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.
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