Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis In Puerto Rico

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April 22-23 2016 Puerto Rico/Puerto Ricans: A Diaspora Summit

Hosted by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Join top scholars and leaders as they explore solutions to the critical problems facing the Puerto Rican community at the Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College – 2180 3rd Avenue Auditorium, New York, NY 10035

http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/pr_summit/

This weekend-long event will examine the humanitarian crisis on the island and focus on the impact it has had on Puerto Ricans living on the island and those in the United States. The summit will feature panels and sessions on topics such as health, economics, education, and community development. Guests include: Archbishop of San Juan Roberto González Nieves, Counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Antonio Weiss, Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, Congressman José Serrano, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Illinois State Senator Iris Y. Martinez, New York State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Labor leader Dennis Rivera, and journalist Juan González.

For the Live Stream Event:

http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/tv/

For the complete agenda, visit:

http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/events_2016/Diaspora_Summit_full_program.pdf

 

 

The Writing Life: Interview with Anna Belfrage

Welcome to The Writing Life. Today I am thrilled to welcome the talented and lovely Anna Belfrage, author of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, a series of eight novels, many of which have received well-deserved awards from the Historical Novel Society, six BRAG Medallions, and a RONE Honorable Mention.

Anna-B-höguppl-300x206Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

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Welcome, Anna.

What is your book’s genre/category?

I’m fast approaching the publication of my tenth book, but the nine I have out there all have in common that they belong under the Historical fiction umbrella. I would add that there is a considerable amount of love – not so much “classic” romance, as my protagonists quickly conclude they’re meant for each other and therefore present a unified front to their future adventures.

Please describe what your books are about.

My first eight books are all part of The Graham Saga, which is the story of two people who should never have met, seeing as she was born three hundred years after him. A heady mixture of action, adventure, history, passion and time-slip, The Graham Saga is set in the 17th century, both in Scotland and the American Colonies.

Anna Belfrage book coverMy most recent release, In the Shadow of the Storm, is the first in a new four-book series and set in the 14th century. It tells the story of Adam de Guirande and his wife, Kit. She was coerced into marrying him, he has no idea she isn’t who he thought he was marrying, and things between them become a bit dicey. Until Adam’s lord, Roger Mortimer, rebels against the king, dragging Adam with him. Domestic quarrels become immaterial in the larger perspective…Adam is a man of honour and integrity, torn apart between his loyalties to his beloved lord, his king, and his wife.

How did you come up with the title?

For my latest book, I just had this image of a knight riding towards a brewing storm. In general, I spend a lot of time choosing my titles – also, when writing a series, the titles must sort of go together, and as I have most of the series written before I consider publication this gives me time to play around with titles.

It’s a great cover. What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by the tumultuous end to Edward II’s reign – and the role his wife, Isabella, played in it, together with her lover, Roger Mortimer. The real-life story is an impressive mix of passion, intrigue and political maneouvering.

What is your favorite part of writing?

The first rewrite. I generally get a first draft down in a month or so, and then I start the truly fun part, which is adding flesh to the bones, if you will. Not that the first draft is all that bare to begin with – the first rewrite will generally slash like 30% of the words and add 15% – but it is during the rewrite that the story acquires colour and smells.

I’m still stuck on the one month for a first draft! That’s incredible. What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

The editing. I use professional editors for a final edit, but before I turn anything over to them, I have done numerous edits. I still find it very difficult to slash scenes I love just because they are “unnecessary”. Sometimes, I indulge myself and leave them in, but mostly out they go and I spend some time feeling a bit depressed.

I know what you mean; it’s tough to cut scenes. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Where do I start? I read a lot of historical fiction, and Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon K Penman are among my favorites. I enjoy Barbara Erskine and Diana Gabaldon, I’ve read a lot of Bernard Cornwell and am a big fan of Venezuelan hist fic writer Francisco Herrera Luque. I don’t think any of his books have been translated, which is unfortunate as not only is he meticulous in his research, but he also writes about larger-than-life people.

I don’t only read hist fict. I read a lot of romance (love Amanda Quick and Lucinda Brant) and quite some crime/thriller, where I have a tendency to while away hours in the company of Mr Reacher. Plus, I love fantasy – blame it on Tolkien, a very early love of mine.

