The Writing Life is very pleased to welcome award-winning author, Theresa Varela.
Theresa Varela, Puerto Rican author, was born and raised in Brooklyn. She holds a PhD in Nursing Research and Theory Development and currently works with the mentally ill homeless population in NYC. She is a recipient of a 2015 International Latino Book Award for Best First Novel for Covering the Sun with My Hand. Her second novel Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery, is the first in a series featuring an amateur Latina sleuth. Dr. Varela is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses; Las Comadres para las Americas; and a member of PEN American Center. She is Co-Founder of La Pluma y La Tinta- a Writer’s Workshop. Her blog LatinaLibations on Writing and All Things of the Spirit can be found at www.theresavarela.com
What is your book’s genre/category?
Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery is just that-a mystery.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Daisy Muñiz is ready to embrace a fresh new start in her brownstone apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when she is thrust into the midst of the mysterious murder of Windsor Medical Center’s most prominent surgeon, Arthur Campbell. As the secrets of the Campbell family are revealed, Daisy is forced to delve into her own troubled past and she becomes the unwitting ally to Detective David Rodriguez.
Theresa, how did you come up with the title?
The original title was “Do No Harm.” I called it that initially while thinking that it was a terribly lame title and I knew I had to come up with a new, more original one. One morning during my early run I started playing with words in my head. ‘Blue’ was easy to come up with because I usually run during the inbetween times right before dawn when the sky is still dark. My spiritual guardian is Yemayá, the Mother of all things and Orisha of the oceans, so the indigo blue color is something in which I have a love for and am deeply connected. I thought it was important to add the “A Daisy Muniz Mystery” to show that it one of a series of mysteries starring Daisy Muñiz.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to write something that was fun, yet was realistic. Daisy is one of many young woman I’m aware of who have struggled with dark pasts, troubling intimate relationships, and have turned to alcohol to fill that inner void. She’s fortunate in that she has wonderful friends, the couple Jose and Rubio, who come to her aid by inviting her to explore a new life in sobriety and by finding her an apartment in the brownstone in which they are also renting from a wonderful elderly woman who becomes sort of a grandmother figure to Daisy. Her friends also introduce her to the mysteries of Espiritismo and the Orisha tradition and Daisy realizes she’s had a knack for intuitiveness all along. I wanted to have a Latina heroine that solved mysteries- something I feel is lacking in our literary world.
What is your favorite part of writing?
When I’m on my writing swing I feel as though I’m reading the story rather than writing it. I don’t outline my work before hand and allow my characters to tell me their stories. My current manuscript Coney Island Siren incorporates the concept of domestic violence and while I had a hard time with some of the passages, I knew that allowing the characters to fully be themselves without censorship is paramount to the telling. I really have to step out of my shoes when I’m writing and let my fingers create the music of my computer keyboard.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I would have to say that finding the time to write is the most challenging. I have a list of current projects, multiple folders with ongoing work, and several ideas for future projects and really have to carve out time to make them all a reality.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
My favorite of all time is Joyce Carol Oates. I met her recently at the NY Historical Society and she asked me what I did for a living as she signed my book. I told her that I was a writer and then added that I’ve worked in mental health for many years. It was a special moment for me. Early reading also exposed me to Piri Thomas of ‘Down these Mean Streets,’ and Claude Brown who wrote ‘Manchild in the Promised Land.” These authors have an uncanny ability to weave realistic stories that are raw, true to life, and that don’t protect their readers from the shock of living. They all share that ability to give voice to dismal yet magnificent vistas from deep within their gut. They didn’t care to make it pretty nor palatable and that inspires and influences my writing. More contemporary writers that inspire me are Lyn di Orio of ‘Outside the Bones’ and Ernesto Quiñonez of ‘Bodega Dreams.’ Another all-time favorite of mine is Dion Fortune who wrote esoteric works and of the occult. Two of her best, in my most humble opinion, are ‘The Sea Priestess’ and ‘Moon Magic’. I must add Lawrence Block who has written multiple mysteries that include the character, Matthew Scudder, who just as Daisy, also struggles with alcoholism and sobriety.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
