The Priceless Value of Keeping a Journal

@eleanorparkerwv #latina #writer #amediting #amwriting #historicalfiction #novel #publisher #booktrope

That’s about the gist of it today. Eleanor Parker from West Virginia (not originally) is a Latina writer who is editing her first book-an historical fiction novel that will be published by Booktrope this summer. #adecentwoman Wouldn’t that be cool to use that hashtag!

I’ve used Twitter for a couple of years and until this week, I had never used a hashtag in my life. In my defense, I was writing a book. I see that #eyeroll. Although I was doing my part to create and maintain my author platform on many social media sites, I didn’t know how to use hashtags. I thought it was some fad that would wear off eventually. Wrong. I’ve found out how very useful these little hashtags are! They get me to where I want to be and allow me to communicate with people who are doing the same thing-editing and writing. It’s awesome.

Earlier in the week, I watched a very informative YouTube video from Writer.ly.com about using Twitter and it opened up a whole new world for me. I know it’s old news to you, but I’m genuinely excited. I forced myself to log off after the tutorial because I’ve been known to search for videos of angry cats, people’s reactions and behavior to being slung into the atmosphere on amusement park thrill rides, and of course, videos of twin babies discovering each other for the first time. I could spend hours on that site. So, I went back to Twitter to use what I’d learned and it was fun. I discovered lists and created one list, but it didn’t work. I’ll have to tend to that later. This morning I composed a tweet about something dumb I did this week and ended it with #brainfart. Perfect.

One of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates is on Twitter. I had a lovely morning catching up with the author. She tweeted about keeping a journal and her comments prompted my decision to keep a journal again. My memory isn’t what it used to be…who am I kidding, my friends will tell you that I have a bad memory for people’s names, book titles, movie titles and dates. Forget dates. I know. I’m an historical fiction writer, how can that be, right? Well, I’m telling you the truth. If I don’t write it down, it’s lost. I will remember the story, the location, what the weather was like, who wore what and said what, but the day and time? Not going to happen. My good friends will tell you that I don’t remember their birthday. My brain cannot and refuses to retain that type of information. You’ll hear from me when your birthday pops up on my Facebook page.

Today I’m editing and tonight, I’m ordering a big, beautiful, hardback, non-lined journal. I kept a diary as a teenager. It was a small diary with a tye-dyed cover. I kept it until my mother found my sister’s journal (okay, I told my mom where it was hidden) and I promptly threw it away. I remember it was trash day. I stuffed my diary into an athletic sock and pushed it deep into the outdoor trash can.

A couple of years after my mother passed away (1992), I moved to Belgium with my then-husband and two young children. It was a perfect time to begin a journal. I’d lived in Europe as an Army brat, but this was a whole different ball of wax. I was an Army wife and member of a new community, a very active community of Americans, Brits and Belgians. We became family, as you do when thousands of miles separate you from your loved ones back home, and many of us still keep in contact today. On Facebook, of course. We remained in Brussels for 13 years. I kept a journal of our travels, adventures, my life as an ex-pat, a working artist, and as a mom. I have kept those lovely journals.

When my children and I returned to the United States in 2006, I stopped writing in my journal. I had a divorce to deal with, I worked full-time and went back to school. I don’t think I could bear reading about that difficult time in my life, but it so happens that I’m writing my second book, another historical fiction novel, Finding Gracia on El Camino. The story of a recently divorced woman who finds her grandmother’s journals that chronicle her walk on El Camino, the medieval pilgrimage walk from Roncesvalles, France to Santiago de Compostela. My kids and I walked El Camino one month after my marital separation. I kept a daily journal on our two-week walk. Thank God, I did.

Perhaps I will regret not keeping a journal during that time in my life as my new book unfolds and takes shape. My sister and good friends, however, have long and good memories. If I need to tap into that moment in time as a writer, they will help me and it won’t take me long to access the feelings and emotions that seem to reside just beneath the surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Blessings and Lessons

This is Sophie, a six month old Chihuahua, I adopted last month. I wasn’t in the market for a baby to add to my brood of furry children. It just happened. In the past, when I’ve sent photos of puppies to my children, I’ve received texts that urged me to resist the temptation, put the puppy down and slowly walk away from the puppy in question. I love animals, what can I say. I’m glad we welcomed Sophie, however, she has brought a lot of fun, joy and good lessons in ways that this writer never expected.