Being an indie writer myself, a huge chunk of my reading is other indie authors. Not that I give them free passes: I have a restricted amount of time, and books that do not meet basic standard when it comes to editing and formatting are quickly discarded (whether indie or mainstream. Quite a few mainstream lack good editing…) and unless the story hooks me the first 50 pages, I set it aside. (Once again: happens just as much with mainstream as with indie). Great indie authors are Alison Morton, Helen Hollick, M J Logue, Derek Birks, Steve McKay and Matthew Harffy – all of whom have written series. I obviously like series…

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

When it comes to my writing, my mother is undoubtedly one of the main influencers – not because she writes, but because she instilled a love of the written word in me from the age of one or thereabouts. She always read to me, and once I could read, she welcomed me to read whatever I wanted to read in her extensive library. Her tastes are eclectic, and so I found both Emmanuelle and Sartre on the shelves, although there was an overrepresentation of English writers – and particularly English poets.

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Do you have a favorite place to write?

At my desk in our country house. I turn my head, and I see a sloping meadow, beyond it the expanse of the lake. Now and then, an osprey soars upwards, I see kites and buzzards, swallows and swifts, and, in summer, a sea of blue lupines. Not bad.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I know a lot about dogs – I think I recognize most breeds around, seeing as I’ve worked as ring secretary at various dog exhibitions.

What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?

It’s much more work than I expected it to be. Okay, so I’m indie published, and I knew that would mean more work than going mainstream, but all the same, it takes a minor tribe to get a book out there – especially if you’re aiming for quality. The cover, the editing, the proof-reading, the type-setting – all of it a lot of work. And then, once it is out there, the true slog starts, namely PROMOTION. All authors have to do it, most authors find it difficult and resent it because it impinges on writing time. But it has to be done, and it requires a lot of creative effort.

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

I wrote the story I wanted to tell. Sounds simple, but is fundamental. As a writer, you must burn with passion for your Work in Progress. If you don’t, no one else will.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

I’m biased here, seeing as I am a big advocate of doing things the indie way. But whether you opt for the traditional route or the indie route, there are no shortcuts: your book has to be edited and revised and edited and revised. And if you’re going indie, you need to invest in external services – editing and cover design must be done by professionals!

Website and blog?

My blog: https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com

My website: www.annabelfrage.com

Where can we find your books?

For my latest release: http://mybook.to/ISOTS

or, for The Graham Saga: http://myBook.to/TGS

What’s next for you?

More writing 🙂 Other than my present series, I am working on a ninth book in The Graham Saga, and then I have a trilogy more or less ready to go – this time contemporary with a paranormal touch.

Thank you for visiting The Writing Life, Anna! I enjoyed learning more about you and your wonderful books. I admit I’m trying to wrap my head around writing a draft of an historical novel in a month, so perhaps you’ll consider writing a blog post on your writing process? Whatever it is, it works like a charm! Thanks again and happy writing to you.

ellie

 

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47W

 

 

 

 

 

On Characters: I Resemble That Remark

How much do characters in novels resemble the writer and the writer’s journey?

Before and after the publication of my novel, ‘A Decent Woman’, I accepted many kind invitations for written interviews to introduce and market the book. One interview question provoked much personal introspection about my character Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, who lives and works as a midwife at the turn of the nineteenth century in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico.

The interviewer, a fellow author and good friend, emailed the questions and added a smiley face after this question, “How much do you resemble the character, Ana Belén?” My long time friend knows me well, so the jig was up. A few weeks later, I sent her my responses, and wrote this next to the smiley face, “I resemble that remark in more ways than I feel comfortable owning up to at this time!”

Of course, the character of Ana is like me, in many ways. How could she not be? I created her and the world she inhabits from my imagination and a few family stories. But. I’m not a statuesque, Afro-Cuban midwife born a slave, living in Puerto Rico at the turn of the nineteenth century. I’m a five-foot tall, green eyed, Puerto Rican-born writer, currently living in West Virginia. How much could I possibly have in common with Ana?

As it turns out, we share many common traits: feistiness, courage, bluntness, loyalty, a fierce love of family with a strong commitment to protecting the rights of women and children. Was it in my genetic make up or life experience (when I was writing the book) to respond and behave in similar ways to threats, happy circumstances, and impossible challenges the way Ana did? No, not in every circumstance. Tough as nails and compassionate Ana is my heroine, but we are all survivors of something. I had a few life experiences to draw upon during the writing.

Along with a few positive traits, I share a couple negative traits with Ana, such as stubbornness, sensitivity to unfair criticism, impulsiveness, and at times, short-sightedness, especially when I think I’m right. In my story, Ana is forging a path in a difficult, new world; a world I was discovering and exploring through writing, research, and my imagination. A bit or a lot of ourselves is bound to emerge in our characters, but it was only after the book was published that I realized how closely related our journeys were and where they overlapped.

For the rest of 2015, I journaled about that question, and like the author of ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron says, after the midway point of journaling three pages in longhand, the truth came out: I’d been working through stuff while writing Ana and Serafina’s stories, even the men’s stories, and I hadn’t realized it. Here’s what I discovered.

