Author Interview: Gabrielle Mathieu

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life.  I will be interviewing authors every Tuesday until the end of November, so please check back in next week. Today I’m pleased to welcome Gabrielle Mathieu, author of The Falcon Flies Alone.

Gabrielle Mathieu lived on three continents by the age of eight. She’d experienced the bustling bazaars of Pakistan, the serenity of Swiss mountain lakes, and the chaos of the immigration desk at the JFK airport. Perhaps that’s why she developed an appetite for the unusual and disorienting. Her fantasy books are grounded in her experience of different cultures and interest in altered states of consciousness (mostly white wine and yoga these days). The Falcon Flies Alone is her debut novel.

gabrielle-mathieu

Welcome, Gabrielle!

What is your book’s genre/category?

It’s a fantasy adventure firmly grounded in reality.

Please describe what The Falcon Flies Alone is about.

It’s the beginning of a series following Peppa Mueller, an orphan and chemistry geek who survives a gruesome experiment with a psychotropic plant, and tracks down the villains behind the plan.

How did you come up with the title?

Peppa meets a half-Asian priest she falls in love with. At one point, he says he’s never met someone like her before. The title also reflects on Peppa’s loner tendencies. 

Gabrielle, what inspired you to write this book?

The novel itself is actually based on a nightmare I had many years ago, in which a dangerous group of scientific conspirators tricked everyone into drinking a poisonous concoction. But basically, I just write to stave off the boredom of routine.

 What is your favorite part of writing?

The first draft, when everything comes to life. Even though I’m now using an outline as preparation, I’m still surprised by how the novels evolve once I start writing.

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

I’m eccentric as well, and I prefer to rely on myself. If I had an animal totem like Peppa, it would be a predator, though not a falcon. 

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

Translating all the information in my brain into something people can follow.

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

I just finished Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith. On one hand, I could see why an agent would drool over representing him. The snarky quick dialogue and the original idea make it an appealing story. On the other hand, the moral nuances of the tale were muddied. The protagonist is driven by vengeance, which we are lead to believe is a failing. Yet, violence is never renounced as a method of concluding conflict. Since the story is woven around the narrative of Jesus’ birth, I think Grahame-Smith failed to address some central themes. 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I actually like authors like Elizabeth George and Gillian Flynn for their suspenseful plotting, but too many thrillers, and I get depressed. I enjoy a good character arc, where the protagonist has changed (for the better) over the course of the book. I’m very picky, so I don’t currently have a favorite writer. 

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

Tolkien was a huge influence. I read him in 1972 at the age of eight, and was transported into another world. More recently, I was intrigued by George RR Martin’s convoluted plotting and amazing world-building, but the continual rape and torture is a turn-off.

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

We have a three-bedroom apartment in Switzerland, which we can afford because it’s a walk-up under the eaves. I have one room set up as a writing study. I read all the time, and carry my Kindle with me, so I don’t have just one place to read.

Gabrielle, tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m addicted to afternoon naps. It’s pure luxury to crawl into bed after lunch, and have a deep refreshing sleep, followed by a cup of tea. Even though I’m not British, I love hot tea with milk and honey. 

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

The writing process was a surprise, because at first, like many writers, I failed to recognize the level of craft involved. As time went on, I realized how marginal my first attempts were. The publishing process was even more of a surprise. Since most beta-readers binge-read The Falcon Flies Alone, I expected I’d find an agent sooner or later. I hadn’t realized the very originality I was proud of would prove to be the problem. Luckily, I had the opportunity to join the women of Five Directions Press, a publishing co-op. I can honestly say this was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my writing career. Courtney J. Hall designed fantastic covers for the series, and C.P. Lesley has been a mentor, as well as copy-editing and formatting my manuscripts.  Ariadne Apostolou, who I met through the co-op, has a good eye for story development, but she’s become a good friend as well. The new members are lovely too. 

What do you hope readers will gain from The Falcon Flies Alone?

Primarily, I want them to be entertained, but I hope some themes will speak to them. I write about themes on my website blog as well. What is the importance of the natural world in our neurophysiological make-up, for example? Plants and animals are not just there for our physical nourishment. Our millenia of evolutional are intimately tied up in the natural world which they share with us. I’m also interested in the role of anger in the women’s lives. My first novel is set in 1957. At that time, in movies and literature, women didn’t defend themselves. They stayed in safe situations. How stultifying that life must have been. Someone like my heroine, Peppa Mueller, who is a scientist, would have felt like an outsider, even without a falcon totem that she has to keep hidden from the world. 

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

Well first of all, I have to say this to all aspiring writers. Please, please, learn the basics of grammar. You can break the rules once you know what they are. I am very conscious of grammar and sentence formation.

It’s helpful to find readers, even if they don’t perform literary criticism. You want to know whether people can follow your story. Do they find it interesting enough to finish? Those are two basics. Positive feedback from my beta-readers kept me going through some hard times, before I found Five Directions Press.  

What didn’t work?

