Author Interview: Gabriel Valjan

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with my fellow authors across genres, which is always interesting. Today I’m happy to welcome Gabriel Valjan.

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing, as well as numerous short stories. He lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

G Valjan

Welcome, Gabriel.

What is the genre of the book you’d like to discuss?

Corporate Citizen is the fifth book in the suspense/thriller Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing.

G Valjan book

Briefly describe what Corporate Citizen is about.

Bianca, our former analyst for the covert agency Rendition, is called to Boston to help clear a friend framed for a double homicide. All her Italian friends except for her boyfriend come with her. The murder investigation uncovers a drug ring for synthetic heroin, which Rendition may or may not have an interest in. Bianca continues to receive help from inside Rendition through a mysterious agent named Loki. There’s a troubled vet and a love interest and a criminal mastermind, unlike any Bianca and her gang have ever encountered.

How did you come up with the title and what inspired you to write this series?

The title is a buzzword from the business world. Corporations, like people, have ethical, legal, and social responsibilities. I am intrigued as to who is responsible when corporations commit crimes. A CEO might be the face to an organization, but decisions are far more complex when there is an obligation to shareholders and the ultimate objective is profit. What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? Bianca left Rendition because of the necessary evils she witnessed. She learns that one can never leave Rendition.

G Valjan books

 

What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? This is a question many Americans are asking themselves right about now.

Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Yes and No. Bianca may resemble my younger self, when I was more logical than Mr. Spock. Like her, I acted that way as a coping and defense mechanism. With age, I allowed myself to relax. Where we differ is gender and I do hope that I was successful in putting across a woman’s perspective.

Is Bianca in all five novels?

Bianca is in all 5 novels. The graphic above depicts the book in chronological order.

1: Roma, Underground takes place in Rome. Bianca is enticed to participate in a sting to capture thieves stealing cultural artifacts from the city’s underground. A real group of amateur archaeologists are mapping the city beneath Rome and I let my imagination run with that idea.

2: Wasp’s Nest. Bianca returns to Boston under the pretense of helping a contact within Rendition, but she is fearful of the growing intimacy between her and Dante. I tried to showcase lesser known parts of Boston. The inspiration behind this outing was what if someone disrupted the pharmaceutical industry, particularly cancer research, with an invention that did away with chemotherapy and radiation.

3: Threading the Needle. Bianca and her gang tackle political terrorism in Milan. The inspiration here was what the Italians call The Years of Lead, which was a series of terrorist attacks from 1969 to 1984. The height of terror culminated in the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Speculation exists as to who funded and directed far-right groups to destroy the Communist Party in Italy.

4: Turning To Stone. Bianca is caught between the Camorra and the Sicilian mafia in Naples. The Sicilians are hatching a plan to destabilize the world currency market to their advantage. The Fiscal Crisis of 2007 provided the basis for this novel.

5: Corporate Citizen. Bianca is back in Boston to help a friend framed for murder.

Each of my novels includes the first chapter of the next one in the The Roma Series. Book 6, Crunch City, is situated in London and it will explore (or explode) the extent of surveillance. Bianca has a new and formidable nemesis at Rendition, but she also has an unexpected ally at her side. She’ll have to make a decision on her relationship with Dante.

Thanks for including the brief synopses. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I worry whether I have seeded the story with just enough clues so that it is not predictable. Am I too obvious? Was I too obscure? The reader is a god, who must be appeased, and yet should still be surprised with the creation. It’s kind of like looking at a platypus and scratching your head. There’s logic to the design.

Great questions to ask during the writing process. Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

My characters have a life of their own. When I write it is like meeting old friends. I’ve been fortunate to have a collaborative relationship with my publisher. I have a say in the editing process and in cover-art design. I believe the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities describes today’s authors and publishers. Indie publishers have proven they can put quality out there in the market. The Big Five and literary agents are not necessarily gatekeepers for taste and talent. Self-publishing, while not new, is a hit or miss. Amazon has created both the markets and the platform. Readers are feasting and authors are like matchstick children hoping for a kind soul and a sale.

I found myself nodding at your answers above. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird. In a post-apocalyptic future where machines do everything and reading is illegal, an android named Bob Spofforth runs the world — and he is suicidal. Another character, Paul, is a conformist who teaches himself how to read. He falls in love with Mary Lou, a rebel who lives in a zoo. This is not Humanity versus the Machines story. Knowledge has slipped away. Watching Paul learn and then teach Mary Lou how to read is a reminder of why we read and why we are human. Tevis will reduce you to tears.

