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

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!

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