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The Philadelphia Daily News

Carmen Gomez-Quintana Novel A 'Revelation'

Self-Determined, She Writes Of Her Roots


December 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001
The Philadelphia Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

CARMEN Gomez-Quintana is home mothering her 3-year-old, home-schooling her 12-year-old and hawking her homegrown first novel, "Secret Revelation" - a North Philly Puerto Rican family melodrama as real as her North Philly Puerto Rican roots.

She is self-published, and self-determined enough to have gotten "Secret Revelation" into, Marlo Book Store in the Roosevelt Mall and Sophisticated Looks, a neighborhood beauty salon run by a former Episcopal Hospital co-worker.

On Jan. 12, she will read from her book at the Wyoming Avenue branch of the Free Library, and talk to students about how to realize your dreams.

But self-publishing makes recognition a struggle. Although the book is a simmering stew of family and ethnic conflict featuring strong female characters, Oprah hasn't called.

"A couple of people from my daughter's job have read it," Gomez-Quintana said. "My son's sixth-grade teacher read it, and my supervisors from my old job at Episcopal - one is Irish, one is Jewish - really liked it. But when you write a book, you don't feel good unless somebody you don't know has read it."

So when she's not caring for her children or working on the sequel, Gomez-Quintana tries to get the word out.

"My eyes are all dark shadows from lack of sleep," she said without regret. "I think the shadows are permanent."

She's been writing since childhood. "When I came to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico, I spoke no English," she said. "We were a family of 10. My father bought us a black-and-white TV and told us we would no longer speak Spanish in the home.

"He said, 'If you're going to be in Philly, you're going to learn English.' This was the '70s. We watched 'Bonanza,' 'Popeye,' 'Dark Shadows,' 'The Monkees' - and we learned our English."

Although both of Gomez-Quintana's parents worked, the family was poor enough to qualify for free government cheese and for Christmas gifts from the Sisters of Charity.

"Our names were not on the wrappings," she said. "One year, I got a gift labeled 'Girl, 12.' It was a diary. I was always writing in that diary. I wrote about boys. I wrote about nuns. I'm still writing. Never tell me to stop writing. It's like telling Carlos Santana to stop playing the guitar."

One day in 1999 - while nursing her baby or while cruising the supermarket aisles and letting the piped-in oldies take her back to childhood - Gomez-Quintana was inhabited by Cookie, a figment of her imagination who was equal parts her and her teen-age daughter, Lisa.

"I love my Cookie," she said, because Cookie took her by the writing hand and - despite Gomez-Quintana's protesting, "I don't know how to write a book" - guided her to create "Secret Revelation."

"I had my book self-published," Gomez-Quintana said, "because I'm not famous enough for traditional publishers, who are spending their money on the Britney Spearses out there."

She is not Britney Spears.

By day, she's a loving wife and mom. By night, while her family sleeps, she lets Cookie take her by the writing hand once more and lead her on a second very Latino, very North Philly journey through tears and laughter, toward understanding. *

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