Thoughts on Finding Your Unique Writing Voice

During a recent shopping trip in search of the perfect pair of jeans for my body type, I was reminded of voice as it pertains to writing. Let me explain. As I perused myriad racks of hanging jeans, not entirely sure what cut, style, and wash of jeans would look good on me, I was amazed at the large selection of jeans in the trendy store. There were skinny jeans, boyfriend jeans, bootcut, flared legs, low riders, ultra low riders, jeans with Lycra and Spandex, stone-washed, black, white, dark blue denin, acid-washed, old fashioned Levis, slim and curvy styles, and jeans with back pockets, no pockets, and distressed jeans with holes or the shredded look, which I loved as a teenager of the 1970’s. The softer the jean the better, because invariably the soft fabric frayed enough to create a hole or two in the denim, which was perfection to me as a teen.

After spending the better part of an hour in the dressing room with a lovely and patient jeans fitter (who knew her job existed?), who kindly fetched me different sizes, cuts, and new styles, voila! I found the perfect fit for my 5 foot, curvy, and smallish-waisted body. I was overjoyed. And very glad I wasn’t in the market for a new bathing suit or bra that day because finding the right pair of jeans was enough hell for one day. I’d found my perfect jeans–a pair of low riders with flared leg, a bit of Spandex for give, and two embroidered back pockets.

I write only because / There is a voice within me / That will not be still.
–Sylvia Plath

Finding one’s voice in writing is similar to shopping for jeans–it’s a struggle for most writers. New writers might find it necessary to try on a few voices for size while searching for their unique writing voice, and each person has a unique writing voices. There’s no one-size-fits-all in jeans, and the same holds true for writers and readers. We like what we like, and we write and read what resonates with us. Some write what they know or are interested in learning about, and others venture outside the box with new genre, language, or worlds with each book. The one thing that remains true and constant among my favorite writers, even if they write in different genres, is their distinct VOICE.

What is voice in writing?

To me, voice in writing is the unique way by which we see, experience, and interpret the world as individuals.

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” Oscar Wilde

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A little about me:

I grew up as an Army brat in a close-knit, bilingual family. A creative child, I loved drawing and telling stories, which I learned from listening to my maternal grandmother and mother’s wonderful stories of growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico. As a child, I loved reading Nancy Drew mysteries, books about great adventures on the high seas, life in the Caribbean, historical fiction, and family sagas. I was an inquisitive child with a good case of being nosy! I always eavesdropped on my elders’ conversations, much to my mother’s dismay. In my teens, I developed a love of classic Puerto Rican literature, thanks to my Spanish teacher, Señora Esteves. La Charca by Manuel Zeno Gandía (considered by many to be the first Puerto Rican novel), Julia Burgos’ poetry, and El Jíbaro by Dr. Manuel A. Alonso, are still among my favorites. My sister and I love extreme weather, and by the age of 18, I’d lived in four countries, each time trying to make my way in a new world. My favorite sanctuary was my grandparent’s farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I married an Army officer and had two children by Caesarian section, which led to an interest in becoming a doula, an assistant to a midwife. After my mother’s death in 1992, we moved to Europe with our two children, where we lived for thirteen years. My reading interests as an adult remain the same and include memoir and women’s fiction. I believe all little girls need a heroine who looks like them. As a young mother, I began researching my family tree on both sides of the family–Polish-Russian, Italian-Canarian (Canary Island), and Puerto Rican, which led to a love of family history and oral storytelling.

So what does any of that have to do with finding voice in writing?

The writing of my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, was filtered through my life experiences, cultural background, and interests, which in turn produced my writing voice. I wrote an historical novel/family saga set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, based on my grandmother’s lifelong friendship with her Afro-Caribbean midwife. My protagonist, Ana Belén, is a strong, courageous, Afro-Cuban heroine, an unassuming champion of women’s rights, and a midwife who must battle male doctors entering the birthing room for the first time. She is a mystical and spiritual woman, who explores the idea of decency in early Puerto Rican society through her life experiences as a black, poor, illiterate woman–an outsider. What about my fascination with extreme weather? A baby is born during a hurricane in the first chapter. My love for my grandparent’s farm? The farm in Jayuya is the setting of the sequel to A Decent Woman, titled Mistress of Coffee.