Another book for my reading list, thank you. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Tough question. Margaret Atwood. Jane Austen. Louise Brooks. Raymond Chandler. Eduardo Galeano. William Faulkner. Dashiell Hammett. Dorothy Johnson. E.J. Levy. Gabriel García Márquez. William Maxwell. Carson McCullers. Flannery O’ Connor. Victor Hugo. E.B. White. Richard Yates.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

Dashiell Hammett and William Faulkner. Though these two writers polar opposites in style, they worked language in ways I envy. If you research Gertrude Stein, you’ll discover that it was Hammett — not Hemingway — who was responsible for the spare minimalistic style. Hemingway learned his craft from journalism (being shot at is excellent motivation for brevity) and reading Hammett. Faulkner – read his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (557 words) – and ask yourself this, Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? His novels are challenging but rewarding.

Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? Great question. For me, the answer is yes. I’m off to Google Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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

I have an MA in Medieval Studies. 

Gabriel, what is your favorite part of writing?

The beauty of a series is I have a cast of characters and each one has a personality and quirks. Corporate is a long, hard look at Bianca and what makes her tick. I enjoyed those moments when she surprised me with something she said or did. Bianca is guarded and she allows herself some vulnerability when she meets Nick.

G Valjan book

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I write in my bedroom, where one or two cats stare at me and count keystrokes. I like reading in bed.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

The Roma Series is classified as genre fiction, but I hope that readers see each novel as an exploration of friendship and love, that what matters most in life is how we treat each other. Each novel takes place in a different city because I want readers to see how Europeans see the world, and how an American deals with a different mindset. I ask questions about culture and society throughout the Series. Do you work to live, or live to work?

I like the idea of offering readers an opportunity to see the world through different lenses. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

It depends on the definition of success. Sales have not made me a household name, but I have developed a small following. Social media has allowed me to meet other writers and for them to know me. If ‘success’ is word of mouth, then I would say other writers, established and struggling, know that I am a supportive and encouraging person. It costs nothing to be kind and positive. I think what I have done ‘right’ is be myself and let my name stand for something. I go to readings to support others, I tweet to get the word out on writers I know, and I’ll write reviews. The best community for me has been other writers.

I agree with your definition of success. I met you through your generous tweets of my book, so I can attest to your support of other writers.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped with your books?

It’s hard to tell because I believe everything is cumulative. The problem is you don’t know what will work. I have had mixed feelings about PR firms. They are expensive and I think they are figuring it out along with the rest of us. It’s been a learning experience.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Read and learn from the writers you enjoy. Take apart; analyze what you admire. Be consistent, persistent, and tenacious about improving your skills. Set aside your ego and write because you have a story to tell. Respect your reader’s emotions, intellect, and their time. To paraphrase Carver, your job is to capture the heartbeat and the ‘human noise.’

Well said. Website and social media links?

Web: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Twitter: @GValjan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gabriel-Valjan-291400997547203/ 

Where can we find your book?

Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/2pORYMH

WGP: http://wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/gabriel-valjan/

What’s next for you, Gabriel?

Winter Goose Publishing will release the first book of another series in late 2017. The Company Files: The Good Man is what I would call historical noir. The story takes place in 1948 Vienna and it’s the early days of the American intelligence community. Jack Marshall is asked to find former Nazis in Germany’s atomic program before the Russians do. Someone is killing them and Jack has to put a stop to it. For touchstones for the writing, think of Joseph Kanon, Phillip Kerr or John Le Carré, and yet different.

Vienna and the American intelligence community. We will have to chat about that another time! Thank you for visiting today, Gabriel. All the best to you. 

About Eleanor:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. 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 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book, A Decent Woman:  http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

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Author Interview: Caroline Allen

Welcome to our first author interview of 2017! Here at The Writing Life blog, I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres every Tuesday. Today, I’m happy to chat with talented artist and award-winning author, Caroline Allen.

