Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tour for "Bernardo and the Virgin" by Silvio Sirrias

When Latino author, Silvio Sirrias, asked me if I wanted to be part of his upcoming tour for his first book, "Bernardo and the Virgin," I immediately accepted! His other book, "Meet me under the Ceiba," was a throughly enjoyable read that had mystery, romance, and terror! It was intriguing how it read as both a story and a journal. Plus, you had the soulful words of Mr. Sirria's heart and soul mixed in, so, yeah, that made for a thrilling read. I was almost sad to finish it.

But it is a great honor to have Mr. Sirrias re-visit this blog. Here is an essay by him.

The Benign Demon that Fuels Me
By Silvio Sirias

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
George Orwell, “On Why I Write”

Just last week, as I strolled through the corridors of Balboa Academy, where I teach, a sheet of paper lying on the floor caught my eye. Like every lover of the written word, I am compelled (the central narrator of Don Quixote de la Mancha admits to the same vice early in Part I) to read every scrap of writing that I find, even those on the ground.
My finding, this time, was a student essay, already corrected and graded. As an assignment—in a class other than mine—the student had been asked to analyze George Orwell’s essay “On Why I Write.” Once back in my classroom, I sat down at my desk and started to read the student’s work with interest. The thoughts contained on the page were fluid and clearly stated, giving me the impression that the young person had fully grasped the ideas of the English journalist, essayist, and novelist.
The student’s work stirred my curiosity, so I sought out Orwell’s essay. As I read the English author’s piece, I was pleased to discover that the student’s paper had prepared me to readily understand the notions Orwell expresses.
To summarize “On Why I Write”: Orwell opens by discussing his early development as a writer—beginning at age 5 and concluding at age 30, when he completed his first novel, Burmese Days. Orwell concludes this segment by defending, briefly, his detailed account of the early stage: it was provided, he says, so that readers can access his motivations as a writer.
Orwell then explains how he—based on his experience and on his observations of other writers—determined that there are four categories of authorial motivation:
1. Sheer egoism: a wish to be talked about and remembered.
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm: the pleasure of producing beautiful writing.
3. Historical impulse: the desire to record events as they were, or are.
4. Political purpose: the wish to push the world in a certain direction.
Orwell goes on to note that these artistic impulses often struggle against one another, and that they fluctuate as well—with every writer switching from one to another to differing degrees. Regarding his own motivations, Orwell states that it was his experience as a participant in the Spanish Civil War that led him to become a writer whose purpose is political. And this should not surprise readers, since his best known works are Animal Farm and 1984.
Any writer examining Orwell’s motivational construct would seek his or her category at once. This is only human nature. Focused on that task, then, I quickly concluded that the work of every writer of Nicaraguan heritage will have a strong political undercurrent. Not doing so would be impossible. Nicaraguans experienced a turbulent 20th century—and that turbulence continues. As a result, politics permeates the creativity of all Nicas, regardless of their race, age, gender, religion, or social class.
And with regard to the historical impulse that motivates many writers—that is, the desire to set the record straight—this too plays a major role in every novel I’ve written. My works, instinctively, have been attempts to rescue stories that reside on the margins and move them toward the historical mainstream.
The category of aesthetic enthusiasm is, without a doubt, the one that least describes my motivations. While I work hard so that my prose will be as pleasing as possible, and I try to bestow every page with one or two noteworthy phrases, to write in a beautiful manner ranks low among my creative priorities; instead, in my work beauty is invariably at the service of a well-told story, and not an end in itself.
The category of Orwell’s motivations that best describes my own is that of sheer egoism—where vanity reigns, according to the English writer. What fuels me is the desired to be remembered, to have my work examined and discussed after I am gone. In several essays I’ve stated that the following words of the Spaniard Miguel de Unamuno have become my writer’s mantra: “I write so that people remember I was here.”
Sometimes, when I gaze at the bookshelves at home, the surnames of writers I admire call out to me from the spines, as if beckoning me to set high standards for myself. I know my name shall never elicit the admiration that theirs provoke, but I shall keep aiming at the benchmarks they’ve set. And I will be satisfied, once I’m a feeble literary ghost, to witness, years after my departure, a student at a university picking one of my novels off of a library shelf, reading it, and then telling someone: “There was a Nicaraguan-American author who wrote a few things I find interesting.”
Such is the fuel that keeps me writing day after day.

