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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


I’m sure you are all trying to fathom the incomprehensible and violent act in Orlando.  With tears and a heavy heart, I read this article from Latina.com published on June 13 with profiles of some of the victims. I can’t imagine how their loved ones around the world are coping, and this especially hits me heard as the majority of victims were Latino and 23 were Puerto Rican.

In April, my family and I traveled to Orlando and Ocala for my daughter’s Spring break. In Orlando, we enjoyed a wonderful evening with my cousin, Carlos and his son, Carlos Jr. Our time at one of the best Puerto Rican restaurants in Orlando, Pal Campo, flew by as we became reacquainted after several decades! Every year at Christmas throughout my childhood, my parents, sisters and I visited Maunabo, Puerto Rico to celebrate my Abuela (grandmother) Chepa’s birthday on Christmas Eve. We had many fiestas at the home of my Tía (Aunt) Lila, Carlos’s mom. My memories are precious of Three Kings Day and parties that lasted until the wee hours of the morning with the heavenly scents of paella and the sounds of maracas and güiros.

That evening in Orlando, Carlos and I told the stories of these family celebrations in Puerto Rico to my husband, Brad, and our respective children, my Elena, 14, and Carlos Junior, who is 36. We spoke with special reverence of our Abuela Chepa, the matriarch of the family and healer, or curandera.

We then traveled 80 miles north to Ocala, to visit my parents. Mom is 80 and Dad is becoming frailer at 90, so they can no longer travel and our visit was long overdue. I also scheduled two book signings at the Ocala Barnes and Noble and the Barnes and Noble at the Villages, the largest retirement community in Florida. The morning of my first signing, an article about the book was published in the Ocala Star Banner and I had a radio interview at WOCA, Ocala Talk radio. When I arrived at the bookstore a few hours later, a small crowd gathered, mainly Puerto Ricans. They read the article and like the movie, Field of Dreams, they came. They showed their support and welcomed me with open arms, and for the few hours I was there, I felt embraced by their community. I know they, like I, are crying.

My heartfelt gratitude also goes out to the brave responders, police, health care workers who treated the victims, and to the countless people and companies who are mobilizing to help: funeral homes, Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, Jet Blue offering flights to victims’ families. There are countless others and my deepest apologies to those I have not mentioned. This article from the NY Times gives them credit.

I will complete these thoughts with a request. Contact your local representative and demand change; www.contactingthecongress.org can get you started and www.everytown.org shares ways to help end gun violence. The same gun, an illegally modified AR-15, was used in Orlando and San Bernardino. In spite of what you think about gun control, no one should have the right to own a high caliber assault weapon that wiped out the lived of so many people in seconds, young beautiful people on the cusp of their lives at a place they felt safe to be themselves.

New friends in Florida. I'm with Mom to my left and Dad (seated) with Lillian and Joe Piersante. Lillian is from Caugas, not far from Maunabo, where Dad grew up 

Sunday, June 19, 2016


In 1944 my father, Ramón León, won the lottery. $18,000, a fortune! ($500,000 in today's money.) To say that it changed his life and the lives of others is a gross understatement.

His story has become such family lore that ten years ago, I decided I must tell it. “Why do you want to write about me?” my father asked when I said I was writing a book about him. His response shows his humility. What he accomplished is extraordinary, though he’d never admit it.
Ramón León grew up in the remote seaside town of Maunabo, Puerto Rico. From the age of seven, he carried trays of pastries on his head into the nearby sugar plantation to sell to field hands. He saved every penny he earned. At 19, he had a premonition – a vision. A number flashed across the sky: 14007.  “Guillermo,” he said to his friend, “I need to play that number in the lottery!” He felt it so strongly that for the first time, he bought a full sheet of tickets, something only the very wealthy did. And he won. Going from poor to rich in a heartbeat caused as many problems as it solved. He struggled to use his winnings to stay true to himself, ensure family and community harmony, and fulfill his dream of being a healer.
Years before, a dentist known in his village as “El Humanitario” had cured Ramón's abscessed tooth. Since that day, Ramón dreamed of helping others as he'd been helped. Puerto Rico had few dentists and no dental school in 1944, so, though he knew no English, he attended Michigan State University. Although it was far from easy, his winnings allowed him to live his dream and ultimately return to Puerto Rico to carry on the work of his beloved mentor, “El Humanitario”

