Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Emma Chaves author of Tales From Alturas: The Puerto Rican Mystique. Emma was born in Brooklyn, New York to Puerto Rican parents. At the age of twelve due to health conditions she, her mother and sister moved to the mountain town of Lares, Puerto Rico. In 1955 she returned to the United States and moved to Miami, Florida with her husband. She was the Center Director and Community Development for the Community Action Action Agency in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Wynwood, Miami. Emma has a M.A. Degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Miami.
Norm: Good day Emma and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Emma: As mentioned in the introduction, I was born in Brooklyn, New York, where I lived until the age of 12. At that time my mother brought me and my sister to a small mountain town in Lares, Puerto Rico, in an effort to alleviate the asthma that was keeping me away from school days and sometimes weeks at a time.
My father and brother stayed behind. Two years later, we came back to Brooklyn where I graduated from Eastern District High School. I married my husband in 1955, a few months after he had been discharged from service in Korea, and three months later moved to Miami, where we’ve been living since.
Twenty years after graduation from high school, I enrolled at Miami-Dade Jr. College, where I received an AA Degree. From there I entered Florida International University and obtain an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice. Twenty years later I attended the University of Miami and graduated with a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) degree. I have three children, four grandchildren and a great-grandson. Throughout my adult life I have been active in Puerto Rican civic and cultural activities.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to the short story form and what do you think makes a good short story?
Emma: I like the brevity of the short story. Like most people, I have had to balance a busy life. I’m impatient and like to see results soon. Besides that, the short story intrigues me; so much can be said in few words. A short story can be as powerful as a full-blown epic novel.
A good short story depends to a great degree on life-like three-dimensional characters. A good short story, no matter how fantastic or magical, should be believable. We should be able to place ourselves inside the characters, cry and laugh with them, no matter who they are or into what world they have been inserted.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write and how has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Emma: Yes, I’ve read a stack of books on how to write, all were worthwhile, all offered something new, all contributed to my writing expertise and became a part of me. One book I particularly gained from was The Way of Story: The Craft & Soul of Writing by Catherine Ann Jones.
My environmental upbringing has placed me inside my characters even before I knew I would write about them. I understand the characters, I know what motivates them, I am aware of their shortcomings. This insight into these particular characters has motivated me to write about them.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the stories and how did you decide you were ready to write the collection of short stories?
Emma: As I reflected during my retirement years on the images retained from my childhood memories, I became aware that not much about Puerto Rico, a United States possession, and its people, U.S. citizens, is known or taught. Happenings and facts had been misinterpreted, circumvented or omitted. More for the sake of my parents than for me, since the Island was their birthplace, I felt these short stories had to be written; otherwise, an important segment of Puerto Rico’s history would disappear, without anyone caring, as if the devastations, the aura of hopelessness, the deaths from hunger on the Island had never happened. I had to write, and once I started writing, I had to continue until finished.
Norm: How much of these stories are realistic?
Emma: The stories are vicariously realistic. I tried to portray the characters as closely as possible to the way I perceived them through the eyes of a child and interpreted through the vision of an aging adult. The fairy tale quality of many of the stories is due to the child’s vision.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your stories serve and what matters to you about the stories?
Emma: The stories were written in an entertaining and thought-provoking format. They open up an undisclosed world to many Americans and others. When I asked the question, several American citizens told me they thought Puerto Rico was located somewhere in South America and considered Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. foreigners. I believe that by exposing people as they are, as human beings with frailties and strengths, a better understanding will develop. That is why it matters to me that the book be widely distributed and read by as many people as possible.
Norm: Are the characters in your book based on people you know or have encountered or are they strictly fictional? As a follow up, how did you go about creating the characters?
Emma: The characters in Alturas are composites of people I have known in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. I have added traits as needed in order to fit their roles to conform naturally within the contrived plots of the stories. As I did not have any theme in mind before writing each story, or know where or when each would finish, I just let the characters guide me through their voyage and tell me when to get off.
Norm: Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
Emma: All my characters are favorites. I love them all, no matter who they are or what their deeds. To choose one, I would choose Dolores. Placed in the semi-wilderness that must have been the mountain village of Alturas in the 1920s, she is as I imagine her, the woman who is her husband’s possession, the butt of his reprimands and abuse, expected to solve all problems, and once everything is resolved, is maligned.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Emma: The most surprising thing I learned was that I actually wrote a book; that I enjoyed writing it, and that others who read it enjoyed reading it. I had been dabbling with the stories, scratching out and erasing words over a period of ten years and one day there it was. I had never done anything like this before. At age 80, I had my first book, a collection of short stories, published.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Tales From Alturas: The Puerto Rican Mystique?
Emma: Readers can find me and some of my activities on FACEBOOK also the book Tales from Alturas: The Puerto Rican Mystique and Follow Here To Purchase Tales from Alturas: The Puerto Rican Mystique
My email address is email@example.com.
Norm: What is next for Emma Chaves?
Emma: I don’t know what is next for me. I’d like to think that there is still more for me to explore and discover. Nurturing that dream, I live in expectation. I wait for a little bird to perch on my shoulder and sing a song in my ear.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Emma: The one question I would have liked asked is: Does it make you sad when one of your characters dies? Yes, I really feel the loss, and so, a couple of times I’ve put them all on stage, bowing to us, as if the stories are just an enactment, that these characters I created are still alive. I know that they, like us, must eventually all go, but I’d like to keep them in our memories as they were in life for as long as possible.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors