Creative Manifestation: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Creative Manifestation: Where Do Ideas Come From?

If you’re like me, you’d love the opportunity to ask each of your favorite authors where their story ideas came from. Most authors, myself included, are asked the same question by readers at our many book readings and signings. My usual reply, said with a smile is, “Which book and how much time do you have?” The reason is that the creative process was surprisingly different for my first novel, A Decent Woman, and my work in progress called The Laments.

Heads up…I feel a long, rambling blog post coming on this rainy Tuesday in October! This is, after all, a blog about writing, and I am fascinated with ideas and the creative process of writers.

I liken the manifestation of ideas for stories to alchemy–the organic and complicated transformation and mix of ideas into words on a page.

In my experience and from what I’ve gleaned from other authors, ideas come to us in many ways–perhaps as an answer to a nagging question; a personal passion or interest; a curious dream; a story we’ve heard or an article that inspired or horrified us; a synchronistic event; through daydreaming; and sometimes, through random searches on the Internet. I believe coming up with ideas is a combination of our imaginations with heavy doses of curiosity, intuition, and inspiration, a beautiful concoction that at times, can seem divinely orchestrated. But are those ideas truly original or divinely orchestrated?

We all have flashes of ideas throughout our busy days, most of which we tend to ignore, put on a shelf for future examination, or we don’t follow through with the idea for myriad reasons and excuses. The British author Neil Gaiman believes writers and artists are particularly sensitive to the moment their attention lingers on a particular situation or idea. I agree with him. I feel an intriguing idea in my body like a pinch or a poke. It is highlighted in my mind, I draw a mental circle around it. Then the questioning begins, “What’s going on here? Why did this happen? What would happen if…? What happened next? And then? How did she react?” Writers run with an idea. We examine it intimately, up close, out of the box, and then we turn it inside out, which is the fun bit. If we deem the idea worthy of further exploration and thought, that’s when the real fun begins. If we happen to hit a roadblock or a brick wall in our writing, instead of stopping dead in our tracks, we build a creative side road or a detour around the problem with new ideas that will see the story to the end. Writers are persistent and we are in our heads a lot.

“Ideas turn up when you’re doing something else.” – Neil Gaiman

So let me throw in a wrench or at least food for thought about the wonderful world of ideas and thoughts. When I first heard the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle say we don’t own our ideas and thoughts, I scrunched up my nose and my brow furrowed. What? In another interview, he said our ideas come from the collective mind and our thoughts from the Ego. I understood the Ego part and while I loved the idea of a collective mind out there in the ether, I’d always believed my ideas were my own. Then Tolle further confused me by saying our ideas and thoughts are one and the same.

Allow me to share how the idea of my first novel A Decent Woman was birthed. Then I’ll share an experience that helped my understanding of Tolle’s interesting statement of the collective mind. I told you this blog post would be a long one.

A few years after my precious mother’s unexpected death at 57 years of age, my grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday. Despite still grieving for my mother, I decided to gather my memories for a tribute to my grandmother on her milestone birthday. Though I’d never written a tribute, I thought it could be a special gift to leave my children and my family for posterity’s sake. More importantly, it was my wish to show my mother and grandmother how much they meant to me and how much they’d influenced my life. As a child and throughout my life, I’d loved nothing more than sitting at my grandmother’s feet or at the foot of the bed with my mother, listening to their stories of growing up in La Playa de Ponce and later, about their lives in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Both women were superb storytellers, who instinctively knew how to captivate and hold an audience–a true gift.

After reading what I’d come up with, my then-husband asked me to write an outline. I had no idea why and he didn’t explain. By then, I’d been an exhibiting painter for close to 20 years and had written dozens of poems, but I’d never entertained the idea of writing a novel. When I presented him with a basic outline, he told me I had a story to write. I didn’t question a thing. I began to write all the stories I’d heard from my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother despite the pain caused by nostalgia and melancholy for my mother. Granted, there were lots of missing pieces and I needed tons of historical information to fill in the blanks (which looking back, should have daunted me), but I kept writing. I may have been an inexperienced writer, but I had a passion for stories, a love for my family, and for the island of my birth.