Final Book Cover A Decent WomanMy voice, the essence of who I am, if you will, my soul and spirit are on the pages. You might have grown up in a bilingual family, you might be an Army brat like me, and you might even be a Puerto Rican Army brat, but we won’t see the world in the same way. Each of us is unique.

How does a writer find his or her unique writing voice?

Here are a few thoughts and questions that might be helpful in finding your voice:

READ. Think about why you like certain books.

What genres appeal to you and why?

Examine why you like a particular author. Is it the story content, the author’s style of writing, or the book’s settings and locales?

What did you like to do or read as a kid?

Do you like happy endings or not? Why is that?

WRITE. Get to know yourself through writing blog posts, short stories and/or writing in a journal.

How would you describe yourself in a couple of words?

What themes seem to show up in your writing?

What’s important to you, what frustrates you about people and the world, and what can you not abide? Write about that.

OBSERVE. Observe the world around you. Describe what you see, hear, and touch.

You are unique. Only you can tell your story. Read to broaden your horizons, and improve your writing skills by reading authors you admire, but don’t copy them–it might come off as fake–be yourself. Try on new ‘skins’, but use your unique ‘skin’ when you write. Your voice will always be the perfect fit.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

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Author Interview with Yvonne Payne

yvonne payneToday I have the great pleasure of welcoming author, Yvonne Payne to The Writing Life. Our mutual friend, author Kathryn Gauci introduced us, and it turns out Yvonne and I share a common love–Greece.

Yvonne Payne enjoys a duel life between Wiltshire, UK and Kritsa, a village in Crete, Greece. Since 2001, short-term Human Resources (HR) contracts funded long breaks in the sun that inspired her to write creatively instead of redundancy letters.

Secondary school streaming meant English literature classes did not feature on Yvonne’s timetable despite her being an avid reader, and author of eagerly awaited, hand written serialised stories for classmates. Leaving school at sixteen Yvonne worked in retailing, a move that eventually led to her writing company newsletters and training materials to launch her successful HR career.

As a regular contributor to Crete related forums, which included sharing children’s stories based on observations of Cretan village life, Yvonne finally decided time was right to tackle a novel, so she started to investigate the true story of a Kritsa lass who, in 1823, participated in a fierce battle against Ottoman oppression. Research into tales of Kritsotopoula (Girl of Kritsa), plus firsthand experience of Cretan food, customs, mountain hiking, and donkey trekking, delivered the inspiration for Yvonne’s first novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa.

Welcome, Yvonne!

What is your book’s genre/category?

The right answer is historical fiction, but for me that conjures up a vision of men in doublet and hose, with women in low cut gowns and bonnets. Whereas Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, is an historical adventure set on the Greek island of Crete in 1800s, during the rebellion against Ottoman oppression.

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Please describe what the story/book is about.

The novel is based on the true story of a young village lass, Rodanthe, who was abducted from her home in Kritsa on the orders of a ruling Turk, who intended to make her his bride. However, feisty Rodanthe was having none of that! Rodanthe tricked her captor, and then fled to the mountains dressed as a young man. After joining rebels as Spanomanolis (Beardless Manolis), she drew on her unusual experiences and rare education to maintain her disguise throughout daring raids. Infused with myths and local flavour this novel also gives insight to customs that still shape many lives in Kritsa today. Perhaps I should add a warning here that the content does reflect those bloody times, and although the ending does mirror the legend, I’ve given it a unique twist.

How did you come up with the title?