People may get annoyed with you or your book. Personality quirks can put other writers off, and sometimes they cross the line when they offer you a “helpful” critique. (Especially if you see their e-mail was written late at night, in which case you may assume some libation was involved). It’s painful when that happens, but perhaps I should have seen it coming.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

You have to give some thought to what direction you want to go in. If you’re still hoping for an agent and a traditional publisher, think like they do. Decide on a genre, read the best-sellers in your genre, and then write something similar enough to be marketed, but something different enough so it’s not a blatant rip-off. If you want to remain true to your creativity, start making contacts now, so when the time comes, you can get your work properly edited and formatted. Don’t just push your first effort out into the internet, “to see what happens.” Join an organization like The Alliance of Independent Authors, and take your work seriously. Write multiple drafts, and learn your weak and strong points. You probably won’t make money, but you’ll have the satisfaction of creation.

Website and social media links?

www.gabriellemathieu.com, https://www.facebook.com/gabriellemathieuauthor, @GabrielleAuthor on Twitter. Our publishing co-op is http://www.fivedirectionspress.com/.

Where can we find The Falcon Flies Alone?

It’s on Amazon world-wide, both as an e-book and as a paperback. There were also a few copies at BookPeople in Austin and Imagine Books and Records in San Antonio. (Both cities are in Texas).

What’s next for you, Gabrielle?

This fall I will be doing some additional research for the third book, The Falcon Soars, as I travel to Nepal on a hiking adventure. Then I’ll return to the second in the series, The Falcon Strikes, to streamline and polish the narrative.
November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) month, and this year I plan to power through a first draft of my dystopian police-buddy novel, Shangri-la Apocalypse, featuring Ivanka Trump as the president of the USA. How’s that for dystopian?

Shangri-la Apocalypse sounds intriguing! Best wishes with your writing and safe travels to Nepal! Thanks for chatting with us today, Gabrielle.

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Sixth Street River Press. Her debut book, which garnered an Honorable Mention in Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport and a camera. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Please visit Eleanor at her website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sacred Writing Spaces

I know many writers who are quite content to write in coffee shops and diners, and between their kids’ dental appointments and soccer games. I know a few who can write on the bus, subway, or in between meetings. I am in awe of them. I’ve tried writing outside the home and it doesn’t work for me. The inevitability of major distraction is a fact: I need a sacred writing space.

I recently read two blog posts written by male writers, who said that the idea of a sacred writing space is pure hogwash, ridiciculous. I disagree, and I’m not a diva, thank you very much. The only sounds and images I want to hear and see whilst writing must come from my imagination; directly from my story and characters. How can I hear what my heroine is saying amidst singing baristas, crying babies, and people who can’t seem to speak in low tones in small spaces? And that’s just inside. Add to that, sirens or disgruntled drivers honking car horns. I can’t, but I’ve sure tried because sometimes I need human interaction as much as the next writer.

pierre on my laptop 002

Here’s what happened the last time I tried to write at one of my favorite coffee shops on a cool summer morning. I sat at my favorite table, plugged in my laptop and began to work on a chapter of my WIP. I was the only customer for an hour until a man entered the coffee shop wearing a trench coat on a summer day. Yeah, a trenchcoat. Like in the movies. He mumbled something to the owner and I began to panic, looking for the nearest exit, which was behind me. As far as I saw, he didn’t buy a thing, and when he left, I asked the owner what he’d wanted. The man was looking for work, she said. I breathed a sigh of relief, and sat back down, irritated at myself for being afraid. Then, I remembered all the shootings and bombings around the world and gave myself a break. I tried to figure out how I could add the man to a short story I’m working on, and then remembered I was there to work on an important chapter in my work in progress, a novel.

Fifteen minutes later, I became irritated by a young woman who yanked a crying toddler off the floor by his arm. Memories flooded in to when as a young mother I’d dislocating my young daughter’s elbow by pulling her up by the arm as she stepped off the curb, deadset in crossing the street alone. God, I’m so glad my kids are grown! That incident was followed by watching a woman sitting outside feeding her tiny puppy bits of an Everything bagel, and wondering why she’d do that. None of my business, I know, but I am a people watcher. I watch!

When I’m writing, I must live as a cloistered nun, sequestered from the world in a convent atop a Himalayan mountain.

I need the solitude, tranquility offered by nature while still feeling part of the world, without the crowds. It’s fortunate I live alone, so no one is bothered by my late night/early morning writing binges, which is the best time to write as far as I’m concerned. There are few cars on the road, and the only sounds I hear are the click clack of the keyboard, early morning birdsong, and the distant sound of freight trains whizzing past. Heaven.

Alone with stacks of books, notebooks, myriad stray pieces of paper with scribbled notes and quotes, a dictionary, and a thesauraus that litter my oak dining room table turned writing desk, I’m in nirvana. At this moment, there are two empty coffee cups (one from yesterday), one water glass, hand lotion, a small lamp, Chapstick, an ashtray, photos of my kids, assorted pens, pencils, and highlighters, and my cell phone, which is on mute. That’s how I like it. Oh, and a chopstick to put up my hair.

