Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Guest Blog: Stephen Mateo on Finding a Story Under the Stairs

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Stephen Mateo with his father

Stephen Mateo is a Canadian writer who lives in Los Angeles. He’s returning to his home town of Toronto to read from his new book, Journey, on January 21st and January 22nd.

In his guest blog, Stephen tells us about a discovery he made underneath the basement stairs in his family's home that led him to write Journey.

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I live in Los Angeles and work as a Personal Trainer when I’m not writing. I had written one screenplay and was now looking for another topic to write about.

As much as we try and repeatedly go over themes and stories in our head, one never knows when that one subject is going to hit you like a hammer over the head. That one — that gets you to run, not walk, but run to the keyboard. That’s what happened to me one summer night in 2005.

It’s as if it came right out of a movie.

I was home visiting my family in Toronto from Los Angeles when I discovered a secret my parents had kept from us kids our entire life.

I was searching through a cupboard underneath the basement stairs, looking for some personal belongings, photos, awards, etc. to take back home with me. I discovered an old box marked Canary Islands. The black marker in which it was written had already fade. I was instantly drawn to it. I brought it out of the cupboard where I could take a better look at it and to see what was inside.

Once opened, I felt like I had just dived back in time, to a world I knew nothing about. The box was full of letters and trinkets all dating back to the Canary Islands (where my father was from) during fascist Franco Spain, 1946.

Growing up my father never spoke much about where he was from, and he never told us of how and why he left — and that’s what I discovered after spending an hour or more sifting through that box and reading as best I could the letters that were written in Spanish. Thank god for my Spanish night classes I took when I was in high school!

It was there sitting on the kitchen floor in the basement that I realized I had fallen upon something that was going to be a part of my life for a very long time. I knew I had found the inspiration for my next screenplay, which I then adapted to my novel Journey. The next question was, “how do I approach my father with this?”

I placed the box back underneath the staircase, but not without taking a few letters and items from it first.

Needless to say I got very little sleep that night. My mind wouldn’t stop wondering. The next morning I woke up feeling like a child who discovered a secret and didn’t know who to tell first. I decided it wasn’t the right time to bring it up. You see it was my parents fiftieth wedding anniversary and the family had all gotten together to celebrate the occasion and it just didn’t seem like a good time, in fact during my last few days there it never seemed right. So off I went back home to LA with the letters I had taken from the box and nothing said.

Two months later my parents came out to visit as they did every year in the month of October and that’s when I hit them with my discovery.

We had just finished up a lovely dinner that I cooked when I told them there was something I wanted to talk to them about.
I placed the letters on the table. My father turned white, he recognized them immediately. I asked him “dad, why did you never tell us that you escaped from Spain by stealing a sail boat and sailing across the Atlantic?” The room was silent. For the next seven days my father and I sat with a recorder and I let him talk and tell me his story. After they had left to go back home I sat at my desk and began to write the screenplay titled Journey.

The story of two young men at the age of 17, just coming out of high school, who risked their lives in search of freedom, trying to find their own place in the world and living with the heart-breaking guilt of having chosen the future over the past — and the consequences of that decision.

There’s no way my father could have known that 65 years later from getting on that boat that he’d be giving his son the greatest gift of all.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada and currently living in Hollywood, Stephen Mateo began his career as an actor, studying in Los Angeles at the renowned Playhouse West with Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum and at Howard Fine Studios. Mateo's acting career has been grounded in television and theatre, appearing in various sitcoms and landing a co-starring role on the CBS sitcom "High Society." He also appeared Off-Broadway in the hit The Crumple Zone in both New York  and Los Angeles.  Soon after that, he decided to follow his passion for writing. The result was his first full-length feature Dear John, which he plans to produce shortly. His second screenplay is  Journey, which he adapted into a first novel, published by  AuthorHouse in 2011.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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