First off, I have to say my mother, Alicia Varela, God rest her soul. She started it all by reading to me and my older sister early during childhood. She knew exactly how to teach me to pick up a book. After dinner, my mother would read books to us such as Elsie Dinsmore and other classics. When we got to a really interesting passage, she’d place the bookmark between the pages and close the book. We knew we would be read to the following night but we learned that we didn’t have to wait so long and often picked the books up ourselves. On summer evenings, she told stories to a group of us little ones under the stars on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where much of my work is set. I also rested on the couch with my Dad while he read the paper and I read the comics to him. A high school English teacher, Mrs. Farrell, ordered the students novels that weren’t on the school list but she knew we’d keep our noses in such as The Bad Seed. Other high school teachers also read aloud to us even in Senior year. I think that makes such a difference. In my doctoral program, one of my qualitative research teachers, Margot Ely, charged us with writing poetry and playlets in addition to other creative forms. She is another highly influential educator. Reading, for me, has been the key to writing.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I write anywhere and everywhere. My writing sanctuary is partly my office and partly my spiritual space with my altar in it where I pray and meditate. The room used to be my daughter’s bedroom until she moved out over ten years ago. I’ll admit that I grew up sitting in front of the television doing my homework and I still love writing in the living/dining room where I put my lap top on the dining table and write to the sounds of old movies on the screen. Writing this way is also encouraging because it reminds me that I need to work my creative muscles and not sit back and be fed by others creativity while negating my own.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I think that I’m an open book but I’m always surprised when people who I believe know me well seem shocked when I tell them that I work an almost full time job. They have visions of me writing all day and what I’m doing is practicing as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in a women’s shelter in Manhattan. So, I guess some people may be surprised by that. Lastly I have a PhD in Nursing Theory Development and Research and that is probably the antithesis to creative writing. If that doesn’t surprise people, how about that I can never have my fill of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?
I’m surprised at how quickly my timidity and innocence in business has swiftly disappeared. Words that were never part of my vocabulary, such as incorporated, formatting, intellectual property, and royalties are now being articulated during breakfast at my house. While most of my experiences have been wonderful, I’ve also been shocked at how dismissive and insulting some potential agents and editors have been at times. That’s where perseverance steps in to help an aspiring author.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I allowed the character to develop slowly over a period of about seven years. Daisy told me her story little by little and I didn’t try to coax it all out of her too quickly. Our characters are relationships that have to be grown organically. Five years ago she wasn’t ready to tell her story in the world. I think her story is a series because there is still so much to learn about her.
Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
My advice is not to give up if you believe in your work. While waiting for responses from agents and publishing houses, take creative writing courses that will sharpen your literary skills. I also suggest that you read, read, read. On another note, look carefully at what your prospective publisher has done in the past. If they haven’t worked particular angles, such as formatting, that you’re interested in don’t expect that they will start with you. Media and publicity are areas that an author should be familiar with because many publishers don’t tackle those areas. If you are comfortable with ‘as is’ then sign the offered contract and not a moment before no matter how long you’ve been attempting to have your work published.
My website can be found at www.theresavarela.com. It offers what I call ‘LatinaLibations on Writing and All Things of the Spirit.’ I write about my perspectives on writing, spirituality, and mental health- my beloved topics.
Where can we find your book?
Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery can be found on my website, where I am happy to personally sign ordered copies, at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, NYC, at Aignos.com and at Amazon.com
What’s next for you?
I have a few projects that I’m working on simultaneously. I’m adapting my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand into a play. It had its first reading at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre this past spring. I’ve been working under the direction of Producer and published playwright Mario Golden and award-winning director Andreas Robertz. Secondly, I’m reading my current manuscript Coney Island Siren for last edits and will decide to which forum I will take it. Lastly, I’ve just completed my first chapbook of poetry entitled Most Grievous Fault. These poems are written about my experience regarding the death of my older sister to a chronic illness when I was eleven years old- eons before I was able to fully articulate my feelings. These are just a few of the projects that have been keeping me busy.
Thanks for chatting with us, Theresa. I enjoyed getting to know more about you. Best wishes with all your writing projects.
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 Center; and 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.
Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.
La Casa Azul Bookstore 143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029 firstname.lastname@example.org