection of matching housewares, including shower curtains, which I didn’t get.)
What is loteria, you might ask? It’s Mexican picture bingo. Its roots go back to the Italian game biribisse which was came about in the 17th century as a way for printers to take their ornaments and woodcuts, the clip art of the day, and make boards and cards.
There’s significant overlap between the biribisseimages, tarot cards (especially the early minchiate decks), the Lenormand fortune-telling decks that started as The Game of Hope in the Austrian court, and the various loteria decks, including the Loteria campechana which has at least 90 cards.
Loteria also comes with riddles, all of them very easy, for the loteria caller to call out for people to guess what the picture is.
The most popular loteria set in Mexico today is the 52-card El Gallo, The Rooster, deck which Don Clemente Jacques brought from France in 1887.
The rooster was also the first card in the Zarela deck.
I’ve got a degree in anthropology specializing in folklore, so symbolism is something I know and I’m used to spotting and decoding. I knew I’d seen this image of the rooster before, in the deck of German quartet cards I’d played with as a child.
My Zarela deck was a variant and update on Don Clemente’s, Zarela being Zarela Martinez, the Mexican chef and cookbook author.
Zarela’s iconography was much the same, but with a few twists for modern sensibilities and an American housewares line. For example, Zarela solved the problem of what to do with card 26, the politically incorrect El Negrito, by borrowing the name from card 4, El Catrin, the dandy, rather than whitewashing him to El Bailarin, the dancer, like the modern Don Clemente Inc. did for their US version of the deck.
But, of course, what does this have to do with Wild Cards, which takes its titles from poker, not loteria? Well, while I was exploring and playing with the loteria iconography, George put out the call to the authors for us to pitch characters for Inside Straight, our first volume for Tor.
Carrie Vaughn had come up with the great idea for American Hero, the ace reality show and a website (and soon to be ebook) of the same name, and we wanted to have twenty-eight new aces to fill out the roster. I came up with Guadelupe Maria del Rosario Garza, or Rosa for short, who’s the ace Rosa Loteria. Rosa’s grandmother gave her her family’s antique loteria deck for her quinceañera, which is where she turned her wild card, and by drawing from her deck, Rosa could turn into over a hundred different aces.
Rosa was in, taking a major role in Inside Straight, and while I didn’t write any of the stories for that, I did write many of the confessionals for the accompanying novella American Hero which was first featured on our new website and will soon be reissued as an ebook from Tor.
Rosa got put on Team Spades along with King Cobalt, Dragon Huntress, Rustbelt, Pop Tart, The Candle, and Simoon.
Here’s Rosa’s billing from American Hero:
There’s never a loser when ROSA deals the cards. Diva or demon, snake or lion, even death itself, they’re all in the hands of
Guadelupe Maria del Rosario Garza
East Los Angeles, California
Rosa certainly has all these cards in her deck. The Diva is possibly El Musico, the musician, but may be El Bandolon, the mandolin, El Violincello, the violin, El Tambor,the drum, El Arpa, the harp, El Organo,the harmonica, La Marimba, the marimba, orsome less common musical instrument—or Rosa’s deck may contain La Diva, the diva, straight up. The demon is likely El Diablito, the little devil, though it’s equally possible there’s a demon to go with the devil in her deck. La Vibora is the viper, though there are many possible snakes, so Rosa may have more than one snake card as well. There is likely only one lion, but as for Death, most loteria decks contain both La Calavera, the skull, and La Muerta, Death itself, or to be more precise, herself. Rosa has been shown, in both illustrations and description, to have both morbid cards.
Of course, for Rosa’s deck, rather than the modern Zarela loteria deck or the popular Don Clemente version, I delved a little deeper and decided hers was related to the loteria campechana, with over a hundred images, hand-painted, going back to the Napoleonic era, about the same vintage as this antique loteria table.
To get a better idea, here’s a mock up of some cards I made myself as a reference for a project with Rosa in the pipeline now. Rosa’s deck, as described thus far, is Napoleonic era and very beautiful, either hand-painted or elaborately printed then hand-tinted with watercolors and hand-embellished with gilding and ink. (And Rosa’s first and last name, Rosa Garza, come from common loteria cards.)
Of course, not all of Rosa’s cards have been enumerated thus far, but with over a hundred cards, I thought it would be useful to show what cards have been revealed in canon, both as cards mentioned and as the various aces Rosa has turned into and their powers mentioned or demonstrated.
Chronologically, as established by Rosa’s confessionals in American Hero, the first card Rosa drew when she turned her wild card was El Nopal, the cactus, causing quite a stir at her quinceañera.
Rosa turned into a cactus joker with thorns and flowers on her head, something like what John Picacio, illustrator for the Wild Cards web fiction, imagined for his take on the same card for his personal loteria project:
I imagined something a like this:
Or perhaps this:
Rosa was horrified by the transformation, thinking she’d changed into a joker, but her grandmother encouraged to draw another card from the loteria deck, to see if she could become other characters. Rosa did, drawing La Bota, the boot.