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Caroline Allen is the author of EARTH and AIR, part of the 5-book Elemental Journey Series. Both novels were published in 2015 by Booktrope Editions of Seattle. Each won Independent Publisher awards soon after publication, a gold medal for regional fiction for EARTH, and a silver medal for visionary fiction for AIR. Prior to becoming a fiction writer, she worked as a journalist all over the world, as a reporter and editor in Tokyo, London and Seattle, and as a travel writer throughout SE Asia. She now lives in rural Oregon and is a book coach and a visual artist.

Welcome, Caroline!

What are your book’s genres?

Literary, visionary fiction.

Please describe what your books are about.

I’m writing a series of five books, The Elemental Journey Series, which includes EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER, and ETHER.

EARTH and AIR were published by Seattle’s Booktrope Editions in 2015. I’m currently at work on the third novel. All five books follow one protagonist on a hero’s journey around the globe as she finds herself in a world rocked by climate change and growing chaos. What does a person’s journey look like in such an unstable world? Is there a greater spiritual call to be answered by each person in a world on the edge?

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EARTH looks at our protagonist as she is rooted in place, in the rural farmland of her ancestors. Pearl Swinton, the protagonist, has mystical visions. She wants nothing to do with these visions, her family and teachers think she’s crazy. She can find nowhere where she “fits.” When she hears her aunt in another town has the same “curse”, she goes on a bicycle journey to find her. In the end, she learns she must uproot from this rural bedrock of tradition and forge a new path for herself.

Caroline Allen Air.jpg

In AIR, Pearl lands in Tokyo, where she hopes to float above the culture and find perspective. She meets a Japanese missionary who makes himself homeless, in his despair over his brother’s death in a culture that overworks its people. As he lives beneath a bridge folding origami cranes, he tells Pearl he is now homeless, just as she has made herself in leaving her rural American hometown. What are the uses of disconnection? He asks her: Where truly is home? He urges her to study her visions to find her purpose and help the world.

You ask great life questions. How did you come up with the titles?

I was a short story writer, living in Washington state, more than a decade ago now. I was sleeping in Seattle when I awoke from a dream and sat up, and I was “given” the message that my short stories would fit together into a novel, and there would be a series, EARTH (connection to our place of birth), AIR (leaving our traditions and floating above the culture), FIRE (the burning of the ego in London), WATER (personal healing in the Pacific Northwest), and ETHER (being of spiritual service to others).

I was “given” the general story for each book. The task after the dream, of course, is developing the characters, writing all of the plot twists, revising and editing and getting the books to market. It’s a lifetime task.   

Fascinating. What inspired you to write this series?

I was an international journalist for a decade, working in newsrooms in Tokyo and London. I was at the London dailies when I had a huge spiritual opening. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I was able to read everyone’s mind, no, more than that, I could see the bigger truths affecting them. It hit me all at once, and was extremely overwhelming. I moved back to the States as part of the process of figuring out what was going on with me. When I finally integrated this side of myself by doing metaphysical healing work in Seattle for years, I was inspired to include “visions” in the novels. What if there was a character who all of her life had spiritual visions? How would everyone react? What purpose would her visions ultimately fulfill?

My path in understanding my visionary side inspired me to write all five books.

I look forward to reading your books, Caroline! What is your favorite part of writing?

When I created Usui, the Japanese missionary, in AIR, I fully and completely fictionalized him. My books are semi-autobiographical in that sometimes a scene or a place or a character is based on either real life, or an amalgamation of different lives. But Usui was totally fictionalized. And I fell in love with him. I’m still in love with him. He is like the greatest love of my life. I dream of him, and talk to him and feel his presence. He’s depressive and weak and shy, but also so spiritually evolved. It’s just this love. I cannot explain it any other way.

His spirit has come back in FIRE, the novel I’m writing now, and he shows up and speaks every once in a while to my protagonist. My favorite part of writing is this falling in love. It’s as real as any love I’ve ever known.

What’s really exciting is that apparently I’m not the only one who fell in love with him. A Massachusetts artist fell for Usui too, did a painting of a scene in the novel where Usui is folding origami cranes beneath a foot bridge as a homeless person. The painting was accepted into a major juried show called Alienation in the fall of 2016.

The character Usui is intriguing as I practice Usui Reiki. The strong connection most authors have to their character(s) is quite fascinating. It happens to me, as well.

Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Pearl Elizabeth Swinton is a semi-autobiographical version of me. Like me, she grew up on a subsistence farm in Missouri, flew to Tokyo to live and work, traveled through SE Asia, lived in London and ended up in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike me, she has had visions since she hit puberty, and this fact in itself changed how closely the story could follow my life. Pearl is much more excitable than I ever was, much more dramatic, and much less intellectual.

As she travels the world, she meets many characters who do not exist in real life, people I never met.

I’m a book coach, as well, helping people all over the world write novels and memoir. Just this morning, I was speaking to a fiction client about how important it is to disconnect from thinking the protagonist is you. You need the freedom to truly create a work of art. I have been able to see Pearl as separate from me, even though sometimes our paths run side-by-side.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing, Caroline? 

Writing envelopes me. It swallows me. It takes me over like a whirlwind romance. I have to figure out a way to go into that phase and to come out of it, or, as has happened in the past, I look up and it’s the first of the month and I didn’t make enough money to pay the bills.

There were bigger challenges in the beginning of my fiction-writing life. When I gave up journalism, I couldn’t seem to get into the next phase of creative writing. I wasn’t writing. Anything. I was so shut down and didn’t know why. I came to a dangerous edge in my life. In therapy, a counselor told me, “You need to write every day. Every single day.”

I burst out sobbing. “I can’t. I can’t.” I just kept repeating those two words. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” wailing into my hands.

“Why?” she asked again and again.

“The monsters will come out. If I open that door, the monsters will get loose.”

She sat pondering, while I rocked on the sofa.

She didn’t even ask me to explain the monsters. I would’ve had no words for what I meant. Instead, she said: “OK, you like to build things, right? Here’s the plan. Go home and build a cage. Put it beneath your writing desk. Keep the monsters in the cage. You’ll need them for writing, so open the cage every morning to start your writing session, let them out, write, then put them back in and close the cage door. Can you do that?”

I looked up, sniffed, and nodded. For some reason, I loved the idea.

I built the cage. It sat under my desk for 13 years.

I understand the need of a visual and even a literal cage when dealing with monsters after a creative period. Artists and writers need their dark sides, as they are part of the whole.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Incarnations by Susan Barker. Loved it. Written by a British author, well-researched and beautifully written. It deals with the past lives of a Chinese taxi driver. I dig past lives and think the whole subject is rich fodder for fiction.

Caroline, who are some of your favorite authors?

Mostly my favorite writers are poets. Mary Oliver and Adrienne Rich top the list. Women who live their lives with integrity, outside the mainstream, who speak with poetry and love about their lives.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills and The Unconsoled were profoundly strong influences on me. He plays with time in both books, where forward is backward and now is then and people exist and do not exist, and he writes about these subjects within a well-told plotted story. This appeals deeply to my metaphysical side. I do not think life is linear, and an understanding of the nonlinear life can help expand our excitement of it. Authors who go to that place seem expansive and exciting to me.

Camus and Dostoyevski are two other influences. Any author who sees the dark side and absurdity of what it called “normal” society appeals to me. To me what we call normal is absurdist at best.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

My yurt! When I finished AIR, I gave myself the gift of a yurt in the woods. The original yurts were and still are used by nomadic tribes in Mongolia. A modernized versions of these are becoming popular on the U.S. West Coast. When I moved to Oregon, I camped up and down the coast to get to know the state, and the state parks rent yurts as cabins. I fell in love with the round, domed structures.

Caroline Allen yurt.JPG

I purchased a kit from Pacific Yurts. Don’t let the word “kit” fool you. It was an intense full-on construction scenario and my friends and I were utterly exhausted after building it in a clearing in the woods.

Months after it was constructed, I found a desk, chair, and dresser down a rural road, at the end of a gravel driveway, placed there for free by the owners. It was the kind of furniture I would’ve loved as a little girl. Now, I had my writing desk. There is no internet connectivity or consistent electricity, so it’s just me, my laptop with its battery, and some candles. Next year, I will be able to afford a wood stove. The view is of forest. A family of deer like to hang out around it. There’s even a bear. Being that close to the wild engages my inner wild child writer.