At the time, I didn’t understand the enormity of the decision to write a novel and all that it entails, nor had I read a single book on writing (which I believe was a blessing in disguise at that time). I had no fear of creating. I was a self-taught artist. I already knew the creative alchemy necessary to manifest and work ideas onto canvas and paper with watercolor brushes, pastels, and charcoal. Deep in my heart, I believed my story was unique. The longer I sat at the writing desk, idea A led to idea B, which led to idea C, and so on. I followed the general road map of my grandmother’s life and the lives of women she’d known or heard about throughout her life, or I invented characters gleaned from nonfiction or academic books written about life in turn-of-the-century Puerto Rico. When the manuscript started to resemble a book, ideas for descriptions and dialogue poured out. At times, I believed I was taking dictation from the ancestors.

The first draft manuscript was completed in six months. Now, the original manuscript bears little resemblance to the current book, but that’s for another blog. Thank you to my ex-husband for the idea, his encouragement, and for knowing I needed to write a book when it was the furthest thing from my mind.

Fast forward a few years. After I found a publisher for A Decent Woman and the manuscript went into editing, I selected the perfect image for the book cover–the gorgeous painting by Marie Guillemine Benoist called Portrait d’un nègresse, completed in 1800. The portrait, which hangs in the Louvre, depicts a beautiful black woman in a white turban, a tignon, which my heroine wore, as well. I was ecstatic when my publisher approved the image. I saw my heroine Ana Belén Opaku in this unknown woman and felt a strong connection with her. Below is an image of the original book cover.

USE THIS IMAGE OF BOOK COVER (NO NIPPLE! lol!)

A few weeks later, during a quick Google image search of this gorgeous painting, two book covers of novels popped up with the same image–The Book of Night Woman by Jamaican-born Marlon James, published in 2009, and Texaco by the French author Patrick Chamoiseau, who was born in Martinique. His novel was published in 1992. I was stunned. The award-winning books hadn’t come up in my original search. Yes, I was naive to think no one in the world would choose the painting for a book cover, but me! I’d never heard of the authors and had never read their books. (I’ve since read both books and I am now a huge fan of these authors). Of course, I was disappointed by this discovery, but not deterred. I’d seen book covers with similar or exact images reworked in new ways.

I immediately ordered the books. My jaw dropped while reading the first chapter of The Book of Night Women. Like my book, the story begins with a birth. And our heroines have green eyes, both were born into slavery, and they killed their rapists. I raced through the book, which is outstanding, by the way. Thankfully, the story is different from A Decent Woman. The story of Texaco is vastly different and also a wonderful, well-written novel. What a damn relief.

Marlon James The Book of Night Women

Patrick Chamoiseau Texaco

So, Eckhart Tolle was onto something with the collective mind (or whomever he got the idea from!)–our ideas and thoughts come from the collective mind with subtle differences. The story of A Decent Woman bears little resemblance to the novels, The Book of Night Women and Texaco, but we do share a strong connection to our respective Caribbean islands, and it appears the three of us (or their publisher’s art department) saw our main characters in the beautiful woman in the painting hanging in the Louvre.

Ultimately, we scrapped my original book cover and chose a photograph I shot of a statue I own of the Virgin Mary of Monserrat, which I love. A Decent Woman went on to be published three times. Yes, three times with different publishers, and of course, the book enjoyed three distinct book covers, but that’s another story.

Here is the current book cover. My thanks to Winter Goose Publishing for creating this lovely book cover with the image I chose; it meant a lot to me.

A Decent Woman Flat (1)

A special note of thanks to the Universe for not showing me those two award-winning novels until after my writing journey with A Decent Woman. Smile.

Next week, I’ll share a (shorter) blog post about creating memorable characters and using archetypes in stories.

Thank you for your visit!

Eleanor

ABOUT ELEANOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Her best-selling debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico. When Eleanor is not writing, she tends to her garden, travels, dreams of traveling, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time before her hips give out. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing adult children and currently lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

BUY THE BOOK:

https://amzn.to/2WjgXuC

 

 

Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Have you ever felt rushed, pushed, or encouraged to publish your book before you felt ready and more importantly before the story was the best it could be? Are you feeling internal or external pressures to put out a book a year, every two years?

If you’re not a writer, you might have a project in the works that you feel unsure about or hesitant that it’s ready for public consumption. If this feels true for you, this might be the blog post for you. Allow me to share my experiences (and humble two cents).

By 2014, I’d been hard at work on my first novel, A Decent Woman, for over five years and had finally found a publisher. I was more than ready to become an author and with that contract came a fair amount of immediate pressure to publish the book in a timely manner. Along with my new publishing team, I decided on what I thought was a feasible and realistic publication date…despite a nagging feeling that my story wasn’t quite ready. Was it true the story wasn’t ready for publication or was I fearful of the unknown? Since I’d never published a book before, I felt my fears were valid. On the other hand, how could this story not be ready after more than five years of writing and research?

