Author Maria E. Andreu’s Life with a Double Identity

You might say I was fated to be a writer – either that, or a con-artist or a spy or some other kind of criminal – because I was endowed at birth with a double identity. – Margaret Atwood

By Maria E. Andreu

For about the first four years of my life, I wasn’t quite sure what my name was, or that it was customary to have just one. My parents called me, “Nena,” (NEH-nah) when addressing me directly, and, using the Argentine habit of adding “the” to a person’s name when talking about them, “La Nena,” when pointing out my foibles between them. “Nena” means “little girl” in Spanish. “Nena” sometimes gave way to “Cheni,” for reasons I would not decipher for a decade. Sometimes, at odd times, they’d call me something longer, compound. I’d put my head down and go back to my coloring.

age 4

Maria E. Andreu, age 4

At four, I remember going to a playground with wonderfully, impossibly high swings of the variety that today would get a town sued and a large settlement paid for serious injuries, along with tall metal slides that burned the backs of your thighs on the way down and made your heart flutter at how high you had to climb to slide down. There were also my favorites: little horses on a metal chain at the front and back which, if you pushed the pedals, swung back and forth and sometimes caught your ponytail if you weren’t careful. This playground was heaven but for one catch: it had other children in it, most of whom only spoke English, a language I had not quite mastered. When I approached them asking if they wanted to play, they invariably asked one question: “What’s your name?”

I’ve always been a quick study, so I learned young that telling new kids my name was a recipe for confusion. I learned to dread it. My name is not Maria, you see, not just Maria. I told you through Ms. Atwood that I was born with an alias. I hadn’t yet learned to employ it at four, so, instead I would muster up my courage and tell them the long name, the one I understood was the whole enchilada: “Maria Eugenia.”

Let me stop here for a moment to tell you several things. First, the pronunciation. “Maria” you can probably pretty much get through, although I assure you the way you’ve heard it said in the United States bears little resemblance to how it’s pronounced in the Spanish-speaking world. American English has a certain confident laziness about it, like not all syllables are crucial, like enunciation is for sissies, which turns the crisp “Mah-REE-ah” to something more like “Mm-ree-uh.” Fair enough. Where it all falls apart is on the second part. Why-oh-why, parents, couldn’t you just leave well enough alone at “Maria”? Well, the reason, I later learned, is that Maria is a kind of catch-all in Catholic countries, an honor to the Virgin Mary, and so comprises at least some part of about 75% of female names from a certain generation back (I’m hoping mine was the last). In order to avoid the confusion, most Hispanic women with “Maria” in their names also have another part to them, a compound name, much like you’d add “red” to “bicycle” when trying to distinguish between models in a vast and full bicycle store.

So my middle name is Eugenia. That’s pronounced “Eh-oo-HEH-nee-ah” for those keeping score at home. (That was the source of the sometimes “Cheni” nickname, short for “Eugenia,” apparently). The full thing was real fun to share on a playground. When I gave them the whole package, Maria Eugenia, first kids would scrunch up their nose, then give it a valiant effort. “Mah-ree-HEN-ya?” I’d smile weakly and say, “Sure,” one of the few English words I had learned on Sesame Street, and lead them over to the swinging horse ponytail eaters.

When I was six we moved to Argentina for two years, where Maria Eugenia was something like Mary Sue. Everyone got it. Which is not to say I liked Argentina – I didn’t – but at least my name did not mark me a freak there (there were other things for that). Also, it’s where the second part of the story of my name really came to life for me. Maria was my father’s mother’s name, Eugenia my mother’s mother’s. We lived intermittently with both during those two years, and I was reminded again and again that my name was special, that I had been chosen, that Spain had had a queen with the same middle name as mine. I secretly wished the queen had been named Veronica instead. I loved “Veronica” ever since I encountered it in Archie comics. Maria Eugenia was the name of exactly zero snooty rich girls in any comic book in history.

I returned to the United States at age eight to peers more sophisticated in their verbal taunting. Luckily, I also returned craftier after two years of dealing with the teasing of my South American cousins: when asked my name, I decided on the fly to only offer up “Maria.” I banished the “Eugenia.” While it painted me vanilla and vaguely ethnic, it didn’t leave me exposed to outright abuse. So I went with it. It worked for me with my straight-As and my neat pigtails.

My brother was born shortly after we returned to the United States, and at about a year old, he decided my name was “Yaya.” Because what one-year-old can say “Maria Eugenia”? Once he was old enough to attempt it, it was too late. Thirty four years later, it is still Yaya, an identifier used for me by only one person.

By the time I was middle-school-aged, I was chafing against the boring-ness of “Maria.” What great actress or acrobat was ever named just plain old “Maria”? What great adventures were undertaken by Marias? What great poet fell in love with an alluring “Maria”? No one that I could find. (Later, when Mariah Carey hit the scene, I’d briefly flirt with the idea of adding an “h” to my name). When I shared this lament with my best friend at the time, she came up with a solution, my initials: “M.E.” Pronounced out loud, it sounds vaguely like the award, much more melodious than my full name. I would be M.E. all through high school and my first job. I can still identify what period of my life a friend is from based on what she calls me.

