First-time author at 90 dreams of Oscars

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Talia Denicoff

Frances Chavarria wrote her first novel, Let Us Dream of Turtles, drawing on her years living in Costa Rica and her interest in its environmental preservation.
Photo by Edith Billups

Seven years ago, Frances Chavarria of Rockville, Md., wrote her first novel, inspired by the 35 years she lived in Costa Rica. But discouraged after an editor criticized it, she put the manuscript away until a friend convinced her to dust if off and self-publish the book.

This spring, Chavarria became a published author — at the age of 90.

Chavarria’s novel, Let Us Dream of Turtles, is based in part on her own experiences. Decades ago, Chavarria and her husband, who was born in Costa Rica, visited his family. There, they both fell in love with the land. They moved to the country after he retired.

“First of all, it doesn’t have an army. It’s striving toward peace. It has the University for Peace,” Chavarria said. “It’s a very nature-oriented place — with mountains and beaches, and a lot of nature that the government protects and that the population is very proud of.”

Protecting turtles

That helped provide the book’s plot, where city girl Marcia, the daughter of a New York business man, and Ricardo, a native Costa Rican who is an environmental lawyer, fall in love.

Marcia’s father wants to build a resort on the beach, while Ricardo and other Costa Ricans are strongly against this idea, saying that cutting down trees, the bright lights, and the building itself will cause ecological systems to fail. Furthermore, the beach the resort is planned to be built on is the site where a nearly extinct species of turtles lay their eggs each year.

Chavarria says she hopes her book will raise awareness and consciousness of the continued need to protect lush, tropical Costa Rica for generations to come.

“I think what was important to me in writing the book and developing the characters was that they all went through transformations,” Chavarria said. “They became very different people from the beginning of the book to the end of the book.”

The book also stems from Chavarria’s own childhood in Santa Barbara, Calif. Living near the beach and the California coastline “was a big influence in my life. When I was young, I loved the ocean and everything to do with marine life and that environment.”

Chavarria’s friend Edith Billups, an editor, helped get the book ready for publication. It is now available at local Barnes and Noble stores and online. “From page one, I could see that she writes beautifully, and I loved the plot and its emphasis on protecting the environment,” said Billups.

As well as being a published author, Chavarria is a professional potter. When her son started junior high school, she decided to go back to school where she majored in art with a specialty in studio ceramics. She has sold her work, and some of her pieces have been displayed in museums.

On to the silver screen?

After hearing the news that her book would be sold at Barnes and Noble, Chavarria was “feeling quite encouraged” and has put thought into further pursuing her writing career.

“Maybe I should go on and develop another storyline,” she said. “I am kind of just beginning to think in those terms.”

Billups and Chavarria believe Let Us Dream of Turtles would make a great movie.

“I am assisting her with finding a screenwriter to look at the book,” said Billups. “She actually is very serious about being on the red carpet at the Oscars!” 

Chavarria be signing copies of Let Us Dream of Turtles at 1 p.m. on June 3 at Barnes and Noble, 12089 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md.