The nagging feeling persisted. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly where the issues lay in the story, I knew it in my gut. If only I’d given myself more time, I agonized. Was I being too much of a perfectionist? It was a stressful and confusing experience, and I was faced with the momentum I’d created and didn’t know how to stop—I had a set publication date. I felt I couldn’t back out and didn’t want to let my publishing team down but deep down, I knew moving forward would be a huge mistake for me and for my book.

Then I met Ally, a godsend, who’d joined the team after it hadn’t worked out with my first editor. Ally agreed to work with the original pub date and a few weeks later, we spoke—it was as I’d felt in my gut, the book wasn’t ready. She suggested adding a few chapters for clarity and a new ending as she felt the original ending would let readers down. I agreed with her.

Finally, I had a clear road map to follow. Now I had to inform the publishing team that the original pub date had to be scrubbed, which caused loathing and stress in my mind, body, and soul. But it had to be done. I realized then (and now because these patterns of behavior tend to repeat themselves) that if I’d spoken honestly with my team early on, the stressful situation might have been avoided. But then again, we only know what we know at the time and I hadn’t met Ally yet, right?

Ultimately, I stuck to my guns, knowing I might piss someone off and would mess up the existing publishing schedule. Ally supported me in her brilliant way and I’m forever grateful to her. I learned to speak my truths and protect/honor my writing process and my book. By being honest, I gifted myself a few extra months to edit, to rewrite, and to put out the best possible book. The newly-edited A Decent Woman was finally published in 2015 and went on to win two international Latino book awards, garnering close to 80 positive and lovely book reviews on Amazon. I gained hundreds of new readers, which was amazing. I learned that timing is everything in life, and working with a great editor, who gets you and your story is crucial.

So please, take all the time you need and don’t rush your project or book; it won’t be in vain. I can’t overstate how important it is to honor your writing process; don’t underestimate it. I’m not saying you should analyze the hell out of the story and your characters until you’re paralyzed in fear and afraid to turn in your manuscript. Not at all, though that has happened to me with poetry! I’m talking about giving yourself the necessary time to reread, to think, and if necessary, to rewrite portions of your book. Most importantly, work with a great editor to help you mine or add the gold to your story. Then read your work in progress with new reader’s eyes and do share the story with beta readers before publication.

At this time, I’m at the same place with my second novel, The Laments–sitting with the story and with my characters. I’m further exploring their darker sides and how that could affect their journey and their relationships with the other characters. I no longer rush the creative process. Sadly, Ally doesn’t offer editing services at the moment but happily, I’ve connected with a fantastic editor who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. There’s not much that tops doing what we love.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting several blogs as I head to Thailand next month with my daughter to visit my son and his girlfriend who’ve made Bangkok their home. We are very excited and ready for a new, exotic adventure!

My next blog post explores where ideas for books and characters come from, which came up during Marsha Casper Cook’s fun and informative Blog Talk Radio podcast that aired in early October. I was honored Marsha asked me back and as always, I loved chatting with her and my good friend and brilliant writer, Jack Remick. So do check back and if you’re interested in listening to the archived podcast, please click this link:

http://bit.ly/2oG6Q3W

Thank you for your visit. Happy writing and reading to you!

Eleanor

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Her best-selling debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico. When Eleanor is not writing, she tends to her garden, travels, reads, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing adult children and currently lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

BUY A DECENT WOMAN:

https://amzn.to/2WjgXuC

Summer 2019 Update

Happy Summer to you, dear reader!

Me at the wedding June 2019

June was a special month of much joy and long-awaited reunions with my family. In early June, I enjoyed six fun-filled days with my daughter, my son, and his girlfriend in Capon Bridge, WV after their year in Asia. We kayaked and fished on the Great Cacapon River; cooked together and enjoyed Portuguese wines (courtesy of my son and his girlfriend); laughed and hugged, and made new memories. 🧡

Last week, I spent four fun days in Maryland with a cousin and my sister before her daughter tied the knot, and this past weekend, our family members and friends traveled from MA, OH, GA, MD, and VA to share the joy at my niece’s beautiful wedding ceremony and fun-filled reception at Celebrations at the Bay in Pasadena, Maryland with breathtaking views of the Bay at sunset. It was magical. My Polish/Russian and Puerto Rican clans sure can party and party, we did!

