The Social Media Merry-go-round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing to you.

Ellie

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An Interview with Eleanor Parker Sapia

When I sit down with a new novel, questions pop into my head. Questions such as:

Who is the author? How did their story come to be? Why did they choose those particular characters? Are the characters based on real people, and if so, who were they?

I would like to introduce you to my historical novel, A Decent Woman, and my characters. Since I don’t have anyone to interview me at the moment, I thought I would interview myself.

Your novel is about Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. What is your connection to the island?

I was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. My mother, now deceased, was from Ponce and my father is from Peabody, Massachusetts. The banker’s daughter met the crazy, handsome American GI at a party at the Hotel Meliá in Ponce during his tour of duty. My parents lived in Ponce until I was a year old and we returned to the island for two more Army tours when I was five and again, at 17 years of age. I graduated from the Liceo Ponceño where three of my cousins, my mother and an aunt also graduated. I spoke Spanish before I spoke English. I LOVE Puerto Rico and although I’ve lived in five European countries and have traveled extensively, my heart is Puerto Rican. I am Boricua. I’ve worked as a Spanish language case worker for a refugee center in Brussels, Belgium and as a Spanish language Family Support Worker with a non-profit in Falls Church, Virginia which helped keep my language skills sharp.

How did your historical novel, A Decent Woman, come about?

A Decent Woman, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico is very close to my heart and my family as it is based on my grandparents and their midwife Ana. The birth of my novel began as a five-page tribute to my Puerto Rican grandmother, Meme, on her 90th birthday. I was living in Belgium at the time with my husband and two children and couldn’t attend her birthday party, so the tribute was  my gift to her. When I called Meme later, she said, “Me oistes, nena.” You heard me, my girl.” I could see her big grin in my mind’s eye as we spoke. I had no intention of turning the tribute into a novel until my now ex-husband read it and asked me to write an outline. When he finished reading the outline, he said, “You have a story to write.”

It was impossible not to hear Meme. She was a master storyteller with a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh. Her energy was sublime. You were warmly invited to sit as close as you could and your mind was opened to a world of love, betrayal and the cast of characters in her life have never left me. My sister, cousins and I sat at Meme’s feet, urging her and my mother (another great storyteller!) for one more story. We knew all her stories and always caught and redirected her when she left out juicy details or forgot a piece of the story. I also taped an interview with Meme several years before she died. I still have that cassette tape.

Tell us about your main protagonist, Doña Ana, and the characters of Isabel and Serafina.

My mother, Mercedes, her siblings Josefina and Guillermo, and my aunt Elena were delivered into the world with the help of a local midwife, comadrona, from la Playa de Ponce named Doña Ana. No one remembers exactly where Doña Ana was from, but my aunt and grandmother remembered she had an accent, wore a white turban and smoked a cigar. Meme thought she was Cuban and my aunt Elena thinks she was from Martinique.The elder women of my family spoke of Dona Ana with respect and reverence and we have very strong women in my family, so I knew she was a special woman! Ana was always a fascinating mystery to me and I had to add her as a secondary character in my story.

Just before the birth of my first child, Meme proudly presented me with a rag doll she had made. I immediately knew who it was–it was Doña Ana. Meme fashioned the doll’s body out of black cotton fabric, used white fabric for a turban and a white peasant blouse and a bright floral print for the doll’s billowing skirt. My grandmother added white buttons for eyes and even added tiny gold hoop earrings, argollas. I still have that doll and used to wonder if Meme, who was very spiritual and had healing powers, had given me an enchanted doll.

The characters of Isabél and Serafina are based on my grandmother, Meme, who grew up poor in the Playa de Ponce, a small coastal town near Ponce. Meme lost her mother at nine years of age and raised her three younger siblings in the house of a strict Aunt. I always thought of my grandmother as Cinderella. Her life could have been viewed as a Puerto Rican fairy tale as she married a wealthy banker and while it is true that she married well, her life was also laced with pain, loss and sadness. It came as no surprise that two of my two protagonists were based on my grandmother. She was an awesome woman. The character of Ana, however, came as a surprise to me.

