Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Post: Author Theresa Varela

How/why did you start to write?

When I was very small, my cousins and I were babysat by an uncle on many Saturday evenings. We huddled on a fire escape, eating pancakes he made for us (size of which depended on our size!) and we listened to stories he told. My mother took us to Broadway shows. Another uncle wanted to send me to acting school based on my at home renditions.  I refused, preferring to curl up with Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew. I also grew up playing with every type of conceivable doll. Paper dolls were my favourite. I looked forward to cutting them out of McCall’s Magazine. I’d create paper houses for them and stories for them to act out. I had a great imagination. Storytelling is where I began, more so than story writing. As a young woman someone asked me what I wanted to do more than anything. I said that I wanted to write a children’s book. I don’t know where that response came from; at the time I was raising two children and working full time and didn’t stop to listen to myself. Going further in my career and obtaining an advanced degree, PhD in Nursing- in Research and Theory Development, creativity went on the back shelf. One day a professor in graduate school ask us to reflect on whether we were readers or writers. At the end of that endeavour, I realized I was both.

How did you become an author?

Through persistence and perseverance. Research is important to most writing but the funny thing about writing some types of research papers is that what you say counts, only if ten other people said it first, and you can justify your comments by references and a very long bibliography. I decided to cross out of the world of research to one where regular folks get to read what I think needs to be put out there on the planet. This is a lot more important to me than only a handful of people reading it. My neighbours would never get to read any of the research articles that I wrote and if they did they probably wouldn’t enjoy them.

What was your first published piece? Where was it published? How long ago?

My first published piece was my doctoral dissertation at New York University. I hold that tiny book dear. It’s on a shelf. When I dust, I gaze lovingly at my name on the spine. It’s called The Mirror behind the Mask: The experiences of people with HIV/AIDS who practice Santería. That was in 2001. I’ve had a couple of articles published in nursing journals after that.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

I’ve been a psychiatric nurse practitioner for over, cough, years. Right now I work in a homeless shelter for men who are dealing with addictions and at a community mental health center. The people I serve are challenging and I love them. I don’t really see myself ever totally signing off from this work. There are so many stigmas about mental illness, still, unfortunately, but I see it as a place where isolation, fear and anxiety can be fought through various types of media, not just for the ill person but the system that supports that individual. Some of my writing tackles this very concept. My just finished novel is called Covering the Sun with My Hand. It’s about a Puerto Rican family, told by Julia Acevedo. Her twin brother is diagnosed with Schizophrenia during young adulthood in the late 1970s. She tells the story of how her family deals, or maybe not deals well, with his illness, and about Latino expectations in regards to women. The story is told from her very candid and sweet perspective. Julia is close to fifty when she begins to finally create her own life without feeling as though she’s negating her culture or family. This particular story isn’t personal to me, other than seeing it lived every day through some of the people I work with. It’s also not only a “Latino story” It’s transferable to many women who struggle with their identities separate from their family’s expectations. In my creative fiction, the people I have worked with are given voice.

What inspires you?

My father used to drive me to La Marqueta. This is a bustling Latino market of all things traditional and cultural in New York City. He’d always tell me “These are your people.” So, I think that inspires me to write. I’m in the process of writing a mystery with a paranormal bend. The heroine, Daisy Muñiz, is also Puerto Rican. She reminds me of a Cherry Ames or Nancy Drew who just happens to stumble on murder and mayhem. This is going to be a series. I have a few outlines in the works for subsequent books. When I grew up there weren’t stories like these with a Latino twist. I didn’t do badly but I want to see where I can fill empty spaces on book shelves or e-readers where there shouldn’t be for this population.

Please share one of your successful marketing techniques

I do lots of friending on Facebook, tweet, and am a member of SheWrites, Cyberville Authors, CrimeSpace and a few others. One of the best things that happened for me is connecting with Sunny Frazier, Acquisitions Editor at Oak Tree Press and Author of the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries. I sent Sunny a query for Covering the Sun with My Hand but it wasn’t the right fit for her publishing house. I immediately sent her another inquiry for my first Daisy Muñiz novel, Woman Found, that had been sitting on a shelf. Sunny gave me advice on what I needed to do to sharpen my writing and about creating my marketing platform. I’m proud to be one of her posse members. This past year I’ve learned about the joys of blogging. I blog weekly at Here I offer my thoughts and experiences on Spirituality, Writing and Psychiatry. 

Parting words

Your website here is lovely, Leanne. There are such wonderful crafts on display. When I’m not weaving words, I weave with yarns and threads. I crochet afghans, embroider and needle point pillows and framed art. Here are pictures of some of the crafts I’ve completed. I won’t say that I’m a photographer. Most of my work has been through the use of kits. I don’t have to think about making up a pattern. I get to enjoy the same gifts that I receive when I write- patience, self-discipline and beauty.

Leanne, thanks for having me for a visit.

(It was my pleasure, Theresa.)