But instead of becoming an actual boot, Rosa became Bootsie, a Nancy Sinatra-like character whose seven-league go-go boots were made for walking, taking her in a few steps to Van Nuys.
The next cards we know of Rosa drawing are at the American Hero tryouts offstage in San Francisco where Rosa reports in her first American Hero confessional that she tried out as a series of aces until Digger Downs, ace reporter and one of the judges, sniffed her out, uncovering her ruse, and told her she would be on the show if she just stopped auditioning.
The cards and aces Rosa reports revealing at the tryouts are, in order:
La Goldrina, the swallow, taking the form of a feathered swallow woman.
The cards here are from the expanded Don Clemente deck from the 1930s, the newer variant from the1960s, and the wonderful new deck from Teresa Villegas.
Rosa’s deck would of course be older and Napoleonic era, but still a similar image. As for what La Goldrinathe ace looks like, Rosa likes classic theatrical costuming, so I’m thinking some variant of Papagena from The Magic Flute. But La Goldrina’s costume hasn’t been established in canon yet.
The next card Rosa reports drawing is La Sirena, the mermaid. The classic imagery, while wonderful, is even more amazing in the full portrait by John Picacio.
Next Rosa reports taking the form of La Dama, the lady, who made all the judges fall in love with her–at least the men.
The last wild image is by artist Mario Godinez. Probably not what Rosa’s La Dama card looks like, but one never knows….
La Dama hasn’t shown up on stage, so costuming and her look is up to the writers and Rosa’s whims. I imagine a Helen of Troy type figure who looks like the most beautiful woman in the world to the men who look at her. To the women? Well, that remains to be seen.
Rosa also reports taking the form of El Valiente, the valiant one, a knife-fighter. She reports, significantly, “He was me too.”
Rosa has male personas among her cards. What El Valiente looks like remains to be seen as well, but the cards hold some possibilities.
It should be noted that El Valiente doesn’t necessarily need to be male, as shown with this wonderful reinterpretation from John Picacio.
The next card Rosa draws is El Paraguas, The Umbrella, as a demonstration for the cameras during the American Hero confessionals.
Rosa describes her character as looking, not like John Picacio’s awesome robot boy, but like the Morton Salt girl. But which Morton Salt girl? There’ve been a lot of them.
Rosa also warns that “this little chicitita in the Mary Janes is one of the most kick-ass aces you’ll meet, because if I open up this big umbrella here, well, When it rains, it pours. We’ll have a thunderstorm right here on the set. Plus I could fly around like Mary Poppins and call lightning bolts. But if I did that, the producers would have a fit, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, okay?”
Rosa confesses that El Paraguas is one of favorites, but she has a lot of favorites:
La Chalupa, The Flower Boat
El Corazón, The Heart
El Tigre, The Tiger
El Diablito, The Little Devil
La Amapola, The Poppy
While I imagine the card might have an image like this:
I think the character of La Amapola would look more like this:
El Catrin, the dandy, who Rosa reports is her male alter ego and the sharp-dressed man.
And of course La Rosa, The Rose, who’s Rosa.
Rosa next confesses “If I draw El Músico, The Musician, I can turn into Elvis too. Or Madonna. Or, hey, even Drummer Boy, and wouldn’t that be weird?”
Speaking of Drummer Boy, La Arana, the spider, is a card that Rosa draws when they get together.
I expect this was the sort of form the card gave Rosa for her fling with Drummer Boy where they both explored the possibilities of extra arms.
In Week 4 of the American Hero challenges, Rosa Loteria spotted an idol her team was seeking — in an electrified cage suspended from the 405 freeway overpass over Ventura Boulevard. But, as the transcript reports, “luck wasn’t with her, and she drew a bad card — El Camaron, the Shrimp. Ouch. A twelve inch Rosa with gills was out of the running.”
In Week 5, Rosa draws El Diablito which she mentioned earlier. It is also revealed that she’s a devil girl and she’s blue with an electrical shocking power.
Rosa draw Los Platanos, the Bananas.
This gives “the lovely Rosa a thick, rubbery yellow skin and not much else” according to the narrator of that section.
While I imagine it might also give her slipperiness powers and the ability to make like Carmen Miranda, Los Platanos is probably not one of Rosa’s most formidable cards—unless of course Los Platanos can also drive people bananas.
Rosa reports that they go to a homeless shelter and she pulls El Tigre and everyone’s all “Ooh, a tiger woman! Cool!”
(Yes, there is now an official NFL loteria set:
Check it out.)
Then Rosa shuffles the deck, pulls a card, and calls, “Hey, who’s drunk as a skunk?” and someone calls back “El Borracho!”
El Borracho,the drunkard, can produce everyone’s favorite drink from his bottle. I’d imagine he’d also potentially be a very powerful drunk brawler, but it remains to be seen.
