December 2020 – Here I bring you another interview, this time from someone I know in person. Not from Twitter, not from Facebook, although we met again when I joined Facebook many years ago, and we have stayed in touch.
I want to introduce you to a friend, who was my co-worker a few years ago. I want you to meet Puerto Rican author Sonia Seda Gaztambide. Sonia has always been a friendly, spontaneous, outgoing person and, in my opinion, a lot of fun person. We met when we both worked in the Senate of Puerto Rico, on the Capitol building. In case you didn’t know, some people (like us) did work hard while we were there. Very good memories.
When we met on Facebook, she had started a blog “Desde Mis Polos” (From My Poles), where she shared incidents of her daily life with a comic point of view. Sometimes we find it difficult to find grace in our daily lives. Sonia managed to make me laugh with her occurrences. Then I discovered that her blog became the foretaste of what has been her work of art, her book Sin filtro y sin alcohol: la gracia en lo cotidiano (No filter and no alcohol: grace in the everyday life). At this moment, the book is only available in Spanish. Maybe I get to convince Sonia of publishing an English translation).
Sonia completed her BA in Communications with a concentration in Writing for the Media at the University of the Sacred Heart in Puerto Rico. She recently obtained a Master of Communication Arts Degree with a concentration in Writing for Media, and a Certification in Literary Creation from the same university. With this she was encouraged to publish her book.
And, well, Sonia tells me her story. Here is our conversation:
The name of my blog is Full of Coffee, so the first question is how do you like your coffee? Because you like coffee, right?
- I drink coffee whatever it is: mocha, espresso, with milk, black, in sweets, puddings, cakes, inhaled and if I could smoke it, then too.
And being Puerto Rican, you probably started drinking coffee like I did, when you were young. Tell me the story about how you started drinking coffee?
- I went through two stages of drinking coffee. When we were little (less than 5 years old) my grandmother woke us up with a bottle of coffee, milk and honey. It was a unique flavor, that I have never been able to reproduce but that I can still remember and transport myself to those days. Then I stopped drinking it until I got into college. As you know, we were 5 sisters: four in university and one in high school. There was not always money to spend. So, for not asking my parents, I lived (survived) a long time by dint of a black coffee and a pack of Mentos candy during the day and, at night, the dinner that they gave me for belonging to the judo team of the university. I don’t remember this with sadness, but with joy, because I love coffee and mint, and one was young and ignorant. I could easily have developed an ulcer, but no. You can see me chewing gum and drinking coffee without any shame.
I remember the life of a university student and the life in a dorm room very well. I know you grew up in Mayagüez with your family. Tell me about your childhood.
- I was born and raised in Mayagüez. Nothing extraordinary or privileged. We were 5 sisters and my parents. I am the fourth, which does not make me anything special or self-conscious (I am not the oldest, nor the middle one, nor the youngest, which are supposedly the ones with some complex). We weren’t rich, but we never lacked for anything. We studied in a private school with a lot of sacrifice from my parents. A few days ago I remembered that we were supposed to be on scholarships in school, and it was about eleventh grade that I found out that I was SUPPOSED to work in the library because I was on a scholarship… They are still waiting for me.
Did your childhood have any influence on your interest in reading or writing?
- Of course, in my childhood there was a great interest in reading and, later, in writing! We were 5 women, daddy, mommy and ONLY ONE TV! So forget about watching something I liked on TV; but I had 3 personal libraries. At home there was a bookshelf with the Cumbre Encyclopedia, the Hostos Encyclopedic Dictionary, the collection of classic children’s stories My Enchanted Book and other books on different topics. I clearly remember that there was also “El Libro del Buen Modal” (The Book of Good Modal) that my father forced me to read in one summer because I came out with I don’t know what mischief. I would read whatever I could get. I read books on esotericism, religion, fantasy, definitions and even maps. In my other library, at my grandfather’s house, there was the most complete collection you can imagine of the Reader’s Digest Selections magazine. On there I read true stories and jokes. We would watch the postman to take the magazine and read it before my grandfather. He had to take turns reading his own magazine! Hahahaha And my third library was at my uncles’ house. When I stayed at their house, I would read other storybooks and novels that my cousins had already read at school and that my aunt kept. I also read comics and Daddy bought me the Mad magazine, which I loved. My passion for writing was triggered by my 7th grade Spanish teacher, Mister Pardo. Every month we wrote an essay according to his instructions (topic, number of words). It was quite an adventure and it turned out that I wrote very well, so well that his wife (also a Spanish teacher) came to think that I was writing them before coming to class. The only problem was that the themes were surprise, there was no way. From there, I wrote about everything: parodies of songs (I was a fan of Los Rayos Gamma, a satirical parody show very popular in Puerto Rico), speeches, essays, monologues and jokes.