My life has been an exciting blur of positive activity and blessings since my historical fiction novel was accepted for publication by Booktrope in February. A puppy? I didn’t need a puppy at this time in my life! For a writer who lives alone with a friendly cat who seems to think he is a writing critic and an equally friendly Pug who lives to eat, the thought of bringing another pet into our lives seemed nuts. I’m helping to plan my daughter’s wedding next year and my son hasn’t decided whether he will move to London for his job. There are so many wonderful things happening to our family and I couldn’t be happier or feel more blessed. It’s a busy time, but I am learning to go with the flow because the momentum is in place and life goes on.

I thought I must be nuts to consider adopting Sophie, but I didn’t hesitate when I got the call and offer from her former owner. You see, I saw first met Sophie as she sat in a shopping cart in Walmart eight months ago. She was this tiny two month old and I fell in love right on the spot. I had never seen a puppy that small and instantly, my motherly instincts took over. I couldn’t help myself. I gave the man my card and told him to call me if he decided to breed her. He called last month to say that he couldn’t keep “Baby Girl” and had remembered me.

My good friend was visiting me with her Bichon Frise, Ruby, and we jumped up and down! Two grown women with plenty going on their lives couldn’t wait to meet this baby. Sophie came home with us the next day. As we drove home, Sophie on my friend’s lap, I vacillated between how nuts I must be to adopt another dog, a puppy no less and how excited I was. We just couldn’t resist her. Look at that face. Could you?

Sophie has reminded me that although I might be pulled in many directions at this time, it’s important for me to play, take a nap when I need one, get fresh air, and take writing breaks. Ozzy is nearly seven years old and he spends most of his day snoozing as does Pierre. They are used to my writing schedule which includes hours upon hours at the laptop. I take walks with Ozzy and play with them, but lately, our play dates have been few and far between. Sophie has changed all that. She takes cat naps and as a puppy, I have to be alert to her outside bathroom breaks and need for quality cuddle time. It’s like having a baby all over again and there is a new schedule to keep.

All my worries about Sophie disrupting the harmony of my home have disappeared. As I write this blog post, Sophie and Pierre are sleeping on the back of the couch in a sunbeam and Ozzy is snoring nearby. Ozzy and Sophie now sleep in the same doggie bed and morning time means tussling and wrestling for the baby and the cat.

Although I have a great group of friends who I wish I could see more often and I do when time permits, I was becoming a writing hermit. An author with her nose in social media, related online news, books and my manuscript. For example, I called a New York City office yesterday to ask about securing the rights of an image for my book cover and the kind gentleman told me that I had indeed found the right place and that it was possible. He also gently asked that I call back during normal business hours–it was 6:38…pm. See what I mean? I lose all track of time these days.

A cold wind is blowing today, but I’m off to walk the dogs. I need some fresh air, but first I need lunch and a bathroom break.

Ellie

Character Study-Ana Belen from A Decent Woman

Somehow, my cat Pierre knows when I’m editing my book. I don’t know how he knows this. When I’m doing my bit on social media, he is nowhere to be found and as soon as I settle in with a mug of tea and pull my novel up on the laptop, the cat is there in minutes. Here he is looking all smug and critical. I caught that smirk, Pierre. He doesn’t think I’m working hard enough today. I can tell and he doesn’t approve of social media. I tell him it’s necessary for writers and authors, but he says, “Get back to your book, Eleanor.” A real slave driver that cat is.

I’m looking forward to spending the whole day with my book. As I write this, it is snowing. Again. Actually, I like to write and edit when it rains and snows. No one is out and about on my street and it’s very quiet, save for the CD I bought for inspiration. Soft music in the background and a mug of hot tea are very conducive to writing and thinking about what my characters are getting into.

Have I introduced you to Ana, my protagonist? Here’s a little information about Dona Ana, the midwife.

