Mental Illness is not a ‘Novel’ Idea

René Acevedo, Julia’s twin, is diagnosed with Schizophrenia during his first year of college. This severe and persistent mental illness becomes the backdrop for the changes that rock the lives of each member of  the Acevedo family in my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand.  As I was immersed in creating the play inspired by this novel, workshop members wondered how the psychiatrist would so easily make this diagnosis without tests or procedures. The story takes place in the mid seventies before the advent of many of today’s diagnostic tools and treatments but many of the same problems exist today.

I’ve had many private emails from  readers who were strangers and also talks with friends alike who shared similar stories they too experienced with family members who were struck with signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses. The overwhelming message I received was that these loving family members shared in the plight of coping with the often devastating effects.

My work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner has shown me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is still bountiful ignorance and stigma regarding mental health and this is an unfortunate fact.  The ill person may be expected to  pull it together because those who lack education may believe that they can get better if they really want to improve. Try getting rid of high blood pressure through intention. Sure, medication, good nutrition, excercise, and meditation help but doesn’t eradicate certain types of hypertension. This is similar to mental illness.

Family members who provide care for their loved ones must make hard decisions. One of them is how much of their own lives do they place aside in the hopes they could affect powerful change by being present and giving of themselves. I’ve heard vastly different reactions. One early beta reader found my book revolting and informed me there was no real problem. The protagonist could have easily gone on with her life and not entertain the notion that she should stay home in hopes of helping her family. Other readers were grateful to see what could very well have been their own narratives filled with conflict in print.

If you or someone you know is flailing while swimming in the thick soup of mental illness here are some links for support that might be helpful. Check them out:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

For friends and family members

Supporting a family member with mental illness

Covering the Sun with My Hand is the second place winner of the International Latino Book Awards 2015 Best First Novel Category. The novel is currently available only on this website. It will soon be available via Amazon as I’m in the process of transitioning publishers. Click the Paypal button on this site if you would like to purchase a signed copy.

When the story changes…

In real life we all change whether we want to or not. We try new foods, get involved in new jobs and relationships and basically do things that may seem different to our persona. Usually though, unless it’s to an extreme, we aren’t kicking and screaming.

But what happens when it’s one or more of our beloved characters that changes? I’m in the midst of experiencing this as I ‘adapt’ my novel Covering the Sun with My Hand to a play. I guess you can say that I’m in the acceptance phase now. Based on all the changes in the story, I’m now calling the project ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘adapted’ and have also thought about changing the title.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still Julia and René Acevedo as our leads. Mami and Ana are major characters. Papi has unfortunately crossed over. There are characters at the forefront who weren’t mentioned in the novel but who are germane to the story.

It’s still going to be a while before they take their places on stage. I need time to get used to this changes. I’ll be writing more about these as I move forward in the play. The one thing that hasn’t changed in the writing of this version of the Acevedo family tale is that I love each character so much and I’m getting to know more about each as you will. Looking forward to sitting with you in the theatre.

Writing: more of the character, less of me

I just finished reading the novel, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I have to admit I only closed the book when I absolutely had to get off the train or my eyes shut against my will at night. The book was that good. At the end, I decided I may not like the writer. Wait, I had to check myself. Not like the writer? That’s crazy talk for what’s been going on in my head as an author.

Recent discussions with my friend, fellow author, Manny Melendez, had him reminding me there’s a big difference between an author, an author’s persona, and the characters who beg us to put them down on page. Manny’s not a murderer. A woman poet I know who portrays herself as a thug, isn’t- I think! I wasn’t Julia Acevedo, the protagonist of my beloved, Covering the Sun with My Hand. There’s a magic to telling the story as the characters want it told. The story is their experience not mine. It is weird to have people nod knowingly at me asking if “Covering…” is my memoir. No, it’s not in a million different ways. I know that writers are not their characters unless they brand their work- memoir!

This leads me to my novel, “Coney Island Siren,” that’s nestled in this computer somewhere. This novel is beyond me. It’s not beyond the characters who live in a surreal, sometimes drug hazed, very gritty reality based, non-comedic, somewhat erotic, definitely not a memoir of mine type of book. I’ve been gifted by the story by a couple of pretty intense muses. Where they came from I don’t know, but they are there. I had a tarot reading last summer, the reader told me, “Don’t let that character get into your head.” Well, I have to admit I was struggling there a bit.

