Guest Author Interview – Maria J. Nieto

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International Author on Cheryl Holloway’s Blog

Breaking the Silence_Cover

Title: Breaking the Silence: A Novel of Spain’s Civil War

Genre: History/Military

Synopsis: On a sweltering summer day, the streets of Old Madrid that once resonated with the laughter of children playing are empty and silent. But inside the apartment buildings there is life as families faithfully wait for updates about an army uprising in Spanish Morocco. Before long, their greatest fears come true. As rebel troops storm Madrid and chaos fills the streets, six-year-old Mari wonders why she cannot go outside to play. Unfortunately, she has no idea she is about to be trapped inside the abyss of what is rapidly becoming a ruthless civil war. Already emotionally wounded by the absence of her mother, Mari attempts to go about her fear-filled days living with her father’s family, which includes a grandfather who lovingly teaches her about the history leading up to the conflict. As she embarks on a coming-of-age journey submerged in the darkness of war, Mari somehow stays alive despite the decisions of an intimidating, ruthless dictator, starvation, and brainwashing by the new Fascist regime. But when circumstances lead her to inadvertently commit the ultimate betrayal, Mari must face the horrifying consequences of her actions. Breaking the Silence shares the compelling tale of a little girl’s experiences as she attempts to survive amid the horror and death surrounding the Spanish Civil War.


Author: Maria J. Nieto

CH: Welcome Maria J. Nieto, an International author (she was born in Spain and later came to the United States).  She had difficult early years due to the Civil War in Spain and is here to tell us of her memories.

CH: Can you sum up your book in 20 words or less?

MJN: It is the story of a bloody Civil War in Spain, sons killing their fathers, and fathers killing their sons.

CH: Why did you decide to write this book?

MJN: I grew up in Spain during that time. As I grew older my memories became more vivid. I could almost see my childhood friends blown up by mortar shells their bodies flying into space without heads or arms…or legs. After I retired from work, I needed to talk to someone about this. I went to Spain but no one wanted to talk, no friends or family members. I found out that a ‘pact of silence’ was passed when the monarchy was reestablished in 1975. People were asked not to discuss the war, or the years after the war. There was to be no penalties, no jails for the many criminals who killed and tortured thousands and thousands of people after the war under the Franco dictatorship. The rich and the powerful remained rich and powerful and worked in the government with the new king. A Constitutional Monarchy was established and many liberties became laws, and the people, tired and by now old, accepted the ‘pact of silence’ in exchange for liberties they never had before. Each time I opened the subject with people my age I was told ‘that was a long time ago, let’s not talk about it.’ The newer generations knew little or nothing about the terrible horrors that had occurred in their country. Those approaching middle age were mostly a fascist brainwashed generation. A whole generation of children were ignored or forgotten. I felt the existence of a childhood denied to my dead childhood friends, and also to me who watched them die.

After seven years of retirement, at the age of 84, I began to write a diary of the past days in Spain. In one year, I decided to make it a novel to make it more appealing to readers, and not to offend my family and friends by exposing their silence. The book was published this year, and for some reason, I can again sleep through a whole night and envision my childhood friends smiling when I get up in the morning.

CH: Was it painful to revisit the situation that changed your life?

MJN: It was very sad. I felt a heavy weight in my chest during the day, and was awake most of the nights.

CH: What time period does the book span? Did you leave out any stories that you wanted to include?

MJN: It was 1936 when the war started, it ended in 1939. I lived under Franco’s dictatorship for the next six years arriving to the United States a complete brainwashed fascist in 1945.Yes, there was much more to tell but I needed to finish the book to find some peace within myself. I have started another one, I don’t know if I will finish it. This book has to do with the men and women who fought and died fighting against Franco in the Federation of Spanish Guerrillas after the war.

CH: So many memoir writers work on their book for years and years. Why did you decide to write it now?

MJN: I could not afford the luxury. At 85, it is a hit and miss from one day to another.

CH: What made you decide to write your story and how long did it take you to write it?

MJN: Since I retired from work, I had more undisturbed time around me and past issues began to cloud my mind and spirit. I needed a catharsis, and the book was it. It took a year to write.

CH: Is the memory of the Spanish Civil War engraved in your mind?

MJN: Not so much in my mind, as it is engraved in my heart.

CH: Did the fear-filled days of your childhood affect your adult life?

MJN: Yes… very much. I am afraid of fireworks. I still grind my teeth when airplanes fly above my house. I am heartbroken by man’s perpetual obsession with the killing of each other instead of talking. I am unable to accept or understand the hatred of persons against persons and what it is doing to civilizations.

CH: Was it difficult to keep a clear mind after the brainwashing by the new fascist regime?

MJN: A little for a time, I resolved things by constantly going from one rigid set of beliefs to another until Buddhism finally helped me to accept myself as a pacifist with no political party or religion, not even Buddhism!

CH: Can you briefly tell us about your life achievements after enduring the devastation of the Spanish War?

MJN: I ultimately settled myself for a life helping others to identify their fears, and hopefully find a way to resolve them. After a four year enlistment in the US Navy, I used the GI Bill to go to nursing school followed with a BS in Nursing Education and taught Psychiatric Nursing for the following ten years—working in the day time and going to school at night. Eventually, I managed a graduate degree and a post graduate degree in Counseling Psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia. I moved to New Mexico and first worked with the Navajo Nation, and then with the University of New Mexico in Emergency Psychiatry. It seems as if doing therapy to help others did a great deal of therapy for me, as well.

CH: How does your family and extended family feel about your sharing your experiences with the world?

MJN: I was surprised. My sister, one of the younger generations who lives in Spain and knows just a little English read my book using a dictionary and LIKED IT! So far, all of my American cousins that read the book were grateful for giving them information they did not get from their parents. I am not too sure of what is going on with my Spanish cousins, I have not heard from them. Not a word.

CH: One of the reviewers said that this was “a unique well-written war novel.” What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of the book?

MJN: It is difficult to like or not to like the book. It is not that simple. People are affected and deeply moved. Some have cried as they told me they read the book. Some seem to worry about me and ask if I am alright…I am getting a range of emotional responses, all serious. Some people never knew there had been a Civil War in Spain!

Now they know, and that is the purpose of the book.

CH: Can you give my audience your website address?

MJN: Unfortunately, I do not have a website. I am sorry. I am just too old!

CH: For my audience, where is your book sold?

MJN: Amazon, Google, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Book Store. If they Google my book and name, it will come up for them. Amazon Link:

CH: Any closing remarks?

MJN: I am sorry, sometimes I was bit expansive. I hope the readers will forgive me.

CH: Thank you Maria J. Nieto, it has been a real pleasure talking with you and discussing such an interesting book in an important time of history.

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