Weeks before my novel inspired by his story was released, one of my dad’s old patients read my story, A Lucky Man (2006). She posted it on our town’s Facebook page. Testimonials from Dad’s former patients poured in, 25 years after he'd retired. “Best dentist I ever had.”  “One of a kind!” One patient told how Dad saw him on a Sunday after a terrible car accident. Recognizing the serious nature of the young man's injuries, Dad referred him to the nearest hospital. Dad made house calls, and if someone couldn’t pay, he bartered for services.

My father showed respect to everyone without question, and in turn, earned it. These lessons and values shaped the person I am today in my work as a physical therapist and author. In sharing intimate details of his life as I wrote Luck is Just the Beginning, he revealed a humble heroism.

Life has come full circle. His dream came true and, with the publication of my novel, so has mine. Readers have told me how the book inspired them, how they rejoiced during the good parts and cried during the bad. 

I share this story in honor of Father’s Day. From selling pastries on sugar plantations to a career as an acclaimed dentist and healer, with a big boost from the Puerto Rican lottery, my father's story is truly amazing.  Happy Father's Day to dads, mentors, teachers, and friends!
Three generations: Celeste (age 50), Ramón (age 90), Elena (14!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


When I look up family in my three-inch thick New World Dictionary, it says, “a group of people related by ancestry or marriage, relatives” and “all those claiming descent from a common ancestor, tribe or clan, lineage.”  When I look up home, one of the many definitions, and the one most meaningful to me, reads: “a place where one likes to be, a restful or congenial place.” I like that. And though I often use an online dictionary, it doesn’t compare to the real thing. If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have one book, what would you take? Think about it. A dictionary has it all, you could learn something about everything!

I just returned home from a trip to Ocala and Orlando, Florida and my family has increased many-fold. Their communities accepted me with open arms and strangers have become friends. Within a few minutes of setting up for my first book signing at the Ocala Barnes and Noble, a small crowd gathered. I marveled: can all these people be here for me? Ironically, my dad thought the same thing when the old bus rolled into his village of Maunabo, Puerto Rico the day after he won the lottery. And yes, a crowd gathered to welcome both me and him, on a smaller scale but kind of like they did 72 years ago for my father, Ramón León. His story was brought back to life!

Reporter Carlos Medina wrote a lovely article in the Ocala Star Banner, Author Chronicle’s Dad’s Winning Lottery, Journeying from Puerto Rico to Ocala, about my father’s family and the evolution of my book. I acquired two new friends in radio hosts Larry Whitler and Robin MacBlane of WOCA Ocala radio. Click to watch the UTube video of the show--quite entertaining! When locals, many from the Puerto Rican community, read the article or heard the interview, they traveled, some as far as 40 or 50 miles from Gainesville, to meet my family: my dad, mom, husband and daughter, Elena. It was inspiring to meet the people who were so moved by my book… the reviews it has received have made all my work over the years worthwhile!

And speaking of family, I had a wonderful reunion with my cousin Carlos Martinez León after not having seen him since I was seven or eight years old (Hint, that’s over 40 years)! I met his son, Carlos Jr., now 36, who selected the best Puerto Rican restaurant in Orlando for our fiesta. The mofongo was phenomenal, I miss it!

At one point during our lively conversation, I asked Carlos Jr., “Hey, Carlos, your dad and I are first cousins, so that makes you and me second cousins, right? And how about you and Elena? I guess that makes the two of you third cousins.” 

“No, man,” Carlos Jr. replied with a big grin, “we’re family!”

From left to right: Elena, Carlos, Celeste, Carlos Jr

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


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:

  1. What motivated you to write Luck is Just the Beginning?
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 Puerto Rico. 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 of Nevada, Reno). 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!

