On Memory and Tips for Writers

writing at the river 015I don’t understand why I had a bad memory as a child, but I did. My head was in the clouds a lot. I was the kid running home as the sun set because I’d forgotten how long my mother had given me to play with my friends. Yeah, I know–those days are long gone for many kids today;  I watched my kids like a hawk.

As a kid, I forgot many doctor appointments, until I saw my mother’s face at the classroom window. I’d pack up my books, and have to explain to the teacher why I had to leave, and she wasn’t always pleased. I still remember the day my mom looked through my coat pocket and found the crumpled envelope that held my piano lesson money. I think it was five dollars. The money was taken out of my meager allowance for missing the once a week  piano class. The following week, I hid in the school bathroom after school so I wouldn’t have to face Sister Rosela’s wrath. If you knew Sister Rosela, you would have hidden, too. She was a stern, dour-faced nun with lots of chin hairs and an unusual amount of black hair peeking out from under her veil. In my forties, I realized the nun was probably going through menopause. God bless her. I’ve long forgiven her for being so scary. Sister, I get it; you were old and tired. When I told my mom that the nun had pulled my ear (a lie), I never went back to piano lessons. I was never musical, anyway.

My first Algebra teacher wrote this in my middle school yearbook, “Eleanor has the attention span of a butterfly on a flower.” He drew a little, daisy-like flower beside his name, and I remember wondering if he was a closet artist. It makes me laugh to think of that today, and he was right–I was interested in everything and anything, but Pre-Algebra. I love reading and history, and always had my nose in a book. See there, I’ve forgotten that teacher’s name, and I really liked him, too. In high school, I ran from class to class after the bell rang, and many times, I’d sit down at my desk and cringe–I’d forgotten a homework assignment or a quiz we were having on that particular day. Believe it or not, I had above-average grades in high school, lots of friends, and received awards for English Literature and Chemistry. I was shocked by the Chemistry award, and to this day, I believe my teacher made a mistake. There is a chemist out there today, still pissed off that they were overlooked that year. I’m sorry. If I’d known who you were, I’d have given it to you.

Today, I appreciate and need lists in my life–the ones I write in the hope they will help my life and writing life remain organized. They are meant to keep me on task and on schedule as a full time writer, as my head is often in the clouds and in exotic lands. I can easily lose four or five hours a day to writing and yes, I still miss doctor’s appointments, much like I missed piano lessons, but I understand that I don’t really want to go. I prefer staying home to write or paint.

As my historical novel, A Decent Woman, heads to layout very soon, and as I write and research for my second historical novel, Finding Gracia, my lists include:  book reviewers and book bloggers; historical fiction bloggers; writing websites; literary competitions; and links of websites and blogs of favorite authors. For researching my second book, I keep lists of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela websites; links for backpacking sites; maps and books of El Camino routes; and a running list of novels written about El Camino. AND I must write my lists long-hand; I don’t type store them on my cell phone or in my laptop–I keep them in notebooks. Yes, I’m old school! I have separate notebooks for each topic, and I always have a notebook in my purse and one in my car. Always. I have a stack of papers, folders, books, and notesbooks from researching colonial Puerto Rico, the history, culture, and timelines of the island, all used to write A Decent Woman. I will keep them as souvenirs of a long road to publication, and as a reminder for days that I’m feeling lazy, that I am tenacious, driven, and focused on what I love to do–write.

These days I keep several running lists: future day-trips; independent book stores; small art museums; easy hikes, local flea markets, and farmer markets; books to be buy and read; ebooks to buy; and local periodicals, radio and TV shows who might feature a debut author like me. I do not, however, make grocery lists. I live alone now, and I seldom cook for a crowd except for holidays. I eat what’s there, order in, and only shop for food when I’ve eaten everything in the house. I make some crazy concoctions, too. Some have worked and tasted great; others were thrown out immediately.

I keep lists of writing tips for authors written by authors, and lists of quotes, which inspire me. I attribute this love to a very inspirational high school English teacher who asked us to collect quotes, write them in journals, and add art work to accompany the quotes. We did that in my junior and senior year.  Here are a few favorite quotes on writing:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” – Stephen King

And my favorite, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Happy writing to you!

A Decent Woman is coming soon! We are hoping for late March-early April–a Spring book baby.

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Author Interview with William D. Prystauk

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It’s a real pleasure to have the multi-talented and witty, William Prystauk, at The Writing Life this morning.