Kritsa villagers still commemorate the legendary exploits of Rodanthe annually with a special parade and service, although she now known by the honorific title, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. In light of this, it seemed an obvious title for the book.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I live a duel life split between Wiltshire in the UK and Kritsa in Crete, and after first learning about ‘our’ local heroine I was disappointed not to find any text in English to tell me more about her. Then a few years later, I watched in awe as fellow Brit villager, Nigel Ratcliffe sculpted the wonderful memorial to Kritsotopoula, now placed at the site of her last battle. This piqued my interest in the story again, so I decided to write a pamphlet to allow summer visitors to Kritsa to learn more about her amazing story. When I found nothing to explain how a young girl could maintain such an amazing disguise my imagination took over, and the pamphlet grew into a novel.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I love writing what I experience, in the way that other people might take photographs. For example, I wrote the description of a spectacular sunrise as it happened, and I’ve completed every walk that I attribute to Rodanthe so that I could write about it from first hand experience. I even rode a donkey as that was the mode of transport in Rodanthe’s day, and for part of the story I cast her in the role of a drover, so I had to know something about the care of these beautiful animals.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I love big fat novels and wrote one of 150,000 words. Then I had to face up to the fact that as an independent author paying production costs myself, I needed to aim for 80,000 words, ouch! Without doubt, it was hard to cut characters and dispense with big chunks of storyline. However, I think that writing so much before pruning meant that I gained great understanding of my Rodanthe.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I find that a difficult question as I’ve read and enjoyed so many over the years. Sharon Penman – The Sunne in Spendour, Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave, Jean M Aual – The Clan of the Cave Bear, Wilbur Smith – When the Lion Feeds, and Ken Follett – Pillars of the Earth have all met my preference for meaty tales that whet my appetite for the next book in a series. Since living in Crete, I’ve sought out books set in Greece and Crete and while I thoroughly enjoyed the deservedly acclaimed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres I found his Birds Without Wings a compelling read.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

As a child I devoured Enid Blyton books, she sowed the seeds for a lifetime of reading pleasure. That might not be a very sophisticated answer but I think once a child is hooked they’ll treasure reading forever.

Favorite place to write?

Under a shady tree on a quiet Cretan beach, where surf crunches the pebbles.  As well as being a scene in the story, it’s a fabulous place for creative phases as I can gaze at my beautiful surroundings when I’m stuck for inspiration.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I can’t speak Greek. I’m ashamed that after spending so much time out there, my skills remain at the same level as a three year old. This means I won’t starve! One reason is that as my husband is now very deaf, so I don’t have someone I can practice with, and English is the second language. I have many Greek language books and CDs so perhaps one day…

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

My own patience surprised me, as I’m usually someone who looks for fast results. I never got bored with revising, editing, even after three big re-writes, I think this is because I was literally learning to write as I went along. I have a very active and pragmatic learning style, so I’m sure that if I’d have set out to learn the theory of writing I’d have been overwhelmed and not started.

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

I showed my first manuscript to Nigel Ratcliffe, the sculptor of the Kritsotopoula memorial because I knew that he’d be interested in the subject matter. What I didn’t know was that in his past Nigel had been a writer so knew an amazing amount about the process. His feedback after reading developing drafts was an amazing gift that gave me the confidence to continue.

I decided not to spend time perusing traditional publishing, as I wanted to get the book into the Kritsa market place where I’ve judged tourists might buy the book as a souvenir of their visit. This meant I needed to find a good assisted publisher, as I didn’t have the knowledge or time to be totally independent, and I think I made a fabulous decision when I chose SilverWood Books.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Be prepared to invest the time and money it takes to make your book as good as it can be. Even though I chose to publish independently, I wanted it to look and feel like a traditionally published novel. I became increasingly confident as feedback from early readers, and my editor, allowed me to polish the manuscript further, and I adore the cover design provided via SilverWood Books.

Website?

My website is now a hobby, and I’m developing it to focus on Kritsa and the surrounding area, rather than just me and my writing. I’ll soon be starting two new features, Meet My Kritsa Neighbours and My Greek Bookshelf, to feature some of the wonderful books that I’ve enjoyed. You can find it via www.kritsayvonne.com

Where can we find your book?

Amazon supplies both paperback and ebook http://tinyurl.com/ofkk7jd

While I’m delighted with the lovely book reviews on Amazon, they only show on the UK site, so if you’d like a peek, they are here: http://tinyurl.com/njxql7m

What’s next for you?

I have written 60,000 words of a sequel called Rodanthe’s Gift, but work on it has stalled as I’m focusing on launching Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. I’m also excited about a forthcoming party in the centre of Kritsa that will act as an official launch, and give me opportunity to thank the villagers who have made us so welcome. The party, during the second week of May 2015, will coincide with the opening of a new museum dedicated to Kritsotopoula and the annual memorial events. You are all invited!

Thank you for a wonderful interview and your kind invitation, Yvonne! One of these days, I will return to Greece. I wish you much success with Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa!

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Finding Home: Other Voices

THURSDAY, APRIL 16, 2015 reblogged from author, Arleen Williams’ blog

http://arleenkaywilliams.blogspot.com/2015/04/finding-home-other-voices_16.html

Finding Home: Other Voices

Please welcome Eleanor Parker Sapia with her lovely guest post based on her memoir-in-progress titled, Home in Three Acts.

