I was born into a family of storytellers. From my abuelita, now 98, who would tell and retell the stories of her childhood, to my abuelo and my father, both published authors and compulsive writers. Growing up, I was not only surrounded by books at home but I also watched my grandfather scribble ideas on pieces of paper that he would later lose. Like me, he was an eccentric. He wrote under different pen-names and even interviewed himself in his books. It was his version of the modern selfie. He had a way with words—he read them, wrote them, spoke them and printed them. He even had a printing press, the kind with real ink and paper. My younger sister and I used to spend Saturday mornings helping collate books. The smell of the ink and the sound of the printing press brought me comfort. It was a familiar environment. It made me feel safe.
I must have been about 8 years old when I wrote a ghost story, illustrated by my sidekick, my sister Laura. My dad printed it for us and we gave it out to the other kids at school. We thought that was a normal thing to do. When my classmates wouldn’t play with me at recess, I’d turn to books. I immersed myself in stories.
Once, when I was 10, I gave a teacher one of my dad’s books and she asked me whether it was dedicated. I had no idea what that meant so I said yes. She looked inside the front cover and said it was not. She asked me to please take it back and ask my father to sign it for her. I was so embarrassed at not knowing what “dedicated” meant, that I promised myself to look up in the dictionary each and every word I did not understand. As I watched my dad sign the book for my teacher, and the next day when I experienced her gratitude and sense of admiration when she read the dedication, I thought being an author must be the coolest profession in the world. And so in spite of my dad wanting me to become a marine biologist because—as he knew from experience—there was not a lot of money in writing, I too became a storyteller. In my first book, published in 1993, Me siento gorda, I told the story of my struggle with bulimia. That was only the beginning.
Life as a storyteller
It’s not all roses trying to make a living with the written word. There is a lot of fear and doubt. But there are also bucketloads of hope and satisfaction. If you’re lucky enough to get published, then there’s the fleeting but very intense high of connecting with a reader. If it’s through a book, the thrill is even greater. It’s magical to realize that something you wrote in solitude reached a person in a different city or faraway country—maybe even in a different language. And if that person reaches out to communicate with you because of what you wrote, that’s just better than money.
I’ve written quite a few books. So far 17 of them are published and some have been translated to languages I don’t even speak. My husband, also a writer—and a much better one than I am, by the way—lovingly (I hope!) makes fun of how I often state my writing accomplishments. And the reason I do it, I believe, is not to show off, but to remind myself that no matter what I’m known for, no matter what I do on a daily basis, I started out as a writer—an author. Only many years later would I venture into blogging, social media, the craziness that is online publication. I sometimes miss writing on a laptop that has no Internet connection because back when I started, the Internet didn’t exist. I also miss knowing that the only possibility for publishing is on real paper.
The beauty of online publishing, however, is that I can now share my stories without having to wait months or even years for them to reach readers. I can type them in a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post or an Instagram picture. I can speak them into the camera and upload them to YouTube. And, of course, so can you!
Storytelling at We All Grow Summit
I’ve always believed I was much better at expressing myself in writing than by speaking in public, but thankfully others seem to think otherwise. I’m very grateful to Dove and Unilever for giving me the opportunity to tell my story onstage at the first ever We All Grow Summit in L.A. that will take place between February 25 and March 1. I’m thrilled that I will be able to honor my family’s legacy by sharing a slice of life that I hope inspires and uplifts the audience. I’m also pumped because I’m able to take my bestie with me. And that bestie is my younger sister, also a blogger, the one who illustrated my ghost stories when we were kids. And she will be able to cheer me on as I recount a part of my history, which is tied to that of our storytelling abuelos.
When I stand up in front of the audience at We All Grow Summit to tell my story onstage, I will be wearing New Dove Dry Spray Antiperspirant, to keep me from sweating. I still get the jitters before speaking in public, and because I’m slam in the middle of menopause, I might also get a hot flash. When I found I had been selected as one of the six storytellers sponsored by Dove, I was excited because it’s a brand I’ve used forever. I usually use the roll-on deodorant, but the new antiperspirant is going to help me stay dry without staining my clothes. Unlike sticks and gels, New Dove Dry Spray Antiperspirant does not contain waxy or goopy residue.
I can’t wait to be in L.A. with my bestie, sharing stories, both happy and sad, and being able to tell you all about it once I’m back home. But wait, my kids and my husband will ask me to tell them the story of my trip first. I hope you understand …