Wow! I remember the Cumbre Encyclopedia! And I was one of those who read books or magazines in whatever house I visited. Tell me, when did you decide to try professional writing?
- I had always been interested in professional writing, but I didn’t know anything about that world. I had a blog for a while, but I find it very complicated. Later, while studying for the Master’s Degree in Writing for Media, I did a certification in Literary Creation from the University of Sagrado Corazón and took several courses in Screenwriting. There I met many unique writers, artists and teachers, from whom I learned something of the literary world. As a requirement of my Master’s Degree, I wrote a series of humorous columns on different everyday topics. One of my thesis readers was Silverio Pérez (a well-known Puerto Rican writer and producer in the media). He gave me very good recommendations and urged me to publish and, although the entire committee recommended that I publish my work, I didn’t think anything about it. However, when taking the work to bind, the guys from the printing press surprised me with these expressions: “I read all the theses that are bound here and I have to tell you that this has been the best work I have read in my life. I couldn’t believe it. I hope you’ll excuse me, but I have to confess that I shared it with my mom and she loved it too. You have to publish this.” “I don’t read everything that comes here; but I read this thesis in full. This work cannot be put in the library room with the other boring theses. The university has to take this aside.” THEY were the ones who pushed me to publish… two complete strangers who had enjoyed what I wrote.
Has devoting yourself to writing affected your profession? How about your personal life?
- I don’t think it has affected me professionally. My work does not conflict with what I write. On the other hand, my personal life has been affected; because now everyone feels more sorry and affectionate for my husband. The guy is a character in his natural state. They expect more stories about him. Anyway, ingratitude … hahahaha
Let’s talk about your first published book! How was the experience of publishing a book?
- Publishing a book is a work of love and community. Each writer has a different story. In mine, I asked my friend Ricardo Martí to write me a kind of Prologue for the book, because he thought that all books had to have it, but we didn’t want to call it a prologue because we hate formalities. So we call it “Initial Warning.” Another good friend, Anto Gamunev, offered to design the front and back cover for me, the one that everyone has liked so much and always attracts attention. Two people I met while studying and they became part of my production team (I am also part of their teams and crazy inventions). Several publishers I contacted told me they weren’t accepting new authors, so I went to a printing company and had it produced. I took it to various bookstores and here I am.
Very interesting! You also have several published collaborations. How has your experience been writing and promoting these collaborations?
- I have a collaboration with Ricardo Martí (I told you that I am also part of his team and inventions): “La gran colección de complejos” (The Great Collection of Complexes, only available in Spanish language). It was a very fluid work, because we spent time “fighting” out of love, so we decided to talk about the complexes of men and women, and how the other sex perceives these complexes. It was like an argument between the two and it was actually even fun. Promoting this particular collaboration has been very easy and enjoyable. It is a light production to entertain. It isn’t a critical text or a proposal for life. Another writer friend, José Vázquez, asked me for the prologue to his book of poetry Bifurlaciones. I’ll just tell you that the prologue begins with this phrase “I don’t like poetry.” In addition, I wrote the foreword to the storybook “Vitrinas” by Yasmarie Hernández, and I do reading and editing work for countless other writer friends because I love to correct and criticize (according to them). LOL
I know that the Covid pandemic has put many projects on hold. Any future project you want to talk about?
- What do you say! The pandemic has been a workshop for tons of exciting projects! I have had time to meet new authors and to work on my next volume of Sin filtro y sin alcohol (No filter and no alcohol). I want to continue with the line of humor columns, it is my zone of happiness; although I also have stories; but I think the humorous essay written by a woman is more needed. And I want to mention the writers who inspired me: Eddie López (precursor of Los Rayos Gamma), Ignacio Guasp, Erma Bombeck and Salvador Tió.
I love it! I am sure this second volume will be well received. Making people laugh with stories of daily life is an art that must be used. I think this year 2020 is one that we have needed humor to cope with certain circumstances.
Thanks for sharing your story with me. You are one of the people who has inspired me to decide to write. And you are one of those people that I want others to know. So we will be waiting for that second volume of Sin filtro y sin alcohol. Here is the Amazon link where you can get the book:
And I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It is a great opportunity for me to meet all these wonderful writers.
I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep dreaming! I have some more pending projects to work on. Thank you for reading! It’s time for mi tacita de café. ¡Salud!
Para la versión en español, vea https://fullofcoffeeblog.com/una-tacita-de-cafe-con-mi-amiga-la-autora-sonia-seda-gaztambide/