When I finished college, left my first job and started my own business, I got tired of explaining “M.E.” to every new customer. I met my husband around that time, in my mid-twenties, and he didn’t seem to get it, either. So I reverted back to “Maria,” unseasoned, color-within-the-lines, old white-bread “Maria.” I did this not with acceptance but with resignation. I lacked the energy to go through a legal name change or the resoluteness to pick the right one. Every time I heard of some American woman who had changed her name to “Shanti” or “Lakshmi,” I thrilled secretly at the courage in that. But I didn’t follow suit.

A few years later, I earned my favorite name of all: Mommy. To make up for my disappointment in my own colorless moniker, I gave my children names with Z’s and drama in them, unique spellings, flair and style. When they got old enough, they asked me why I had to make it so complicated. I suppose naming is that thing that both defines us completely and not at all: a thing that labels us but we do not choose for ourselves.

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Maria E. Andreu’s debut novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY

I know writing convention dictates that I end this piece with a paragraph about how I’ve accepted my name, how I even love it now. And there are a few upsides to “Maria,” I will allow. I have more pop songs with my name in them than anyone else I know: the Ricky Martin “Maria” (a song that describes “Maria” as addictive and exciting and which I’m told is actually about cocaine) being my favorite. Alas, other than that small allowance, I must disappoint. I’ve accepted not accepting my name, knowing that I swim through the waters of life with camouflage, a name for every different pool, a thing that catches each different light I bask in. I like my aliases. That’s why I was so electrified to find the above quote in a passage of the writing book Negotiating with the Dead – A Writer on Writing by that most talented and smart of all writers, Margaret Atwood. In it, she explains that she was named after her mother and, as so many namesakes are, given a nickname. Her “real” name was not to be her own for many years and is the name she uses on books. But, like me, she has others.

Maybe writers need to be able to pretend to be other people. I don’t inhabit “Maria,” and for me, that’s okay. (And that’s not to disrespect the many wonderful women named Maria. This is about me personally, not a criticism of a perfectly delightful name). It’s just that when I think of naming the spirit of what I am – complicated, quirky, loving, maddeningly stubborn, inventive, sometimes afraid, always curious, I don’t think that person is captured well by the name “Maria,” or even “Maria Eugenia,” or “M.E.” or any of the others. But maybe that’s okay. Sometimes I feel like my name is something else but I just don’t know it yet. I like imagining I am something apart, unnameable, the essence of which can be approximated but never fully labeled. So call me what you will. I can learn to answer to it.

 

Maria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Secret Side of Empty has received positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. The novel was also the National Indie Book Award Winner and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Book Review: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

By Stephanie Guerra

18079898DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: M.T. is undocumented. But she keeps that a secret. As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But she hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s getting harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems

In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants

Told in M.T.’s darkly funny voice and full of nuanced characters, The Secret Side of Empty is a poignant but unsentimental look at what it’s like to live as an “illegal” immigrant, how we’re shaped by the secrets we keep, and how the human spirit ultimately always triumphs.

MY TWO CENTS: This is an ambitious book, taking on a range of powerful topics including immigration, domestic abuse, and suicide. Maria Andreu approaches her themes head on and unflinchingly. Her writing is raw and honest, and as a result, the book engages at a deeper level than the average YA.

Monserrat Thalia, or M. T., is a conflicted, loveable character and a convincing portrait of a teen struggling with the challenges of “illegal” immigrant status. M. T. is from Argentina, but her desire for rootedness, her grief, and her uneasy relationship with America and Americans all speak to common threads experienced by immigrants from many cultures. As M. T. approaches high school graduation, the differences between her situation and that of her friends emerge in stark contrast: because of her undocumented status, she has no possibility of a degree, and no chance for a job and the trappings of a “successful” life. Meanwhile, her friends are college and career bound.

As M. T. grows increasingly bleak about her dead-end future, even contemplating suicide, her father enters his own spiral of immigration-related frustration, inadequacy, and violence. The book raises provocative questions: When does disciplinary hitting cross a line into abuse? How frequently or severely must violent episodes occur to justify a call for help? What are the products of intersecting adult insecurity, fear of deportation, cultural background, and violence?

I applaud Maria Andreu for taking a courageous look at all these questions through a snapshot of M. T.’s senior year. Andreu’s writing is clean and accessible with sharp-edged wit and darkly ironic undertones sure to appeal to teen readers. Characterizations are strong, with a special flair for finely drawn secondary characters. Best of all, no easy answers are offered. This book calls for thoughtful discussion, and is ideal for illuminating and humanizing an experience that many readers understand only through media coverage and political debate.