Rosa also reveals that her deck does have the politically incorrect El Negrito card mentioned earlier. What’s more, it also has La Sandia, the watermelon, though thankfully neither of these cards were drawn to embarrass her with Jamal Norwood, Stuntman. As for the powers of these to cards? Unrevealed as of yet, though with El Negrito having a cane and also being El Bailarin, the dancer, the persona could easily resemble Mr. Bojangles, impossible dance moves and all. As for La Sandia? There are undoubtedly good reasons Rosa hopes that card stays in the deck.
While Rosa does not reveal what powers and forms of El Negrito or La Sandia, she does let slip that when she took the form of her male alter ego, El Catrin, her teammate, The Candle, made a pass at him.
Rosa pulls Las Jaras, the arrows, and turns into an archer, raining arrows on her enemies.
It’s unspecified what sex the archer is, but since Las Jarasis feminine, I’d go with female.
Rosa draws El Soldado, the Soldier. For once it was the perfect card for the situation.
El Soldado is doubtless also a male persona, but not as much fun to be around as El Catrin.
The confessionals of Week 10 are currently sealed until Tor’s rerelease of the American Heroebook, the internet archive failed to archive them, and my original (and unrevised) text of Rosa’s confessional is archived on the hard drive of an older computer. That said, I recall Rosa having confessed to pulling Los Cacahuetes,the peanuts, and the form her peanuts took owed as much to Charles Schulz as to loteria symbology.
I also must admit that having Rosa take the form of the whole Peanuts gang including a crabby Lucy Van Pelt is just fun. As token and illustration of that, here’s the wooden nickel I just got from the Charles Schulz Museum booth at the Silicon Valley Comic Con.
As mentioned, this and any other loteria cards Rosa revealed in Week 10 should remain a mystery until the republication of American Hero as an ebook.
Rosa writes another confessional, reporting troubles behind the scenes at American Hero.First she pulls Las Cerezas, The Cherries.
She becomes a girl in a red dress and with a straw hat with cherries on it. Something like this, perhaps, with a rockabilly dress with a cherry print.
Or perhaps more vintage, like this:
In either case, “Cherry” can pull the cherries off her hat, having the stems light as they become miniature bombs.
This doesn’t work for their insurance, so Rosa draws again, pulling La Rana, The Frog.
Unfortunately, the frog lady she turns into is a poison frog lady.
Rosa then pulls El Valiente and borrows a prop dagger in place of his knife, completing the challenge.
Rosa then draws El Diablito again, revealing that the blue devil girl with the lightning bolt pitchfork doesn’t just zap lightning but is also lightning quick.
As one of her teammate’s comments, “Rosa’s power is all chance. She shuffles that deck and draws a card, and it’s all so random. Some of her personae have formidable powers, but she’s just as likely to transform herself into chicken-woman or melon-girl, with no more power than your average joker.”
We haven’t seen what El Gallo, the rooster can do, (or La Gallina, the hen, card 6 in the loteria campechana set, if Rosa became an actual chicken woman), nor the powers of El Melon, the cantaloupe (one honestly wonders), but they may not be completely useless.
Other cards mentioned in the course of Inside Straight:
El Pescado, the fish.
Note that John Picacio shows an awfully big fish. El Pescado is potentially very powerful, if limited in use away from water.
During one of the American Hero challenges in Inside Straight, Rosa is observed having turned into a man with a lasso. It is guessed that this is from her drawing El Caballero, The Gentleman, but it could just as easily be El Charro or El Vaquero, The Cowboy (though not the official NFL loteria one). Or her deck may contain El Lazo, the lasso.
It should also be noted that in Rosa’s first illustration, she’s holding up La Calavera, the skull, but in her American Hero description, she also has La Muerta, Death herself, and she later discusses this card with the magician Noel Matthews. The description of the picture on the La Muerta card is very much an image of La Catrina Calavera as created by Jose Posada, who also printed his own, now extremely rare and valuable, loteria deck.
Another card Rosa draws in the course of American Hero is El Tragafuegos, the firebreather.
Finally, the last card we see Rosa draw is La Bandera, the banner, inspiring her recruits at the police academy to victory in their challenge.
While it’s not explicitly said, given the Napoleonic era of her deck and the power of La Bandera, I expect Rosa’s costuming for this scene was much like Liberty leading the people, though with a Mexican or American flag instead of a French one. Or more likely whatever flag the viewer finds most inspiring—not necessarily a good thing, but there are a lot of different banners.
Rosa also gets a turn in Walter Jon Williams “Prompt. Professional. Pop!” on Tor.com, facing off against her arch rival Pop Tart, but Cleo manages to defeat Rosa with a ruse, so while she shuffles her deck, she never gets around to drawing.
What cards will Rosa draw next, at least in canon (not counting those two times I played her on stage for the Kansas City Worldcon and at the Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe)? Those will be revealed, but not just yet. But there are a lot of possibilities….