An award winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and educator, Bill began writing stories in first grade when he still had hair. A former member of BDSM groups in New York and Philadelphia, he brings his knowledge of the subculture to BLOODLETTING, adapted from his script which won Second Place in the 2006 Screenwriter Showcase Screenwriting Contest and was the top mystery submission. Currently, he is an active member of the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group, and teaches English as an assistant professor at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. When not writing, he’s busy co-hosting The Last Knock horror podcast on iTunes. Bill enjoys life with his wife, author and editor Ally Bishop, and their two puppies, Suki and Karma. He’s proud of his alternative music and horror movie collections, and the fact that he never leaves any sushi behind.

Welcome, Bill!

What is your book’s genre/category?

Bloodletting is a hard-boiled crime thriller.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Punk rocker and sadomasochist Denny Bowie, a “legwork guy” for a private investigation firm, is out to find the killer of five masochistic men and his childhood friend, fetish photographer Tommy Heat. He gets back with Penny Dallion, the Goth-girl of his dreams, and is enthralled by the hot and androgynous Erin Marr, his new boyfriend. While investigating Tommy’s murder, Denny discovers pictures missing from Tommy’s meticulous collection. These photos not only hold the key to the killer’s identity, but may also prove Penny’s involvement in the murders.

Embroiled in New York’s vibrant S&M subculture, Denny revisits old haunts: fetish clubs in Greenwich Village to find the killer who’s a step ahead of him – and maybe right behind him.

Ebook Blood LettingHow did you come up with the title?

Usually, titles are easy for me, but not this time around. However, as the story developed, Bloodletting became the clear winner due to what occurs to some of the characters on a physical level as well as on a thematic level.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wanted to write a mystery that didn’t embrace the typical tropes and trappings of the genre. As a reader, I had become bored with the same safe writing and story foundations, and I wanted to deliver something more visceral.

To do this, I began with the protagonist, Denny Bowie. He’s not a war vet or a former cop. Instead, he’s a late twentysomething punk rocker who loves to solve puzzles. In fact, although he has his private investigator’s license, he’s simply what he calls a “legwork guy” for a law firm in another city. If he can solve this case, Denny hopes to become a full-fledged PI where he works.

In addition, I wanted a story that focused on alternative lifestyles and subculture. In this case, punk, Goth, and sadomasochism. The goal was to present a fair representation of that trifecta without falling into the usual misconceptions perpetuated in fiction and film. Quite often, novelists and filmmakers seem to rely on stereotypes of what they think those worlds and people are like, and that has always bothered me.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Writing is freedom. As a writer, I have control over the worlds I create and the characters that inhabit them. It’s my escape from the confines of the daily grind, and I get the chance to entertain others because I want to share what I do.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Besides finding time to write, the main challenge is to kill the editor inside my head so I can “just write” with abandon. As writers, we must do so in order to move forward. If we allow that internal editor to play both angel and demon on our shoulders as we try to write a story, we’ll continually stop and never complete the work. At some point, the story comes alive, and that editor’s gone – until I bring him back for revision.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Henry Miller (without the misogyny and anti-Semitism, of course) because I love the genuine nature of his writing. I also enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and their work inspired me to earn my masters in English. I can’t get enough of Gemma File’s amazing short stories, and Ellen Miller’s brilliant novel, Like Being Killed, the only novel she published before her death, blew my mind on every level.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

Henry Miller due to his honest voice, Charlie Bukowski and William S. Burroughs for showing me that anything is possible with the written word, Ernest Hemingway for his precise plotting and poetic use of repetition, Gabriel Garcia Marquez who brings readers a story on every page, Muriel Spark for her transitions, Edgar Allan Poe for his sense of atmosphere, Frederick Busch and Ellen Miller for their phenomenal character building, Matthew Stokoe who delivers suspense like no other author, and Gemma Files for her depth of story and clear love of knowledge.

Favorite place to write?

My home office. Bettie Page, Deborah Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, fossils, seashells, alternative music, and books surround me. It’s my sanctuary from the world. But when I revise, I can do so anywhere.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

At one point in my life, I was enamored with King Henry V and his victory at the Battle of Agincourt. When my first wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, which made me cry from its beauty and history, I climbed onto his wooden sarcophagus and kissed his head. I didn’t get arrested, though my wife had bail money ready.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Like Hollywood, the big five want to hit nothing but home runs, and this is why I looked for a small press for my book. After all, how many protagonists are punk rock bisexuals with a desire for BDSM? Although three publishers were interested in Bloodletting, I chose Booktrope because they allow writers to take part in the publishing process by creating their team of book manager, project manager, editor, proofreader, and cover designer.

