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Maria E. Andreu, Author of 'The Secret Side of Empty,' Gives Humanity and Identity to Immigration

First Posted: May 14, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Maria E. Andreu

Photo : Maria E. Andreu

This article is part of Palabras, the Latin Post Latino Author Series.    

When Spanish-born author Maria E. Andreu was 5 years old, she wrote what she thought were original stories. In retrospect, "Sleeping Beauty" as told by her wasn't quite an original composition. However, the young adult novel, "The Secret Side of Empty," which tells a candid and hard-boiled account of immigration, certainly is an original and powerful work.

In reality, Andreu doesn't know what in her early life steered her toward writing, though she has her sneaking suspicions. She was taught to read and write at the early age of 4. Also, her mother routinely read to her and was avid reader, herself. This, she supposes, in some way, prepared her for career as a writer; though, at the time, she just loved it. By age 12, she'd conclusively declared in her diary, "Most of all, I want to be a writer."

"I suppose I've always written, but didn't start writing for publications until I began writing for a local magazine in my 20s, and I didn't start writing for publications seriously until my 30s. It took me a while to find my way," Andreu said to Latin Post. "[But] every project that you work on teaches you a little about writing. My big question with 'The Secret Side of Empty' was 'Can I pull this off? Can I sustain an idea for an entire length of a book?' ... which is a big feat when you've never done it before. Characterizing a story in 60,000 words or however long is intimidating, and once that's done, at least for me, it was like... 'I know I can do that, now what other things can I master?"    

After composing a novel-length piece of writing, she easily explored the joys of plot, really delving into what makes a compelling story, what moves a story forward and what makes a reader want to find out what happens next. With writing, there's always a next challenge, also the same challenge: "How do I become a better writer?"

Andreu composed "The Secret Side of Empty" by interpreting immigration as she had experienced it, utilizing humanity, identity and visibility as tools to tell that story from a unique, yet shared, perspective.  

"I was undocumented as a child and teenager, and I kept hearing a lot of vitriol in the news talking about 'these people or those people,' and I remember specifically the moment I decided I wanted to write [this book]. I was hearing one of the talk show guys saying, 'If we let these people stay, they're going to ruin our country... they're not going to learn English... they're this and they're that,'" said Andreu. "It stressed me for a moment that every time he used the term 'these people', he was talking about me, which was something I tried to put aside in my life. I had been very ashamed that I was undocumented. I wanted to put it behind me, so for a long time, I didn't talk about it and I didn't write about it.

But, in that moment I thought, 'I think there's just not enough understanding about the human element of what this experience is like. So, when writing the book, I wanted people to just see one story. ... One human being story about the impact of this immigration status."

While the story captures the experience of Argentine-born Monserrat Thalia, known as M. T., the story was written for its universal element. Andreu shared that she wrote the book for everyone who has felt excluded or like they didn't belong at one point or another.

"I wanted to tap into that universal experience, but the story received a lot of attention because of the fact that it's a Latino story... because it's about a girl who is undocumented, which was interesting me," Andreu shared. 

The novel is very meaningful to the author. Aside from being a work that shares fragments of her story, it means to her what a first child means to a parent. In the author's words, "I hope there will be many more, but there will never be a first one again." Also, the story is very meaningful because she's been able to touch lives and teach with the story.    

"I was touched most when I did an event at a non-profit that benefited undocumented youth in New York City, and it was the most emotional event that I've ever done," said Andreu. "They told me their stories, and we read my book, and I shared a little bit about my story. We cried, and they told me that they'd never seen their experience represented in a book before, like others got to see their stories, and it was nice to see it. And that, I found, was really touching."

Presently, the author has two projects completed in various states of editing and submission. One will be the story of a minor character present in "The Secret Side of Empty," and the other is a separate project. Also, Andreu continues to share important messages about writing and reading with her fans and other writers.

"I'm always drawn to give writing advice because writing is what I know about. But, I think what I want to tell people about my story is that it took me a long time to figure out how to share my love for writing with the world. No matter what a person likes to do, whether its writing or another unique gift, they should continue to pursue it, and not give up or think, 'I don't know if this is good enough or I don't know if the world wants this,' because its less about having your work accepted or what the world thinks, and its more about the fact that you're doing what you want to do," said Andreu. "So, keep on it. ... That's what I'd like to impart on people who ask me about writing and my story. And read, of course. Read like crazy because it's the coolest thing ever and it's the only way to be other people's skin for a while.

Learn more about Andreu, "The Secret Side of Empty" and her other writing by checking out her website.   

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