In 2010, I pulled out the draft manuscript I’d begun in 2005. After two years of a difficult separation and divorce, a few more years of working in an entirely new field, having my heart broken, and finally, moving to a new state, I was ready to write again. My world had been continually rocked with so many unknowns that it made my head spin during that time and even now as I think back to what we went through as a family. Between 2006 and 2010, questions plagued me at every turn: What will turning 50 look and feel like? Will we be safe and will I find work? Where will I live? Can I support myself while writing full time, and if not, what the hell will I do to make that happen? Will anyone hire a fifty-year old woman with an old resume? Should I go back to school and find a new career? Are my kids okay? Will I find love after divorce? Will this book ever be published?

I survived and so did my kids. We’ve grown and flourished where we were planted, but it was a tough road. My kids graduated from college, found good jobs, and in 2011, I bought an old house in West Virginia. At the next fork in the road, I gave up sending out resumes that I knew would never be answered—I would write full time, which was a huge gamble and risk for someone living on a small budget. The decison was made. I sat down to write and soon discovered Ana’s story had to change. I had learned many valuable lessons and developed new skill sets, more than I’d ever dreamed possible, that had enriched my life as a woman and mother. The original Ana was merely a skeleton of the woman she was meant to be; it was time to put meat on those bones. I rewrote the story, worked with two editors, and sent out the manuscript. The book was finally published by Booktrope Editions in February 2015.

Ana’s journey of learning to read and write, and moving from La Playa to Ponce when male doctors entered the birthing room for the first time, threatening her livelihood, were born only after I was reborn. It makes perfect sense–I had gone back to school and moved from Virginia to West Virginia. What I did not realize until after the book was published was that Ana embodied everything I’d needed during the difficult years after marital separation and divorce: a protector, a loyal friend, an advocate, a mom. Serafina, the young, motherless widow in the story was me, a motherless child, as my beautiful mother had passed away in 1992, and I missed her terribly. The characters I created, my heroines, mimic and embody the internal and external life struggles I experienced and helped me through a difficult time. All my characters gave me the courage, guts, and tenacity I needed during the writing and publishing journeys, and later with marketing the book, which continues today. I might not have all the answers, but I am leaps and bounds ahead in my journey.

Writing ‘A Decent Woman’ was a journey and as it turns out, a quest toward wholeness. I believe in starting your journey, whatever it might be, from where you are standing, and I believe in paying attention along the way.

Fast forward. I am currently writing a second novel called ‘The Lament of Sister María Inmaculada’, featuring a young Puerto Rican nun, an old Franciscan friar from Spain, and a young Protestant minister sent to Puerto Rico from the United States in 1920. The characters, most definitely from different worlds, find themselves living and trying to work together on a barren islet, The Island of Goats. It is a challenging, joyful, gut-wrenching, and empowering story to write, set in a new, unknown world to me, and I am loving the process. And I am including male point of view in a story for the first time.

A new, unknown world…is it really?

We shall see. I am excited of what I’ll learn and discover through these new characters, and already, I have discovered something amazing: I didn’t think it was possible to love a new character as much as I love Ana Belén, but I do. Her name is Sister María Inmaculada.

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47W

 

 

 

Rays of Hope and Understanding

footsteps in sand prIf I had a time machine, I would press a button and erase last week. It was one of those weeks you’re ready to block from your mind or forget completely. I can say with total certainty—I hope it never repeats itself. If I’d known my world would be in such turmoil, I would have holed up on a remote island or in an isolated mountain cabin and shut out the world. Everything seemed to go wrong and nothing worked—nothing I said was helpful, nothing I wrote was pleasing, and nothing I did helped me move forward. There was no movement in any positive or clear direction. For three days, I floated in some limbo-like place, where for every two steps forward, I was forced to take five steps back. My tub stopped draining, my washer pooped out again, and a necessary check was beyond late. I prayed for answers and relief.

Maybe the planets were lined up in a strange astrological configuration, precluding me from accomplishing good, necessary, and helpful work because nothing I did changed the way things were going down. So I put those situations on the back burner. Denial and being still can be beautiful states and very helpful when nothing else works, or when we can’t see our way forward. It was a bleak time with no relief or end in sight. I had to look away. By sitting quietly, I realized how low my energy was and how shaken my confidence levels were in a few areas of my life that I’d previously thought were fine and dandy. In some areas, I had some semblance of control, yet in a few others, I was helpless to change events, thoughts, or perceptions.