So, Ana, the midwife, was a secondary character who became the main protagonist. How did that happen?

As I wrote the first draft of my manuscript, Ana became more interesting as a character until finally I gave in. I began researching the lives of women in Puerto Rico in the 1900’s and discovered the mistreatment of women, especially trigueñas, on the island at that time. Through my research, I came across a book, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920 by Eileen J. Suarez Findlay. Mrs. Suarez and I corresponded before I left Belgium with my children and finally met in Washington, DC in 2005. We cried when we saw each other and I thank her very much for opening my eyes to the reality of the lives of women in Puerto Rico in the same time period of my novel. I owe a lot to her.

So you see, Ana had to be the main protagonist. I kept the first draft and wrote a second draft of the story to include more of Ana and my imagination of her past as a slave in Cuba. At times, I felt as if Ana was whispering the story in my ear. I wrote the second draft in six months and wrote dialogue as if I were being dictated to. Although I never met Ana nor are there any known photographs of her, I feel a strong connection to her and the image I hope to use as my book cover. I gave Ana life on a page and she in turn, gave me life as a writer and author.

The commonalities Ana, Isabél and Serafina shared made them comadres, in the literal sense of the word, and in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, their unlikely friendship posed many challenges, obstacles and hurdles.

When will your book be published?

A Decent Woman is scheduled to debut Summer 2014 with Booktrope. I am honored and blessed to be working with a talented group of Booktrope members. I’m very excited to hold my book for the first time!

What are you working on now?

I’ve written four chapters of my second historical fiction novel, Finding Gracia on El Camino and I’m putting my thoughts together for the sequel to A Decent Woman. I’m always writing and have so many story ideas that it makes me dizzy sometimes! Ha! At this time, however, my main focus is working with my awesome Booktrope publication team and seeing my book in print this summer! Social media also takes quite a lot of my time and I love writing my daily blog.

Thank you for visiting me and for all your lovely follows and likes! This way, I meet you, as well!

Ellie

Book Covers and Design Questions

Last night, I sent Mindy Halleck, my Booktrope Editor and Book Manager, a fresh copy of my manuscript, A Decent Woman, for editing. I had a hard time pressing Send, though. I know my book is in her very capable and experienced hands, but I kept thinking that I should read it again to make sure I hadn’t made any dumb mistakes! I had to let that thought go. It is what it is at the moment and can be tweaked later. What made me feel better was that I found out that Mindy and I share many of the same favorite movies and books. She will get my book, I thought and she likes the Rumi quote I’ve selected for the opening page.

I’m honored to work with very talented folks–Laura Bastian is Project Manager, Jennifer Gracen is Proofreader, and Greg Simanson is the book cover designer. I find it exciting to work as a team which is so different from my everyday life since I live alone. For decades, I’ve painted alone and since 2005 when my children went off to college, I’ve written alone. As a single person, I make all my decisions and I have to say that I am loving being part of a team! I just have to keep my mind off the editing for now which isn’t hard to do with all the social media and blogging I’m doing and the web site design that will begin soon. I’m ready to work hard and do whatever I have to do to make this book the best representation of my work. I know my Team will help me make that happen.

I love the image we’re using for the book cover–Portrait d’une Negresse painted in 1800 by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, which hangs in the Louvre. I’ve always loved this painting and have wanted to use it for years. I am thrilled with all the positive response I’ve received to the painting as the book cover. It was the symbol for women’s rights at that time and also, the symbol to end racial oppression. As my protatonist, Afro-Cuban Ana Belen was a former slave, it is THE perfect image. The fact that it was painted by a woman is the icing on the cake for me.

Late last night, there was a question about the book cover type and size and the size of my name. The original version Greg showed us resonates with me. I like it very much because it resembles the block letters with which I sign my paintings. I was open to trying out a more feminine type which Greg very kindly sent us, but it didn’t work for me. A little too girly for my taste, but I am entirely open to looking at different types. We’ll see what the team thinks and what Greg comes up with. I’m sure it will be great.