I do love the idea of a yurt in nature!  Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m also a visual artist. That’s not the surprise. I just finished a project called Outside the Lines, one painting a day for one year. For 366 days — it was a leap year — I painted a painting every single day. That’s not the surprise either. I painted one while in the departure lounge waiting for a late United flight, my carryon as an easel, I painted one the day I had surgery for an accident that severed my foot from my leg (the morphine made the painting really really wild), and I painted one during a birthday party for me in Seattle.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows about these paintings. I’ve strung them on clothes line with pins around the inner walls of my yurt, like prayer flags.

This is the surprise and it’s happened several times: I’ll walk into the yurt and see all of the paintings, hundreds of expressions of my soul, and become so emotional. I’ll wish I could paint like that. Oh, if I could just paint like that I’d be such a fulfilled person. I’d feel so weepy. Yes, I look at my own paintings and wish I could paint like I already do paint. That reaction is a surprise even to me. I still don’t get my reaction. A healer friend told me sometimes it takes the emotional body time to catch up with the physical body. Perhaps that is it.

We are constantly peeling our emotional onion while writing and painting, aren’t we?

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

As an author and a book coach, the biggest thing that always, ALWAYS, surprises me is how far we women still have to go in speaking our soul truth. How far we have to go as writers in working through the blocks to speaking our truth, and how far the publishing industry has to go in accepting us. It surprises me again and again that people are not used to women truly speaking the depths of their truth.

If my protagonist, or me as a person, speaks in terms of her/my relationships (to the opposite sex, or to children, or to any sort of caregiving role), we are much more accepted and acceptable.

Speaking pure truth through fiction or memoir is still more rare than it should be. This affects the writing process and it affects publication. Finding a publisher who’ll take a chance on women speaking deep soul truth is better than it was, but it’s still too difficult!

I wholeheartedly agree with you; still too difficult. What do you hope readers will gain from your books?

All five books explore a paradigm shift from linear thought to a more spiritual holistic mindset, through the story of one character. The books go from sticking to the past of our ancestors to trying an entirely new way of living through a shift in our perceptions. My deepest hope is that by explaining the process, in five books that will take decades to complete, the details of the path will help others on a similar journey. I believe we all need to make this paradigm shift, but that it’s so radical that no one person or book is going to create it. I am part of a greater path of bringing this information into this time period in the world.

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Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

Tenacity. I have nothing else to add. Simple hard work, day after day, month after month, year after year. You’ll be exhausted.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

Everything worked, even the things that didn’t because they were part of the learning process for “being” a fully fledged writer. I wouldn’t change any of it.

I landed a big New York agent with EARTH. I really connected with him. He loved my novel. We shopped the book around to all the major houses, and we got great feedback and some serious nibbles, but nobody would bite. It was a two-year process that failed. But I would not say it didn’t work. What I learned was unbelievably helpful. It helped me as a writer and as a book coach. I wouldn’t change that “failure” for the world.

Do you have any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Tenacity. Tenacity. Tenacity. It may take a decade longer than you thought. My path took 15 years longer than I thought it would. You may well be writing about subjects before your time! Maybe the world hasn’t caught up with you. But, your time will come, but you’ll miss it if you give up.

Great advice, Caroline. I love the idea of writing about subjects before our time!

Website and social media links?

www.carolineallen.com

www.artofstorytellingonline.com

www.artofstorytelling.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/carolineallenartist

www.twitter.com/artofstory

http://www.instagram.com/carolineallenartist 

Where can we find your book?

Amazon

EARTH

https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Elemental-Journey-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01GIBQIFA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405361&sr=1-1&keywords=earth+by+caroline+allen

AIR

https://www.amazon.com/Air-novel-Elemental-Journey-2/dp/1513703943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405375&sr=1-1&keywords=air+by+caroline+allen

Barnes and Noble

EARTH

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/earth-carol-allen/1000420387?ean=9781620156513

AIR

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/air-david-allen/1000420194?ean=2940153195681

IBooks

EARTH

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/earth/id1119725900?mt=11

AIR

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/air/id1119726394?mt=11

What’s next for you?

I’m nearly finished with my third novel, FIRE, and I just landed a literary agent. In FIRE, Pearl travels throughout SE Asia and lives in London, where she meets people who lead her more and more closely to her purpose. Before she can find her purpose, though, she has to heal her lost self.

The literary agent and I will shop the book around to find a publisher this year.

Fantastic, Caroline. It was great having the chance to know more about you and your series. All the very best with your writing and painting in 2017!

About Eleanor:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com