Christmas 2013 012

Last holiday season when gifts, Christmas cards, and rolls of wrapping paper took over the dining room table, I was forced to write upstairs in my bedroom–the coldest room in the house. Most days, I wrote in bed with a cold nose and a toasty body under two down comforters. The following Spring, I moved back to the dining room with a view of the garden, and by summer’s end, I’d finished the draft manuscript of my first book at my river lot on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River. With no Internet, TV, and only one radio station out there, it was perfect tranquility and silence during the week with a river view I adored. Weekends brought the ‘crazies’, the loud party people, who I tried to avoid unless family or friends were visiting. Then, of course, we joined in the merrymaking. By the following autumn, I was writing at the dining room table again.

cropped-vscocam-photo-1.jpg

I’ve since sold the river property, and my dining table has become my #1 sacred writing spot. Christmas 2017 will find me wrapping presents on the living room floor–I’m not moving all that stuff again. I happily write at the cluttered dining room table/writing desk, situated right smack in the middle of my house where I can easily get to the front door to receive packages from Amazon (books, of course). I have a beautiful view of my garden from two windows, and in ten steps, I’m at the kitchen. When I hit the lottery, I’m having a bathroom installed downstairs because as it it now, the only bathroom is upstairs and that’s a major pain. But…as it turns out, besides gardening, climbing the steep staircase of my old house is a good workout since I write for many, many hours on end.

So, if you come for dinner, my writing gear will be safely tucked into two French wicker market baskets, which I’ll hide in the armoire. You’ll never see my clutter as we wine and dine, and I’m a good cook. But I can’t promise I won’t bore you to tears talking about writing, or the book I just finished, or about my new story, book #2, and my awesome new characters.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

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

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani.

When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is at work on her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and thinking about the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ titled, ‘Mistress of Coffee’.

http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Sally Cronin

The Writing Life is very pleased to welcome the lovely and talented Sally Cronin, author of the short story collection, ‘Tales from the Garden’.

Sally CroninSally Cronin spent a number of years in each of the following industries – Retail, Advertising and Telecommunications, Radio & Television; and has taken a great deal of inspiration from each. She has written short stories and poetry since a very young age and contributed to media in the UK and Spain.

In 1996 Sally began studying nutrition to inspire her to lose 150 lbs and her first book, Size Matters published in 2001, told the story of that journey back to health. This was followed by another seven books across a number of genres including health, humour and romance. These include Just Food For Health, Size Matters, Just an Odd Job Girl, Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story, Flights of Fancy anthology, Turning Back the Clock and Media Training.

EPS: Welcome, Sally! Thanks for visiting with us.

SC: Thank you Eleanor for inviting me over to visit today. As with any writer the opportunity to talk about my work is always very welcome!

Tales From the Garden small- CoverEPS: My pleasure! Sally, what is the genre of ‘Tales from the Garden’?

SC: Tales from the Garden is a fantasy short story collection for all ages.

EPS: Please describe what Tales from the Garden is about.

SC: The collection of stories is about statues, fairies and other magical beings that live in a garden and come to life at night when the humans are asleep. There is the usual mix of evil, beautiful princesses, and heroes with love stories and adventure; of course a wicked witch.  There are stories about Roman Eagles and a Last Emperor, The Fairy Kingdom of Magia in the roots of the old magnolia tree and stone guardians in various forms who protect the humans as well as their fellow garden dwellers. There are 80 illustrations which I hope will be enjoyed by younger readers as well as fairy tale lovers of all ages.

EPS: I love the idea of including illustrations! How did you come up with the title?

SC: The simple answer was that the working title, Tales from the Garden, seemed the most appropriate. I checked the title out and did not get too many hits and most were about horticulture rather than fiction.

EPS: What inspired you to write this book?

SC: We have our house for sale here in the mountains to the north of Madrid. We arrived here 16 years ago and although I have spent time away from the house for work; it is our main home. The garden is large and we inherited several stone statues that the previous owners had bought but could not take with them. We kept finding more of them as we explored the various nooks and crannies of the garden and spread them around so that they could be seen. With the prospect of leaving this garden and knowing that most of these statues are too heavy to take with us, I decided to take their stories with us instead.

EPS: Wonderful story. What is your favorite part of writing?

SC: My favourite part of writing is the pre-keyboard process when it is still all in my head. Usually when I am swimming, walking or listening to music, which I do any chance I get, I get the basic idea and then start playing around with various scenarios until I create a solid storyline. I enjoy getting all the segments in a row and then swapping them around until I have the sequence more or less right. Then I sit down at the computer and blast it out without editing until I have something concrete to work with.

EPS: What have you found is the most challenging aspect of writing?

SC: I would probably say the final editing stages when you read the story or book through and put yourself in the reader’s position. What seemed logical to you can often have a step or two missing for the reader because they have not been through the same thought process. I am a very fast sight reader and this means I have to really slow down by reading aloud to ensure that the flow is right.

EPS: I am a fan of reading aloud for the same reasons. Who are some of your favorite authors?

SC: I bought my first Wilbur Smith when I was 11 years old. We had just come back to England after two years in South Africa and I loved everything about that wonderful continent. I have every one of his books, many in hardback. The second is Jean M. Auel who wrote the Clan of the Cave bear and then the rest of the series about Ayla, set about the time the ice was receding and there were still some Neanderthals left. Riveting but you need patience as there is often years between books because of the amount of research that Jean does for the novels. Apart from that I love a good crime thriller or historical novel that has been thoroughly researched.

