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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Interview

by Linda Eberharter

January 2000

This interview is from the Bridge Works Publishing Website.

LINDA: Sonia, I'm thrilled that you consented to share some time, thoughts and comments with my readers. I loved your book and must say you have had a fascinating career and a strong influence on women's rights along with traveling many diverse paths. What made you decide to write this book?

SONIA: The answer to this question is found in the Introduction to my book. 

(The Introduction to Sonia's book follows.)

"I did not intend to write this book. I intended to write one that was altogether different--a serious, historical study. And I didn't intend to write it alone. I knew that my roles as the first woman lawyer in the General Counsel's office at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) in 1965 and as one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) a year later were historic. I'd known that for years. For that reason, I had kept a diary during my first six months at the EEOC. I saved many documents involving my EEOC and NOW activities, speeches I had given on women's rights, and articles I had published.

"Shortly after I retired from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in May of 1993, I began to think about commemorating my role in the women's movement. But I didn't want to devote the time needed to pour through all my papers and write a lengthy tome. I wanted the book written, but I didn't want to write it, at least not alone.

"So I embarked on a search for a writer to work with me. I spent a year in libraries, talking to friends, writing to publishers and writers' organizations, and meeting with writers. What I learned was that a writer would work with a non-celebrity only upon the payment of thousands of dollars. I was loath to invest that kind of money in a project that might never result in publication.

"A friend suggested I go to the library of the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on foundations, in Washington, DC, to research information on grants. There I could learn how to apply for a grant, which I could then use to pay a writer.

"When I contemplated going to the Foundation Center, I knew I had come to the end of the road. I had tried to get this book written for a year, with no success. I decided that if my trip to the Foundation Center didn't produce results, I would give up and devote myself to other activities. So  before I left for the Center, I spoke to God, something I rarely do. `God,' I said, `if you want this book written, you'll have to make it happen. I've done all I can do.'

"At the Center, I found that grant seeking was a world unto itself. It required an expertise I did not have and could not easily acquire. Mixed in among the brochures on grant seeking, however, were a résumé, and business card from a woman named Sara Fisher. She described herself as a `Writer, Editor, Proofreader.' Although her résumé indicated that her specialty was fiction, I decided to call her. This was, after all, going to be the end of my efforts. We agreed to meet for coffee at Zorba's Café in Dupont Circle.

"At coffee, Sara and I exchanged biographical information. She had been raised as a Catholic and was, on a part-time basis, serving as the managing editor of the publication of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association. Her other part-time activities included writing fiction and book reviews, editing, teaching freshman composition at the Northern Virginia Community College, and serving as a tour guide in Washington, DC. `It's obvious, we have nothing in common,' I said, after hearing this. She ignored my statement and continued the conversation. After we chatted some more, she made a comment that changed my life.

"'That's not the book you want to write,' she said, speaking about my efforts to write a history of my involvement in women's rights. 'You want to write a book of humorous stories about your parents, the kind of stories you've been telling me. And you want to write it yourself. I'll help you with the editing.'

"With Sara's guidance, I started this book.

"But there were other reasons why I continued it. The raconteur and author, Alexander King, once wrote, `Whenever anyone dies, a world dies with them.' A world died when my parents died. I did not want that world to disappear without a trace. I did not want my own life to disappear either.

"And so, I wrote this book about their world and mine."

LINDA: Sonia, your writing has been online at various sites for a few years now. What opened that door for you to venture into the online world to present your work?

SONIA: I saw it as another medium in which to get published and communicate with readers.

LINDA: What influenced your decision to take the avenue of an e-publisher for your book rather than a traditional offline publisher?

SONIA: I didn't choose an e-publisher rather than a traditional offline publisher. I chose both. Xlibris published my memoirs in paperback and hardback and Word Wrangler as an e-book.

LINDA: Sonia, When you made your decision to epublish, which company did you go to first and why?

SONIA: I originally went with a company, which I don't want to name as the experience was disastrous. I chose that publisher after they sent me an e-mail or I came across their site somewhere on the web; I don't recall. They were going to publish my memoirs in paperback, hardback, and as an e-book. They were, however, unable to meet the time commitments they had agreed to, and, therefore, I had to cancel with them. Then, I went with Xlibris for the paperback and hardback editions and Word Wrangler for the e-book. At the time, Xlibris was not publishing e-books; they have since changed their policy and are doing so.

LINDA: After reading your book I am very aware that throughout your life you have taken chances and definitely made your way through unchartered waters. So it would seem natural to me you would embrace the world of epublishing.  Am I correct in this assumption?

SONIA: Yes and no. I am always being told that I was brave and did risky things - but I have never felt that way at all. I always took what appeared to me the next logical step to take. The same was true of e-publishing.

LINDA: Have you purchased ebooks for yourself and if so, did you enjoy the experience? If you haven't purchased any ebooks, would you do so?

SONIA: I have purchased an e-book as a disk from Word Wrangler recently. I would love to read this book but so far the opportunity has not presented itself. I rarely have time to read non e-books as well. Ironically, since I became a writer 5 1/2 years ago, I have had scant time to read. But when I do have some time to read--before going to sleep, at the beauty shop, on a train or plane--that's not generally a place where I have my computer with me and can read an e-book.. I think e-books may become popular when there are lightweight and reasonable e-book readers that one can take along.