So, my homework this morning was to look at my personal library in the third bedroom where I will be writing as soon as I unpack the boxes that have lined a wall for two years. The closer I get to seeing this book published, the more I am motivated to unpack the boxes and turn this room into my writing room! So, I pushed a couple of boxes over and looked at dozens of book covers and created a stack of what worked for me. The type that I seemed to gravitate toward was the more blockish types, not the script or curvy types. I agree that my name should be larger, remain in the crimson color that matches the sash around the woman’s waist, and the title should remain in white, but now size is a new concern. Should my name be the same size as the title? Should I add “a Novel” to the book cover, right under the title? I like that idea very much.

So many questions and at the end of the day, it’s all very subjective, isn’t it? Art and design are like that. There are no stead-fast rules to follow in art and I’m not well-versed in design. You either love or hate a book cover and if you don’t like the image, you might love the title or the short synopsis on the back cover. But, the book cover is what draws you to that book in the first place! The book cover is so important, but I can’t please all my readers, however. I think my Team and I will come up with the perfect book cover. I’m going with my gut and hope my team members agree because now I have to contact my friend Janet about creating my new author website. More design questions! My editor’s idea of using the same colors in the image of the painting/book cover in my website is spot on. Raw sienna or parchment, crimson and black would look great along with the same type as the title on the book cover.

Decisions, decisions. These types of decisions, I can live with and enjoy!

Ellie

Do Not Be Deterred From the Business!

I thought my West Virginia town would escape the big snow today. It started snowing last night and by midnight, all we had was a light layer of snow in yards and nothing on the roads and sidewalks.When I went to bed, I thought we’d escape with a light dusting, but I woke up to four inches of wet snow and it’s still snowing. My heart sunk. Honestly and really? We’re three days away from Spring and we’re due more snow on Wednesday. I just can’t think of it.

There was nothing to think about. Like a robot, I took my trusty blue shovel from its spot in the kitchen (because I’ve needed it more than you know) and headed outside to make a path for my dogs. I’m still hopeful and a little crazy enough to believe that this time, Sophie, my six month old Chihuahua puppy, would forget the snow and do her business outside. Ozzy, my six year old Pug, is a champ. He doesn’t let anything deter him from his business!

In my favorite white bathrobe and winter boots, I shoveled the sidewalk in front of my house and my neighbor’s. The wet snow was surprisingly easy to shovel off the sidewalk and it looked like it was melting. Hallelujah. Then, an idea began to take form. I was too cold to make sense of that idea, but I hung onto this embryonic idea as I set the shovel on the rug in the foyer to dry. I sat in the living room with a mug of hot tea and watched my Manx, Pierre, curl up in my corner chair. The snow, the rain, the sun, the clouds, nothing deters this cat from taking his naps and going about his business of keeping my house and everyone in it in line.

That was it! I could do this! I can “do” this perpetual snow because I’ve written a book! I could deal with another snow because I’d queried 100 agents in the last two years and I’ve opened email after email with that hope that this is the one only to find that it was a rejection. The same with the snowfalls this winter. I’ve kept shoveling and shoveling, hoping this was the last damn time and it would snow again.

Life and the Universe have equipped me (with a little help from me) to deal with the constant upheaval of bad weather, shoveling, and extreme snow because I’ve written a book. That has toughened me up. In my humble opinion, no one is as determined, persistent, tenacious, hopeful, and stubborn as a writer. It’s blood, sweat and tears (honestly) to write a book and to edit and edit until your eyes water. I’ve had to refuse fun invitations, not take the part-time job because it paid nothing and the hours would preclude me from writing, and I’ve spent thousands of hours alone in my head.

My historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, is finished and it was accepted for publication by Booktrope. There’s still a lot of work to be done before my book’s debut, but I’m well on my way. The book cover is done and I am working with an awesome Booktrope team. A Decent Woman should debut this summer if all goes well.

Holding my book in my hands still feels like a long way off, but then again, so does Spring. So, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! We can do this!

Ellie

Facing My Fears

My good friends bought an awesome A-frame cabin in Great Capacon, West Virginia a year ago. I’m in love with their cabin and all the rustic furnishings, especially the amazing stone fireplace that reaches the ceiling. They have three beautiful acres that surround the cabin and plenty of places for their Golden Retriever to find adventures. It’s a magical place where I can see myself finishing my second novel. I’m very fortunate that my gracious friends have invited me to write there during the week and it’s only an hour from my house. And, they have Wifi!

