Parkite’s novel shares a fictionalized account of her family and battle with cancer
‘Groovy Girl’ is available on Amazon
Parkite Maritza Roño Refuerzo is honored to introduce her Filipino-American heritage to readers.
She published her first novel, “Groovy Girl,” under her pseudonym i.b. casey cui in August, and she has already scheduled a handful of invitation-only readings locally and in the Bay Area.
The story follows a feisty 8-year-old Filipino-American girl whose world turns topsy-turvy when her 19-year-old wunderkind sister, a tennis star and pianist, is diagnosed with colon cancer.
“The novel is semi-autobiographical, and the 8-year-old is me,” Refuerzo said. “I am also a 26-year colon cancer survivor, so the 19-year old is also me, but in a very exaggerated sense.”
The book, written in vignette form, includes personal experiences that Refuerzo frames from the perspective of the younger girl.
“There are some intense experiences, many of which include my father,” she said. “He’s this overbearing, macho-type character, but he’s also loving, affectionate and has this compassion that none of the other characters have.”
The story also features a character based on Refuerzo’s mother.
“She’s this hard-core mom,” the author said. “She’s a devout Catholic, and is always saying her prayers.”
Writing such personal anecdotes is the reason why Refuerzo decided to publish under a pen name.
“I actually started writing the story 20 years ago, and I didn’t want to tell any family that I was writing it,” she said. “There are so many themes that are in the book — xenophobia, homophobia and that ‘Big Fat’ ethnic family dynamic — that I really didn’t realize was there. I was just writing about my life. I do remember letting my mom read it, and she said, ‘Oh, you can’t ever let your dad read this.'”
The book also chronicles Refuerzo’s cancer treatment, which involved chemotherapy injections every week for a year.
“I was 27 when I was diagnosed,” she said. “Many considered it an old-man’s disease back then, but now the young onset colon cancer is here. It’s what took actor Chadwick Bozeman, a little more than a year ago. And he was only 42.”
Refuerzo isn’t a stranger to writing and language. She studied English and creative writing in a master’s program at Cal Berkeley, and she is a former copy editor for tech-media companies GameSpot, CNET, Ziff-Davis and InfoWorld.
“I started my novel during some downtime at GameSpot, and finished the book in 2006,” she said.
That was when a friend told Refuerzo to enter the Breakthrough Novel Award competition on Amazon.com.
“At that time, I didn’t know if I wanted to do that,” she said with another laugh. “I was hiding behind this pseudonym because I feared my family’s wrath.”
After a few more back-and-forths with her friend, Refuerzo entered the competition, and ended up being a semifinalist.
“We got far enough for Publishers Weekly to review it, and anyone with an Amazon account was able to post their reviews,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Shortly afterwards, Refuerzo’s friend suggested she submit her book to a literary agent.
“I had an agent guide and selected three that would seem like a good fit,” she said. “Then I got a call.”
Refuerzo remembers the call, but not fondly.
“It was the time I became disenchanted by the business side of writing,” she said. “The agent wanted me to change the ethnicity of the family in my story, in an effort to make my novel more ‘mainstream.'”
After Refuerzo refused, the agent suggested keeping the family Asian, but making it Chinese.
“I think she was trying to capitalize on the popularity of Amy Tan and other Chinese-American writers,” Refuerzo said. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
After looking at self-publishing options, Refuerzo decided to hold off a while.
“At that time self-publishing would have cost $20,000, because they didn’t have the online opportunities and programs they do now,” she said.
In addition, Refuerzo believes it was destiny that she waited to publish the book this year, not only because it now only costs around $6,000 to self-publish, but also because of the issues surrounding race and the rise of authors who are people of color.
“It seems to fit the climate of not just our country, but of our world,” she said.
COVID-19 also gave Refuerzo the opportunity to go back and revise the story.
“We were all holed up, so I did an overhaul from March to September, and got a life coach friend of mine to kick my butt,” she said. “She was always asking me what I was waiting for, and literally scolded me on Zoom.”
“Groovy Girl” is available in print on demand at Amazon, but also on bookbaby.com, and other online retailers. Orders can also be made by visiting Refuerzo’s website, groovygirlnovel.com.
A portion of all the sales will be donated to some of the author’s favorite nonprofits — Strides for Life Colon Cancer Foundation, Lumitala, Lori Ann Foundation and the Mona Foundation.
“Since I decided to self-publish, and the book addresses topics like cancer, mental health and empowering women, I decided to do things my way,” she said. “I know all of the founders of these nonprofits, and it feels good to give back and have the book make an impact.”
Refuerzo did, finally, tell her father and other family members about the book.
“Because the book is fictionalized, it was an easier pill to swallow for them, although my dad did admit, ‘Well, I know I’m an a**hole,'” she said, laughing.
For information about “Groovy Girl,” visit groovygirlnovel.com and amazon.com.
BalletNext opens the curtain on “Nutcracker’s Greatest Hits,” which features a Park City twist, on Wednesday.
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