EPS: What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

SC: Apart from Wilbur Smith there have been one or two teachers who allowed me free rein with my imagination. Although it was 57 years ago, I still remember my first teacher at primary school, who realising I could already read reasonably well thanks to my two older sisters, gave me more advanced books to read than the rest of the class. Her name is Mrs. Miller and I can still see her face today.

EPS: Do you have a favorite place to write?

SC: I love the office I share with my husband David. It is useful since he is a book designer and he is on hand when I need some advice. It is also our snug with our television and I have all my music and books to hand. It has shown us that when we downsize, our priority is to have a room that is big enough for us to share and surround ourselves with those good things in life.

EPS: Please tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

SC: I think I have probably given away most of my secrets by now in the posts on my memories, but perhaps one of my regrets would surprise most people who know me. As I mentioned, I love crime novels and when I was eighteen and considering whether to take my dental nurse training further as a Royal Naval nurse, I also thought seriously about joining the police force.  I was offered a place with the Royal Alexandra Nursing Service, so I turned down an interview with Hampshire Constabulary.  As it turned out, life intervened and I did neither. However, in hindsight I wish that I had taken the police career more seriously.

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

SC: I learn something new every time, and I think that is mainly down to the evolving nature of Indie publishing in general, but also the support system online offered by other authors. When I wrote my first book in 1999, it was a difficult process and not much easier for the second. Certainly in the last year or so it has become clear that as a writer you do need to be online with a blog and on social media as there is a vast pool of knowledge and experience on offer as well as support.  I really do not think that most mainstream authors have caught up with that yet. Their marketing is done by someone else and whilst they might have lots of followers on social media I don’t believe that they interact with them to the same level as we do. I am sure that the combined efforts of indie authors to create a strong presence online will continue to drive the evolution of the industry to a point where it works more efficiently for us.

EPS: I would agree with you. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

SC: This is the first book I wrote on my blog first. It gave me a chance to gather feedback on the individual stories and try out various themes before committing to the book. The comments that the individual stories received gave me the confidence that there is a market available for the stories and I am doing the same with my next book with a short story every week that will end up being two collections at the end of the year.

EPS: Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

SC: Your book needs to be as polished as any that has gone through a number of professional hands. That is tough as it costs money but if you feel that you do not have a particular skill then try to find a work around.  For example, give the book to people you know who are avid readers of good books and also anyone you can find who has an English Language degree.  Advertise at the local university or college. You may have to pay a small fee to a student but I have found that they appreciate the chance to work with an author. There are a number of computer programmes that can help. Spell check is an obvious one but there are more sophisticated ones that will also highlight grammar edits, as well.  Finally, read and read again. It can be wearing, but leave gaps between reading and do something completely different and come back to it.

If you cannot afford someone else to design and format your book then take advantage of the free blog posts and also the very inexpensive books available with step by step guides to the complete process.

Tales From the Garden small- Cover

EPS: Website?

SC: I have my own website for the book which is attached to the main publishing site. This enables me to  sell my books at a substantial discount.  http://moyhill.com/tales/

EPS: Sally, where can we find ‘Tales from the Garden’?

 

SC: The book is available on Amazon and the quickest route is through my author page.

Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/author/sallycroninbooks

All my books can be found on Amazon or smashwords.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SallyGCronin

EPS: What’s next for you?

SC: I am really into short stories right now and two anthologies will be out by this time next year. I also have a People Management Development programme that is finished and is ready to go in the New Year. I will be using that as part of my training consultancy. I also have a WIP in the form of a book on care for the elderly in the home. I love a good plateful!

EPS: You certainly keep busy! Thank you for visiting, Sally. I enjoyed getting to know more about you, and I wish you continued success with your writing.

SC: My thanks for this wonderful opportunity to talk about Tales from the Garden and this wonderful, crazy world we inhabit as writers.

EPS: True words about the wonderful, crazy world of writing. Thanks again, Sally. Best wishes and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Sally’s Blog: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/

Social Media Links:

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sallycronin1
https://twitter.com/sgc58
https://www.facebook.com/sally.cronin
https://www.facebook.com/sallygeorginacronin
https://plus.google.com/+SallyCronin/about

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society, and a contributing writer for Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season. Book clubs across the United States have enjoyed A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel and a short story collection.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47WI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Jacqueline Cioffa

The Writing Life is pleased to welcome Jacqueline Cioffa, author of The Vast Landscape.

Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and a celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector, and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in the anthology, Brainstorms, and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness. She’s a storyteller, observer, essayist, potty mouth, and film lover who’s traveled the world.
Her poignant, literary fiction debut, The Vast Landscape, gives new meaning to intense, raw, and heartfelt.

JCioffa_n

Welcome, Jacqueline.

What is your book’s genre/category? 

Literary Fiction

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Bold contemporary fiction, The Vast Landscape shares one woman’s journey filled with doubt, mistrust, fame, and self-discovery. Join Harrison on her quest to find inner peace despite the harrowing obstacles placed in her way. Will she succeed in stripping away her complex armor to unmask the flawed, beautiful, and strong iconoclast kept hidden for so long?

1027_0.813088001446671690_the-vast-landscape

How did you come up with the title? 