The sad part about publishing today, besides a lack of editing, is a major lack of marketing support. Each author must become his or her own marketer. This isn’t necessarily fun, and it deprives one from writing because the writer has to promote, but without the effort, the author’s opus will rot.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Originally, Bloodletting was an award winning screenplay. In the 2006 Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest, it led in the mystery category and won second place overall, which made it clear to me that I had a viable, entertaining story to share. Though the script has yet to be produced, the screenplay served as a wonderful and glorified outline for the novel.

During my MFA program, I used the manuscript as my final project. Although I listened to my mentor, my beta readers, and an outside fiction editor from a respected small press, there were elements of my manuscript that needed work. By the time Bloodletting had been accepted for publication, it had been almost two years since I had read the manuscript. This gave me enough objective distance to make the cuts I really needed to make the book worthwhile.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

As a writer, make certain you are honest with yourself. This means you must know when you are writing something stellar – or something that is pure garbage (I have two banker’s boxes of bad writing, including failed novels to prove this point). If your manuscript pasts the test of quality, then get yourself a great editor. Yes, the best ones cost a lot of money, but it will be money well spent. After all, the editor is your partner and has the best interests of your story in mind. You can also look at the editor as your behind-the-scenes publicist because if your story is at its very best, sooner or later, a publisher will most likely want your work. If you self-publish after consulting with a qualified, professional editor, this means people besides friends and family will probably want to read your work. I see many writers submitting manuscripts without using an editor, or even self-publish with not even a cursory proofread – and that is a major mistake.

Through my publisher I connected with editor Gerald Baude. I knew he was the perfect choice because he sent back my first chapter as a sample, and he picked out all of my writing weaknesses. And yes, every writer has weaknesses. Thanks to his expertise and insight, I shaved 14,000 words off my manuscript, and delivered a novel with a faster and more compelling pace.

Always make certain your work is at its very best before submitting a manuscript – because you only get one shot.

Website?

www.crashpalaceproductions.com

Where can we find your book?

Bloodletting is available at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle (http://amzn.to/1GhcbAb), and from Barnes and Noble for Nook (http://bit.ly/1GhclaJ).

For readers of Bloodletting, there is a link and password after the Epilogue to the “Books” page on my website. This page will allow the reader to access deleted scenes, to check out a playlist that matches the artists and songs mentioned in the book, and I’ve included my original, award-winning screenplay from which the tale has been adapted.

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23365977-bloodletting

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Bloodletting-William-D-Prystauk-ebook/dp/B00RB8FLZS

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/prystauk?store=allproducts&keyword=prystauk

What’s next for you?

I am revising a paranormal crime thriller called Red Agenda (as well as writing its sequel), which is also based on an award-winning script of mine. In addition, I’m revising a dramatic science fiction screenplay, outlining a horror screenplay, and I’m taking notes for a horror book I’m writing. Thankfully, many readers have called for a sequel to Bloodletting, so I’m working on notes and conducting research for that as well.

Ellie, thank you so very much for having me. I am truly grateful!

It’s been a pleasure, Bill! Best wishes with Bloodletting and your many creative projects!

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon 

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

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Welcome Our Newest Guest Speaker to the YouNiversity, Eleanor Parker, author of A Decent Woman!

YouNiversity Project 2014

From November to February, the YouNiversity will welcome authors and artists to contribute pieces on their personal artistic journeys. Today we welcome Eleanor Parker , author of the upcoming novel A Decent Woman.

Eleanor

A Creative Journey – Nature, Nurture or Necessity?

“Creativity is a DNA imperative. It is impossible for us to not be creative. We make things by nature.” –James Navé

My favorite stories are those of intrepid souls with unshakable confidence, who pursue their dreams and passions despite crazy odds, challenges, obstacles, and inner demons. They do this while learning the ropes and the craft of what they set out to accomplish with little regard to the critics, naysayers, and the dreaded, internal censor. Hey, that sounds a lot like a writer. A writer continues on the creative path for years amidst a myriad of rejections from literary agents, a few disappointed readers, and book publishers they never…

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The Dreaded Blank Page

Merry Christmas you filthy animals

Early this morning, we were blessed with cloudless, blue skies and a warm sun.  There is an inch of snow on the ground with a fine layer of ice beneath, and the winds are still blowing like crazy. Normally, this type of day energizes me and puts me in a good frame of mind, but today I closed all the curtains. For self-preservation, I will become a hermit for a few days, nursing what January usually brings me–feelings of joy mixed with nostalgia. My negative feelings and emotions can’t be helped, so I allow them to wash over me today.