ACT I: 1957-2005: Military Housing

By my eighteenth birthday, I’d lived in four countries. This Army brat’s idea of home was a temporary place, where my roots had grown accustomed to remaining shallow, but with strong runners that grew horizontally outward and downward from the plant. As far back as I can remember, every three to four years, I was carefully uprooted, tenderly cut from the main plant, and transplanted at the family’s next duty station, where again I’d thrive as best I could.

My mother’s habit, which later became my own, was to set up the children’s bedrooms first to make us kids feel comfortable, safe, and secure in a new place. Invariably favorite curtains wouldn’t fit the new windows of our next military quarters, the bathroom colors had changed, which meant new towels were added to an already large mismatched collection, or I was forced to share a bedroom with my youngest sister, but I was a flexible child. A house didn’t mean all that much to me—leaving new friends was an expected part of the life my parents had chosen. Besides, I loved meeting and making new friends at new postings, vacationing in exotic places, and traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean with stops in Puerto Rico to visit family.

I graduated from college and worked in the DC area as a single woman for seven years, where I met and married an Army officer. At our wedding reception on Fort Myer, overlooking the Potomac River, I thought my new husband was my soul mate. Maybe he was, and with him came the promise of more travel and exotic vacations, a lifestyle I wanted for my children. When the kids were nine and seven, my 57-year old mother died suddenly, shattering a lifelong dream of living close to her. She was the epitome of home to me, where love, safety, fun, and warmth lived. Home and the world no longer felt safe, fun, or warm without her.

With my mother gone, the Army sent my little family on one more Army tour and we moved from Northern Virginia to Brussels, Belgium, where we lived in a vibrant ex-pat community for the next thirteen wonderful years. Our stay in Brussels was the longest I’d ever lived in one place, and it was a great place to raise children. I was again responsible for creating a home for my growing family.

In our ninth year in Brussels, when my oldest child left for university in the United States, early stresses in our marriage were no longer shrouded and were impossible to ignore. We bought un mas in the Provençal village of Uchaux, in the south of France, the way some people believe a new baby can ‘fix’ a broken marriage. For the next four years, we were blissfully happy. Plans were made to turn the mas into a B&B, where I would lead art workshops in the French countryside and write a novel. My husband would relax under the platain tree in the garden, watching the farmers next door till the soil for new grapevines after nearly thirty years in the Army. The word idyllic was a close description to what I planned for us in the home where we’d retire in a few years time. But sometimes you can’t see what is coming toward you at warp speed.

ACT II: 2006: Abandoned Home

Standing on the balcony of a rented townhouse, overlooking a black-topped parking lot in Syracuse, New York, I stared blankly at the white geraniums and variegated ivy plants I’d planted in three, green plastic flower pots. How in the hell had I ended up in this place? I pushed an exposed root deeper into the dirt and wondered what happens to our past visions. The kids were now at their respective universities, friends and family were happy to see me ‘stateside,’ but I wasn’t so sure. There had been no time to assimilate, make concrete plans, or weigh the options of leaving Europe. It had happened quickly—I’d been a healthy, thriving plant and was yanked out of the ground and thrown onto a musky compost heap amidst other debris. One morning, I was married and by that evening I was separated from my husband of twenty five years.

A year later the contents of the rented Belgian house and our French home were packed into an enormous truck and before I knew it, I was on a plane bound for the US with my worried teenagers and two freaked out cats.“Everything will be fine. Don’t worry; we will be fine,” I told them, but I didn’t believe my thin words. I had no choice—I was now mother and father to two children who had known HOME for thirteen years. As Brussels became a tiny spot thousands of feet below, I wondered if my husband, who’d remained behind, would come to his senses. My throat threatened to choke my shallow breaths and I prayed. Hard.