  1. Did 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.

  1. What 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

  1. What 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 Rico’s famous 65th Infantry. My father went to pick him up in Ponce and 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.

  1. 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 Rico! 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.

  1. Which 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, Nevada, 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.

  1. This is a very inspirational story. Do you have a famous motto or quote you live by?
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?”

  1. 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 mom!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


In celebration of New Years, I'd like to start 2016 with a heartwarming story! It's a reprint of an article that I published in the Truckee/North Lake Tahoe Independent Newspaper, Moonshine Ink. Thanks to associate editor, Ally Gravina, for her support:

“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 for a novel based on his life.

Why indeed. My father’s humble response shows what kind of man he is.

In 1944, my father, Ramón León, was 19 and had a hunch, a premonition of a number to play in the Puerto Rican lottery. Spending all the money he saved since he was a boy, he bought a full sheet of tickets for six dollars, an exorbitant sum then. The amazing thing was he won the jackpot. What’s more remarkable is what happened after.

The money gave him the means to keep a promise he made years before to the people of his village of Maunabo: To become a dentist and establish their first clinic. At the time Puerto Rico had no dental school and very few dentists. Barely speaking English, Ramón left his family (he was the 15th child) and traveled to the mainland United States to study dentistry. It was a tumultuous few years after winning $18,000.00, a fortune at that time; he bought a car that he nearly drove off the cliff (he didn’t have a license!), thwarted a few jealous people, and gave some money to his sister and each of his brothers, but he persevered and used his winnings to pay for most of his college and dental school. He earned a scholarship and briefly enrolled in the army to finance the remainder. 

My father had made his promise to an elderly healer whom everyone in the village called “humanitario.” This kind man, a dentist from the mainland, lived in a small shack or bohío and treated villagers for free; he cured my dad of a terrible toothache when he was only seven. So my dad made a promise to his mentor, the humanitario: When he came of age, he would do the same. Thus, my father, Ramón León’s dream was born, set in motion by winning the lottery years later.

After becoming a dentist, Ramón returned to Puerto Rico to work at a free dental clinic. Before I was born, he and my mother returned to her home state of Massachusetts. My father established a dental practice there for over thirty years.

And a wonderful coincidence: A month before my novel’s release, a story I wrote back in 2006, A Lucky Man, that was a precursor to my novel and named finalist in a contest for the Preservation Foundation, was rediscovered by a resident of our town. She posted in on the facebook page, “I grew up in NorthboroMassachusetts” and the outpouring of testimonials and memories from Dad’s former patients was overwhelming, 25 years after he retired.

Comments on the site were: “He was the best dentist I’ve ever been to,” “A wonderful tribute to a great man—I wish I had known his story!” and “A dentist like no other . . .” One patient shared how my dad sent his assistant to pick her up when she didn’t own a car and one man told how Dr. León bartered for landscaping in lieu of payment for his large family. Another heart warming story: My father saw a young man on a Sunday after he had a car accident and told his patient, “This is very serious, we need to get you to UMass Memorial Medical Center right away.” The man had a neck fracture that was treated immediately and saved from permanent disability. One thing all his patients had in common: They missed their favorite dentist. My father, Dr. León, watched generations of kids grow up, when he retired, many of his patients cried.

One of my favorite comments was: “I loved having my teeth fixed while getting all kinds of advice and hearing his stories.” So I suppose I inherited my love of story telling from my father. The best part of my job as a Physical Therapist here in Truckee is to hear others’ stories and I’ve been known to recount with a story or two. My novel, Luck is Just the Beginning, was released by Floricanto Press at Thanksgiving, strategically timed as my dad won the lottery on Thanksgiving Day of 1944.

Epilog: Ramón León just turned 90 and lives in Florida with my mom and his wife of 60 years. He often strolls down the street with a cane to join the local poker game at the Senior Center. He never bought another lottery ticket.
Ramón León in dental school, 1953