On the second morning of my visit, my friend B asked me if I was ready for a mini road trip. I’m always ready for a road trip! I grabbed my camera and off we drove up and down hills and along the Great Capacon River. The snow on the ground was finally melting and I could see spots of ice on the river. It was a beautiful day in West Virginia. Soon, we were driving up a steep hill and then, we stopped. From where we were parked, I couldn’t see anything but trees, so we got out and B walked aka kinda slid down a small embankment to what looked like the edge of the known world. I caught a glimpse of a river, but I turned away as quickly as I could.

This little story is about how we are able to freak ourselves out and how ridiculous our thoughts can be when we are faced with our greatest fear. My friend had no idea that I am deathly afraid of heights, so I don’t blame him one bit! I was thrilled to see this little piece of Heaven that B loves and it was a beautiful sight to behold.

So, B went to the edge, looked over and came back. “It’s awesome, El! Wait until you get down there!” The incline was pretty steep to the edge and my boots kept skidding. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared, but when he held out his hand, I took it, mostly to steady myself. I immediately felt light-headed and not sure on my feet as we inched forward. I sure as hell didn’t go out to the edge where he’d stood. I told him that I had gone as far as I could. I sat on a rock because I was getting dizzy.

I suddenly realized that this was a perfect place to kill someone. Like in the movies. Had I pissed B off in any way in our many years of friendship? Was killing me the reason he hadn’t asked Angie to join us? He could bring me to the edge and lightly push my back and over I would go into the wild blue yonder. No! This was ridiculous. Stop it, I told myself. I love this man, my friend!

I was fascinated at my body’s reaction to the height, the imminent danger and our potential deaths. My body shook, my stomach felt really weird and I finally knew what it must have felt like for Thelma and Louise before driving off the cliff! I couldn’t control my hands and flipping stomach. A small landslide could surely knock us into the abyss and forget about a shale avalanche, sheesh. I forced myself to think pretty thoughts.

I kept fighting with my imagination of losing my balance and falling to my death onto the craggy rocks below and then, Bob went closer to the edge filled with shale chips. I couldn’t even look at the river and small waterfall because I thought B was going to die any second. What would I tell Angie?! Uhmmm, A…your husband is dead. I’m so sorry to tell you that B is dead. She would ask me if I’d helped him and I would have to tell her the truth or lie.

I managed to take a photo of B looking toward their cabin (which we couldn’t see) and I wondered if this would be the last known photograph taken of him before he became one with the Great Capacon River. Then, I had a horrible thought. What did the cliff look like from underneath? What was holding up this inclined cliff? More shale?

I couldn’t stand it. I asked him to pretty please come back a foot and from the look on my face, he realized that I was petrified. He laughed and came to where I was sitting. “You that scared, El?”

“You bet your sweet ass as I am!” I had to laugh and before I knew it, I was looking to my left and this photo is what I saw. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word. A miracle of nature. I took more than 25 photos and even managed to slowly stand up for the last few and then, I was done!

Before coming out to visit my friends, I’d told them that I wanted to shoot some guns. I wanted to cross that off my bucket list. We shot rifles, a 45 and a huge handgun. My hands shook with every pull of the trigger and my shoulder was sore, but that was an exhilarating fear, not like my fear of heights. Ellie will remain on safe ground where she intends to stay. Yep.

Remind me to tell you about the one car wooden “bridge” we had to cross to get back home. No railings and the rising river was no more than a foot below. Yeah. A vacation house for sure IF you can get there and remain safe inside the cabin with no avalanches, floods or mudslides.

Note: I am presently looking for a cabin in that area. I honestly love it out there 🙂 I had a lovely weekend, thank you, B&A! You are the mostest of the mostest.