Another errant root pushed back into the soil, I watched the neighbor park his car, and struggled to remember the garden in Provence with the lavender-lined walkway, and how sweet the morning air smelled when I pushed open the blue shutters of our bedroom. It would be time to cut back the lavender and rosemary soon, but I knew the house and grounds sat abandoned. An abandoned home. I realized how close to the edge I was; how close I felt to losing myself, so I chose anger because it was always safer than sadness. No one would know of my secret pain, but I dreamed of France—the palm trees in front of my daughter’s bedroom, the kitchen counters and sink hewn in the same stone as the custom-made, floor to ceiling fireplace. Memories of picking plums, nectarines, figs, and peaches in the orchard to the right of the in-ground pool with the stone surround that Thierry, the maçon had lovingly installed using old tools so the house would appear older than it was. I remembered night swims with the deafening sound of the cicadas’ songs around me. Let it go, I told myself as tears stung my eyes.

One should never grow attached and accustomed to HOME. One couldn’t trust it. If I hadn’t loved my home so much, this sickening, intense homesickness and the stabbing pains in my heart at having realized a life dream only to lose it, would subside. I didn’t miss my husband; I missed my home, my life overseas. Never again would I be attached to home. This, I told myself.

ACT III: 2011 to Present Day – Fear and Freedom.

Despite repeated, tiring attempts of pushing the idea of home out of my head in the weeks and months after my divorce, I unpacked dishes, a few of my mother’s knickknacks, photographs of my children, but I vowed never to unpack my writing journals or family photo albums from 1994 to 2006. Forget about watching films and reading books set in France, especially Provence; that life was over. A good friend advised me to think of my time in Europe as a goal achieved rather than a vanquished dream. I agreed but told my friend to convince my heart; it wouldn’t listen to logic.

Once again, my roots were thin, delicate, shallow, just beneath the surface as I roamed from New York to Maryland to Virginia, trying to find a place to call home. Hell, not even home; a couple of years in one place so my children had a home to return to during summer and holiday breaks from university would have been nice. Instead, a year here, two there, and I divorced, but with every move, I was closer in distance to my beloved children who lived in Virginia. When the French house was bought by a French lawyer, a single woman with no children, I cried for days.

No more soul mates; only endless first dates, job interviews, and the same dull DC conversations of the high cost of living, the Redskins, and the ridiculous traffic—stories I’d heard in 1994 when we left for Belgium. I nodded politely at the man, my dinner date. He insisted I select a bottle of wine for our dinner. I decided on a bottle of Saint Emilion I could no longer afford, but he was buying, and I slowly sipped the blood red nectar until I began to feel myself uncoil. As he spoke about his football glory days, I remembered a beautiful evening in France feasting on oysters, a tagine of lamb, couscous, and grilled vegetables. Suddenly, the harsh words of my expensive divorce lawyer rang in my ear, “Most women never recover from divorce because they refuse to change the lifestyle they led as married women. They end up in one bedroom apartments with no money in the bank. Be smart.” What did he know? Jerk.

Four years later, it was the same routine—work, home, dinners out, work, home, dinners out. The idea of home seeped into my consciousness once again. I felt more settled, but not settled enough. My children graduated from college, found good jobs, and my work, though rewarding, didn’t feed my soul. I longed to paint and write again. Why not? That’s what I loved, that was my life’s passion, but how could I make that happen? I pulled out a map, tied a string to a straight pin and taped a pencil to the end of the string. I inserted the straight pin into the map, in the city where I stood and drew a circle. I would search for an available home within the circle, which would be two hours from my kids. West Virginia. According to the young man at the bank, that was where I could afford to buy a house. My pain-in-the-ass lawyer had been right.

All signs pointed to West Virginia, where I knew one person, a good friend. I didn’t hesitate. In three months time, I’d quit my job, bought an historic house with good bones—not my forever home, but a soft place to land and rebuild my life. My kids with their busy lives and my family visited me in the new, old home for family holidays and weekend visits. I was happy again.

Sitting in a French country armchair in front of an oak table bought at a Brussels flea market, amidst family photos in old silver frames, French and Dutch oil paintings on the walls, with my memories and thoughts of family roots and home, I finished that novel. And then my son moved to the Netherlands just like I’d always known he would, in search of home.

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About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist and painter, Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Her passion for travel and adventure, combined with her careers as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, and a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker inspire her writing. She loves introducing readers to Latina characters and stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she enjoys facilitating The Artist’s Way creativity groups, and has taught creative writing to children and adults. Eleanor shares her passion for telling stories at her blog, The Writing Life and her website,http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut historical novel, has garnered rave reviews and currently sits on several Amazon best seller lists for Hispanic, Latin American, and Caribbean Literature. She has two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

Author Interview – K. S. R. Burns

It’s my pleasure to welcome writer, K. S. R. Burns to The Writing Life.