I realize I’ve written the word ‘nothing’ six times so far in this blog post. Enough already. Well, I’m happiest when writing, but to work on my novel at that time would have been wasted time as I was having trouble focusing and counting my many blessing, for which I’m very thankful.

It was time to fill my dry well with projects and activities that usually take my mind off troubles. As it turned out, it was too cold for working in the flower garden, I couldn’t focus enough to read, and who cleans to relax? Certainly not me. I decided to continue researching for my novel called, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, set in 1900 on an islet off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico called Isla de Cabras, The Island of Goats. I find the process of researching both interesting and satisfying (nearly as much as writing), but I already had a bunch of research material. Wouldn’t that be wasting time? Oh, I don’t know, it seemed a better option than jumping into bed and pulling the covers over my head for the rest of the week. At least I’d be moving forward for a very good cause—my book, and in the process, hopefully I’d improve my mental state and lift my spirits.

I write historical fiction, Historical Caribbean, Hispanic, and Latin America fiction, to be exact. In my stories, I strive for accuracy in setting, the historical timeline, history of the era, and period details such as, customs, food, music, social and class structure, dress, religion, architecture, and so on. My job as a novelist is to help the reader become immersed in the world I create for them as they step through from real life to the past. My goal as a storyteller is to enable my readers to connect with the characters on page one by giving them enough juicy details so they can see, hear, feel, touch the world and characters I’ve created as they enter my fictional world. At the same time, however, bogging our readers down with large information dumps is never a good idea. Information and details must be carefully woven into a story so the reader’s eyes don’t glaze over, causing them to lose interest in the story with too many facts, figures, names, and dates so we can show off our awesome research skills. Not a good idea. We want our readers to learn new things about our chosen setting and characters in a seamless, organic way. Many fiction writers believe we are preachers, teachers, and historians, and that’s true in a way–we have ideas, beliefs, and messages we wish to convey to the world through our books, but first and foremost we are storytellers.

So, I fired up the laptop and began with the Library of Congress, which led to the Hispanic Department, which led to searching for information about the leprosarium on Isla de Cabras, where my current story takes place. I don’t know if I felt any better, but the search was gratifying and took my mind off my troubles. During the research, I discovered several doctoral dissertations, which I thought might be helpful, so I emailed the Hispanic Department for help because I couldn’t access one pertinent dissertation. The next day, someone from the Department emailed back with access information and included a link to another doctoral dissertation. Thank you, person at the Hispanic Department of the Library of Congress! Well, that was exciting news because the student, now a Doctor of Anthropology, had also written a paper that included difficult-to-access Governor Reports of the time period I needed, complete with lists and inventories from the leprosarium, maps of the islet I hadn’t seen before, charts, and details of buildings on the island at the time—priceless information.

la jungla beach

As I understood, I had two options: ask my local library to order the dissertation, or visit the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Both options involved more energy than I had in reserve last week, so I went on Academia.com and emailed the Doctor of Anthropology, requesting a copy of her dissertation. A day later, she kindly replied, graciously offering to forward several documents. I was grateful for her generosity, and hope her dissertation will be one of the attachments. Pesky closed doors were finally opening. My hope, spirit, and mood were bolstered and uplifted.

I spent the next few days reading articles and papers that filled in missing pieces to my story. The information aided in adding more concrete images to my story and in fleshing out characters. So now when I say the boat approached the dock, I now know which side of the island the only dock actually stood and where the disinfection sheds stood for disembarking patients, called inmates at the time. The mother lode of information is priceless for creating rich description, a vivid setting, well-fleshed out characters, for creating mood, and for historical accuracy.

So, it’s Monday. Have things improved in my world? I’m hopeful things will sort themselves out this week, and I pray things improve around me, but for the moment I’m lying low. I’m buying a new washer, finally, and I’ve returned to my story, excited and armed with loads of delicious detail and interesting information, which I hope will please my readers. I’m happily writing again.

What did I learn last week? I was reminded that there are things in life we cannot control, no matter how hard we try to reign stuff in and how much we worry. Sometimes we have to let go because we might not get the answers or solutions we want, when we want or need them.

We share our world with lots of people and people can and do impact our lives in positive and negative ways. Our job is to weather the storms with dignity, honesty, and clarity, while remaining as humble, open-minded, and compassionate as we can with what we know. And when we find life is still difficult and doesn’t make sense, it might mean we don’t yet have the necessary tools or skills, or that we weren’t given the entire story with which to make a decision. So we forgive ourselves and others, and try to understand with an open heart, a newly-expanded heart, which is entirely possible and worth growing.

Writers, check out Academia; you just might find what you’re searching for. Happy writing to you!

https://www.academia.edu

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and a refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47W