Interview with Cecilia Velástegui
Traces of Bliss
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Cecilia Velástegui, who is here to discuss her new novel, “Traces of Bliss.”
Cecilia Velástegui was born in Quito, Ecuador where she spent her childhood. She was raised in California and France, and has traveled extensively to over fifty countries. She received her graduate degree from the University of Southern California, and speaks four languages. She serves on the board of directors of several cultural and educational organizations, and she was nominated for the Arts Orange County Award. She lives with her family in Dana Point, California. She is the author of the novels, “Gathering the Indigo Maidens” and the newly published “Traces of Bliss.”
Tyler: Welcome back, Cecilia. It’s a pleasure to speak to you again. I love the title of your new book. Would you begin by explaining to us just what the word “Bliss” refers to in the title?
Tyler: The main character, Claire, is a massage therapist in Los Angeles, but she has her grandmother’s specially blended Amazonian oil that she uses on her clients. Will you tell us a little about Claire and her grandmother’s background?
Cecilia: Claire’s grandmother, Doña Verito, has lived in Los Angeles for decades and is a well-known healer in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, one of the oldest neighborhoods known for its steep stairways that lead from one street to the other, and some that seem to lead nowhere.
Tyler: Is Claire’s grandmother aware of the powers the oil has and does she intentionally bring it with her from South America for that reason?
Cecilia: Claire’s grandmother has lived in California for over thirty years. She grows her own plants and herbs. It is Octavio who brought the Amazonian plants that transformed the verbena oil into the traces of bliss oil.
Tyler: I understand some surprising things happen to Claire’s clients whom she rubs the oil on. Will you tell us how this discovery is first made?
Cecilia: For each of the five elderly clients, there is a moment when each realizes that the memory they recall may or may not be directly from their own experience, yet they feel a sense of ownership of the blissful memory.
Tyler: What inspired you to write a novel where people recall ancestral memories? What about the idea intrigued you?
Cecilia: In my own cultural background, the mention of very specific facts or “memories” about my ancestors was as constant as music playing in our house. So much so, that I feel as if I’ve actually met my ancestors from very long ago. Additionally, my great-great aunts lived past 100, so I remember their vivid and articulate stories about their great-great aunts. In many ways, this narrative is a tribute to my Tias Zoilita and Virginita.
Tyler: Did you do any research into people recalling ancestral memories? Are there documented cases of it happening to real people, and if so, do you understand how it would be possible?
Cecilia: I limited my research in this area because at this point science would refute the notion that memories can be passed in the DNA. However, many people feel as if they remember facts about an ancestral memory. I grabbed onto this common feeling and let my imagination go forward.
Tyler: Did you consider having the characters recall their past lives, and if so, why did you want the memories to be ancestral as opposed to a reincarnation theme?
Cecilia: No, I did not want to take this narrative into a reincarnation theme. I reflected on the marvelous details that my great-great aunts and other relatives would describe about my specific ancestors. As I progressed into my genealogical research, mostly done in Spain, I realized that some of the details they revealed were probably true. Again, this was enough for me to enjoy creating the possibility that since we inherit not only our eye color, shyness, or allergies, it is also possible that some snippets of specific moments in time from our ancestors lives may be passed on from one generation to the next.
Tyler: All the women who have memories recall Spanish ancestors. Does that mean they all have something in common? Is there a reason why you didn’t have anyone remember ancestors say from North America or Asia or Africa?
Cecilia: The reason I selected Spain is because I have done genealogical research in various cities and archives there. It is a part of my own heritage, and I have spent decades reading about the Inquisition and the people who suffered because of this institution. The fact that I selected my characters to all have Spanish ancestry is because in California and the Southwest, we have millions of people with a recent or distant ancestry to Spain.
Tyler: I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I understand there’s a villain who tries to take advantage of the situation. Can you share a little bit of that side of the story with us?
Cecilia: The elderly characters all have amassed a certain amount of wealth, but in their sunset years, they are alone with only their live-in caregivers as companions. In this mix of lonely seniors, sad caregivers, and kind massage therapist, enters the pathological liar, Alma Ruiz, who believes she can solve her problems by fleecing the seniors.