About "Bernardo and the Virgin:"
The year is 1980, and the Sandinistas are newly in power in Nicaragua. Bernardo Martínez, a modest, unassuming tailor in the town of Cuapa, witnesses an extraordinary thing: an otherworldly glow appears around the statue of the Virgin Mary in the church, and soon the Holy Virgin appears. Though a work of fiction,Bernardo and the Virginis based on the real-life experiences of Bernardo Martínez. Silvio Sirias’s sweeping novel tells many stories, weaving together the true account of this humble, devout man with the moving and often humorous fictional tales of the people whom he influenced and inspired. It is also a stormy epic of Nicaragua through the long Somoza years and the Sandinista revolution.

Mr. Sirrias is giving this away at the end of this tour! Stop by each one of the blogs to increase your chances of winning.

Here are the stops:

Mon June 7 Latino Book Examiner
Tues June 8 Regular Rumination and La Bloga
Thurs June 10 Sandra's Book Club
Fri June 11 Sententia Vera

Mon June 14 The Tranquilo Traveler
Wed June 16 The Book Nook
Thur June 17 Pisti Totol-Black Bird
Fri June 18 Musings

There will be two live chats with Silvio at the author chat salon at Condor:

The first will be on Friday June 11th and will be for questions from the readers of the blogs hosting from June 7-11

The second will be on Friday June 18th and will be for the questions from the readers of the blogs hosting from June 14-18. Everyone is welcome to attend both sessions and invite others to both, we just want to make sure everyone gets an opportunity for a one-on-one with Silvio.

You can purchase this book on Dulce Bread and Bookshop

This tour was affiliated with Condor Book Tours


  1. Yes! I am the first to comment (ka-ching!). That's the benefit of living twelve time zones into the future.

    We are about to lose power (another similarity between Nica and Vietnam) so I will have to cut this short, but just wanted to say "I agree," writers can be terribly egotistic, but so are many other professionals.

  2. Greetings, everyone:

    To Sandra, thank you for having me back and for allowing me to express why I've been driven to write.

    And to Hannah, thanks for being such a wonderful host yesterday. The exchanges on your blog were lots of fun yesterday, and I hope for more of the same today. So come join us, folks.

  3. The thing I enjoy most about these book tours are the different thoughts from the interviewer, the author as well as the readers.

    I believe that any person who wants to be remembered in any endeavor is a person who takes great pride in their name and accomplishments. Hence, why they produce such quality work. Thanks to all who have contributed to this end result on this book tour. Jacqueline

  4. Jacqueline,

    Thank you for the kind words. I agree with you: in order to be remembered a person must take great pride in what they do.

    Thanks for joining us on the tour,


  5. Hm, this made me reflect again on why I write. Maybe Orwell was just talking about novelists. As a poet, besides aesthetic enthusiasm (which rates quite high), I write as a way of thinking, of wrestling with what is true--not the same as the historical impulse or political purpose. It's more philosophical. But it would be disingenuous of me to imply that I didn't care whether I was remembered. Anyway, it was interesting to read your response to Orwell.

  6. Hi, Nina,

    Yes, I too believe Orwell was speaking about novelists. For poets, as is your case, the aesthetic enthusiasm is an absolute.

    What I still find interesting is that the entire thread started with a class assignment a student carelessly lost. At times ideas come when one least expects it.



  7. To sum up tour findings up to now: writers are egotistical lying thieves, with a high potential for becoming narcissists, politicians or both xD

    Dicho esto, thanks to the host and to Sirias for sharing with us why he writes.