I worry about a lot of things. One of those things is that my readers may think I’m an abusive jerk who takes advantage of his almost unformed, while quite informed partner. It’s not his fault she goes back for more. It’s not mine either. It’s the character’s. So, for today, thank you, Gillian Flynn, for writing the book. If it’s your memoir, please stay away from me. If not, I applaud you!

There, enough said, to be continued…

Writing: looking backwards at 2013

Cover Latina Book Club

My debut novel Covering the Sun with My Hand was released in May of 2013 and it’s been a whirlwind for me ever since. My dream of being published with one of the “big” houses wasn’t realized and it was the best thing that could have happened for me. Instead I was invited into a small, new publishing company called Aignos Publishing. I thank my HP for that one.  Since I have no idea what might have happened had that dream come true, I’ll write about what did when my novel was born.

Aignos I know

I got a family. The entire group at Aignos Publishing has become very important to me. Since my first call from then Editor in Chief Jonathan Marcantoni, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and developing friendships with many new people.

My book is one of the 2013’s bestsellers at La Casa Azul Bookstore in NYC. Really. My book is wedged under Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner for 2008 and Ernesto Quinones, one of my literary heroes. Check out

Latina Book Club named my novel as one of its best for 2013. Believe me, I’m thrilled that “powerful, emotional, uplifting” are words that were used to describe my book!

Alan Weinberg, consultant to the NY Times, wrote that he was “looking” at me along with Junot Diaz and Lorena Fernandez. This rather heady piece of information can be found at the Latina book Club website in their December 21, 2013 post where he responded to their outcry for recognition of Latino authors. Talk about a Solstice surprise!

Being interviewed at Nuestra Palabra: Having Our Say with Bryan Parras and Liana Lopez reminded me of why I wrote it and for whom. The incredible work done by this organization astounds me. Please check them out and get involved if it sings to your heart or even makes a chirp.

Going to various events at La Casa Azul Bookstore, PRIDA Comite Noviembre’s gathering of artists and authors, Brooklyn Book Festival, amongst many others has helped me to meet readers, other authors and become a part of a group that, unfortunately, I didn’t really know existed sitting at my desk in front of my computer.

Where I’m moving in 2014 as a new author remains to be seen. This may seem like a brag blog. Maybe it is. One thing I’ve learned in 2013 is that it’s important to “Shine my shine!” I hope that you do the same.

See you in 2014!




Nuestra Palabra: Having our say

Nuestra Palabra cover photo

This is more than a brag blog. Sure, I like the look of Nuestra Palabra’s cover photo. In fact, I love it. Look closer.

I was interviewed on NP radio the other evening about my book Covering the Sun with My Hand. I’m humbled (yes, I’ve used that same word twice in two weeks) to be interviewed on the subject matter of my novel. Instead of sugar and spice and everything nice, my debut novel is about first generation Latinas and all the gritty strength we’re made of. It’s about a family dealing with the devastating mental illness of a son who was going to change the destiny of one family. The family that hangs together by the tenacious strings of love. The kind of family that I grew up in.

When I look more closely at this cover photo I see the link to Librotraficante. Man, oh man. Imagine depositing banned books to areas where states have attempted to stop the celebration of Latino voices and storytelling. The work of this organization is not only for this week’s recognition of book banning but takes place all the time. Imagine that a child can never open a book and read about someone like his or her grandma and her soft rich brown skin. Or who never sees the word cuchifrito in print?  One who never learns about the truths of slavery but only some whitewashed job? I don’t have to imagine it. That child was me in the early sixties. I am that child who, along with my fellow storytellers, grew up to tell the tales that were almost squashed. I remember being brought to my knees by the stories of Piri Thomas who rocked me in rhythm with his words. Once I got up and became able to claim my own voice I began writing some of the stories that tell of our Latino experience.

Being interviewed for this radio show by Liana Lopez and Bryan Parras  brought me to where I needed to dig down deep and reflect on not only what I write but for whom I am writing. Because its a matter of survival.

This is the link to my interview. I hope you tune in. There’s some groovy music on this too! Enjoy!

Writing: stopping to breathe

Theresa's inner child writing

My inclination to post this pic is because I need to get back to basics. Within the last six weeks, I’ve had a book launch at La Casa Azul Bookstore.