Last night, my son and his girlfriend flew back to Asia. Of course, as a mom, I have mixed emotions about that, but they are happy, so I am happy for them. My daughter is thinking about new adventures herself, especially about joining me in visiting my son and his lovely girlfriend in Thailand this fall. We are excited to see them again!

So life goes on, and I do what I always do—take off enough time during the summer months to enjoy life and my loved ones. And to make sure my second book, The Laments, (published next year) is the best novel possible, I will be working with someone special, with whom I’ve wanted to work with for a few years now. More details about that later!

Enjoy your summer and your families, my friends, and keep calling your state representatives—No more family separations at the border! Reunite the families!

Note to self: Learn how to apply lashes before the wedding day 🙂

Be well and be happy.

Eleanor x

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Tell me where you were born, where you’ve lived and about your travels, and most probably, I’ll intuit a bit about you. Of course, I don’t know specific details about your life, your favorite color or song, or everything about your culture, but I’ll feel a kinship with you.

Now if you tell me you are bi-cultural, a third culture kid like me or you love to travel, and you’re a writer, from my experience there will be a whole lot of nodding and smiling between us after we meet. And I’ll have a million questions for you; it’s natural to gravitate towards people with similar life experiences and sensitivities.

“Third culture kids are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.” Wikipedia

cropped-cropped-el-morro11.jpg

Luckily for me, I’m still curious and love learning about different cultures, languages, and traditions. I’m a bona fide sponge (I’m learning Latin phases for my second book and my second tattoo). I adore ancient history and research (vital for a writer of historical fiction); I love meeting new people; and I still travel, which is a huge blessing. My children live in the Washington, DC area and in Thailand (where I hope to visit for the first time this fall), and I have many good friends around the world I’d love to visit with again. Among many things that can enrich a writer’s writing “kit”, travel and experiencing life abroad, whether in person or through books, are right up there in my humble opinion.

As an Army brat, a bi-cultural and bilingual (Spanish) kid, my childhood was spent in the United States, Puerto Rico (my love, my birthplace), and in many capitals of Europe. My father is of Polish and Russian ancestry and my mother, born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was of French, Catalonian, Canarian, and Italian ancestry. I married an Army officer and enjoyed posts in the US and in Europe with many summer vacations spent in Puerto Rico with our children, and after enjoying 13 years living in Belgium and France, I returned to the US in 2006 with my children. I continued to travel throughout Europe and returned to Puerto Rico to visit friends and family each summer. In 2010, I made a solitary move to Berkeley County, West Virginia (nearly a foreign country to me at first and I’ve been happy here), where I’d hoped to write full-time. I am happy to report I’m still writing full-time in 2019, which is not without sacrifices and many challenges, believe me. I make it work because I can’t imagine not living a creative life.

At times, I think I’ve lived the life of five or six people. But, oh the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met through travel, reading, and writing!

If you were to ask me about my favorite authors and books, I would say I love reading novels primarily written by diverse authors with diverse characters in their homeland settings, and authors whose novels are flavored by their experiences of having lived in or of traveling abroad. Makes sense, doesn’t it? To me, the language is rich, lyrical, familiar, and there’s nothing like being an armchair traveler while I save up for that next trip.

Happy Spring to you!

Eleanor x

Holiday Greetings!

christmas tree coffee

Holiday greetings to you!

The time has come to reflect on the past year and to acknowledge events in my writing life and my personal life. There have been challenges and setbacks, and plenty of wonderful surprises and great book news with my first novel, A Decent Woman, and my work-in-progress, The Laments. I am grateful for it all!

Book News:

In early 2018, I finally “broke into” my Belgian writing desk with the missing key and discovered more than 30 poems I’d carefully stashed while finishing my first novel. It was a thrilling moment for me. Now I have a fun writing project in the wings, which I will tackle in 2019. I didn’t cause much damage to the keyhole, but the letter opener is kaput—a small price to pay for a stash of poems!