When my story opens in 1900 we meet Ana Belén, a 40-year old Afro-Cuban midwife who grew up as a slave on a sugar plantation in Cuba. At 20, she was hidden by her father in the bowels of a steamer ship and arrives in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico in the middle of the night. She has no family or friends on the island, and yes, there is a dark secret. A secret that Ana fears will ruin her, her reputation, not to mention, her business as the only midwife in the Playa de Ponce.

Ana’s positive qualities – Ana is a hard-working midwife, tough as nails, and tender and loving with her clients and their children. Despite always hoping to appear stoic and serious, she has a fun side that is shared with a select few. She is highly intuitive, courageous, a loyal friend, and she recognizes that she needs good working relationships with the male doctors and obstetricians who have entered the birthing room for the first time. She is a spiritual woman who practices the Yoruba tradition side by side with Catholicism. Ana becomes a fighter for the rights of women with no regard for social class when she realizes that men, society, and the Church regard her as an indecent woman.

Although Ana understands that Ponce is male-dominated and knows her place in society, she fearlessly forges ahead with her work and her unlikely friendship with Serafina, a member of Ponce society. Her friendships later in life include prostitutes and women, white, black, brown, mulattas, creoles, all labeled as indecent by society. She is a teacher and a mentor to younger women, but doesn’t realize that until later. When Ana lets down her emotional walls, she becomes naive, hopeful, more trusting, and she finds love.

Ana’s negative qualities – Ana was born on a sugar plantation in Cuba, and this makes her secretive. She has trouble trusting, assumes she knows it all, and doesn’t make friends easily. She is leery of the men she meets and has no use for male doctors, which could cost her if she doesn’t learn the game and play it. She is judgmental, stubborn, opinionated, and a bit naive with friendships and men. Ana is cautious, rebellious and at times, can appear unfeeling. The love of her life could cost her dearly and in the end, she could make the ultimate sacrifice for a dear friend who has betrayed her.

My historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, will be published in March by Booktrope. I see Pierre lurking around the corner… Ellie

Prayers Answered and Now What?

I’m sorry that I don’t have any writing advice this morning nor any great quotes from the Masters to share. I know this an author blog and it is also a blog where I write about the writing life–my life as a writer. This morning, I have to get this off my chest or I won’t be able to write. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness writing! I’m not going to bother checking for typos or catching grammatical errors. I’m just going to write it, so I own it and move forward today!

In January 2014, I began a Happiness Jar. I’ve kept journals for prayer requests from friends and family to remind me that if people pray for me, I must reciprocate and I’ve also kept journals of blessings in my life. I don’t know who started the Happiness Jar idea, but I got the idea from on Eat Pray Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. I was immediately on board!

By February, my jar was 1/4 full and I worried that I’d bought too small a jar. Wonderful things were happening to me and my family that needed to be included. No matter, I decided that I would press the little folded pieces of paper down if I had to, I am going to reach the end of this year in the same jar. On Valentine’s Day morning, I received an email from Booktrope. My historical novel, A Decent Woman, had been accepted for publication. I was stunned and very, very excited! My first thought was, I have to add that to my Happy jar and so, I did.

Later that evening, my beautiful daughter called me in tears. “I’m engaged!” “But, those are happy tears right, Sweetie?” I asked. A mother hears tears and usually thinks the worst, or at least I do. My first thought was how I wished I’d told her and the world about my book being published the next day! Actually, my first thought was how incredibly happy I was for her and her long-time boyfriend, now fiance. Then, I wished the day had been all hers, but c’est la vie. That’s life! Well, it was easy to write on the little scraps of paper that day! I must have added twenty thoughts on how happy I was for my daughter, her fiance, my family, myself and for my book. My daughter went back to school, doing her Masters in Counseling and finally doing what she is passionate about. She has found her niche as have I. A February to remember. My daughter and her fiance will be very happy and I am ecstatically happy that she is marrying her best friend. Not as excited that they plan on moving to Wilmington, NC in a couple of years, but that’s a long way off yet! I’m not dealing with that yet. Yes, denial is a beautiful thing.

So Spring is here, kinda sorta and plans for the 2015 wedding are gearing up. All good! We’ve visited great venues for the wedding reception and at the same time, I continue to edit my book and try to secure permission to use the image of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s painting for my book cover. My Booktrope Creative Team was formed and we are on a roll with my book. I’m fortunate and blessed to work with such a fantastic group of creative people. The children are busy, I’m busy, and it seems my friends are just as busy doing fun and wonderful things.

