Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by
the talented Cubana author and radio host Teresa Dovalpage. Teresa has published
eight novels and three short story collections in Spanish and English and is
the delightful radio host for KNCE True Taos Radio
. We had a lively and candid
discussion which she translated into Spanish. The only caveat was her co-host
had to unexpectedly run out of the station so the interview wasn’t taped. Yet
the upside, we had such a nice rapport that we’ll do another live interview in
which I'll read an excerpt from my book—so stay tuned!
Read below for a synopsis:
motivated you to write Luck is Just
I’ve been fascinated with my dad’s story since I was a
child, how he literally saw a number. So for the first time in his life, he
spent everything he had saved since he was a child and bought a full sheet of
lottery tickets in his village in Puerto Rico
and won! It was an incredible stroke of luck, almost too good to believe, and
rather than squander it, he used the money to achieve his dream of becoming a
dentist, and follow in the footsteps of his village’s “humanitario”, the old
dentist who helped my father and so many others.
Then ten years ago, I read The Color of Water
by James McBride. The book is an autobiography,
but is interwoven with the story of the author’s mother, who emigrated from Poland
It reminded me of my dad’s story, who came here amidst tremendous hardship from
. James McBride was one of 12
children and my father was the last of 15! (Sadly, the first eight died in
infancy in early 1900s; my dad was born in 1925.) So I thought, “I want to tell
Dad’s story…” and I started writing. I took a creative writing class online and
attended writers’ conferences, including Squaw Valley Community of Writers and
classes at my nearby community college and university (University
). I joined an amazing critique group of
seven women, and thus began a project that unbeknownst to me, would take ten
years to complete! It’s been life changing!
you interview your father “formally” for the book?
Yes, and when I first approached him to do a book project,
he said, “Why do you want to write about me?” It shows how kind and humble he
is, and his patience through the years was unwavering. Since he lives in Florida, most of our
interviews were over the phone—I have notebooks full of stories. I also did an
interview with a cassette recorder and my mom participated. I will have their
voices for years to come, which I will treasure! In the acknowledgements for my
book, I thank my father for sharing the intimate details of his life with me so
honestly. When I read that sentence, I still get misty-eyed.
was your writing process like? Did you write every day?
I did most of my writing on my days off from my job as a
physical therapist with a break midday to walk or exercise, especially when I
was stuck on a scene I needed to process before getting back to. I work part
time and would often sneak in some writing on my lunch break and weekends. I
carried around a note pad (and still do!) to record ideas when they came to me
to add to the manuscript later. Twice monthly, I attended my critique group to
keep me motivated. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and daughter, a
wonderful balance of career, family and creativity. I still write daily, mainly
blog posts, interviews and articles and recently published one in my local
independent newspaper about the book’s evolution: http://moonshineink.com/mountain-life/sharing-luck
was your favorite scene? And your most difficult?
This is a novel, or fiction based on a true story and very
close to the events as my father told them to me. One favorite scene was when
my uncle, Isidro, returned home from France
after his tour of duty in World War II as part of Puerto
’s famous 65th
Infantry. My father went to pick him
up in Ponce
his memories of that day are vivid. The scene shows the love and admiration
between two brothers separated by war. I hope it resonates with people who
lived through the war and since the book is considered historical fiction, I
tried to paint a picture for younger readers, including my generation, of what
the war was like.
For the most difficult scenes, I can’t give away too much of
the plot, but there were several scenes where the protagonist, Ramón, behaves
in ways he later regrets. This is all part of his growth, however, and in the
end, his actions are selfless.
- Do you
plan to promote the book in Puerto Rico?
I imagine some of the people who appeared in the book are still alive. Did
you use their real names? What kind of reactions do you anticipate?
Yes, I’d love to promote the book in Puerto
! I still have cousins there and can’t wait to hear their
impressions of the story. I kept many names and changed a few. Most characters
are real or based on real people and a few are fictitious whom I added for
dramatic license. Who’s real and who’s not? I love a little mystery around the
book and invite readers and book clubs to contact me!
Sadly, almost everyone in the story is gone now (hint, a
young nephew is still in PR and about 80!). My father was the youngest of his
large family all his siblings have passed away, the last at 94. Dad is 90 and
frailer now, but doing quite well and living in Florida.
writers have influenced you the most?
Gabriel Garcia Márquez was one of the finest writers of all
time. I also admire Alex Espinoza, Rudolfo Anaya, Désirée Zamorano and Puerto
Rican writers Esmeralda Santiago, and Rosaria Ferré. An instructor from a
workshop at University of Reno,
, author David Sundstrand
was a great influence and tremendous support. Of course, all the women in my
writers critique group have been with me since the book’s inception.
is a very inspirational story. Do you have a famous motto or quote you
I love the quote from Maya Angelou on my dedication page:
“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million
realities.” I live by one of the book’s themes, that perseverance and integrity
are essential in accomplishing one’s goals. There are a few pieces of wisdom
throughout the story, many of them
revealed by the book’s matriarch, my grandmother, Doña Chepa. Two quotes near
the end of the book: a friend tells Ramón, the protagonist, “Once your luck
gets a little momentum, there’s no telling where it will take you, ay, my
friend?” and a jewel that Ramón shares with his brother, “It’s your family,
friends and our belief in one another that count most in the end, isn’t it?”
- Where is your book available and are you working on another book now?
My book is available on my website, celesteleon.com
with a direct link to purchase copies from Amazon, the publisher, Floricanto Press or a signed copy from me. It's also available at my wonderful indie bookstores, The Bookshelf
in Truckee and Grassroots Books
in Reno, NV.
As for a another book, I have an idea for a young adult nonfiction book, and would
love to collaborate with my thirteen-year-old daughter. She’s blossoming as a
creative writer—I think the craft comes far more naturally to her than to her