Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Q&A with Melanie Furlong-Riesgo

Melanie Furlong-Riesgo was born in 1971 and grew up in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Ontario, Canada. After graduating from Acadia University with a major in Spanish, she completed a B.Ed T.E.S.L. at Brock University. She taught English in the Czech Republic for three years and met her Cuban-born husband there. They now live in Nova Scotia with their two beautiful children. Melanie has been writing for various publications since 2001. The Last Honest Man in Havana is her first novel.

1.     What inspired you to write The Last Honest Man in Havana?

I wrote The Last Honest Man in Havana in an effort to truly understand the way my Cuban-born husband, Roberto, grew up and how Castro's reign has affected his family and everyone around them.

I met Roberto in the Czech Republic in 1996. I was a young Canadian English teacher working in Prague and he had just arrived from Cuba. We had a whirlwind romance and married the next year. I knew my husband left Cuba because he had no freedom. But it took me a very long time to realize what that meant.

Although Roberto was not a member of the Communist Party, the question I wanted to answer with this novel was: how did someone who believed so strongly in Fidel Castro and the Communist Party, someone who'd been indoctrinated since he was a child, finally realize that Cuba's system would never work?


2.     What are some of the issues and themes that you explore in your book?

The primary issue is freedom. Some themes include the effect of Communism on the individual, patriotism and self-reliance.


3.     What was the development process like?

This was quite a long process that began with me writing a short story about my main character, Rafael, in 2008. The next year, I was lucky to win a spot in a mentorship program through the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia. When that finished in 2010, I joined a group of local writers and kept working on my drafts for the next four years.


4.     What was the hardest part about writing this book?

This is my first novel so I have to say all aspects of it were somewhat challenging. But perhaps the hardest part was doing research in Cuba in 2010 with Roberto.

We hired a driver take us to the funeral home at Calzada y K, the Colón cemetery, to visit a santera's place, the Canadian embassy and more. On the third or fourth day, when our driver and I were alone in the car he started asking me what I was up to—admittedly it was a strange list of places to visit—and, because he was so nice, I told him.

That was my mistake. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone what I was doing there because writers need official permission to work in the country. The driver dropped us off that night and never came back the next day. That was frustrating. I'm terrible at being sneaky. I guess I'm lucky he didn't report me.


5.     What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I want my readers to get an understanding of what life was like for average Havanans during the country's Special Period. They should also get an idea of what it means to grow up under a dictatorship and how the corruption that comes out of those tight controls affects everything from family life and social infrastructure to work and morals.


6.     What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

My favourite part is the excitement that comes with an initial idea for a piece or a character. What I like least is going back to my original rough drafts and realizing how much work they need.


7.     Who are some of your favorite authors?

David Bezmozgis, Carlos Ruíz Zafón, Yann Martel and Isabel Allende.


8.     If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

Cuban actor William Levy.


9.     Are you working on anything right now?

Yes, I am mid-way through the first draft of one project and another is in research stages.


10.  And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I think the future of Latino literature is incredibly exciting. Latinos are a varied people and as more continue to come to the U.S. and Canada from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other countries, they will be the source of a rich and vast literary pool.


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Friday, September 4, 2015


Somewhere between stealing cold cuts from stray cats and watching a stranger leave her mother’s bed after breaking in through their bedroom window, Mary figured out that her family was dirt poor. Worse than her empty stomach, she was hungry for acceptance and love. She thought she found it when her baby sister was born and she became her “mommy”, taking care of her needs as best she could at the age of seven. Then she had to say goodbye over a small white casket.

Mary’s grandparents, first generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, took her in and gave her a glimpse of faith and stability. For a brief, shining spell, she had a real home—until they decided that Mama needed her. They may have been right, but Mama needed more than a little girl could give and Mary lost her way again.

Just out of Juvy Hall, Mary found a knight in shining armor to take her away. She became a teenage bride to a man twice her age—a man as deeply enslaved to booze as every “step-dad” she’d had as a child. She loved him anyway, even wearing the bruises he gave her, even when she tried to leave him to give their children a better life. Despite her fear and loneliness, she never imagined it would take a gunshot in the middle of the night to teach her courage. She was even more surprised when rediscovered faith paved the path to forgiveness after so many years of pain.

Running in Heels is a memoir of the grit and grace that carried a young girl through the shadows of her mother’s choices and on through an abusive marriage. Mary A. Pérez narrates an incredible story of survival in the face of hopelessness, and learning to forgive against all odds.