NOTE – I wrote a letter to the Louvre, where the painting hangs, had it translated by my good friend and sent it off to the Louvre. This morning, I was directed to New York City to the company that handles all that stuff. Back and forth, across the Atlantic I go in search of this permission for the perfect book cover for my book! I’m on it!

Great things are happening this month and I started thinking that perhaps I need another large Bell jar and hope they wouldn’t stop making them! So last night, my handsome son called. I don’t give out details about my children, so let’s just say that he works with a fantastic company, makes the bucks, and is very highly thought of. He wants to make a change. A huge change. I support him and he was shocked when I told him that I supported him moving to London…………………………………….. you see those dots? Those are the rapid beats of my heart as I was telling my youngest child that I supported his move overseas after I listened to him give me the pros and cons. I told him that I was okay with him starting a life in London Town. My son confessed that he hadn’t told me of this plan for fear that I would collapse and have a nervous breakdown. He was stunned when I sounded excited about the new prospect. I was and I told him that his happiness meant more than my sadness. My daughter’s, as well. We lived overseas for 16 years, what did I expect? They have the travel bug as bad as I do.

I didn’t collapse or break down, but, after we hung up, I sure did have a good cry. Happy and sad tears, all at once. It’s a happy time and I prayed that God would help my children find their way in life and be happy. I just hadn’t thought about them leaving to be happy 😀 I had to write those little papers, but I couldn’t do that until this morning. Today, the skies are blue and it’s beautiful. My heart is happy for my children. I raised them to think for themselves and they know that all I want for them is their happiness. My family, friends and I would be thrilled for him if this is what he wants to do. It’s exciting as hell. My daughter’s wedding will be beautiful and we are thrilled for her and her fiance. My sister and I texted back and forth last night, planning which English pub we’d hit first, second and third.

This morning, my best friend sent me a text that reads:

“Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to ponder upon. Such is life…kids going on into adulthood..he has foreign opportunities in his blood. You did it to him! As I have done to my kids…you opened up a huge world as I did, now we pay…heartache for sure.”

Well, that sums it up, folks. God did indeed answer all my prayers for myself and my children. I just didn’t think it would all happen in the February-March timeframe! Ha! Thank you for all my blessings, God. Now, I please send me some calm and a clear head to make this all happen 🙂

Warmly,

Ellie

Story Ideas and Where to Find Them

“I would love to write a book. I know I have one in me, but I don’t know what I would write about.” I heard this when friends learned that I wrote a book and it comes up when I’m introduced to a new friend who asks me what I do for a living. Could this be you? Are you dreaming of writing a book, but don’t yet have an idea, a story line or a clue what you’d write about?

First of all, congratulations! How exciting. Writing is a great job and if you’re dreaming of quitting your day job to write full-time, even better. That was my long-time dream, as well and with a few personal sacrifices, learning to live with less $$ and being disciplined, it worked. Seven years later, I’m still blogging, writing and my first book, an historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, will be published Summer 2014.

Writing a book takes perseverance, tenacity, courage, a good dose of insanity, a boatload of coffee, and a good idea for a story. Still no idea? Here are some ideas for stories that I have come up that you may like:

Write about what you know.

Think about your hobby or passion in life. If you love photography, could you write about a photographer who witnesses a murder? An artist who buys a painting at a flea market and gets thrown into an international crime ring because the painting is stolen? Do you have love letters from your Swedish grandparents that would make a great romance story?

These days, many books are written from the point of view of a famous artist or writer’s maid, wife or younger sibling. This is my personal favorite, a different perspective on a famous artist or writer.

Scour the newspapers and local papers for interesting story lines.

There are endless possibilities here. The lottery winner who was murdered or committed suicide (this happens a lot). The kidnapping of a child and the reunion with her parents. You get the idea.

Do some people watching in public places.

Imagine the story of the woman sitting alone in the cafe or the story of the young woman and older man who has made her cry. The man who comes to your favorite coffee shop with his laptop open and never writes a word.