Tyler: Our reviewer here at Reader Views, Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson, commented that the novel is full of diverse characters and situations, saying, “There is a heady mix of Moorish invasions, Basque Witch trials, duende, prehistoric caves, flamenco dancers and gypsies, cross-dressing military officers fighting for the Spanish crown in the 17th century, mermaids, missing teenagers, Sephardic Jews, poets, shamans, involuntary memories, magic mushrooms, violent husbands, crying babies, impersonators, gigolos, and more...and somehow it all makes sense in the end.” That’s quite a list—what was your goal in including all these characters and details, and did you ever feel overwhelmed by the process, or was it all just a lot of fun?
Cecilia: I’ve loved every minute of the years it has taken me to write this novel. Each character is critical to the plot and is a fully fleshed, realistic character. Together, they form a vibrant kaleidoscope that my readers have no problem understanding where each one fits in in their respective narrative and in the whole novel.
Tyler: Cecilia, what about the Spanish heritage of your characters—which you also wrote about in “Gathering the Indigo Maidens” appeals to you so much? Since you are yourself from Ecuador and share that heritage, would you say you are “writing what you know” rather than choosing to write something like science fiction or fantasy?
Cecilia: I respect my readers’ intelligence, interest, and time they spend to read my novels. So, I prepare thoroughly. First, I do write about the cultures that I understand and about human nature, which again I understand from my years as a marriage and family therapist. To this foundation of knowledge, I integrate historical facts, which I have read/researched thoroughly for decades, and depict the present and past environments with a detective’s eye for detail.
Tyler: Despite the historical aspects of the novel, you still have science fiction/fantasy type elements in the novel in terms of the ancestral memories. How do you walk a fine line between what you would include that is believable and what you might consider as going too far into the realms of science fiction?
Cecilia: I believe that the novel does not enter the realm of science fiction. However, there is a degree of fantasy in the sense that the reader will not know for certain how the memory was resurrected from the five seniors’ minds. They all have lived long full lives, and therefore, there are many logical possibilities as to how they could be remembering such ancient facts. I put myself in their place and asked: what if thirty years from now I am able to amalgamate my great-great-aunt’s vivid stories, with my life experiences, and blend them with a degree of life wisdom? It’s possible that as one ages these involuntary memories are a combination of many factors, but still within a normal realm, and more importantly, these memories may bring feelings of contentment….or even bliss, as we face death.
Tyler: Cecilia, did you find this novel easier or more difficult to write than “Gathering the Indigo Maidens” and why?
Cecilia: I have been writing both novels for many years, and have fine-tuned both of them, along with other future works, to the extent that they are products of many years of dedication.
Tyler: Cecilia, am I right that you recently received some good news about “Traces of Bliss”?
Cecilia: Yes, the book has been selected as choice for the 2012 National Latino Book Club by the Las Comadres and Friends and the Association of American Publishers. I’m proud of this honor.
Tyler: That’s great Cecilia. Congratulations. What sorts of responses have you received from your readers so far? What do they like about the book, its theme or characters?
Cecilia: I am always delighted by the comments from my readers. They always want to know what historical facts or personages I include and why. They like the fact that the novel take place today and makes a strong connection to the past. They have all wanted to share their own unusual memories and/or their own ancestral peculiarities. I’ve come to the conclusion, that we all have unusual ancestors.
Tyler: Why do you think a book about possible ancestral memories appeals to readers? Is it the current fascination people have with genealogy, and why do you think genealogy fascinates people?
Cecilia: The answers to these questions could be very extensive, ranging from religious, adoption, and health issues to topics of inheritance. As the questions pertain to my narrative, I believe that we are intrigued by whom our ancestors were and what our ancestors did; we want to know their life stories: who did they love, what caused them to move across the country or the world, what were their regrets. Ultimately, we all realize that we will never know all the details, but it’s fun to speculate based on the facts we uncover in the research process. We crave details about our family history to see whether we find our own personality idiosyncrasies buried along with our ancestors from long ago.
Tyler: Do you have plans for another novel, and if so, would you share a little bit about it with us?
Cecilia: I am excited and a bit split in two. Again, I am resurrecting two novels that I wrote over a long period of time. As of today, it appears that the historical novel about Paris will be ready first. Paris is a beloved setting by many authors, but my novel paints it in a very original historical perspective and reflects my love for France and the years that I lived there.
Tyler: Great, Cecilia. We’ll be looking forward to reading it when you are finished. Thank you for the interview today, Cecilia. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information our readers can find there about “Traces of Bliss”?
Cecilia: Please visit www.TracesofBliss.com and view the video trailer.
Tyler: Thank you again, Cecilia, for the interview. I wish you much success with both “Gathering of the Indigo Maidens” and “Traces of Bliss.”