"If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities" --Maya Angelou, Poems

Friday, December 4, 2015


I heard a story on NPR’s All Things Considered while driving a couple days ago (12/2/15) that made me pull the car over and take a few notes while the details unfolded (I keep a pen and notepad handy in the glove box for such occasions!).

Hearing this story just a week after the release of my novel made it all the more bittersweet.

Robbie Edmonds, a World War II sergeant, was just named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center for his valor 70 years ago. He is the first U.S. Soldier to be awarded this honor, given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Edmonds was in a German POW camp and was ordered by a Nazi commander to turn in his fellow Jewish soldiers, presumably to be sent to death or labor camps.  "Have the Jewish men step forward or I will shoot you on the spot," the enraged commander screamed. 

With a gun to his head, Sergeant Edmonds refused to turn in his fellow soldiers, stating, “We are all Jews here.” The Nazi commander backed down and many men were saved, some still alive to share the story today.

The story may have died with Sergeant Edmonds twenty years ago until six years ago when his son, Chris Edmonds, came across a news article that mentioned his father. Chris then contacted POWS to confirm the details. Chris said that when he asked his dad about his time in WW II, his response was often, “Son, there are some things we just don’t need to talk about.”

Now Chris knows the extent of his dad's bravery and that he was a hero.

Call me a sentimental; my emotions are high with a book release after so many years of work and I sobbed hearing this story. I am truly blessed that I was able to find out the details of my father’s amazing life, as I consider him a hero too. And his story has been published for me to share. 

Thanks to NPR’s Emily Harris for providing the report.

Here's the full story: U.S. Soldier Honored Posthumously For Protecting Jewish POWs in 1945

Friday, October 30, 2015


A couple weeks ago, I had a pleasant surprise, and a month before book release made it even more special. One of my father’s former patients from his dental practice of decades ago found and read a story I wrote in back in 2006, A Lucky Man, a precursor to my novel. The piece was awarded honorable mention for nonfiction in the annual contest for the Preservation Foundation.

This patient of my dad posted the story on a Facebook page, “I grew up in Northboro, Massachusetts.” Click on the highlighted link to view the post, which generated a storm of memories and testimonials from my dad’s patients, amazingly, 25 years after he retired! My family and I are touched over the praise and heartfelt thanks. And none of his patients knew of my dad’s journey from a village in Puerto Rico to his dental practice in Massachusetts. Every one of them was astounded to learn about his story and his struggles. One thing they shared: they all miss their favorite dentist.

I was his dental assistant during the summers of the latter part of high school and college in the late 70s and early 80s and the comments don’t surprise me. One patient wrote how he sent his assistant to pick her up for an appointment when she was in terrible pain and I remember Dad driving a patient to see a oral surgeon in Worcester, Mass, when the man didn’t own a car. My father did some revolutionary procedures in his practice. He made hypnosis tapes for people to listen to help them stop smoking. We plugged in a padded, heated massage pad for the back of the dental chair, and I brought in my turntable and played classical and folk music for patients to listen to with headphones. Pachelbel and Judy Collins were my favorites. Dad employed some eastern medicine: he placed a cotton ball on some patients’ earlobes with a close pin to stimulate the dental analgesia point. After working in Puerto Rico, he opened his practice in Northborough in 1959 and told patients, “You are now part of my family!”  He treated whole families, witnessing children grow up and treating their children. He made house calls and when someone couldn’t pay, he bartered for services, such as landscaping. When he retired in 1990, many of his patents cried. He was truly a “family dentist”.  

Thank you, Kathy Wallace Boyd, for sharing a wonderful tribute.

Ramón León in dental school, 1953.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I’d like to examine two figures of speech that personally have a great deal of meaning for me and tie in well together.

The first is: Don't judge a book by its cover. But do people? Yes! I am thrilled to post this beautiful still-life image that will be used for my book cover. Would it catch your eye?
Without giving away too much of my novel’s plot, all the elements are directly from the story: the “portions” of lottery tickets with the winning number, the old photo of my Abuela Chepa, the healer and curandera of the novel next to the photo of my father, the protagonist, and his sister, Lila, taken in 1928, the antique handkerchief with the letter “R” and even the seven wheat pennies, with the date of the inciting incident, 1944. On an almost eerie note, the pocket watch belonged to my maternal grandfather, and hasn’t worked in thirty years, until the day of the photo shoot. The hands started moving again. I’m not overly superstitious, but I swear it’s true.

And what else do I think of when I see this image? The traditional African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This book is my “baby” and I’d like to thank everyone who helped with the cover, which is in the design phase with Floricanto Press now! Many thanks to the talented photographer, Pete Rezac, for shooting the cover image and my head shots back in March. And to Gay Jardine, my beautiful friend and designer who helped arrange the images so artfully. A big thanks to Olga Colburn who provided props, the pennies, antique lace and handkerchief from Grandma Ruth. I’m hugely grateful for the incomparable Carol Purroy who is my “go to” person for editing and book design and was the force behind the cover. And who would see the cover without my website and the fantastic assistance of webdesigner Evelyn Fassett? Lastly, to my daughter Elena Friedman, who helped with just about everything!

And to the talented authors who wrote blurbs for the back of my book and whose work I admire: David Sundstrand, Désirée Zamorano, and Alex Espinoza, I am honored to have your praise and support!

Please weigh in and share your favorite books and favorite covers. It really does take a village to raise a child!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I recently read an article in Scientific American and would like to share its findings. In 2013, social psychologists at the New School in New York City performed a study on literature and empathy. The study was also mentioned in one of the craft talks this summer at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference.
Study participants were divided into one of three groups. Each group read excerpts of either literary fiction, commercial fiction, such as a book by Danielle Steele, or serious nonfiction. Participants were then asked to describe their emotional states and look at photos of people to describe how the people in the photos were feeling.
What do you think the outcome was? Think about it for a minute.
Participants who read literary fiction tested markedly better on empathy and understanding; the test results for the two other groups were unimpressive. The author of the article summarizes: “Literary fiction, by contrast, focuses more on the psychology of characters and their relationships; the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. . . to teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.”
Yet today, I’m afraid the emphasis in our world is moving toward nonfiction and “practical” reading. Are we a society focusing on activities that get results versus spending time on idle pursuits such as reading serious fiction? Happily, the above study and more like it have challenged some of these barriers. To share two more statistics: last year, the Pew Research Center reported nearly one quarter of Americans did not read a book in 2013. On a better note, the National Endowment of the Arts reported over half of Americans read books for pleasure in 2012 (I prefer the latter!).
So does this mean I have to shelve my weekly New Yorker since I’m months behind anyway? Absolutely not! I find their nonfiction quite enlightening and moving. From now on, perhaps I’ll just first turn to fiction! And I wonder: does writing fiction help us to be more empathetic? I believe so. I can’t describe exactly how, but writing my novel for nearly ten years and immersing myself into my characters’ struggles have made me more in tune with the stories I hear in my work as a physical therapist. So, please read on!
Writing Prompt: Share a favorite novel or two. After reading, did you experience a change in your thinking? What characters stayed with you?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


The following is an abbreviated version of a story I wrote a few years ago. In 2014, it was the recipient of First Place in the personal essay contest for High Sierra Writers  in Reno, Nevada. 