K.S. R. Burns is the author of the new novel Rules for the Perpetual Diet (Booktrope 2015), as well as a non-fiction book, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use (Running Press 2009). She has written for newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and abroad, and currently writes a weekly career advice column for The Seattle Times. She has never run away from home, like her character Amy, but she has lived in 22 cities—one of which was Paris, where she stayed three years. No longer a wanderer, Burns now happily resides in Seattle with her husband and cat.

Welcome, Karen!

What is your book’s genre/category?

I call it “book group fiction,” but a publisher would probably class it as “women’s fiction,” a term I am not crazy about, but there it is.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Amy is 29, grieving the recent loss of her best friend, ticked off at her uptight husband, and sick and tired of her boring hometown of Phoenix. She’s also perpetually hungry, because she’s on a “perpetual diet.” Something’s gotta give so one day she picks up and runs away to Paris, her dream destination (though maybe not the best place to avoid carbs). Once in France, she not only finds that her numerous issues have come right along with her, she discovers a Paris few casual tourists see as she is robbed, stalked, arrested, and—almost—kidnapped.

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How did you come up with the title?

Throughout the book, actual “rules for the perpetual diet” keep popping into Amy’s head. There are 33 rules in all. Some are fairly sensible; some are kind of odd. For example, rule number thirty is “only eat when you’re hungry” but rule number five is “put on something a little tight in the morning, when you are at your thinnest, and you will be less likely to overeat during the day.”

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wrote it for my book group. I’ve been in the same group for nearly 20 years and in our meetings we often talk about what makes a good book group novel (e.g., characters that are not black and white, a surprise ending, an exotic location, and some humor). I thought about these discussions as I worked on my novel, and tried to write the kind of story a book group would enjoy.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Rewriting! First drafts are excruciating. But once I have some words down on the page? Let the games begin.

 

Karen Burns

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

That painful first draft, of course. Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” We have computers now but otherwise this is still absolutely true.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

E. B. White has always been one of my idols, in terms of the purity and elegance of his prose. Also Nabokov—he was an amazing writer, whatever you may think of his actual books. I also enjoy curling up with a cup of tea and a good Barbara Pym, or even Anthony Trollope.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

Well, E. B. White. I’ve read all of his essays and letters. He seems to me to have been the kind of quintessential writer’s writer who cares deeply about each word, and I admire him immensely.

Favorite place to write? Once I’m actually writing I am not conscious of my surroundings, so the ambiance is not that important. Any place where I can be alone and uninterrupted is fine. I did, however, get to go to Paris to do some “research” for the book, and hugely enjoyed being able to write my novel about Paris while in Paris. That was very cool.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

Well, I have had 59 jobs. Not that I get fired all the time; I’ve just moved around a lot. The 59 jobs, actually, are the subject of my non-fiction book, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, so I guess this isn’t exactly a big secret….

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I was surprised at the number of readers who write me. I myself have never written an author. But apparently a lot of people do, and I love hearing from all readers, whatever they have to say.

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

I sought a lot of input and was willing to write and revise until I got it as good as it was going to get.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Grow a thick skin! Seriously, you will need to get used to rejection. A lot of rejection. Rejection in the morning, rejection in the evening, rejection at suppertime. That’s not very original advice, of course, but the amount of “no” that all writers hear (even well-published ones) is stunning.

Website?

My site is at www.ksrburns.com. On Facebook, my author page is KSR Burns.

Where can we find your book?

Oh, you can get it in digital or paper form from all the online vendors, or you can order it from any bookstore. If you come to my house, I will sell you a copy.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on the sequel to Rules for the Perpetual Diet. After I finished I realized I wasn’t, um, finished. Amy is not through with me yet, and I’m not through with her.

Thanks for a great interview, K.S.R. Burns! Best of luck with Rules for the Perpetual Diet.

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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 amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

A Creative Journey: Nature, Nurture, or Genes?

Reblogged from Tiffani Burnett-Velez’ blog, THIS WRITER’S LIFE blog https://tiffaniburnettvelez.wordpress.com

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

I love reading and writing stories about intrepid souls with unshakable confidence; those characters who pursue their dreams, passions, and adventures despite crazy odds, challenges, and inner demons. Many writers learn and perfect the craft of writing with little regard to the critics, naysayers, and the dreaded, interior censor, which sounds a lot like me.