You see, my son was born in California on January 14, 1988, and my mother passed away on January 22, 1992. My son is moving to Amsterdam on January 16, 2015. Yes, in a week’s time, I’ll be driving him to the airport, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He has been coming and going for years now with work-related travel, and a three-month stay in Thailand, but this is different. He says he’s not coming back. It’s not that we’ve quarreled or that he’s running away from home, nothing like that–I raised my kids overseas. What did I expect would happen? One or both of them were bound to travel extensively and live abroad; it’s what I hoped for.

Well, it is what it is, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My daughter and I send him off with much love, admiration, and enough hugs and kisses to keep him warm in Holland until we visit. Maybe we’ll return to Holland for a Spring visit, in time for the tulip festivals, as we did during our many years of living overseas. I try to look at the bright side of returning to Europe with my daughter for family visits with my son, but today it was hard to see the silver lining of his decision. I wondered how many decisions I’d made as a mother that caused my children the same pain.

So, after taking a week and a few days off to celebrate the precious Holidays with my beautiful children and my wonderful family, I sat at my desk this morning. I opened the new journal I bought in early December–one hundred and twenty blank pages of journal, to be exact, and closed the book. I’d vowed to begin writing on the morning of January first, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me tremendously as I’ve journaled for over twenty years as an advocate of keeping a journal, but every time I sat down to write–I froze. There was too much swirling, swishing, and slopping around in my brain to get it down on paper. I’ve felt overwhelmed this first week in January. What a pain in the ass. It’s not like I have tremendous burdens on my shoulders, we are all happy, safe, and healthy. I am looking forward to my novel, A Decent Woman, coming out this Spring, my daughter started a great new job as a therapist, and we three are embarking on personal journeys, but life is changing. Our family dynamics are changing and deep inside, I don’t like it one bit.

What did I do after closing my journal? I prayed hard. I cried even harder. I released. I counted my blessings. I shoveled my sidewalk, laughed at my Sophie’s Chihuahua antics in the snow, and I stroked my cat, Pierre. I made a tough phone call, one that I’ve been avoiding since early December, and I called to check on a new friend who just found out she’s in stage four of lung cancer. Please pray for my friend, Myrtle. Then, I sat with my unopened journal and realized I hate blank pages. I’ve experienced this fear of getting back on the creative horse before with my painting, after a long holiday. I’d sit in front of the easel, staring at my full-size, D’Arches, hot press, watercolor paper stapled to the board, hating the whiteness of it. The blankness of it. And I’d stress the mistakes I was sure to make as watercolor is such an unforgiving medium, but to which I took to like a duck to water. I like a challenge.

Bite-size pieces, I told myself after lunch. Own it and just do it for God’s sake. But, the words didn’t come. As much as I hate routine, I am a stickler for routine. My usual routine is to pray, meditate, journal, and write long into the night with breaks for walking the dog. What the hell was I so afraid of? That I might start writing, crying, and never stop? Was I pissed I hadn’t followed through with my plan of starting the journal on the first of January? It’s a Virgo thing. Was I grieving the past…again? Enough.

I gathered old magazines, found a glue stick, and created a mini-vision board for 2015 on the inside cover, which includes the cover my book. I thought of crossing off the numeral one I’d written in anticipation of starting the journal on January first, but instead, I changed the one to a seven. I christened the journal. I added the weather and temperature in the right-hand corner, as I’ve done for years, and I wrote three pages of my thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I added St. Michael’s prayer and the Memorare for protection, which felt great, and I closed the journal until tomorrow.

No, 2015 didn’t start exactly as I’d hoped, but that’s okay. I will celebrate my daughter’s new job in Northern Virginia; I will celebrate my son’s birthday and new life in Holland; I’ll cry for my mother on the anniversary of her death; and I’ll wave goodbye to my son as he disappears through airport security with tears in my eyes. I will continue celebrating and honoring life, and continue counting my many blessings, which includes my creative life. I look forward to launching my book, holding it in my hands, and sharing it with the world.

I tackled the beast today. No more will the blank page cause me anxiety and fear. Eff it; I’m stronger than that–I wrote a freaking book.