The title was inspired from a large landscape portrait an artist, photographer friend gifted me that lives on the wall in the Zen room, the place where I write.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was very, very sick, with Manic Depression and made the decision to leave New York City to move back home to the Finger Lakes and a simpler, more manageable way of life. I made a pact to write everyday, stream of consciousness. The Red Bench was a coping mechanism, a way to hold onto to hope, and frankly to stay alive.

The Vast Landscape began as memoir, and many of the passages are excerpts from The Red Bench sprinkled throughout both The Vast Landscape and Georgia Pine.

Once I freed The Vast Landscape to be fiction I realized Harrison, the protagonist could go anywhere. I had a larger canvas for her to stomp on.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Trusting the words, the absolute and complete freedom I feel releasing thoughts onto the page, whether dark or light.

I am discovering the story and characters for the first time as well, and because I rely on a lot of real life experience and characters for inspiration, I’m always surprised and invigorated.

Jacqueline, what is the most challenging aspect of writing for you?

The editing, marketing and all the ‘stuff’ that comes after. I find the business, publishing, and marketing aspects to be quite challenging which is why I’m so grateful for Rachel Thompson, and that she asked me to join Gravity Imprint. She is a talented author, gifted and a humble, marketing guru. My words are in the best, most capable hands with Gravity Imprint. I pinch myself daily. 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Irving, Joan Didion, Samuel Beckett, Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, John Green, Patty Smith, Nicolas Sparks. It’s pretty eclectic; I find inspiration across the board. I’m a visual writer and I love watching films adapted from books. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

My parents are my first favorite humans, kind, generous, solid, loyal, and nurturing. They gave me a solid foundation, moral fiber, enough room to grow, and pursue my dreams. My BFF who believed in the magic of my words way before me, and still does even when I don’t.

Author Mark Blickley who read my earliest works and emphatically encouraged me to pursue a career in writing later in life. (I’d already had successful modeling and makeup careers).

Rachel Thompson, Julie Anderson, Marla Carlton, Feminine Collective, and all the empowering women who challenging the stereotypes daily.

Nicole Lyons, writer and founder of The Lithium Chronicles, the fierce, courageous Mental Health Advocates I’ve met through sharing my Mental Illness story.

Anyone, and everyone who champions others and dares to dream. There are quiet and loud warriors changing the world in positive ways.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

The ‘Zen room,’  where I wrote The Vast Landscape and Georgia Pine. It’s filled with talismans, inspiration Buddhas, crystals, a vast landscape canvas portrait, and childhood memories.

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

I’m a goof, I like to watch Lifetime Movies and chew Bazooka Bubble Gum.

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

I was blown away and delighted by the overwhelming visceral reader response to both The Vast Landscape and Georgia Pine. Readers have an immediate and intense connection to the stories. Their response and desire to dissect the characters, understand, talk about the tears, joy and connection they felt. That still shocks me in the very best, and humble way.

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

I wrote my truth first and foremost for me. I gave Harrison all the messiest, strongest, ugliest, prettiest, chaotic, stoic and flawed parts of my character. But I also created a fantastical, sanctuary for her to live and dream. The Cove, the safe, mystical, magical dwelling by the sea filled with stars, sunshine, beach, hope, love, emotion and family. For her, and me. And, ultimately the readers.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t try to mold yourself into some preconceived idea, lust after another, more successful author and don’t compare yourself to anyone. That is a recipe for disaster. Find your unique voice and look around, pay attention. Humans are complex fascinating creatures. The possibility for good stories is happening all around you. It took me forty-seven years to get published, and I’m still learning the craft. Write like you can’t live without it out, and don’t be in a hurry.

Website?

Author site: jacquelinecioffa.com  http://jacquelinecioffa.com

Gravityimprint.com http://gravityimprint.com/team/jacqueline-cioffa/

Bleeding Ink on FeminineCollective.com http://femininecollective.com/jacqueline-cioffa/

Where can we find your book?

The Vast Landscape and Georgia Pine are currently available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Jacqueline-Cioffa/e/B00H4EZKVE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Look for The Vast Landscape re-release in early December and Georgia Pine to follow with Gravity Imprint of BookTrope Publishing.

What’s next for you?

Writing my column, Bleeding Ink for Feminine Collective, Mental Health Advocacy,

The repub of Georgia Pine, the sequel to The Vast Landscape with Gravity Imprint, and finishing Evergreen, completing The Vast Landscape Saga. 

Then it’s back to the red bench, and a walk in the woods, to start fresh.

I do my best writing while walking.

Thanks for chatting with us today, Jacqueline. I wish you continued success with your writing and blogging!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut historical literary novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, and book clubs in across the United States have enjoyed the book. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

 

 

Author Interview: Neal Roberts

The Writing Life is pleased to welcome Neal Roberts, author of the historical novel, A Second Daniel.

Neal's Photo

Neal Roberts and his wife live on Long Island, New York, where they have two grown children. Neal is a practicing attorney and adjunct law professor, and spends as much time as possible researching his next novel while enhancing his lawyer’s pallor. When he’s not writing Elizabethan politico-legal novels, practicing law, or teaching, he’s an editor of an international peer-reviewed publication in the field of intellectual property law. Neal is also an avid student of Elizabethan literature and politics, which subjects form the basis of his first novel, A Second Daniel. His analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121 has been extensively cited by some of the most important authorities seeking to identify the true author of the poems and plays attributed to William Shakespeare.