A writer continues the creative journey for years, amidst myriad rejections from literary agents, a few disappointed readers, and publishers they never hear back from. She digs deep into emotional, mental, and spiritual wells, while perfecting the craft of writing, discovering her voice, and finally accessing the dark place where a golden vein hid from her until three in the morning. And at that exact moment, she ran out of coffee. That really happened. I drove to Sheetz in my pajamas, bought supplies, and wrote furiously until the sun came up. A writer, despite all the odds, challenges ahead, obstacles in front, and yes, lurking inner demons, toils night and day for years, and finally hits the perfect vein—the one they believe and pray will bleed gold for their story.

So which vein did I pierce when I wrote A Decent Woman, my historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico? The veins I unconsciously tapped into were my life as a Puerto Rican-born woman, blessed with two rich heritages, Puerto Rican and Polish-Russian, and my maternal grandmother’s veins, which flowed with rich, colorful stories about growing up in Puerto Rico—the same blood that flows in me.

I knew my grandmother’s stories by heart, and the character who stood out the most was her midwife, Ana, an Afro-Caribbean woman who smoked a cigar and enjoyed a shot of rum after every birth. This formidable woman caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, and through the stories the women in my family told me, Ana seemed larger than life. But there wasn’t a lot of information about Ana, so in my story, Ana Belén became a tall, gritty but kind, Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery. But who did I think I was writing and inhabiting the body, mind, and soul of a black woman in colonial Puerto Rico? Would readers believe this story written by a white, five foot tall woman with green eyes, who’d only ever been a ‘slave’ to her children during soccer and football season? I’m fluent in Spanish and I still travel to Puerto Rico to visit my family, but could I tell Ana’s story?

As a budding writer, I had two things going for me—inexperience and naivety—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write this story. Ana was a great character and I knew dozens of colorful family stories. In addition to my grandmother’s life blood and stories flowing through my veins, I’d worked as a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker, a counselor, and one of the staff members of a residential treatment center/school for children. I knew what pain and struggle looked like and I felt the pain of my clients on a daily basis. I also had a love of the mystical and magical world we live in, and a damn good imagination, so I forged ahead, finished the novel, and four years later, it went to layout.

Then something and unexpected happened. One of the early readers of A Decent Woman, an African-American woman, called me. She loved the book and during our first phone conversation, she shared her surprising discovery with a hearty laugh—I wasn’t black. I laughed with her because I’d thought that might eventually come up. We laughed a good bit, and I asked my new friend what she thought of Ana.

She replied, “You wrote a beautiful character.  I love the story.”

What a beautiful gift my friend gave me that day. I was relieved and encouraged by what I’d heard—A Decent Woman was a believable story and I’d reached a reader on a deep, emotional level. That is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved. Yes, I researched the history of Puerto Rico for years, but a ton of historical information isn’t an historical novel. I had to become Ana with all the information I’d gleaned from research. Her blood had to flow with mine, and it did. It still does. She is a character I will never forget.

I encourage you to tap into your life experiences as you write. Take risks. Think of your cultural background, learn about and understand other cultures if travel is not possible, and reach deep to find empathy and compassion for others. Pain is pain no matter where we look or what era we decide to write about, but the story and characters must be believable, or the reader will sense something is off, and possibly close the book. And Lord knows, we don’t want that.

I offer my deepest thanks, Tiffani Burnett-Velez for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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 Eleanor’s debut historical novel. She is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Author Interview with Graciela Limon

I love offering author interviews at The Writing Life, and I especially enjoy sharing great writers with my readers. Today I’m very pleased  to introduce you to Graciela Limón.

Graciela Limón is a Latina writer, educator and activist. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a native of Los Angeles. She received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish Literature from Marymount College Los Angeles, a Master of Arts Degree in the same field from the University of the Americas Mexico City, followed by a PhD in Latin American Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Prior to retirement, Limón was a professor of U.S. Hispanic Literature, as well as Chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.  She is now Professor Emeritus of that University.

