ATISDA Blog (Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area)

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An Evening with Isabel Allende [Guest Blog]

Isabel Allende recently visited San Diego and ATISDA’s Treasurer Felipe Ortiz was lucky enough to be able to attend. About Isabel Allende’s visit to the University of San Diego campus on November 30, 2017, he writes:

About the Legend

On the back cover of the book In the Midst of Winter, the publisher Simon and Schuster mentions that Isabel is one of the most-read writers in the world, having sold more than 67 million copies of her books. Isabel was born in Peru and raised in Chile. She has written more than twenty bestselling and critically-acclaimed books. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. She lives in California and her website is

Felipe at Allende Event

Felipe with Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter

Arriving at the Sold-Out Event

When I arrived, there was already a crowd at the parking structure waiting to be transported to the Shiley Theatre on the shuttle bus. I could sense a great deal of excitement in the air as participants were eager to have the opportunity to see and hear Isabel. At the theater lobby there were tables with stacks of books—autographed hardcover volumes of Isabel’s New York Times best-selling novel In The Midst of Winter. I considered myself very lucky to be given a sample and clutched it close to me as I proceeded to find a seat in the already crowded theater. Just to test my luck, I walked to the front and was shocked to find a prime single vacant seat in the third row. The event had been sold out for a while and as the clock marched relentlessly toward the hour, there was not an empty seat to be found at the venue. Finally the moment all had waited for arrived, and after some minor introductions and credit acknowledgements, Isabel and the moderator marched onto the stage and took their seats on two large throne-like oversized chairs. Isabel removed the back pillow and set it on the floor to the side of her chair.

Isabel arriving

Isabel Allende arriving on stage

Isabel on stage

Isabel Allende on stage

Here are my notes on what Isabel talked about with the caveat that these comments are just my version of what was said. What follows are some interesting facts she shared.

Her First Book Was Written at the Kitchen Counter

When asked whether she had a special space in her home to do her writing, Isabel shared that her first book was written at the kitchen counter while cooking, taking care of her young children, having three jobs and being extremely busy all the time. She now has her computer in a closet that may be closed up and out of reach so that she may come back and resume her writing at her convenience.

She Maintains A Strict Writing Schedule

On January 8 of every year, she starts writing a new book. She commits herself to doing this as a matter of discipline. The moderator reminded her she had five weeks before starting on her 2018 book.

Isabel Does Everything in Spanish

She writes in Spanish, thinks in Spanish, makes love in Spanish and talks to her dog, Dulce, in Spanish (her spoken English has a Spanish accent).

She Also Does Thorough Research

Before starting to write a book, she researches the subject extensively. Although fictional, her novels aim to describe real subjects and facts. For example, when writing about the Gold Rush in California, she found out that some of the first miners arriving to dig gold were from Chile and Peru where gold mining is or was prevalent. These miners were already experts at the trade. She “dug out” miners’ letters from old archives in Peru and Chile. Miners were writing those letters from California to their relatives in Peru and Chile. Miners shared that a glass of milk in those days cost as much as the value of an expensive bottle of cognac, the reason being that no one had the time to milk cows. Everyone was busy digging for gold.

Before writing a different book about war and soldiers, she insisted on meeting a real commando who turned out to be a Navy SEAL, perhaps like someone who participated in the Bin Laden incursion. She was received at his house where she roamed around and first checked his bathroom and opened the cabinets to check the contents. Then she talked to the serviceman and noticed that he was not a burly individual, but rather an average man with soft hands. Not the hands of someone shooting heavy weapons. He could have been a piano player or so she thought.

Isabel Helps the Literal Underdog

The story of her dog Dulce is that Isabel heard that somewhere in town there was a litter of puppies in a basket being given away for adoption for free. She arrived at the site and there was one left. The puppy had a large bulge around one eye, like a malignant growth. Isabel was told that if she wanted the puppy, she would have to take it to the vet for surgery; it would cost around $2,000 for the procedure and the eye could be lost. Otherwise, the puppy was to be euthanized. As you may surmise, the puppy was adopted and taken to the vet, and after surgery Dulce now looks at Isabel as if in two directions. Particularly when Dulce is mad or wants to convey a message to Isabel.

Isabel also shared the following interesting information and opinions with the audience.

Isabel on the Difference Between Spanish and English

When talking about the contrasts between Spanish and English, she imagined being given two letters in sealed envelopes. She said that the bulkier envelope would contain a letter in Spanish. In Spanish, you do not get to the point. You circumvent it and then after a sufficient amount of verbiage you then address it. The opposite applies to English.

Isabel on Topics of First Books

She sent her first draft of her first book to a publishing house in Spain and was told that first books usually reflect a lot of an author’s piled-up personal information bursting at the seams and waiting to see the light of the day.

Isabel on Grief

She lost her daughter Paola about twenty-five years ago. Paola was in her twenties and she would be in her fifties now. Her death was very traumatic for Isabel. She emphasized that when one is suffering, the best cure is to share the pain with others. At the time of this tragedy, she was driving around town crying rivers of tears. She stopped at a shop where the shop owner came to console her and then invited her to join a group of friends that met regularly to share sad stories and help each other. Isabel labeled this group of about ten ladies the “Sisters of the Sacred Disorder.” They not only meet to commiserate but also to drink champagne.

Isabel on Her Appeal to Women

About ninety-eight percent of the audience was composed of women. Isabel was asked why and she said that women could relate to her way of thinking and to the empathy emanating from her writing.

Isabel on Her Future Plans

Isabel is 75-years-old. She divorced her first husband a while ago and now has a sweetheart. Her family, in particular, a son, has a say on the book themes she selects. She plans to keep on writing books.


Felipe Ortiz

Felipe Ortiz, CMP (Certified Meetings Professional), serves as the ATISDA Treasurer. He graduated with a UCSD Extension Translation Certificate in 2017.

He worked in the hotel/conventions/hospitality industry for several decades and decided to leave this field and embark on a new career as a translator/interpreter specializing in the tourism/travel/hospitality industry.

Felipe was born in Mérida, Yucatán, México, where he graduated with a BS in Biological Sciences and then immigrated to California to join his family already living there. Upon his arrival, he enrolled at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, California and graduated with an AS in Food Service Management.

When he enrolled in the Translation Certificate Program in 2015, he decided to join ATISDA and ATA as a student member. He volunteered to help ATISDA by serving on the Bylaws Revision Committee. The purpose of the revision was to make ATISDA eligible to become an Affiliate member of ATA; this was accomplished and recognized at the 57th Annual ATA Conference in San Francisco.

Past notable achievements were his service in the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) San Diego Chapter, where he served on the Board of Directors and became HSMAI San Diego Chapter President.