Frances Chavarria was in her eighties when she sat down to write her first book. Now 90, the Rockville resident is getting ready for book signings and dreams of seeing her novel up on the big screen.
Chavarria’s novel, “Let Us Dream of Turtles,” is a love story that pits greedy developers against environmentalists and takes place in Costa Rica, where she lived for 35 years. Chavarria took two years to complete her 300-page book that includes events such as an earthquake and tsunami.
In 2010, she found an editor, who wanted to publish the book if she agreed to make a few cuts, including many of the food descriptions. Chavarria agreed, but eventually stopped, believing the revisions were hurting her book. She put it on a shelf and moved on.
Four years later, Chavarria moved into senior citizen housing in downtown Rockville and met fellow resident, Edith Billups, who had written and edited magazines.
The two hit it off immediately and soon found themselves reworking the manuscript. Billups said she loved the manuscript instantly, especially “all the suspense and intrigue.” And, Billups laughed, Chavarria “may be 90, but she’s got some great love scenes in here.”
They turned to Hay House, a self-publishing company, found someone to paint the cover, and now Chavarria, who spent much of her adult life as a potter, finally has her manuscript in book form.
“Let Us Dream of Turtles” is available at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, and can also be purchased at Amazon and balboapress.com.
Just another thing to check off her busy bucket list.
Chavarria was born in New York City but spent her childhood in Denver, Phoenix and Santa Barbara, Calif. After marriage, she went on to live in India and Egypt, where her late husband worked as a linguist for the government. Upon his retirement, Chavarria and her husband moved to Costa Rica, a place they had fallen in love with during a vacation.
There, she blossomed, working at her potter’s wheel most of the day, taking two hours a day out to write her novel.
She might have become an author early in her life, but back then, she said, “a woman’s place was in the home, raising your children.”
Many women had neither the opportunity nor the confidence to have a career, she said.
But don’t think for a second that Chavarria led a homebound life.
She recalled her time in Egypt as a mother of two boys, aged two and three, being told to flee when the Suez Crisis of 1956 erupted. Her husband remained in Egypt to work, while the rest of the family headed to the airport in Cairo. But they got to the airport too late. It was closed, and planes were no longer flying in or out.
The U.S. Embassy got her a car and driver for her, and they headed to Alexandria. They had to stop a few times “and hide during the bombing,” she said, adding that the car lights were painted over in blue so they wouldn’t be seen.
They made it to the port, where she “had to climb up a small ladder with two small children” to board a U.S. Navy vessel.
The trip was not an easy one, she recalled. “They didn’t feed us properly, and there was a very long line for diapers.” The ship finally docked in Naples, where she then traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, which was “neutral territory,” she said.
She has many stories to tell, and maybe even another book to write.
Chavarria credits her good health that has seen her into her ninth decade to yoga, which she still does regularly, and good eating habits. She fills her days with yoga, bridge and the classes and lectures offered where she lives.
The mother of three sons, four grandchildren and one great-grandson, she is even adept with technology. She uses a Mac computer and whipped out her iPhone to show the latest photo of her four-year-old great-grandson.
Ever optimistic, Chavarria said if her book does make it to the big screen, “I told my family I would wave to them from the red carpet.”