Graciela Limón (1)Graciela has written critical work on Mexican, Latin American and Caribbean Literature.  However, she now concentrates her writing efforts on creative fiction that is germane to her areas of interest:  feminism, social justice and cultural identity.  Her body of work includes In Search of Bernabé that won The Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award (1994). Limón also published The Memories of Ana Calderón (1994), Song of the Hummingbird (1996) and The Day of the Moon (1999).   Erased Faces, which was awarded the 2002 Gustavus Myers Book Award, was published in 2001, Left Alive was released in 2005, The River Flows North, 2009, followed by The Madness of Mamá Carlota, 2012. Her latest publication is The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy, 2015.

Much of Graciela’s work has been widely anthologized. She was honored with the prestigious Luis Leal Literary Award (University of California at Santa Barbara), 2009. Her Publishers are Arte Público Press (University of Houston) and Café Con Leche (Koehler Book Publishers). www.gracielalimon.com

ximena

Welcome Graciela! What is your book’s genre/category?

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is historical fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is the story of a woman told from age eight years to its end when she is fifty-two years old.  It’s a tale that begins with a crime and ends with its punishment, all during the first half of the 20th Century.  In between those two critical moments of Ximena’s story, her life intersects with the Revolution in Mexico, followed by the terrible times that bring world epidemic, deportations, and the American Prohibition and Depression that happen simultaneously with the unbridled life in Juárez, Mexico.  Throughout those years, Ximena Godoy grows, loves, achieves, stumbles, grieves and finds her identity only to succumb to the insurmountable flaws that are part of her nature.

How did you come up with the title?

I chose the name Ximena (with an X instead of J or H) because I find the name intriguing.  After that I chose the other parts of the title because I feel it reflects the life of my character.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

Stories that deal with strong, determined independent women always captivate my interest.  When that story deals with a woman who shatters the Latina “mold”, meaning that she is unconventional and untraditional, then I have all the reasons I need to write a book.  This is why I wrote The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I think that my favorite part of writing is when I come to the crafting of my characters.  Choosing their names is a particularly interesting and fascinating part for me.  I go through cycles of names, changing, combining, and even inventing names that I hope in the end reflect the nature and reality of each character.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I find the danger of falling into crafting stereotypes the greatest challenge of writing.  I find that it’s dangerous because my head is swarming with what are really stereotypes.  I don’t know if others suffer from this, but it could be that we are flooded by an abundance of stereotypes:  in film, on TV, on the Internet.  So when I begin to create a character with her story, I have to be super careful to beware of simply producing cookie-cutter, flat, predictable characters.  This is hard and challenging.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

There are many.  Among Mexican novelists is Juan Rulfo.  In the English language I especially admire John Steinbeck, and biographers such as Antonia Fraser and Hilary Mantel.  There are also so many mystery writers that I admire, but I’ll mention only Agatha Christie.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

John Steinbeck and Juan Rulfo.

Favorite place to write?

I need solitude to write, so if I have that luxury, then that place is a favorite.  As a pattern, I find that solitude in my home.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

People may be surprised to know that I’m extremely introverted.  I say this may surprise those who know me because they see a person (me) who interacts freely, enjoys other people and is talkative and relaxed in a group.  What people don’t know is that I need to be solitary afterwards in order re-energize.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Since I’ve been lucky enough to have nine novels published (including my latest), there are few surprises that come to me with the publishing process.  However, I will say that the experience of getting negative, even brutal criticism (which still happens) is something I will never be able to get used to.  The difference now is that I expect those barbs and try to prepare myself.

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

The best thing I did with this latest novel is having signed on with Leticia Gómez (literary agent/publisher), and John Koehler (publisher).  Being with them has opened up an entirely new view of the publishing process.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

I advise having a lot of patience especially when those rejections start rolling in.  Above all, I advise a new writer to have unshakable faith and confidence in her/his work.  Never doubt that your work is meritorious.

Website?   

www.gracielalimon.com

Where can we find your book?

www.cafeconlechebooks.com

http://www.authorcentral.amazon.com

What’s next for you?

I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. This is what is now rolling around in my head.  The story line could depict a murder or a series of murders that happen in the distant past, such as in viceregal Mexico, in a convent, with the Inquisition snooping around. Of course, there will have to be a detective to solve the crime.  What do you think?

I think the story line rolling around in your head would be a great read, Graciela!

Thanks so much for visiting us at The Writing Life, and much success with The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy!

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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