Maria AndreuAUTHORMaria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT The Secret Side of Empty, visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Seven Things You Need to Know About After the Book Deal

By Maria E. Andreu

18079898Have you ever noticed that, in romantic comedies, the end is very often a wedding? What’s up with that? Love stories don’t end at a wedding. That’s when real life begins, the business of figuring out who does the laundry, where you’re going to live, and how in the world you figure out where you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the same thing with publishing. The day you ink the book deal may be the happy ending in the movie version, but in real life it’s just the start of the story.

After many years of dreaming of being a writer, I got my movie-worthy happy ending. I got the first agent I pitched for The Secret Side of Empty, from a house so prestigious just reading their client list gives me goose bumps. We sold the book in the first round of submissions to a publisher who has done amazing things for the book, truly an ideal publisher for my first time at the rodeo. (And there was more than one offer to weigh). Anyone who hears my publishing story wants to stop me there and sort of bask in the moment, happy in the knowledge that it does happen that way sometimes. And it does.

But then you wake up the next day.

Just like no one tells you what to do once you get back from the honeymoon, here are 7 things no one will tell you about what it’s like AFTER the book deal.

  1. Editing is terrifying. Sure, you’ve edited before. You’ve joined critique groups. Maybe you’ve been brave and gone to pitch slams and other places where your words have been torn apart and criticized. Great. Now you’ll have a team of bona-fide professionals poring over your every word. I got an editorial letter so detailed that I shut the document immediately after seeing its page count (let’s just say this: it was in the double digits) and couldn’t make myself open it for 2 weeks. Be prepared. It’s not about you. It’s about making the work the best it can be.
  2. Book promotion is exhausting. Yes, you’ve waited your whole life for it. Yes, you’re going to love most of it. And you’re going to be exhausted anyway. You’ll be thrilled to learn that your publisher will schedule a blog tour for you (maybe, if you’re lucky). You’ll forget that it means you’ll have to actually write all those posts, answer all those interview questions, send head shots, book covers and photos of your frizzy hair in the 8th grade or the bicycle you learned to ride on. Then you’ll go to schools, libraries, festivals, and grocery stores and auto body shops too, if they’ll take you. Fun, yes. Mostly. Take naps now.
  3. Your launch date is not real. Just like a lot of brides stress the wedding and forget it’s actually a marriage they should be planning, so too a lot of authors obsessively plan the Twitter party and Tumblr extravaganza that will be their Launch Day, forgetting that it isn’t really even a Real Thing. My books shipped almost 3 weeks early. When I asked, a helpful professional told me, “Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, no one’s taking up warehouse space to perfectly orchestrate your big reveal.” It will help you to remember that book promotion, like a marriage, is something that you’re in for the long haul. So don’t stress the day so much and come up with a long-term strategy.
  4. It’s a crowded marketplace. You thought it was hard to get attention when you were in the throng of hopefuls? Wait until you see your book on a shelf full of all the others who broke out of the pack. You’ve got a couple of seconds to catch a potential reader’s attention, online and off. If the competition of trying to get published bothers you, you should know it doesn’t stop after your book is out in the world.
  5. Reviews hurt. Bad reviews can cut you to the quick. Even good ones can sometimes leave you scratching your head. Much ink has been spilled advising writers not to let critics get to them. That’s great advice. Also pretty hard to follow, particularly at first when you’re hungry for any sign of how your book is doing and what people think. My advice is to ignore reviews completely – good and bad. It is advice you will not follow. Hold on, I’ve got to go check my Goodreads page real quick.
  6. People will find things in your book you didn’t realize were there. I’ve had readers ask me about love triangles I didn’t intend to include and legislation I didn’t mean to reference. I’ve had readers write to tell me they love a character and a whole bunch of others reach out to tell me how much they loathe that very same character. All with supporting evidence. When you release your book out into the world, it is no longer yours alone.
  7. It will be hard to find time to write. Do you struggle with finding time now? Imagine having all the responsibilities you have now, except take away a lot of your free time on weekends and evenings (because you’re at book festivals and you’re writing blog posts). Now write. That’s what it’s like to try to write books # 2, 3 and beyond.

Lest I seem like too much of a downer, let me say that publishing my debut novel has been magical, the culmination of a lifelong dream. I’ve been honored to speak at schools and libraries and events all over the country and have received wonderful attention from the trade reviewers. I’ve gotten the tingles when I discovered that my book is in libraries as far away as Singapore, Australia, and Egypt, as well as across the United States. Just imagine… my words being read by someone right now somewhere halfway around the globe. Amazing! I share my “things no one will tell you” not to discourage you, but to invite you to look at the whole picture. Like anything worth striving for – a marriage, parenthood, career – publishing a book is a massive undertaking with highs and lows. Once you reach the peak of Published Author, there is another one, just as big, right in front of you. Then another, and another, all the way to the horizon. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Maria AndreuMaria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Secret Side of Empty has received positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. The novel was also the National Indie Book Award Winner and a Junior Library Guild Selection.