LINDA: In what ways are you promoting your book? With a website? Offline at your speaking engagements? Other ways?

SONIA: I am promoting my book in every way imaginable that I can afford. I have told everyone I ever met in my lifetime about the book and mailed out 1,000 fliers. Many of my friends have distributed fliers. A dear person, Danne Polk,  who created a philosophy website at erraticimpact.com which has a philosophy of feminism section, offered to create and maintain a website about me and my book and did so.

I have contacted universities, Jewish and women's organizations, the National Archives, bookstores, newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV stations in the areas where I live: the Washington, DC/Maryland/Virginia area; and Sarasota, Florida; and the Ft. Lauderdale/Boca Raton/Miami Beach/Miami/Coconut Grove area. I set up talks and memoirs-readings, at which I will sell and sign books. I constantly surf the web and write to individuals and organizations that might have an interest in my book, sending them press releases. I have publicized the book through organizations to which I belong.

I need to do a nationwide tour but when one self-publishes, one does not have a publisher to pay for the expense of such a tour or for hiring a publicist.

LINDA: You have certainly set in motion an excellent promotional campaign. It should surely pay off in the long run.

What do you think will be the future for ebooks and the epublishing industry as a whole?

SONIA: I have no ability to predict the future. I keep reading that e-books are the wave of the future. From my vantage point, that future has not yet arrived.

LINDA: Has being a writer been something you desired to do for some time? What was your career goal progression as the years went by from childhood through college?

SONIA: The answers to these questions are in the chapter to my book called "Law School."

(The following is excerpted from "Law School.")

"My earliest career goal as a child, and one that never left me, was to be a writer. But I felt that I didn't have the necessary self-discipline. My next choice of a profession, which came to me in the third grade, was to be a teacher.  But I abandoned that when I realized that teachers were not accorded the respect and prestige in this country that they were given in Poland [where my parents were born and raised],   according to the stories my mother told me; nor did they get much in the way of monetary rewards. Next came languages. That interest came from my background and my romantic nature.  My first language had been German [I was born in Berlin, Germany.]. My second was Flemish, learned during the months my family lived in Antwerp. In the United States, I learned English. I also knew Yiddish as that was the language, along with German and English, which my parents spoke at home. In high school, I had had three years of Latin, which I loved, and also studied French. In thinking about my future career, I pictured myself as an interpreter at the UN.

"Thus, I began my studies at Cornell majoring in languages and took a fourth year of Latin. Then, I had a change of heart. I was concerned that working as an interpreter would not be sufficiently challenging intellectually. Due to my long-standing interest in interpersonal relations, psychology became my next major. I stayed with that until I realized that in order to have a meaningful career in that field one needed to get a Master's and probably a PhD. Since a college education was already more schooling than I'd originally planned, I had no inclination to go on beyond that.

"Thus, I found myself in my junior year of college needing to find yet another major. I considered many things, but law was not one of them. By this point, I was so confused I gave serious consideration to switching to home economics, a field in which I had never previously had any interest, with a major in meat cutting. I cannot now fathom what could have possessed me to think of that, and what I thought I would do with it. Fortunately, I abandoned that idea in short order and ended up spending my senior year in the Cornell Graduate School of Business and Public Administration. That school awarded graduates a Master's in Business at the end of two years, but one could attend for only one year as one's senior undergraduate year, and that’s what I did."

After graduation from Cornell, I spent four years working as a secretary for various companies. Then, because I wanted to do more with my education and abilities, I went to law school. That was followed by thirty-six years as an attorney for the federal government and multinational corporations.

From the age of ten, however, I had been writing and telling stories. But I got very little published and did not seriously pursue writing as a career. Only in 1994, a year after my retirement as a federal attorney, did I begin to write seriously and for publication.

LINDA: What are some of your favorite books?

(The following is excerpted from a previous interview with Linda Kyle Davis of writing.com and can be found on Sonia's site.)

SONIA: "Two favorite books of mine were The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten and Roommates by Max Apple. The first is the funniest book I've ever read. The second is both humorous and poignant. I wish I could write like these two men."

LINDA: Epublishing promises increased opportunity for many authors to become published whereas traditionally they may never have had the opportunity. What advice would you give to those authors teetering on the edge about making the decision to give epublishing a chance?

SONIA: I don't know why someone would "teeter on the edge" with regard to publishing an e-book. It is another avenue to reach the reading public. I would not opt for it over traditional publishing--but it complements it.

LINDA: Sonia, what are your expectations for your book?

SONIA: My hope for the book is that it become a bestseller and be turned into a movie. But I am very happy with every single reader that I reach. This morning in reviewing Xlibris' records of places from which people have ordered my book in the last few days, I saw that orders had come in from Toronto; Minato-ku, Tokyo; Suginami-ku, Tokyo; Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama; and Brooklyn. I can tell you that was quite a thrill.

LINDA: Yes, I can certainly see how you would be excited after looking at those orders. One has to be thrilled with the thought of their words being read by people almost on the other side of the world.

Sonia, one last question--do you think you will write anotherbook?

SONIA: I do not plan to write another book, but I hope to continue to write and publish short pieces.

LINDA: Well, I for one will continue to recommend your book to others and look forward to reading any future pieces you do.

Bridge Works Publishing, Jan. 2000