Cecilia Velástegui, Jetsetter and Author, Discusses Her Writing and 'The Serendipity of the Spanish Tongue'
This article is part of Palabras, the Latin Post Latino Author Series.
Born high in the Andes Mountains in Quito, Ecuador at an altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level, author Cecilia Velástegui has found success as an author of adult and children's books due to her extensive travel, her chameleon nature and "the serendipity of the Spanish tongue."
The award-winning writer began her career like many others, as a reader. She and her sister spent their childhood in a boarding school while their parents underwent a difficult divorce. The convent-like setting didn't allow for much, aside from prayer, school work and reading, which she did voraciously.
"A sad thing turned into a very wonderful thing for me. I was able to read and use my imagination; I pictured all of these places that I hadn't seen because I was inside of a convent. And once the divorce was resolved, we moved to California, and I just thought it was the greatest place in the world. I went from an enclosed environment to a place where there was sun," Velástegui told Latin Post. "During my youth, in California, I continued reading and my parents always exposed us to literature. At the time, there was something called 'The Book of the Month Club,' and we'd get four novels every month and they came in the mail directly from the publishing houses in New York. After that, I spent my late teens and early 20s in France."
In France, she lived, loved and moved through the world as a "closeted writer." She then pursued her career as a marriage and family therapist. While working as therapist, she attended writing classes at UCLA and UC Irving, always writing but unwilling to publish because her perfectionist nature. However, her pivotal moment, leading to publication, came during one of her many international trips. While in Madrid, she saw a cluster of indigenous South American girls walking the streets. She experienced a moment of disconnect and felt compelled to talk to one of them.
"During a time of exodus, the young women were tempted to come to Europe to do domestic work, but were tricked into becoming sex workers. So I began writing about sex work and human trafficking. It was at that point that I knew that I had to get that story out," Velástegui said. "This is where reality really needed to be put into narrative forms, so it could be heard. That inspired my very first novel, 'Gathering the Indigo Maidens.' The harsh moment of reality in a beautiful setting urged me to publish my story, one that could actually be helpful."
Velástegui's adult novels are psychological thrillers with historical intrigue. "Gathering the Indigo Maiden," "Traces of Bliss," "Missing in Machu Picchu" and her latest "Parisian Promises" are novels that grew from her observation of language, her visitation to 104 nations, her identity as an a chameleon and her long-held interest in history.
"Ninety percent of my time is spent writing psychological thrillers with historical intrigue. 'Parisian Promises' is my most recent novel, and it takes place in 1973, it's really a very complex love story. The other books have been darker psychological thrillers. 'Parisian Promises' puts into context what was happening in the world during the 1960 and early '70s, to see Paris in a different light," Velástegui stated about her latest novel, which has already been nominated for multiple awards. "People who go to Paris have a romanticized idea of what it is, but like any place, there's always a dark side. The main character in 'Parisian Promises' is a college exchange student seeing the world through rose colored lenses, and it turns out to be a different kind of experience."
With those books, the author undertook the task of always being aware of imagery, writing Latina characters that are truthful about gains and losses in their life, and she synthesized her life-long experiences to create authentic, compelling writing. Also, she's embraced the assignment of telling the stories of unsung Latinas who've made an impact in the artistic world and historical world. Additionally, she writes novels that compel and caution readers.
Under the identity of the Fabulous Fableist, the author has written a triad of children's stories: "Olinguito Speaks Up," "Lalo Loves to Help" and "Howl of the Mission Owl." Her children's books are similar to her adult works in that they also teach important lessons. While certain stories encourage children to respect their neighbors and protect the environment, other stories ask children to be kind or discover the value of harmony.
"As a writer, you really have to respect and appreciate your readers, and I always have this in mind when I write. Also, I really want to appeal to their intellect, so I want to research, organize and structure my narrative, and I want to appeal to their soul," said Velástegui, who also said that her Ecuadoran roots and her native tongue is a driver behind many of her actions and it's "the kernel of [her] soul, ever thing else is just layers"
Through the decades, travel, experiences and people contributed to her identity, but she's always acknowledged her identity as a Latina. Also, the serendipity of the Spanish tongue, the ability to connect with other due to the spontaneous relationships that the language can stem, has always played a role in helping her to connect with others, find stories and meet new people.
Velástegui's next book, "Lucia Zárate" (December 2015), is a historical novel about the odyssey of the smallest woman who ever lived, who stood at just 20 inches. The author searched through newspapers dating back as far as 1890 to unearth the fascinating details about the incredible life lived by the small woman from Mexico.