The experience was surreal and beautiful. My friends surrounding me, my family beaming at me, my fellow authors reading pieces new to me and pieces that I’ve loved for a long while, the sounds of the no. 6 train making its way through East Harlem on a balmy Friday evening. All were blessings.


Me smiling. I remember when all of my adult pictures showed a cynical smirk. I’m not that woman anymore and haven’t been for a long time. Signing copies of a novel that I swear I channeled. This story was spiritually ‘given’ to me to tell- a gift that I’m proud to have taken care of and cherish.

fire escape

My novel’s back cover. The fire escape I played on with my cousins. This was the fire escape I envisioned in my novel. The same one my cousin Mike, Uncle Louie and I ate lunch under realizing that the restaurant was Mike’s apartment when we were kids. The same lunch where I received a call and put my phone aside not realizing it was the call I’d been praying for many months from my soon to be editor- Jon Marcantoni from Aignos Publishing. Serendipitous you say? Me too.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble- where I read last night with Women of Color Writers’ Community. Thank you, Sister Bisi and all the very talented readers that took part in this event.

La Marqueta

On Sunday the 18th of August I will be sitting at a table selling copies of my book at La Marqueta in East Harlem as created by Maria Aponte- writer, performer, poeta who is gifted with inexhaustible energy with others all equally creative!


So, tonight I will sit at my little table and write. Keeping it simple. Going within where it all begins.




Book Release: The Morning After…

I’m finding it really hard to sit down to blog after the release of my book “Covering the Sun with My Hand.”  The last couple of months have been whirlwind.   I’ve had all sorts of plans to post pics and describe the enormous joy I felt around my book launch at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem in late June. Instead, a story I began and set aside while completing revisions on my debut novel has just about consumed me. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m talking about it. In fact, I attended a training at my day job and was handed a packet of information that would have taken me hours to research. The training evoked a memory of something I’d quite forgotten that has to be placed in the novel. Yes, I’m immersed in it.

But… I do want to share some of the pictures taken of the evening I began preparing for when I first put pen to paper for a story called “The Eviction.” The story that went no where and was hidden in my drawer until one of the characters woke me up and said, “The story is about me and my family.” A friend who read my book said she was sad to separate from Julia Acevedo, the protagonist, after a few days of hanging out with her. She tried not to finish the book too quickly. She empathized with me and commiserated about my separating from Julia after about three years. Julia is my BFF and now I have my new protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, of Coney Island Siren. Did I actually just do that? Write my new main character’s name and title of the novel? Yes, I did. It will be awhile but I can’t help but introduce my new friend.

Here is a pic of the book release. I’ll do a run down on details and post more pics soon…as soon as Maggie stops talking in my ear.

Here are some of my favorite writers- Maria Aponte, Karina Guardiola-Lopez, Manny Melendez, and Raquel Penzo. My friend Rachel Griffin is peeking out there too. Thanks to Karina for this picture!

My Literary Community

Covering the Sun with My Hand

My novel is published. Now what?  My book launch for Covering the Sun with My Hand will be at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, NYC. I’m counting down the days. June 28th  from 6-8pm! Wait, what? East Harlem? An acquaintance was quite intrigued about the prospect of attending the book launch until she heard the name of the neighborhood where it will be located.

This woman is a reader and would be writer. She emphatically advised me that I should have a signing at my community bookstore. I agree. Good idea. Great idea. More books, more signings, more marketing potential. Then I realized she had no intention of leaving the neighborhood by taking a train ride uptown. Community means different things to different people.

I’m a member of many different communities. La Casa Azul Bookstore happens to be a mainstay in terms of my literary community. I’ve done readings in Bed-Stuy, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, and Spanish Harlem. These are the areas where my fellow readers and writers hang out, read, listen, and partake of the richness of Latino Art and Literature. It’s where I can speak in English, Spanish, or Spanglish and everyone gets it. They get the idea of old culture mores that may have moved mountains but made it difficult for me to stay out after 9pm during my female adolescence.

The store’s owner is Aurora Anaya-Cerda and she has, amongst many other honors, been recognized as a Champion of Change by The White House as an entrepreneur who is pioneering the use of crowdfunding. The Champions of Change program highlights the stories and examples of citizens across the country who are “Winning the Future” with projects and initiatives that move their communities forward.

