I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lisa Mauro to char with me today about her book, The Place We Went to Yesterday. Lisa is a novelist and blogger. When she’s not breaking pivot tables during her day job in the pharmaceutical industry, you can find her watching The Office on repeat. She lives near Boston, MA with her better half, Brian Sfinas.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I first heard about IndieBrag from my editor, Harmony Kent. She had been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion for her novel, The Glade, and she suggested that I submit my book for consideration.
Please tell me about your book, The Place We Went to Yesterday.
The story is loosely-based on a very close friend’s experiences growing up in a group home. Ultimately this is the story of a teenager from a low-income and abusive family, who is just trying to find her way in the world.
Why did you choose New York for the setting of your story?
I am a NYC native. Born in Brooklyn (though raised in South Florida), I lived there for most of my life so it’s very easy for me to capture the essence of the place.
What is the High Line?
The High Line used to be an elevated train track that was abandoned. However, years ago, restoration was begun and it’s since been turned into a park.
What are Ella’s strengths and weaknesses?
Ella is very independent and intelligent but she is also naïve and full of crippling self-doubt.
What is a conflict that Ella has with her mother, Marta?
Life! Her very life is a major conflict with her mother as she is a child of rape. This creates tension in the family from the very outset of the story.
Please share an excerpt?
I used to dig through Tia Paola’s photo albums when I was younger. I would take all of them out and lie on my stomach with my feet bent at the knees, swinging above me, and flip through the pages with ease—and only rarely had to ask for clarification about who someone might be. For the most part, they were all people I knew.
My favorite was a cracked, worn and faded photo with a wrinkled-faced woman in front of a palm tree. She had a scarf on her head, something I found strange as she was clearly in a tropical climate. I brought the photo to Tia and asked her about it. Her face softened and she said, “Esa es mi madre.” Her mother. She never offered any further explanation or details about her, so I simply created my own.
Over the years, I had managed to compile the story, but like a sieve, so much of it fell through the cracks. Malda grew up in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, a place with sharp contrasts—teals against light beige sand, pastels against sky, and black beans against white rice. Her father was relatively non-existent and I always had the sense they all preferred it that way.
She and her sisters grew up in a small and flimsy home just outside the slums of Cataño. It barely withstood the winds of a relatively calm storm, but the heavy ones they experienced always meant for major repairs. Local homes were built on stilts to keep the floorboards above the rising tides. In pictures, I have seen my grandmother—stoic—standing against the peeling white paint on the outside of their wooden home.
My grandfather made random and generally unwelcomed appearances, and according to Tia Paola, he did at times provide some financial support. He wasn’t steadily employed and I had the sense that he had no real skill other than drinking. The girls spent most of their lives in poverty, but they didn’t feel neglected since this is what they were surrounded by. It was their ‘normal’.
My grandmother was both the matriarch and patriarch of the family. She used the little bit of money she received from my grandfather to provide for the extras—a pair of shoes or a new dress for one of the girls. Malda, being the oldest, generally received the new items, and they were passed on to her younger sisters as she grew out of them. This wasn’t the way it was in our home. Despite being the oldest child, I typically received things last.
My grandmother sold small arts and crafts at the port of San Juan. Although Cataño is only ten miles away, there was no direct route by foot and cars were uncommon given their cost. When the ferry—La Lancha de Cataño—was implemented in the 1950s, it opened up opportunities for those in town to travel across the bay.
My grandmother spent the nickel fare each way, her shoulders loaded with her wares, and made her way to her stall near the port before the girls were even awake. Unlike the mothers I saw in my neighborhood, my grandmother was the one gone from sunup to sundown. She was the primary provider for her family, and despite there hardly ever being enough resources to go around, she was determined to provide for them without handouts from well-intentioned neighbors who could barely afford the assistance they so frequently offered.
My grandmother was a strong woman and a great negotiator. Tourists came into port looking to buy inexpensive items from the ‘natives’. These were items of little cost or consequence to them. They bought dresses and baskets, and rugs and small metal trinkets from the various vendors. They would depart the ship with soft eyes and meander through the stalls for the short amount of time they were in port. To the chagrin of the operators, rarely did they sign up for any island tours.
Is there a message in your story you hope readers will grasp?
Yes! It doesn’t matter where your starting point is, if you have a destination in mind, and the willingness to do whatever it takes, you can get there.
Where can readers buy your book?
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I wanted to create an air of mystery around the place that became Ella’s escape, so this seemed to fit well.
Who designed your book cover?
I designed the book cover myself. A friend of mine who lives in NYC was kind enough to take a walk along The High Line in Manhattan to take some photos for me. I was fortunate enough to have so many wonderful shots to choose from that it made it difficult to settle on a cover.
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I tend to write at either my dining room table or my desk (when there’s enough room and it’s all cleaned up!). Because I work a full-time consulting job, I have to fit my writing in around that work, so I usually tend to write very early in the morning or after work while sitting in a hotel room near a client site.
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
I take a break from writing, usually by switching to television for a little while, and then I go back to it.
Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?
I am a big fan of Red Bull and drink a truly disgusting amount of it.
What are you working on next?
I have two more novels in the works. One is a follow up to The Place We Went to Yesterday. I intended for it to be a standalone novel but ended it in such a way that I could continue the story if I chose. It seems, from the reviews I’ve received, that people want more of it, so that will probably be my primary focus.
Do you stick with just one genre?
I’m not a fan of genres. I know they’re necessary, but I find them limiting. I write stories that I enjoy reading and worry about the genre later.
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m usually traveling or working on music with my partner in crime, Brian Sfinas.
Thank you, Lisa!
You can find out more about Lisa’s work by visiting her website
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lisa Mauro who is the author of, The Place We Went to Yesterday, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Place We Went to Yesterday, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.