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3.5 stars

Review: This is the true, inspirational story of a girl named Mary. Her story includes the battling elements of alcohol, abandonment, poverty, hunger, and domestic violence. “The term ‘upper class’ didn’t mean us. Neither did the term ‘middle class.’ We didn’t move up in the world, but we did move way down. Down into a hellhole.” (16)

From girlhood to womanhood, Mary narrates this cunning and deeply profound tale of strength and hardship. The reader will see her pain and struggles while taking a seedy tour of America’s history. The story chronicles the life of a girl, transforming from a neglected child to an abused wife. Details were brief and fleeting, yet, I felt that certain areas a lagged a little too much.

Generally well-written and soulful, Running in Heels is a raw and colorful piece of art. Although the pace was slightly offsetting, readers will still be amazed by this simple recollection and will be able to relate.

A good story!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Q&A with Mary A. Pérez

Born in the Bronx, raised in Miami, relocated to Houston – I am Puerto Rican descent, blessed to be the 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.
Life is not always easy (and I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth). When you’re going through struggles, you sometimes feel you are all alone. The pain is real. The hurt feels as though your insides will burst, and in your brokenness you feel hopeless, like it will never end. Instead of reaching out, you become a shut-in … medicate yourself with either alcohol, drugs, or even food. But God gives us life, and life is precious and worth living.
Even before attempting to blog, I had begun to write about my childhood journeys into my adulthood. At first I thought it would be something for my kids one day. But then I’d been told that I have a story worth sharing so that others may hear and become inspired.
So what exactly do I share? I share about life’s lessons through some hardships, but also how it is possible to confront your past, live in the present, and look forward to the future. ¡Wepa!
Within the past few years of writing, I joined a writers guild and attended weekly critique groups. The end result: I completed an 88,500-word manuscript and sought representation for publication … God began opening doors! I found Megan LaFollett, Director of Publishing at Chart House Press who introduced me to Jeff Hastings, President of Chart House Press, LLC. I am blessed to be a part of their family.
“Running in Heels” is more than a memoir. This is a promise of hope and survival to anyone who woke up hungry and went to bed hungrier every day, for anyone who was abandoned as a child or an adult, for every wife who has loved a husband who left bruises on her heart and on her body. Find out more about Mary at
1.       What inspired you to write Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace?  
 Initially, my inspiration came in wanting my grown children to understand some of the hardships their Momma endured. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that this was a universal problem that needed to be told that others might be inspired to overcome.
2.       What was the development process like?
I just started jotting down my memories from as young as I could remember them. Sometimes, those memories would surface by glancing at a photo, other times in listening to stories from family members, and other times by going through a box of letters that I had stored away.
3.       What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Since my book is a memoir, re-living some of those stories was tough. No one really enjoys remembering dark times and the raw emotions during those periods. I honestly believe if I hadn’t experience inner-healing, those deep, dark stories would have affected me too much to revisit them.
4.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
Don’t be ashamed of your pain. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a product of your environment. My story depicts a girl’s refusal to be defined by her environment while seeking inner-healing from her brokenness. There is help for the helpless, hope for the hopeless, and forgiveness for the inexcusable.
5.       What inspired you to be a writer?
I have always loved expressing myself with pen to paper. In the comfort of my surroundings, alone in my thoughts, words come to me which I feel are a gift from God. As a child, my grandmother instilled in me the importance of writing to family members whether by letter or in a card. I enjoyed escaping by reading and doing book reports in school.
6.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
What I like best about writing is that my train of thought goes uninterrupted where I can calmly hone in on ideas and write down my sentiments without reprieve than if I was in the company of others. What I like least about writing are the distractions and the pressure of deadlines.
7.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
Just to name a couple of favorite authors: I was ecstatic the day I discovered “When I Was Puerto Rican” by author Esmeralda Santiago, who had also written a coming-of-age memoir.  Our stories are similar in that we shared the loss of childhood innocence even having to gaze upon a baby in a coffin and were expected to take on adult responsibilities. Then “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls was recommended to me by a friend. I was amazed over how our stories shared the survival of terrible parenting and relentless poverty, also finding the grit and grace needed to break the pattern of bad choices and find a “happily ever after”.
8.       If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
Well since I’m the protagonist, a young Rosie Perez and an older Sara Ramirez as me!
9.       Are you working on anything right now?
I am a blogger and post new material about heart-to-heart topics about life on a weekly basis. I also enjoy entering creative writing contests and essays. My next published work may be told in a series of vignettes.
10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
More and more, the Latino culture is advancing strong and finding their place in being recognized and respected as gifted and talented writers, poets and musicians. According to Wikipedia, “Latin America literature has a rich and complex tradition of literary production that dates back many centuries.” As long as we continue to receive education and desiring to advance ourselves in keeping up with the America way – we are here to stay!
 Up next: A review of Running in Heels