What is your book’s genre/category?

Historical Fiction/Tudor/Elizabethan.

A Second Daniel 3D Book

Neal, please describe what ‘A Second Daniel’ is about.

It’s about Noah Ames, an orphan who came to England from a foreign land and was given every advantage the Crown could bestow. When he becomes a barrister, he’s appointed to defend Queen Elizabeth’s Jewish physician against false accusations of attempting to poison her. (This was a real case.) In the course of the prosecution, Noah’s adversary threatens to expose Noah himself as a secret Jew, which could destroy his career and cost him his life.

How did you come up with the title?

“A Second Daniel” is a line from the famous courtroom scene in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (where the phrase “a pound of flesh” comes from). “A second Daniel” is shouted by each side of the dispute to laud the judge when she makes an observation helpful to that side’s cause. It’s especially pertinent to my story because the central figure in both my book and Shakespeare’s play (as well as its courtroom scene) is a Jew making his way in Christendom.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always wanted to write, but I felt I just didn’t know enough about life and work to have an adult story to tell. After I began practicing law, I fidgeted with fiction writing for years. I even wrote a couple of novels that wound up in a shoebox, because I thought they weren’t good enough to go out in the world to represent me. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized that I’ve earned the experience necessary to create characters in full, whether young or old, and I’ve honed the skills to express myself fully. The death of my father gave writing a new urgency. 

What is your favorite part of writing? 

Most of all, I enjoy getting to know my characters so well that I can put them into any situation and know in advance how each of them will react, and what they’ll say.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

To me, the most challenging part of writing is distinguishing between what the reader can be expected to know and what he/she needs (or wants) to be told. Is an arched eyebrow enough, or does the reader need (or want) a full explanation of the character’s mental process? What I’ve found is that readers are very individual, and differ so much from each other that the author never gets a really good fix on it, and so must rely on his or her own sense of empathy with the reader, which is not always a perfect guide. Still, it’s the best we’ve got.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Charles Dickens, C.J. Sansom, Stephen King, Umberto Eco, Ken Follett, William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, and William Shakespeare. (That wasn’t the playwright’s real name, by the way. The real Shakespeare is in my book, A Second Daniel, and he’s not whom you might expect. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I think if I were 20 years old that would be a fairly easy question to answer. But I’m considerably older than that, and have wide experience in fields as diverse as law, politics, law school teaching, and popular music. In terms of books, I’d have to place J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the top tier, as they speak of the human condition in terms everyone can relate to. That’s a great talent, and something to aspire to. I’d include Eco in that tier, as well, as he not only explores elevated ideas in the context of narrative stories, but also recognizes their limitations and invites us to laugh along at them.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

Anywhere quiet. The important thing is that I’m undisturbed for 5-6 hours at a stretch. The plot ideas may come quickly, but the character’s feelings develop in real time, and they can’t be skipped or rushed. They’re central to verisimilitude and reader enjoyment.

Tell us something personal people may be surprised to know?

I met Robert Ludlum once at a party. He’d just written The Bourne Identity, and it was a huge hit. When I shook his hand, he told me he’d heard all about me, and never knew that I wanted to be, as he put it, a “scribbler.” He was as gracious as they come, and evidently had been hearing about me from my uncle for years. I was speechless and, as my friends can tell you, that’s rare. It took me another 30 years, but I finally have a book out!

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

It’s a huge revelation when someone working on your book tells you something about one of your characters that you yourself didn’t realize. Since each of your characters is a facet of your own personality, they’re actually telling you about yourself, which is sometimes dismaying and sometimes hilarious. It also shows that you’ve revealed more about yourself in your writing than you thought, and that’s spooky.

The actual process of publishing a book requires the efforts of so many talented, dedicated people that it’s awe-inspiring. At the same time as it’s incredibly flattering that all these talented people would deem your book worthy of such effort, it also places a lot of pressure on the author to make the whole enterprise succeed. And the author must stay involved from the editing process, through cover art and even typography, if the result is going to reflect the story the author was trying to tell in the first place.

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

I took a great deal of good advice, some express and some implied. As for taking express advice: I knew from many other endeavors that a principal in any activity is always too close to the work to be objective. If someone with a reasonable amount of patience tells you that they don’t understand something, you must assume that they’re not alone, and you have to find out why they don’t understand it and rewrite it so it is understandable. If they’re bored by something, or a line doesn’t ring right, you have to think hard about why, and fix it. My book reflects a great deal of advice.

What do I mean by implied advice? See what good writers are doing to appeal to the readers you want. For example, the idea of writing in the present tense (even though the events of the book took place 400 years ago) was suggested by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I thought about writing in the first person, as C.J. Sansom does in his Shardlake novels, but found it didn’t work for me, as it hinders the occasional shift in point of view that I think makes it possible to set up a good sense of conflict.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Yes. Don’t rely on preconceived notions of what the publishing industry is today. It’s so radically different today from what it was even 10 years ago, that it’s the first day of school for just about every author.

Website?

My website, to which everyone is invited, is: www.authornealroberts.com

I also have an author page on Facebook to which I keep adding items of interest. That’s at: https://www.facebook.com/Neal-Roberts-534058260076084

Where can we find your book?