Look to your hometown or adopted city for ideas.

Is there a haunted building or home in your town that would make a great setting for a paranormal story or a thriller? Your story could come out of that location.

Listen and learn from your elders.

My historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, started as a tribute to my maternal grandmother for her 90th birthday. There is much to learn from our elders and people who’ve been on this planet much longer than us. Visit with them and take notes. I believe this is a nice thing to do whether you write or not. They love talking and miss talking to friendly, warm people.

And, if you want to write books, short stories, poetry, fiction, or non-fiction…

READ. Read books and learn from the masters. Take a course or workshop in creative writing. Join a writing group and a writing critique group in your area. The library is a great place to find such groups and sites such as MeetUp.com. That is where I found the two writing groups that I’m a member of.

Just two days ago, something so totally unexpected and completely shocking happened on my quiet street. Right across the street from me. I took photos because I was flabbergasted and yes, it made the news. But, I can’t tell you about that because I’m saving that for a story 🙂

Happy writing to you.

Ellie

Urgency in Getting it All Down

I believe we all have many stories to tell that should see the light of day. I believe that many of us will never write those stories down and that saddens me because I want to read those stories. At funerals, I’ve often wondered if the deceased accomplished what he or she set out to do in life. I think of all the wonderful untold life stories that go with that person.

We all wake up, most of us get ready for work or school, we spend our day doing our jobs and if we have families, we come home to make dinner, do homework with our children, talk to our significant others, perhaps eat it in front of the television and fall asleep. We wake up and do it all over again. That’s not all we do, of course, but you get the picture-we live our lives. We live the lives we’ve been taught to live or we do our own thing. Most of us follow routines that make our lives and the lives of our loved ones manageable and for some of us, that is enough and we are happy. Others, however, develop an urgency deep inside that whispers, “Time waits for no one, do that thing.”

Only you know what “that thing” is. That thing for me turned into two things–to write books and paint in between my books.

I believe that fear, excuses and our busy lives stop us from writing our stories. I am of the belief that you should fake it until you make it. Just write it all down. Write a daily journal, blog, keep a notebook with you at all times, or type out the stories of your life. Don’t worry about grammar or the right words, for now, just write.

As the granddaughter and daughter of oral storytellers, I had a wealth of information, details and story lines by the time I was in my 30’s. My memory and the repetition of these stories kept them alive for me as well as telling my kids the stories, but I didn’t write them down.

Soon after my mother’s death in 1992 at the young age of 57, I began to keep a journal. Her death shook my family and her friends to the core. Again, I wondered whether my beautiful mother had left things too late. Had she left unfinished business and did she live all her dreams? Or even one? She was the epitome of a great mother and grandmother, but I wasn’t sure.

My mother’s death was the kick in the pants and in the gut that I needed. I began a journal, written long-hand for over ten years in beautifully bound, unlined books. I took those bulky journals everywhere I went. I wrote during trips, vacations and even on walks because my entries also included photographs I’d taken along the way and small drawings done in interesting places. I wrote down pieces of conversations I heard on the Metro, in small cafes and on ferry boat rides. I jotted down descriptions of people, of corner bodegas, and the tiniest flower. I began to see and write down what I saw and heard and how it made me feel. I also kept a notebook by my bed to record dreams.

During those years, the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron arrived as a Christmas gift from my father’s new wife, Rebecca. That was when I started my journey toward doing “that thing” and her book changed my life. I read the book alone, did the homework and went out on my Artist’s Dates and soon, I was sharing the book with girlfriends. We met once a month for a year and soon, another group was formed and I was facilitating. I began to write poetry and a year later, I wrote my book, A Decent Woman.

It is not surprising that through helping others with their creativity, I found my own.

Blogs have long replaced my journal. Julia might not agree and I understand that she may be right. I might go back to writing in my journal, just maybe…

Ellie

The Social Media Merry-go-round

I joined NetworkedBlogs last night and I love it. I can now view all my favorite blogs in one place and save the blogs I want to read later which will free up my email inbox. What will they come up with next? That is tongue in cheek, of course. “They” have and will come up with tons more and I would like it all to slow down a bit. Please.