If you are interested in celebrating the colorful diversity of literature, come on up to La Casa Azul Bookstore. You’ll be glad you did!

You can also pick up my book at


Novel backdrop: Family Social Clubs

theatlanticcities.comThe other day a new acquaintance in my life asked me if I knew about social clubs. Did I? I sure did and was proud of it! This woman is a couple of years older than I am. I imagined looking up to her as the idealized “teenager” when I was still an achingly shy kid. She went on to reminisce and share how she missed going in for a beer or two and for the camaraderie only obtained with family and close friends. She said she can’t find any in Park Slope anymore. What had been easy to come by went out when high priced rents rolled in. A community, my community, was changed.

Social clubs, especially family owned, were popular in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Club membership could include athletics and games. In my family’s case the sport was softball played in Prospect Park and domino tournaments. Winning teams were sent on a trip to Puerto Rico by sponsoring beer companies such as Miller and they also received shiny trophies. We lined the mantel over the fireplace with proof of where my Pop was most evenings.

Julia Acevedo, the star of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, goes to pick up her “Papi” at “the club.” She goes there to alert him that her mother is ill but sometimes she goes because he needs a reminder that he has “a home to go to.” Some of my earliest memories and pictures are of the family social clubs where I spent many of my childhood years. The club was usually a barren storefront filled with a billiard table, jukebox, and tables and chairs. A corner was usually emptied for the band that played on the weekends for dances, Valentine’s Day or a wedding. A bar took up the expanse of a wall and housed bottles of all types of liquor. There was refrigerator filled with beer. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schafer and Rolling Rock.

Sounds of music blaring and Dominoes slammed against tables signaling ‘un chivo’ still ring in my ears. The smell of beer coagulated in dark walls of the establishment that promised anonymity. Occasionally the overhead lights would be turned on for a children’s celebration.  A horde of neighborhood kids would storm the club with parents along for a Halloween party. The children’s cheeks were red as the apples they bobbed for in metal buckets. One year my uncle made a scarecrow for another children’s gathering. He also made stilts for me that were somehow ‘lost’ in the club because of my own Mami’s fear that I’d break my neck.


The inclusion of the ‘social club’ scene takes up about half a chapter in the beginning of my novel. But in actuality it takes up a lot more. This is where husbands, brothers, uncles and male cousins spent their evenings after long hours of work. Occasionally wives, mothers, and daughters were invited for dancing, partying and the like. I will never forget the importance the family social club took up in my family. And that’s me, the angel, in the upper left corner with my sister, the nurse, and my cousins and friends!

Be Gone Backstory!

But I like the backstory! That’s why I kerplunked it right on the second page of my novel. That’s not quite true but I am attached to the dreaded backstory. There are numerous blog posts and articles on the dangers of the backstory that I’ll now refer to as “the BS.” I’ve been assured that the BS may be so provocative that it will abduct my reader from the urgency of my present day tale. Then again, the BS may prove so boring that the prospective editor or agent may shut their eyes, yawn and drop my manuscript to the floor. It will be kicked under the couch and not found until they search for dust bunnies several years from now. By then I would have given up writing, wondering why I haven’t received a response to my submission, never suspecting it was all the fault of my BS- the backstory.

A good example of this is when it reared its ugly head with my chapter on one of my favorite characters, Mami. This tiny, dark haired part martyr-part fire eater is equally empathetic and annoying in her quest to contain the protagonist of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, Julia, in a status quo existence. When I channeled Mami’s story of witnessing her older sister’s rape while cloaked in the ignorance that only a small child can be allowed, I was transfixed. Alas, the chapter ended up on the cutting floor. While I bit at my knuckles and wiped a few tears away thinking about that darned jewelry box whose fine tinkling sound cast a spell on Mami when she was but six years old, I knew deleting the chapter was the right thing to do. The die had been cast. Having this information about Mami helped me to strengthen her conviction and her words. Every action Mami takes in remaining a paralyzed, yet aggressive, mother lioness can be attributed to this now non-existent chapter 4.

Having the love for and the ability to swim in the undercurrents of life has allowed me to be in the present. I hope that I do this totally, unabashedly and in awe of what we go through and especially when we come up for air.  I hope that when I eliminate the BS, it shows up in my writing!