“There’s a legend I want to tell you about,” my father said. “A spring called El Chorrito is at the top of La Pica. The water is so pure people come from all over to get buckets full of it, for its healing properties.” His voice shook as he continued, “When we go home, I want to take you there.”
La Pica is the torturous road that traverses one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico. For over a century, it was the only way into the village of Maunabo where Dad grew up. The road is so narrow and full of potholes the size of stray dogs and switchbacks that drivers honk their horns around each turn to warn unseen vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
Maunabo is still considered unspoiled. Due to the tall surrounding mountains, it has remained removed from the rest of the island. Many still consider it a colonial city.
In 2006, my husband Brad and I traveled to Maunabo with my father. It was Dad’s first trip “home” in over two decades.
For me, the purpose of the trip was to do research  for the book I had recently started writing about Dad’s life, and to meet Nitza, a cousin I had been corresponding with for two years to learn more about the León family. Nitza was an amateur genealogist.
When my father, Brad and I met Nitza and her husband Felix at their home for dinner, Dad raised his glass of wine and toasted, “I have taken you people completely into my heart and soul!” I have never seen my father, usually taciturn, so animated. It was a long journey for him at age 83, yet during this trip, I witnessed a new vitality in him.
Just like in the old days, we traversed the old road La Pica, even though today there is a new highway into Maunabo (Puerto Rico Highway 53). Nitza braved La Pica just for me, so I could experience it again. “I’m too scared to go up there by myself, but as long as Cousin Alberto drives-I'd only do it for you!” Nitza laughed as she embraced me.
And the old road was exactly as I imagined. Bungalows painted peach, green, or ochre, reminiscent of a Diego Rivera mural, dot the road. San Juan has its fine homes and sophistication, but out here in the country, there are signs of a land plagued by economic woes. Many of the houses are in states of squalid decay and the roadside is littered with rusted cars whose only occupants are lizards darting in and out of the broken windows and wild vines and thickets growing over the hoods. The vegetation is so lush it’s like driving thorough a canopy of leaves.
As we drove, a memory bubbled to the surface from when I was a child of six or seven: Dad honking the horn around each hairpin turn, Mom gasping in fright, my two sisters and I crammed in the back seat, wide-eyed at how primitive and wild everything looked.
The purpose of the 2006 trip was research, but I got so much more on my first time back to Puerto Rico since I was that little girl in the back seat. My family used to go to Puerto Rico every year at Christmas, to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday on Christmas Eve and Three Kings Day on January 6th. What I remember most are the parties, the gathering of family, the camaraderie and love; my Tiá Lila making paella, and my Abuela (grandmother) Chepa pinching my cheek and crying, “Que linda!” 
Dad returned “home” after a long absence, and in many ways, so did I.
Writing prompt:
Have you traveled back to a home of the past, either physically or through photo albums or found objects? Write about your trip and a memory it triggers. Share your story and photo here.

Friday, July 10, 2015


A couple weeks ago, my daughter and I were having dinner, just the two of us. I asked her, “Elena, you know I wrote this book for you, right?”
“Yeah . . . I know,” she said, her voice tender, full of understanding.
Elena has witnessed my struggle over the years, my heartache at the dozens of rejections from agents and publishers, and my labor over countless rewrites. She has heard me cry that I wanted to give up. She knows how hard I worked yet all this time, I never shared the why.
After so many years—nearly ten—of writing my novel, the thought that it will be released within as little as three months is daunting: to come to end of the road of a long journey. Am I ready to switch gears to promote it, a journey of a whole other kind, from creative to sales? 
She saw my exuberant cheering when it was accepted for publication. Watched me jump up and down with joy.
I wanted to write a beautiful book. I wanted to share a story that is so inspirational and important to me to pass on this story to others. I wanted to give a gift to my father for all his patience, time and willingness to share the intimate details of his life with me so honestly.
But mostly I wrote my father’s story to share it with my daughter, so she may discover that rich and beautiful part of her heritage.
And all this time, Elena has understood the book project was in part for her. She also knows her mother is a little bit loca.

Writing Prompt:
Describe an event when a child or any other young person in your life got you, understood you in a way that surprised you.  Or: Write about your reasons for accomplishing something for others. 

Friday, June 26, 2015


In my first post, I said I would write about premonitions, for the one my father experienced is an important scene in my novel. Now I invite you to read about a premonition of mine.

Since 2007, I’ve been involved with a wonderful group of women in a critique group, Writers Unanimous. In 2009, we lost one of our own. She fell asleep driving and was killed: a single vehicle accident, no other fatalities except for her dog who was traveling with her. We lost our dear Marie.

I received the news via email from one of our members. Understandably, she was too grief stricken to phone us all and unable to find her voice, she apologized that she had to share the news via an email. Perhaps you’ve received a similar message.

Fast forward seven years. I was in Disney Land with my family and a thought popped into my head that I would come home to find a similar message about someone in that group of women. It scared the hell out of me. “Please, God, when I get home, don’t let me open my email to another one of those messages—Please!” I didn’t want any harm to come to the group of women who had become such an important part of my life. “No, it’s Chuck. Something is going to happen to him,” my inner voice said. I thought of that one husband in particular; his name came to me, right there in Disney Land, the happiest place on earth. I dismissed the thought as too disturbing.