Social media. Gotta love it and sometimes, it’s a royal pain. I get it, though. I’ve used it for years, building my author platform and it really works, but new sites come up all the time. New and improved. As soon as I learn a new site or app, there are ten to take its place. My adult children are computer wizards. “Mom, try this. It’s right up your alley.”  Okay, thanks! Yet another site that I have to look into. Groan. Just let me work with what I have for a little while, I want to say! It’s second nature for the younger generation, but it didn’t come easy to me.

Take my maternal grandmother for instance. She was born in 1900 in the coastal town of Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico, just outside the colonial town of Ponce. When she died in 1994, she had seen and experienced the horse and buggy, the telegraph, trains, cars, land line telephones, victrolas, radios, tape recorders, television, airplane travel and computers. My grandmother had a cell phone when she was 90 and watched me write and do research on a computer when I visited her. I remember her amazement at the information available to us by simply typing words and phrases in little Search boxes. She took it all in stride and went with the flow, as I must do.

But, you don’t understand. I still happen to think it’s pretty amazing that when I fire up my laptop, I am instantly connected to our world and beyond. No joke. I truly am. To a non-computer, tech-savvy person such as myself, I marvel that when I log on, it all works. I am instantly connected with my favorite authors, blogs I love, and I can keep up with what my favorite authors and artists are doing through their posts on Instagram, LinkedIn, NetworkedBlogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

I’m doing all that, as well and I know there are sites that I should be using and I will. Just give me time. It takes up a whole lot of time to maintain a social media presence. On good days, it’s a lot of fun. I normally tackle this blog in the mornings and then, post it onto my various sites. I read the news of the day online and midday, I post again. In the early evening, I check all the sites to see who read what and who followed or liked me. It is then that I answer emails and respond to comments. In between all this, of course, I’m writing and trying to figure out what I can eat in my pantry so that I don’t have to go out. Once a week, I read the blogs I follow and I comment. I love that day and learn so much from writers, authors, publishers and agents. I make a pot of tea, grab my afghan and away I go into someone else’s world. In the late evenings, I read books, the news online, and very often, I fall asleep after a chapter of my current book. I wonder why?

When I write, the Internet can be very distracting. I’ve been known to write a paragraph of a novel and then, stop because I’ve just written something that I must research.This happens all the time. With a very innocent sentence such as, “Isabel leaned against the palm tree…”, I am stopped dead in my tracks. Palm tree. Is that correct? I know Puerto Rico has palm trees, but what type of palm tree, what variety of palm tree? Did that variety exist in 1901 in Puerto Rico? See what I mean? It’s constant but, at times like that, I thank God for the World Wide Web and for my BFF Kristine who immediately Googled palm trees and uncovered the Royal Palm!

Social media is never far from my thoughts. I know very few authors, writers and artists who don’t “do” social media. Even Pinterest has become a place to market and sell books. I cannot get onto Pinterest if I have any chance of writing. That is my one addiction. I must have 30 boards and of course, I have a board for my novel, an inspirational board, and a board of the books I want to read, to include the ones presently on my nightstand. It’s SO addicting.

Most authors have a Facebook account for personal stuff and one for each book of their books. I love that idea and that’s what I did, as well. I don’t have a website yet, but I’m working on that. I know a woman who maintains 12 personal websites. I can’t even keep my ten usernames and passwords straight from various websites and I never remember a birthday (except for my children and immediate family) until I see it on my Facebook feed.

I just don’t have that much space left in my brain…or do I?

So, if you had the idea that writers do nothing but write and sit around in cafes, discussing the world over vino while smoking Havanas, think again. I tried that. I went to my neighborhood bakery shop that has WiFi to spend the whole day writing. It was fun, but I didn’t get a lot done. I drank way too much coffee, had way too many Zuzu cupcakes, watched the patrons come in and out, and I talked with the owners. Back home I went. I write better in the company of my animals where the coffee is basically free and I can listen to my favorite music uninterrupted. I still visit the bakery shop, but just not to write. I do, however, never leave without six mini Zuzu cupcakes.

Has anyone written a blog about how not to gain weight while writing a book? Let me know. I’d read that blog 🙂

Happy writing to you.

Ellie