The Writing Life is pleased to welcome Mary A. Pérez, author of ‘Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace’, her debut memoir of the turbulent and uncertain childhood she survived.
Born in the Bronx, raised in Miami, relocated to Houston – Mary is of Puerto Rican descent, a mother to four grown children, “Mimi” to a couple of gorgeous grandchildren, and happily married (the second time around) to a phenomenal man for twenty-one years.
Mary was born to a Puerto Rican immigrant family in the Bronx of New York and moved to Miami, Florida in 1962. Her childhood story played out against the backdrop of constant social change which defined the 1960s and forever altered the landscape for future generations. With political tensions of the time raging during the Vietnam War, there was a personal war within Mary’s own family dominating her life. Her future held little hope for a precious girl who lived through more traumas before her adult years than most live in a lifetime.
As she cleaved to the Godly faith that her grandparents instilled in her at an early age, she still found the courage to persevere through her young adulthood seeking the peace and serenity they had shown her, though it continued to be an elusive ambition.
As you get to know Mary in the pages of this moving story of hope and forgiveness, you will be overcome by the power of a grandparent’s love for their granddaughter, a child’s quiet understanding of God’s path for her, and the way in which Mary turned a life of peril into a life of promise. This book will leave you with the undeniable power of faith, hope, and love.
Mary began writing her memoirs in 2008 and continues to share her inspiring outlook with her writers group and fans through her blog. Her award-winning essays have appeared in La Respuesta, The Latino Author, and Sofrito for Your Soul.
Welcome, Mary Ann!
Please describe what ‘Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace’ is about.
Running in Heels depicts a Puerto Rican girl’s refusal to be defined by her environment while seeking love and security with her divorced mom in a dilapidated home. She becomes a teenage bride to a ruthless man twice her age. She has her first child at sixteen and her fourth at twenty-two. Can she overcome the shackles of poverty, alcoholism, racism, violence, and abandonment to establish a better life for her and her children?
Mary, how did you come up with the title?
I often thought how I ran around as a little girl, forced into adult shoes, shoes too big for my feet. Even in my adulthood, I couldn’t run fast enough while stumbling along the struggles in life.
What inspired you to write this book?
Initially, I started writing for my children so that they may know their family history and some of the things their momma had to endure. I survived abandonment and domestic abuse. But my current husband pointed out how my story could inspire others; this then became my passion.
What is your favorite part of writing?
The best part about writing is that writing can be therapeutic. It is when I am at my best, along with my thoughts uninterrupted. If needed, I can re-write for clarity at my leisure without the pressure of trying to convey my words plainly from the get-go.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
For me at times, the most challenging aspect of writing is to sit down and begin. It takes awhile to warm up before the creative juices flow. Once I’m in the zone, I don’t want to stop. But as life would have it, sometimes the distractions come and you have to stop and walk away. As a memoirist, another challenging part of writing is re-visiting traumatic periods of my life, such as in the final moments of loosing loved ones. I wrote some of those stories through blinding tears.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve always found myself engrossed in Christian Fiction from authors who pull on the heartstrings with conviction. Authors like Jan Karon, Karen Kingsbury, Terri Blackstock, Charles Martin, and Richard Paul Evans. My list continues to grow. And I never tire of Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
The first time I discovered another Puerto Rican author who wrote her memoirs, I was ecstatic! Esmeralda Santiago’s coming-of-age memoir When I Was Puerto Rican similar to my story, shares the loss of childhood innocence—even having to gaze upon a baby in a coffin—and as a child is expected to take on adult responsibilities. Naturally, I enjoyed learning more about her Hispanic culture.
I devoured The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Her incredible story tells of not only surviving terrible parenting and relentless poverty, but also in finding the grit and grace needed to break the pattern of bad choices and find a happily ever after. I appreciate the honestly of Wall’s narrative, which manages to share the pain and the love that seem impossibly intertwined without diluting either one.
I have recently discovered Mary DeMuth, author of several books and memoirs. She is a survivor and a wonderful, gifted speaker who loves to help people live uncaged lives. I have her memoir, Thin Places in my collection of books to read.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
Sometimes, it’s in the formal living room where there’s lots of natural lighting. But most of the time, it’s at my desk on my computer in my bedroom, closed in.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I tend to weep while watching a baby being born and hearing that newborn’s first cry. Regardless of whether in real life or in a movie or TV, it doesn’t matter. If I watch or hear the cries of the miracle of birth, I sob. My husband thinks it’s sweet, but I can’t help it.
What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?
Learning about the steps necessary with printing and in eBook formatting, the ISBN and Copyright registration, and then the Copyediting and Proofreading requirements. Writing a book is just a small portion of the work involved. You have to basically become a business person and learn how to promote yourself and market your book. You have to know your brand and know your audience. You never stop learning.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
After writing solo a few years, a friend suggested that I join a writers group. After visiting a couple of them, I found my place in a group and stuck with them for a couple of years. They were seasoned writers and published authors. Their critiques were invaluable to me. I also surrounded myself with friends and colleagues who believed in my work, and even helped to support me financially. A year before my memoir was published, I worked on my writer’s platform and gained followers by starting a blog. Encouragement goes a long way!
Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
Don’t expect your novel to sell itself. Do your homework. Learn about pitches, book proposals, having a writer’s platform, and getting your work professionally edited. Before you seek representation, don’t submit anything until your work is clean! Remember by page five it will be known if you are an actual writer or not. You need to grab the reader by then.
My website is www.maryaperez.com which will take you straight to my blog. I can also be found at:
Where can we find your book? At your favorite online store:
Association of Authors http://books.txauthors.com/product-p/maprh.htm
What are you working on now, Mary?
I just completed training in becoming a certified sexual assault advocate. The more stories I hear of survival regarding women who took courage and broke free from their abusers, the more I believe their voices need to be heard! I shall be working in gathering a compilation of stories from women of all walks of life who have overcome domestic abuse and hardships.
Wonderful. That will be an important and rewarding project. Thanks for chatting with us, Mary. I wish you continued success with your writing.
ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA
Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.
A Decent Woman is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.
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