The Button Box: Memories of Fact and Fiction

My second story “The Button Box,” is now in the Kindle Store!

You can read it here:

If you don’t have a Kindle, click on the above link, go to the tab Free Reading Apps, and download a Kindle app for pc, mac, tablet or smartphone.

Here’s the cover!

I based the story on an obsession with a box that symbolized my start in life on an island in the Caribbean Sea. The island exploded in political turmoil, and my parents fled. I held tightly to the early years, listening to my parents’ nostalgic conversations about a lost life. I grew up and continued to mourn for a time and place I had only experienced briefly. I filled in what I didn’t know by looking at photographs and imagining what could have been. The images became memories; they felt real.

“The Button Box” tells the story of a young woman, tormented with dreams and memories of a box she played with at her great-aunt’s house in 1950s Cuba, who travels back to her homeland hoping to bring it to America. But it is not only the box she craves. Her secret desire is to stitch together the safe and comfortable life she abruptly left behind with the challenging life she has forged as a journalist in Miami.

Will she find the box? If she does, what will that mean to her life going forward? Can any immigrant unify two very different parts of herself?

Sigmund Freud proposed that “dreams [are] forms of ‘wish-fulfillment’—attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort, whether recent or from the recesses of the past” and could be used to determine the psyche of the individual. The writer Anais Nin, who I encountered as an undergraduate in Berkeley, drew heavily on the ideas of Freud, publishing seven volumes of a diary inspired by dreams, memories and the techniques of French author Marcel Proust, who, in is his eight volume Remembrance of Things Past, dissects mundane details to create a rich tapestry of experience.

Nin, Freud, and Proust. What joy to read their writing!

All three are embedded in my story of memories, a blend of fact, fiction and dreams. Many times, I find it hard to make a distinction.  I doubt what is real and then conclude the fiction is the fact.

I work shopped the story at the Paris Workshop, and, perhaps because my Cuban background seemed exotic,  fellow participants exclaimed, “Ahhh, like Garcia Marquez.” What my colleagues were expressing was a delight in the magical realism that I had injected into the story.  I ended it with a purely fantastical scene like those of many Latin American writers.

I work shopped it again at Florida International University, and the magical realism was knocked down; so I turned it into a personal essay with minimal bouts of fiction. But it seemed that the story didn’t fit into that category.  I have let “The Button Box” have its way. It is a remembrance of things past, combined with fictional elements to drive plot. And, as I recalled events and sensations, I conjured new ones and put back in the brush strokes of fantasy.

“The Button Box” is part of a short story collection entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree that focuses on the lives of Cuban Americans.   You can read my first story “Beyond,” also part of this collection, on the Amazon Kindle store.

Remember, you can download a Free Kindle app to read it on your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphones.

Hope you like it!


Welcome to My World of Writing!

In this blog, I will be publishing memoir, short stories, personal essays and poetry. I will be discussing writing, literature, culture and the creative life.

I will begin with sections from a book-length memoir, but  occasionally digress to other forms of writing to give you a sensation of reading several works at once.  Many readers, including myself, often stack  a handful of books on their night tables to savor as the mood unfolds.

The memoir, LEAVING LITTLE HAVANA,  has been my major creative undertaking.  For ten years, I have imagined and reimagined the narratives of my life and finally glued together all the flying — and  jagged — pieces of a particular time and place.

While the book tells my story, it brings to light the plight of thousands of people like me: the children of the first Cuban exiles who abandoned their homes almost immediately after La Revolucion in 1959.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

It is the story of a girl uprooted from her comfortable middle-class home in La Habana by parents desperately fleeing for their lives in Fidel’s communist Cuba. Haunted by memories of loss of home and family and fighting to overcome cultural and language barriers, she rebels against her immigrant parents and descends into drugs and sexual profligacy while she searches for love and attention. She deals with the pain of a philandering father, who eventually abandons the family, and a mentally ill  mother, who weeps for a lost life back in Cuba and hears voices outside her window.

The teenaged girl must fend for herself and struggles to survive in a low-income Little Havana neighborhood. She talks her way out of a
shop-lifting charge, plans her own quince mini-extravaganza, and sidesteps a high school ruling that bars her from graduation.

Only when her fellow students from Miami High School go on to prestigious universities like Radcliff and Harvard does she pull herself back together. She begins taking journalism classes and lands a spot on the community college newspaper as a reporter. She applies to half a dozen universities and gets accepted to all. She chooses the one farthest from home, marries her boyfriend and sets out — husband in tow — on a quest to construct a future as a writer.

In the same way that DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT by Alexandra Fuller and ‘TIS by Frank McCourt examine life in a foreign country, my memoir takes a look at how immigrant children either survive or self-destruct in a new land they must eventually make theirs. While many memoirs by Cuban-Americans, such as SPARED ANGOLA by Virgil Suarez and WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA by Carlos Eire, revolve around childhood scenes in Cuba and explore the experiences of a boy, my book is the first to focus on the journey of a Cuban girl struggling to learn the value of her own inner strength as she clears a path to her dream.

The immigrant experience leaves a permanent imprint on all children who start life anew in the United States.

I look forward to reading your aesthetic and intellectual responses to my work.

Leaving Little Havana by Cecilia M. Fernandez is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.