A few days after I arrived home, I received the email I feared. My beautiful and talented friend, a member of our group, had lost her husband of 57 years, the man whose name came to me. He had a massive heart attack. I had met him on only a few occasions.  One day several years ago he helped me jump start my car, and please forgive the cliché, but he had a twinkle in his eye. I’ve heard many stories about what a wonderful friend, father, husband and man Chuck was. My heart goes out to his family.

People have premonitions. When my dad was eighteen and living in Puerto Rico, he envisioned a series of five numbers. A couple days later, Caimito, the lottery ticket salesman and most popular guy in town, sauntered into Dad’s small clothing and textile store with the same number.  Dad was so sure of his premonition that he bought entire sheet of lottery tickets, all thirty “pieces” for six dollars, what it took him a decade to earn delivering pastries to the macheteros, the workers in the sugarcane fields. Incredibly, he won the jackpot. He used his winnings to transform his life: to become a dentist and change the lives of his people. When he retired many years later, many of his patients cried. 

I’ll end with a lighter thought, a funny photo of me and my daughter on that Disney trip, about to be catapulted away on California Screamin’, the fastest roller coaster I’ve ever been on. We’re four rows back—she’s the cute one smiling. I’m screaming. Literally.

And Dad’s huge premonition? It’s hard to believe but it happened. Divine intervention? Karma? I’m not religious. But I know that in my dad’s case, it was a little bit of both.
Writing prompt:
Describe a premonition. Or share a story of a promotion that someone told you about. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


“What was your earliest memory, Dad?”

I posed this question during one of my many hours interviewing my father for my novel, based on his remarkable life.

“Late summer, when I was three,” he began. “Hurricane San Felipe destroyed the island. My father carried me and Lila to the Cadiz house, the only cement house in the village . . . he and Don Cadiz ripped up the floorboards so our families could hide there, in the dirt crawl space underneath the floor. It was moist, the dirt seeped into me. It was hard to breath with all those people, almost fifteen of us huddling in fear. 

“Afterwards, the town was destroyed. Trees uprooted, entire houses gone. The sheep herder never found his flock. We slept without a roof over our heads for weeks. The small grammar school was destroyed, too. There was no money to replace lost supplies. Each student received only one pencil and one writing tablet for the rest of the year . . .”

I was amazed at the accuracy of my father’s memory from only age three. Hurricane San Felipe battered Puerto Rico on September 13, 1928 and is the only cyclone to hit the island at Category 5 intensity, at winds up to 175 MPH. Click on the NOAA Hurricane Scale for an excellent depiction of storms ranging from 1 to 5 and the damage inflicted.

San Felipe is the second deadliest hurricane to impact the U.S. mainland, behind only the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and the most powerful to strike Puerto Rico. The eye of the hurricane took eight hours to cross the island; 500,000 people were homeless in its aftermath and 312 were killed. San Felipe inflicted 50 million dollars damage in 1928, just in time for the great depression. This is another image Dad remembered, of a ten-foot pine board driven through the trunk of an African palm, from The Hurricane Hunters by Ivan Ray Tannehill (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1960)

Dad also talked about the calm before the storm, how everything was completely silent. No rustles from the leaves of the palm trees. Even the animals didn’t make a sound, the birds stopped singing.

Writing Prompt:

What’s your earliest memory? Who was there? What was the season?

Friday, June 5, 2015


I’m about to turn fifty and if I didn’t interview my dad for my book I never would have known about my uncle, Isidro, and his tour in during World War II in the Puerto Rican 65th infantry, the most famous in the island’s history. On November 9, 1945, my father, Ramón, and his sister, Lila, drove along the southern coast of Puerto Rico to meet Isidro and the surviving members of the 65th infantry in Ponce. After a tour of duty that took them to Panama, North Africa, Casablanca, Germany, Italy and the Maritime Alps in France, the men were coming home.

Puerto Ricans from all over the island came to Ponce to celebrate the infantry’s return. It would be the first time the siblings, Ramón, Isidro and Lila, laid eyes on each other after Isidro's spending years on the battlefield. 