A Second Daniel is available in digital form and hard copy at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and iTunes.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Second-Daniel-English-Lion-Book-ebook/dp/B016087AX0

Barnes&Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-second-daniel-neal-roberts/1122726989

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-second-daniel/id1045349347

What’s next for you? 

Book 2 of the series, entitled The Impress of Heaven, will be out in a couple of months. Book 3 is in the works!

Thanks for your visit, Neal. Best wishes with your books!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, and book clubs in across the United States have enjoyed the book. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

Who’s Telling This Story and Other Questions

I named my author blog, The Writing Life, for good reason–I love writing about my writing journey with its’ challenges, joys, and the confusing world of writing, marketing and publishing. Yes, the writing life can be confusing, and last week, I was confused in a big way with my second book, my work-in-progress.

These are the type of questions that kept coming to mind. Perhaps you can relate to the writerly predicament I found myself in.

What should you do when your protagonist and secondary character begin vying for first place in a story–the protagonist seat–and you’re swaying toward the secondary character? And then back to the main character you’ve chosen. Do you stick with your initial storyline, keeping it as is or do you take this new development seriously? You’ve already worked so hard on the story, dear writer. The manuscript might be finished, or you might be a third of the way through, but still!

Should your characters switch places, which will undoubtedly mean a rewrite and most probably, a bit more research, or do you stubbornly hold your ground in favor of the original story? You know this character musical chairs game will mean a lot more work on your part. Is this a wise move worthy of the time you’ve already spent on the story?

YES! Take the nagging feelings seriously. Here’s what happened to me last week.

I’d written nearly twenty chapters of my work-in-progress when my muse whispered, “Whose story is this?” I quickly recognized the situation. Oh, no. After I finished my very first manuscript in 2006, the second leading lady, ‘spoke’ loud and clear–clear enough for me to stop and take her seriously. I couldn’t deny she’d become the more interesting character to write as she was a feisty, wise, complicated older woman with a mysterious, tumultuous past versus a beautiful, young widow and mother with limited life experience.

Despite realizing the enormity of the task ahead–rewriting my story and adding new chapters–I forged ahead. It was the right move for me. Yes, it required many months of rewrites and writing new chapters, but I listened to my characters and my inner voice, who pointed to Ana, my secondary character. She’d been the leading lady all along, with Serafina playing the role as Ana’s long-time, loyal friend and supporter.

This past weekend, I gave this recurring theme (and nagging throughts) a good long look. I’d outlined book #2; thought the storyline out from beginning to end; I’d done a substancial amount of research; I understand my characters and their roles in the story; and I have a good story with unique, complex characters in a unique and complex setting. Okay, done. I was very pleased with the story and felt pretty confident in my main character’s ability to pull the story off. Yet I still had a nagging suspicion that wouldn’t let go–the supporting lady, also called the supporting protagonist, was speaking louder than the protagonist–was it her story? Are you kidding me? Again? All that writing and research down the drain!

Each character is important and integral to the story. I had to remind myself:

The protagonist is the main character and the principal figure in a literary work. It is her story to tell because it’s about her and her goal. The secondary characters must be chosen carefully and should contribute to the story and support the protagonist in her goal. The antagonist is equally as important as the protagonist as she will go against the protagonist at every step, causing the leading lady to act, suffer, make mistakes, work things out (or not), and help move the story forward. If a minor character doesn’t support the protagonist, it might be necessary to cut them from the story.

Then, I wrote to my mentor, master-storyteller Jack Remick, who graciously responded to my email full of confusion. He replied, “It’s good to be in chaos at this stage of the story. First question, of course, is: whose story is it? Keep going. You’ll solve the problems now that you’re worrying about them.” He was right. It was a great reminder. I’d lost the plot with so many characters in my head! (Check out Jack and Bob’s superb writing blog – bobandjackswritingblog.com)

So, the former protagonist in my WIP will have her own book on down the line. Her story is already firm in my mind, and I’ve done most of the research. I’ve put her aside for now. Who did I choose as my leading lady for book #2? The secondary character. She is complex and  vulnerable, intelligent and clueless, and at times, she’s haughty. She is perfectly flawed.

I immediately felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders when I’d decided. Once again, I’m writing with a huge smile on my face. It’s going to be an awesome story, now that I know whose story it is to tell. I think the former protagonist is somewhat relieved, as she was out of her element in this particular story. She was just waiting for me to realize what she already knew. Yes, writers speak to their characters and they answer us!

Sometimes you must get completely lost, almost in a state of chaos, to find your way. Writing good stories is like that: one foot in front of another, paying attention to the shady detours and dark corners which just might lead you to Shangri-La.

Happy writing to you!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, and book clubs in many states have enjoyed the book. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Success and Failure: The Creative Life

A few days ago, while scrolling through Facebook during my dinner break, I came across this quote, Writers are more afraid of success than failure.”

What? I read the quote a second time to see if my initial displeasure might change. Nope, I didn’t get it. I scrunched my nose, and I thought, “What the hell? Is there any truth to that?” Now granted, I’m filtering the quote through my 58 years on this planet, and it might mean something completely different to you, dear reader. I’m still thinking about the meaning, and this morning, I realized the reason I was miffed might have had to do with a difficult man I met.