At the beginning of March, my second publisher, Scarlet River Press, closed their doors. I was thrilled for their new adventures but sad that A Decent Woman was no longer for sale on Amazon. Luckily for me, a friend and fellow author kindly offered me a tip and by August, I’d signed with Winter Goose Publishing. I’m happy to say they will republish A Decent Woman in early 2019 with a new book cover (my third).

winter goose publishing logo

I enjoyed rereading A Decent Woman and getting it ready for the editor. Although I didn’t make any changes to the story, I was grateful for the opportunity to fix typos and finesse sentences, and for visiting with my beloved characters, Ana and Serafina. I’m grateful Winter Goose Publishing will also publish my second novel, The Laments, in early Fall 2019. I look forward to receiving the editor’s changes and suggestions, as well as thinking about the new cover, which is always exciting. I very much look forward to working with WGP in the coming years.

Now, if you’re a writer and you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that while I was extremely happy to sign with a third publisher in such a short time, it was a stressful, anxious, and distracting period of time. My second historical novel, The Laments, still a work-in-progress, had to be put on hold a few times while things were sorted out. At that time, the WIP was two-thirds finished, right at the point where the words were flowing nicely, the research nearly complete, and I was getting into the writing groove. Unfortunately, I’ve never been great at multi-tasking when it comes to writing—when I’m writing, I’m writing. I write best with blinders on and distractions give my inner child a chance to binge-watch shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Guilty as charged. I’ve now finished Season One and Two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Goliath, and I’m excited for The Crown to begin in January. It’s historical fiction, so I put that under ‘Research’.

HistoricalFiction Centro de PR image

In October, the Center of Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY, kindly invited me to sit on a historical fiction panel. Despite a heavy downpour that evening, there was a full house and wonderful discussions about reaching/teaching new audiences for historical fiction; in this case, Puerto Rican history. I was proud to participate and happy to share the table with two talented and enthusiastic Puerto Rican authors–Dr. Virginia Sanchez-Korrol and Dr. Vanessa Perez-Rosario, who moderated the event.

From the flyer — “Two authors speak about their books using historical fiction to relate the female narrative in the 19th Century (one in NYC and the other in Puerto Rico). Dr. Virgina Sanchez-Korrol’s newest book “The Season of Rebels and Roses” is a historical novel for teens which follows women’s involvement in the nineteenth-century independence movements to free Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain.  Eleanor Parker Sapia’s first novelA Decent Woman”, a 2016 & 2017 International Latino Book Award winner, is set against the combustive backdrop of 19th century Ponce, Puerto Rico. The book explores the battle of two women from different backgrounds who defend their dignity against the pain of betrayal in a male-dominated society resistant to change.”

Personal News:

In April, I spent two fabulous weeks in Puerto Rico with my sister. We enjoyed three wonderful days in Old San Juan without our rental car being towed (very limited parking in OSJ!), and finally, I made it to Isla de Cabras, the setting of my second book, The Laments. What a thrill to explore the ruins of the old leprosarium, walk the islet, and to speak with an older gentleman, who shared fascinating historical tidbits with me, “For the book!”

cropped-cropped-el-morro11.jpg

Sadly, the after-effects of Hurricane Maria were still evident on the islet and on the mainland as we drove along the coasts and through mountain towns with non-working traffic lights, piles of debris, abandoned homes, and hundreds of blue FEMA tarps. Everyone we met had a story. We listened with constricted hearts and tears, but there was also hope for better days and joy as we swam in beautiful waters and enjoyed wonderful meals. We made new memories with family and friends in Ponce, and as always, we missed Puerto Rico and our family as soon as we boarded our flight back to the DC area. It’s a horrible feeling to leave mi isla. I feel as if I’m leaving my mother, grandparents, my family, and ancestors, all over again, until the next visit.

In August, my intrepid son and his girlfriend decided to travel throughout Asia for a few months. They managed to escape the monsoons and heavy floods in India and two major typhoons in the Philippines and Taiwan before returning to Thailand, where they intend to stay for three more months. While I’m happy for them and I love the photographs and stories they’ve shared of their adventures, the stress levels are a bit higher than usual at home, smile. Before he left on his adventure, my brilliant son developed an app he says I won’t understand and still owns an IT company, so I know he won’t starve.

In a few months, my daughter, a brilliant therapist who lives and works in Northern Virginia, will receive her licensure after years of study (a Masters degree in Mental Health) and hard work. She is well-deserving and we couldn’t be happier for her or more proud of her. Her clients and supervisors love her and of course, I already knew they would, smile. My daughter is happy and in love, so the world looks rosy and hopeful. We look forward to our first trip to Thailand next year to visit my son and his girlfriend. I’m one proud Mama!