Imagine the electricity in the air as islanders waved Puerto Rican and American flags and cheered and celebrated the end of the war. Music blared from roadside bars and the sangria flowed freely. Joyous pandemonium reigned.

Their reunion is one of the most moving stories my father shared, as he told me of he and his brother embracing after four years. Dad’s voice became hoarse and wistful as he recalled the events from that day, how he held his brother at arms length, how handsome Isidro looked in uniform, yet how different, older than his 26 years.

Isidro was my dad’s only brother never to have a family. And I feel a little part of Isidro in me, as if for only a moment, I’ve brought him back to life. After all, he is an ancestor, and we share DNA. I wish I had a photo of Isidro on that day, but the one below shows Ramón (age three) and Lila (age five) as she was like a little mother to my dad, and shared in this very important memory!


This story is for my thirteen-year-old daughter, and my nieces and nephew. Yet I have yet to share with her the reason why I wrote these stories down, turned them into a book she can read her history. Why??

Writing Prompt:
Describe a reunion with someone in your life that stands out to you. Or ask a loved one or a parent to describe a meaningful reunion to you. Share it here. 

Friday, May 29, 2015


“So ... why do you want to write about me?” my 80 year old father asked me ten years ago when I began to interview him.  
Why indeed. My father’s humble response shows what kind of man he is.
His story will become a novel, Luck is Just the Beginning, due to be published by Floricanto Press  in the fall. It was inspired by the true story of his remarkable luck. My father won the lottery after a premonition. But what’s more remarkable is what happened after.
What I’d like to do is to give you the story behind the novel, tell you about the real people you’ll read about and the history of Puerto Rico and its rich culture. And help you to do the same if you want. Through writing prompts and suggestions, you can tell your own story, or interview a friend, mentor, parent or grandparent.
Ramón León was born in Puerto Rico in 1925. My grandmother lost her first eight babies shortly after birth. My father was the 15th child. No one in his family except his sister (the only girl of the 15!) completed high school. They were poor and hardworking and owned a clothing and textile store in the village of Maunabo on the southeast corner of the island. My grandmother, Abuela Chepa, sewed for villagers on special occasions, items such as a shirt or skirt selected from a dog eared Sears-Roebuck catalog.

My father did alterations, too, but at nineteen-years-old he had a dream to become a dentist. The island had few dentists and no dental school at that time. His only chance to attend dental school in the mainland U.S. was to apply for a scholarship, but only five were awarded on the island annually, a tremendous long shot.
What followed was an even wilder long shot.
Ramón León had a vision: a series of numbers came to him. He and his friend, Guillermo, were talking of playing the lottery (Guillermo did, my dad was saving as much as he could for college), and a number came to my dad, all of a sudden. It’s not that far-fetched. Abuela Chepa, who had earned the esteemed title of Doña Chepa, was a curandera, one who healed with herbs and the laying on of hands, a bruja or witch whom villagers sought for advice, cures for their ailments, even to tell their futures.  
“Hey, Guillermo, I think I just thought of the number to play in the lottery!” Dad shouted to his friend. 
I can imagine the look of Guillermo’s face when he believed Dad would finally play. 
And then the lottery salesman had the number Dad saw in his head.  So, for the first time in his life, my father was so sure that it was fate that he bought not only a single ticket, which sold for twenty cents, but the entire sheet of thirty tickets for $6.00. It was all the money he had saved since he was a boy of seven, selling pastries for a penny a piece to the macheteros, the men who wielded their machetes in the sugar cane fields. It was an enormous amount of money at the time in 1944, when most people made a dollar a day working in the cane or coffee fields.
And he won the jackpot: $18,000.
My sisters and I grew up hearing this story, so to me, it’s part of my history (I’ll write more on premonitions later), and it’s inspirational what he accomplished with the money.
He went to Michigan, barely knowing English, and completed college and dental school. After a long career, when he finally retired, many of his patients cried.
It took me nearly ten years and a dozen rewrites to complete my novel, inspired by the story of my father’s life. Luck is Just the Beginning will be in my hands by as soon as the fall. A beautiful tale. A dream come true for me, too.