At a friend’s gathering a few months ago, a man I don’t know well announced that writers should get a real job instead of writing books. I believed I was the only writer in the group, so my ears were pricked. He announced that when writers work eight to ten hours a day, for years and years, then they can say we have a job. A real job. When I replied that I write full time and love writing books, he scoffed, saying, “You’re earning chump change from your published book. What’s the point?” I raised eyebrows here. I asked why in the world it mattered to him what writers did if they were happy? His response was, “Writing doesn’t make you happy. A good, honest job makes you happy and makes you a productive member of society.” Good grief.

I’ve held many jobs in my adult life, including counseling others, and I knew his comment was HIS baggage. The truth is, when pursuing my creative projects, I feel fulfilled and very happy, with gardening a close second, and the main reason I moved to West Virginia was to return to my creative life. I felt his ridiculous outburst had nothing to do with me, but I still found myself taking offense until I realized I was speaking to someone who might never understand why I write. I let it go. I might have muttered under my breath as I walked away, but I can’t be sure.

Later I thought, are creative and non-creative folks so different from one another? Obviously I took his comment to heart, but I was also curious. What had set him off? The fact that I don’t work a traditional nine to five job, or that I work from home and I’m self-sufficient? Who knows? I only know that he’d ruffled my feathers in a big way. Slowly the indignation softened to a slow boil of anger, which finally led to shrugging my shoulders—I know who I am—a writer and an artist. His path is his path, and somewhere in our lives, we’d reached a fork in the road. I took a completely different path than he and most of my friends did. And that’s okay. I am doing what I love.

It took me five years to get my ducks in a row, for my children to graduate from university and find jobs, and for me to gather enough courage to decide to return to my creative life. I was driven to write full-time, and when it was time, I jumped off the cliff and landed in the writing life. Easy? No. Courageous? Yes, I believe so. Risky? Bring it on. I was ready.

Writers are the most driven, hard working, wonderfully complicated, interesting people I know. We write alone, spend thousands of hours writing and researching over long weekends, holidays, and late into the night when most folks are sleeping. Many writers hold full time jobs, raise kids, and all deal with moments of self-doubt and anguish over ever seeing their book in print. Most writers deal with constant rejection, periods of little or no sleep, and hours upon hours of work for no pay, until their book is published–if the book is published. Many intrepid souls work tirelessly to self-publish their book. Writing books is not a life choice for the faint of heart.

After a book is published, the real work begins with marketing, social media, and publicity. Non-stop, every day, every waking moment is spent trying to get the book noticed; to attract new readers. Writing blog posts, doing interviews, interviewing other writers, searching for ways to encourage readers to write reviews—this has been my life for nearly five years since I picked up an old manuscript. After years of editing and more research, the book was published in February 2015. Writing IS a job. I run a small business! I wish I’d said that to the irritating man 🙂

Am I afraid of success? Not by a long shot. I work long, hard hours. I sacrifice. I dream, as do my fellow writers. Maybe the question to ponder is what success in writing means to you, the writer, the creative. Are you looking for financial freedom? Does writing success mean you can buy a villa in Tuscany for cash? Will success from writing mean you can leave your day job?

That does happen for some writers. Perhaps their planets lined up with the right star at the right time. That’s not what writing success means for most writers, and certainly not to me. So, what then? Why write and risk personal ridicule, rejection, and “chump change” for your art and craft? Why risk failure? Why pursue the writing life at all?

You write and risk because you must–because you can’t imagine doing anything else but telling stories. You have a message, a voice, an opinion, a desire, and an experience you want to share with the world. Because you are courageous, tenacious, driven, a little loony (aren’t we all?), and very special. And don’t you forget it. Where would the world be without the creative folks—the communicators, the writers, painters, sculptors, the poets, and photographers—who risk a little and everything for their art? What a dull, lifeless place this world would be without the creatives.

Don’t listen to the naysayers, the inner and outer critics, or the people who pat you on the head, saying, “Nice hobby”, “How many books have you sold?”, or “Is your book a bestseller yet?” while they might snicker behind their hands. These are small minds; the fearful; the followers. Probably the people who bully others, or exhibit road rage on our streets and highways because they have no outlets—no creative outlets that allow and encourage self-exploration; facilitate more self-love and understanding of the world and everyone in it; and outlets that develop higher self-esteem; and grow personal courage, independence. I feel sad for those who will wait for their dreams to materialize until they retire, until their kids grow up and leave the nest, or until they are dead.

Writers and creatives—be grateful for your gifts. Celebrate your uniqueness. Thank God and the Universe for your life experiences that have turned into words, into books, short stories, paintings, songs, screenplays, theater pieces, and poems. Keep at it, doggedly pursue your dreams, and stand strong and proud. Writers–read, keep reading, tell your story, and continue learning more about the craft of writing. Never give up. Support other writers.

The creative folks I know aren’t afraid of success—they might be fearful of other things, but not success. Honestly, they are already successful in my eyes by the mere fact that they took a chance and created. They have my utmost respect.

Me? I’m fearful I won’t have enough years and brain cells left to continue telling my stories! That’s what I fear.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.