After seven years of living in this old house, I’m painting again, walls, that is. I’m tackling one room at a time and I stop when my shoulders tell me to quit. It’s slow going, but I’ll get there. And with winter in full swing and writing full-time, let’s face it; it’s the only exercise I get! My Chihuahua named Sophie still snoozes in a chair next to me as I write. I can’t imagine life without her.

Dear Reader, I wish you and your family a safe, happy, and blessed holiday season and all the best in 2019. This time of year is tough for many, so please reach out to others who might need a smiling face, a little conversation, or an invitation to share a holiday meal. I’ll be doing the same in my neck of the woods.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the “new” edition of A Decent Woman and the release of The Laments. I hope you’ll like my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

A tip: If you subscribe to my writing blog and my website, you’ll get new book news much quicker, smile. Thank you in advance.

Happy Holidays!

Eleanor x

Thoughts on Writing Novels in the Trump Era

In the summer of 2015, after the publication of my debut novel, A Decent Woman, a comment on a writing blog got my attention. It encouraged writers to focus on writing and marketing their books and refrain from sharing strong opinions and political views on social media platforms. The reasoning? So as to not alienate readers and potential readers; in essence, to limit their opinions and dialogue to discussions with friends and family. Good to know, I thought. The advice made sense to me at the time–nothing can turn a lovely dinner party into a school food fight quicker than heated debates about religion, politics, or other family members–but what about that business of writers potentially courting disaster with future book sales and alienating readers by speaking out on public forums? Was there any truth to that? I tucked that nugget away.

I kept my focus on learning the ropes of marketing a book. Little did I know marketing my novel would turn into an intense year of written interviews, podcast interviews, writing blog posts, participating in book fairs, and encouraging readers to post book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. That same year, I set up an author page on Facebook, opened a Goodreads author page and set up a Twitter account–lots of moving parts in addition to keeping up with a writing blog, interviewing fellow authors, and paying attention to my author website! And of course, I was thinking about writing a second book. A brief text exchange with my friend Wayne sparked an idea and I ran with it.

In early 2016, I began the preliminary research for my second book, as yet untitled. On June 16, 2016, Donald Trump officially announced his plan to seek the presidency. I started writing The Laments of Sister Maria Immaculada, now titled, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. From June to November October 2016, I watched the presidential campaign/sideshow on my laptop (I haven’t had cable TV since 2011). I kept writing and diligently researching the lives of nuns in 1927 Puerto Rico, the history of Old San Juan, and the little known (to me) islet of Isla de Cabras, five miles off the coast of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the ruins of a Spanish-built leprosarium remain. I kept writing and became increasingly distracted by politics. How could anyone possibly avoid it? I began to think about a writing retreat, away from home where I was buying the Washington Post on a daily basis and New York Times, when I could find a copy in my adopted West Virginia town.

In January 2017, I licked my wounds along with millions of Americans and participated in the now-historic Women’s March in Washington, DC. The political attacks and distractions from the White House began immediately and were unrelenting. I kept up with Rachel Maddow’s informative and timely blog posts for political analysis and information and watched MSNBC videos on Youtube. I learned a lot from Maddow, and for the first time in my life, I knew the names of all the key players in Washington, DC and their positions. I was paying attention. It also occurred to me how much my antagonist reminded me of Trump. A light bulb moment. What a strange and interesting twist. I zoomed in on Trump’s behavior and mannerisms, the way he speaks, and what his base sees in him.

I kept up with Twitter, Facebook, and I wrote a blog post about my experience at the Women’s March, always thinking about the advice to writers I’d read the year before: keep your opinions off social media. But how? I mused that might have been a popular opinion before the last Presidential election campaign. Before Trump became President. Before the march in Charlottesville. Before the brutal attacks on the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island of my birth, and Trump callously threw paper towel rolls at Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Before 20 shootings took place on American school campuses. Before Trump brought us to the brink of nuclear war by antagonizing Kim Jong-un. Before Trump ordered the barbaric directive to separate children from their asylum-seeking parents at US borders. Before our planet was threatened by Trump directives and decisions. Before, before, before. I’ve left out dozens and dozens of events, I know. My apologies, this is what immediately comes to mind as I write this blog post. Fill in the blanks, please.

The attacks from the Trump White House seemed endless, unrelenting, and more cruel with each passing day. Then I remembered–our country, Americans, have suffered and endured cruel directives that go back to the founding fathers. Our history is full of racism, white privilege, misogyny, bad decisions, and crazy makers. Had we learned anything? Apparently not. I was reminded of the old French saying, “The more things changes, the more they stay the same.” But I was changing–as a woman, as a proud Puerto Rican, and as an American who’d lived overseas for over 25 years. As a novelist, I was wide awake. History was repeating itself before my very eyes and I was outraged.

