Rockettes, Holidays, and Pressure

Washingtonexaminer.com

This morning I saw the first television commercial for the annual Radio City Music Hall Rockette Show. The Rockettes are all things perfect. Tall. Thin. Lovely faces and long legs. They dance in precision. But instead of seeing them I experienced a flashback of the Christmas scene in Covering the Sun with My Hand my first novel. Julia Acevedo is trying to tempt her brother René to go to see the Rockettes. He is aghast that she would suggest it. René is paranoid and becomes increasingly agitated. Julia eventually becomes terrified and calls the police who storm the apartment. Mami is in denial of the severity of her son’s illness and clutches at her curlers. Papi is nowhere to be found. Actually, he is in the social club around the corner having a few beers- quite a few.  This is the picture of a family in chaos.

A chill went through me when this scene flashed in my mind. This is a true scenario for many families. For René it began with the stress of his first year of college with exams scheduled during the holiday. He couldn’t handle the tension building and the increasing demands of his life. The symptoms of his Schizophrenia were exploding. Young adults are frequently afflicted with the early symptoms of this particular mental illness in college.

Covering the Sun with My Hand

These are difficult dynamics to negotiate. Some of us are truly powerless against the ills that befall us. But we can ask for help.  I think about the years that I worked on a mobile crisis team going to people’s homes and doing my best to provide tools for families that would decrease stress, diminish or eradicate symptoms, and provide support. Sometimes sitting around a table drinking coffee helped the clients, the families, and most certainly me.

My novel is merely a story but a story is a life told. If you know someone who is in need of mental health care, reach out. Everyone can make choices in various types of treatment options. They may choose to take medication or not. They may choose to have individual therapy or not. They may choose to isolate or to be part of a group. One of the most important things we can do is to provide support. Be there. Decrease the pressure in the pressure cooker.

vintage pressure cooker

If you are experiencing an emergency dial 911.

Otherwise check out the following links:

https://www.nami.org/

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/Nami-Family-Support-Group

The Veils are Thin

Spirits invite us

To walk through veils in the dark

The doors are open

We’re in autumn now. We celebrate Halloween and Samhain. We honor All Souls’ Day and All Saints day. Those of us who are developed intuitively feel in touch with spirit throughout the year. The rest of us may feel something out of the ordinary at this time of year but are unable to know for certain that we are in touch with the spiritual world.

We recently went on a Victorian Tour at the Green-Wood Cemetery. The sky was overcast and the ambiance just right. A couple of the guests were dressed in layered Goth-Victorian dress. We heard about the eighteenth century fad of using arsenic in facial creams, of the famous rapping Fox sisters, and the early death of mesmerist Irving Washington. We heard about spiritualism. Wait, I thought, I know about spiritualism.

This past summer I attended several of the New York Historical Society’s events on practices that were reignited when so many young men were killed in World War I. During this tour the guide spoke about spiritualism in relation to the Civil War. She mentioned how once William H. Mumler, a spiritual photographer, was exposed as a fraud that was the end of the popularity of spiritualism. I learned so much from the tour guide, but I know that spiritualism is alive and well.

My initial contact with spiritualism brought a special joy to me. It grew quickly in the 1990s as I worked as a mental health nurse in the community with people who were living and dying of HIV/AIDS related illnesses. Experiences were diverse and unexpected. One of my then clients, Richard, who was an artist, gave me a special showing of his art work displayed on his kitchen floor turned gallery. His first edition Allen Kardec books were bound with dried roses. Richard crossed over a few short months later. My early experience with him was just a prelude as to how deeply I would delve into spiritualism. This was also a time I began attending misas that are spiritual séances. When prayers were read from Kardec’s selection of Spiritist prayers my awareness of the connection of all things spiritual began to take hold.

My novels Covering the Sun with My Hand and Nights of Indigo Blue both have components of seances and spiritualism that the protagonists, Julia and Daisy, experience. Spirituality, for me, is as necessary as brushing my teeth after meals. I feel so much better when I tend to these basic needs. My creation of the Graciella la Gitana Oracle is all a result of spiritualism. I talk to spirits and they talk to me. I frequently speak about how the stories I receive are whispered to me by spirits. I plan to begin doing a weekly reading on this site using Graciella’s Oracle. These posts will alternate with my knowledge and experiences with spiritualism and how they integrate with my writing. See you here!


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

https://www.nami.org

For friends and family members

https://www.mentalhealth.gov

Supporting a family member with mental illness

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx

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  http://luchalibrosnyc.blogspot.com/

Latina Book Club named my novel as one of its best for 2013. http://latinabookclub.com 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!

http://archive.kpft.org/mp3/kpft_130924_180001np.mp3

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.

1booklaunch

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.

Theresa-1signing

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!

1Book1

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!

http://www.lacasaazulbookstore.com/calendar.html

You can also pick up my book at

http://www.amazon.com/Covering-Sun-Hand-Theresa-Varela/dp/098602337X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370371545&sr=8-1&keywords=theresa+varela