Ellie

The Mind Games Writers Play

Boy, do writers play mind games with themselves to stay in the writing seat. I sure do. I’m trying to ignore the fact that the weather is gorgeous today. We have blue skies, a light breeze and mild temperatures. Normally, I can work through most distractions, but my Inner Child is alive and well today. After such a brutal and long winter, can you blame me for not wanting to remain indoors!

My dogs and I walked around the flower garden this morning and the daffodils are coming up. The Lily of the Valley are popping up near the ancient grape arbor and the peonies should be coming up soon. I inherited my love of gardening and mostly green thumb from my Puerto Rican grandmother, Meme who had the most beautiful garden in Ponce, Puerto Rico where I’m from.To make matters worse, last week, I bought a great greenhouse and trays of organic dirt pots to grow seeds in. It is taking everything I have not to bring that box inside from the trunk of my car. I have editing to do this weekend. I am ignoring the greenhouse because then, my editing and writing will be doomed for today.

Are you like me? Is it all or nothing for you? I get in those moods. Most days, I can write for nine or ten hours a day and if I don’t have a huge chunk of time the following day, it can threaten my creative mood. If anything on my every-growing to do list for my house crosses my mind, it can break the creative cycle, as well. I’m not allowing that to happen today. I’m nearly finished with the final edits of my novel, A Decent Woman. I promised Mindy, my editor, to send her a fresh copy of the manuscript by next Wednesday and I’m honoring my promise.

What else must we do to write without interruptions, distractions, and delays? Just do it. That’s the solution? Yep. Just write through it ALL. Steal an hour or two to write and don’t give in to the censors and distractions in our heads. The dishes will be there tonight or tomorrow and Spring isn’t here yet. I have time for gardening later!

Okay, I feel better. My Inner Child is happy again. I don’t have to pull my hair out and stress my semi-organized house that could look better. All I have to do is show up to write. So simple. It’s not complicated, it’s ME who is complicating it all.

I do, however, have to color my hair. Some things just can’t be left for later.

Happy Saturday!

Ellie

The 30-Second Elevator Pitch

You know what I find to be the two most difficult experiences about writing books? Writing a brief synopsis and the 30-second elevator pitch. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.  You meet someone at a cafe, on the Metro or on an elevator and they ask you, “What is your book about?” The dreaded five words for an author…namely, me.

Give me a topic, ask me to describe a scene from a movie, complete with dialogue, or write you an email about something that just happened to me. I’ll write my head off. Pages and pages of information will spew forth with details that you never knew or cared to know. That is how I tell a story–with a beginning, middle and an end. You will also have background information and all you need to know about what just happened to me which is why I began a journal years ago. I seem to have a lot to say which is why I write books. My friends seem relieved and my children are happy that Mom has an outlet.

Writing a synopsis was tough for a long-winded person such as myself and it took me awhile, but I managed to put together a good, four-page synopsis. Not easy, but done. Two weeks ago via Skype, my editor asked me the dreaded question, “What’s your book about?” I should know this, right? I’ve written the book, for goodness sake! But, I struggled to give her a succinct, complete and clear description about what my book is about. All I have to say is that I was humbled and boy, did I fumble with words! She kindly explained. “Pretend you’re on an elevator and have 30 seconds to get a person so interested in your book that they go right out and buy it.” The 30-second elevator pitch. I said that I would get right on it and get back to her!

Listen, I wrote the first draft of my novel, A Decent Woman, in six months. I ended up with over 300 pages and roughly, 28,000 words came pouring out. I had an outline and a four-page synopsis which was what agents and publishers were looking for. I could do this!

A week later, I sent my editor the 30-second elevator pitch for A Decent Woman. Three sentences. Do you know how hard that is?! Damn hard. I deleted four versions. Last night, my editor sent me her revision of my pitch. This morning, I incorporated her changes into mine and came up with this:

A Decent Woman is a novel of catastrophe and survival, choices and betrayal, the story of the midwife Ana and the women she meets along her journey who find themselves pitted one against one another in the male-dominated Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. It is the story of the bonding power of unlikely friendships that carries them through tragedy and betrayal and the cost of living with dark secrets.

What do you think? Would you buy this book based on this pitch?

And remind me to tell you what happened to me this morning on the way to the corner store to buy half and half…

Ellie