    To me, storytelling is rooted deep within our essence, but not only as a way of passing knowledge and customs from a generation to the other. I would dare to say everything human and every art form is deeply embedded in storytelling inasmuch as our own lives are stories...that people will tell, draw lessons from, and remember or not.

    I think writers, especially those writing fiction, write so that they have a way of bearing witness to a time, place, people, etc. They have a chance of telling the truth in a way that we can take it. I say this because in Bernardo & the Virgin a lot of the misery, hardship and abuses that Nicaraguans endured during, and as a cause of, the Sandinista revolution are denounced in an almost appeasing and humorous way.

    Anyways, this post made me reflect on how vulnerable we are to our own fears: fear of being alone and of being forgotten. Hence, the all-pervasive desire to have something or someone bear witness to our lives. After all, isn't this the reason why we all seek companionship and wake up every morning trying to accomplish something worth of being remembered?

    Thanks for a great discussion!

  8. I haven't had the opportunity to read the book but I am looking forward to it! Where is it sold locally in Panama??? The essay is brilliant. Glad to see an up and coming Latino writer on tour :)

  9. Dr. Sirias,

    Was writing about the apparition of the Virgin in Cuapa and Bernardo's story always your first choice of subject for your first novel? Were there other stories/subjects you considered?

    And how much did the idea of writing the story haunt you?

  10. Hi, Sandra Mariela,

    Lovely to have you at this stop of the BERNARDO tour.

    Some writers--egotistical and artistic liars, thieves--go on to become politicians. Witness the case of several of Nicaragua's most reknown poets and novelists. But, remember, the lying and theft I refer to is literary, not of the people's coffers (I hope).

    Now, storytelling is in our essence as humans, I agree, beginning when we were still cave-dwellers sitting around a fire. I was fortunate to grow up at a time when television had yet to become the primary source of entertainment in Nicaragua. Then, a person that told great stories was highly valued, and everyone wanted him or her as their friend.

    And, yes, I agree with you that writers wish to bear witness to their times--but the challenge, and it's a terrifying one, is to do it artfully so that readers along the ages keep returning to our accounts. And this is intimately linked to the fear of being forgotten. Fear, as you know, can be a powerful motivator when channeled creatively.

    Was the Virgen de Cuapa my first choice of subject to tell the story of Nicaragua? No. Years before I failed miserably at the task of trying to do so by way of writing a novel inspired by the passion Nicaraguans and Americans share for baseball. Unfortunately, I was far from being ready as a writer, and the result has so many flaws it finally got thrown away. But I learned much from the attempt.

    Keep coming back,


  11. Hi, Vix,

    Thanks for dropping by. You're in Panama?! Contact me through my website and I will be happy to sell a copy to you--at a discount to boot. ;-)

    I am glad you enjoyed the essay,


  12. Fascinating! It's funny because I read that quote somewhere recently. I must read the full essay.

  13. Thank you, Mayra. I am glad you enjoyed the essay and like the source of my inspiration.

    I'm still reeling, by the way, from the success of your interview!

    Gracias por todo,


  14. Silvio, I love what you say about being ready as a writer. I think many writers fall into the trap of falling in love with their first work. Did people tell you your first story was terrible, or did you just know? What do you recommend for beginning writers to stay level-headed about their first attempt at writing a full novel?

  15. Hi, Nilki,

    I thought I had a terrific novel until the rejection letters started coming in. Once the sting wore off I read some of the comments carefully and calmly and realized that their criticism was correct: that I just wasn't there yet. It wasn't until I started a project where I interviewed many Latino and Latina authors that I started to understand how writers THINK. After that, things started falling securely into place.

    Young writers need to first realize that it takes a long, long time to learn the craft. In the interim, they must develop patience, a passion for learning everything they can about writing, to continue writing, and persistence in the face of rejections.

    Good to have you around today,


  16. Thanks to everyone who came by today to comment; and thanks to those who just came to take a peek.

    I'm calling it a night. Should you have any comments or questions, leave them and I'll drop by tomorrow to answer.

    And, Sandra, thanks for a fun-filled day.