You see, before January 2017, I’d never marched in protest, never held a placard, and had never called my elected officials. I had voted, of course, and in my previous jobs as a refugee caseworker, Spanish language Family Support Worker, and as a counselor working in Brussels, Belgium, I’d worked with and tried my best to assist and support those less fortunate in my community. To walk hand in hand with those who were hurting and needed help—that came easily to me. I was a mom. But to be a vocal activist? To be outraged and shocked enough to say what I felt in a public forum, on social media? That didn’t come easy. I was raised to be polite, fair, and to be diplomatic, whenever possible. But I found it increasingly difficult to remain silent. I kept writing and in my continuing research, I kept digging deeper into the dark corners of religion, faith, and humanity. World events were certainly changing my work in progress. How could the story not be affected? How could I remain unchanged? As I saw it, it was imperative to remain informed, but to also strike a balance–I needed to turn away from the news in the evening and force myself to remain in my writing chair. I was losing discipline and valuable time, but with each new event in the US and abroad, I gleaned valuable research material. I felt like a literary vampire.

What I came to understand was that in many ways, art and the making of art and literature is a political act.

Among the early reviews of my first published novel, A Decent Woman, two respected writer friends called my first novel a political statement, a feminist novel. After my initial surprise and feeling so grateful for their generous book reviews, I realized the two men were absolutely correct. In the early stages of writing A Decent Woman, (and in my newbie writing mind), I’d simply set about to tell a story about the lives of women in 1900 Puerto Rico. Then I remembered. Just before the manuscript went in for the final edits, I came across documents and a book about the rounding up of prostitutes in Ponce, Puerto Rico (the setting of the novel) and about the forced sterilization of thousands of Puerto Rican women by the US government. The book had to change. I had to change. It was necessary to grow a thicker skin in the public arena and speak my truths, instead of opting to remain in the shallow end of the pool. So I wrote that book.

Interestingly enough, the same thing is happening with my second book, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, which explores faith, religion, and the Catholic Church in 1927 Puerto Rico, with all its’ ugliness and scandals, community works and good intentions. Once again, I’ve had to dig deep, record history, and speak my truths as I discover them in my research and from my memory. I’m still reading several online newspapers and calling my elected officials. I buy newspapers and still watch Rachel Maddow during the day. I write at night like I always did, with less fear than before. The balancing act of being ‘woke’ and finishing this book is easier these days; I’m not as reactive to the news. I use it all.

In the telling of a story, writers stand, exposed and raw, for all to see. So be it.

Will President Trump and this White House stop the unrelenting attacks on Americans, on the poor and the marginalized, on our democracy? Will Trump be impeached? All that remains to be seen. We have no choice but to soldier on, persist, and resist when the need arises. And as writers, we must keep writing. Lord knows there’s a plethora of material out there for novelists these days.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

Update From The Writing Life Blog

Greetings from The Writing Life Blog!

In January 2018, I shared a super interview with writer, Ivelisse Rodriguez, about my first book,  A Decent Woman, that includes a brief excerpt of my work-in-progress, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. Yesterday, my jaw dropped when I saw the date of my last blog post on this blog– it was October 21, 2017. Has it been that long since I last shared a blog post? As I look back on the events of the last two years, no, it’s not hard to believe!

Despite a crazy blur of a year, I’m back to blogging and setting up author interviews with new and old writer friends. I’m happy, healthy, and currently working on my second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. I hope you’ll enjoy the story as much as I do. During writing breaks, I work in my small, urban garden and enjoy the fruits of my labor as I dream of my next trip (or think about a new plot twist), and as always, I love and cheer on my beloved children from afar. They’ve been super busy with travel and work, as well. I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like, but such is life with adult children. They are happy, which is what matters most. That’s what I tell myself when I’m not throwing a motherly pity party. 🙂

On the blog front, I’m excited to share two new author interviews:

On June 25, I welcome Mickey Brent, a long-time friend from my Brussels days, and on July 10, Ivelisse Rodriguez will join me. Ivelisse’s collection of short stories, Love War Stories, debuts the day of the interview.

I hope you’ll check back for those two fantastic interviews.

Be well and happy writing.

Eleanor