16 Puerto Rican Woman and Non-Binary Writers Telling New Stories

16 Puerto Rican Women and Non-Binary Writers Telling New Stories

Dr. Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories, on the writers who are changing the topography of Puerto Rican literature

In 1916, Bernardo Vega boards a ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico to come to New York City — this journey, this life as a Puerto Rican in the pioneer phase of migration, where on average 2,000 Puerto Ricans were migrating to the continental U.S., is chronicled in theMemoirs of Bernardo Vega.

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In 1993, Esmeralda Santiago published When I Was Puerto Rican, an endearing memoir about a young girl’s life in Puerto Rico and her eventual migration to the U.S. Between Vega and Santiago, there are other canonical Puerto Rican texts published — what connects them all are ideas of migration, identity, belonging, and facing racism in the continental U.S.

As of 2013, approximately 5 million Puerto Ricans reside in the mainland U.S. and these 16 non-binary and women writers are adding new narratives to the history of Puerto Rican writing. Their fiction, essays, and poetry focuses on blackness and slavery, queerness, the sexual and romantic lives of women, racial passing, and African-based religions, and so much more. These are the writers to watch to see how they change the topography of Puerto Rican literature.

15 Views of Miami by Jaquira Díaz

In the 1970s, Nicholasa Mohr captured Puerto Rican girlhood, and today the Southern Review has said “Jaquira Díaz illuminates the beauty and brutality of being a teenager.” She captures this in essays like “Girls, Monsters” about the awakening of sexual desire and the sexual threat all women experience and in “My Mother and Mercy” where Diaz recounts her estranged relationship with her mother and Mercy, her grandmother. She has also written about the Baby Lollipops murder case, belonging, and suicide. Diaz has been a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the Kenyon Review. Her work appears in Rolling StoneThe Guardian, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. Her memoir Ordinary Girlsand a novel are forthcoming from Algonquin Books.

Lo Terciario / The Tertiary by Raquel Salas Rivera

Raquel Salas Rivera, the 2018–19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, is the writer of Caneca de anhelos turbios, oropel/tinsel,and tierra intermitente, along with five chapbooksTheir latest book, lo terciario/the tertiary, utilizes a “decolonial queer critique and reconsideration of Marx” to respond to the PROMESA bill (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) regarding the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Their poem “landscape of old san juan” illustrates another of Salas Rivera’s themes: colonialism. “In the center of your chest there is a treasure / if you move the flower pots you’ll find/ your enemy curled up like a snake / he is the gravedigger / that keeps throwing dirt / in the pan.”

Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier

Dr. Amina Lolita Gautier is the winner of the 2018 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. Dr. Gautier has published over 100 stories in literary journals and has three award-winning short story collections: At-Riskand The Loss of All Lost Things. The third book, Now We Will Be Happy, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction and highlights the lives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, those born on the mainland, and those who migrate to the US. The stories in the book cross “boundaries of comfort, culture, language, race, and tradition in unexpected ways, these characters struggle valiantly and doggedly to reconcile their fantasies of happiness with the realities of their existence.”

Stay With Me by Sandra Rodriguez Barron

Sandra Rodriguez Barron is the award-winning author of The Heiress of Water, a Borders Original Voices selection. The novel is about Monica Winters Borrero, a physical therapist who was raised in El Salvador until the death of her mother. In order to aid a comatose patient, Monica returns to El Salvador in search of a therapeutic treatment her mother had been researching. There, Monica will confront the past and the difficult relationship she had with her mother. Her second novel, Stay with Me, is about the life-long relationship between five kids who were abandoned in Puerto Rico and who forged their own family.

Unfinished Portrait: Poems by Luivette Resto

Luivette Resto tackles issues of identity, womanhood, motherhood, and romance. “No sucios for me! / No sucios for me! / No sucios for me!” one of the girls in her poems implores. Resto is the author of two books of poetry, Unfinished Portrait, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Ascension. She is also a CantoMundo Fellow. While in her poetry she reaches back to connect with Puerto Rican poets like Julia de Burgos and Pedro Pietri and contends with similar themes, she approaches these timeless issues with a present-day eye so that “women find a sense of freedom to embrace all of the nuances and complexities of feminism and mujerismo.”

Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan, featuring Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman’s work “focuses on identity, social change, disrupting notions of power, and celebrating the parts of ourselves deemed unworthy.” For example, in “A queer girl’s ode to the piraguero,” she writes, “Oh, Piraguero! My first lover. / The only man I ever wanted / anything from. I sprinted half blocks for you, got off / the bus two stops early, took the long way home / just to see: your rainbow umbrella.” Her poem “Dear Straight People” went viral with over 2 million views. She is one of the “Top 20 Emerging LGBT Leaders” according to the Philadelphia Gay Newspaper. She is also a CantoMundo Fellow, a Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, and the recipient of many other accolades.

A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning, historical novel A Decent Woman, which is set in the late 1800s in Ponce, Puerto Rico and tells the story of the life-long friendship between midwife Ana and her friend Serafina. A class and racial division opens up between Ana and Serafina when Serafina marries into the upper echelons of Ponce society, and Ana remains in their impoverished neighborhood. Ana’s livelihood is jeopardized by the changing view that women should deliver in hospitals rather than at home with a midwife. This novel captures Ponce in a time of great advancement and exposes how all these shifts affect the lives of women.

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Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay, featuring Vanessa Mártir

Vanessa Mártir is an essayist who was most recently published in the New York Times bestseller Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Cultureedited by Roxane Gay, as well as in Bitch MagazineSmokelong Quarterly, and the VONA/Voices Anthology Dismantle. Martír is the creator of the Writing Our Lives Workshop. She has written about growing up in Bushwick with two mothers in the 1980s, writers of color, motherhood, grief, and other topics. She is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings.

Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns

Rosalie Morales Kearns, a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, is the founder of the feminist publishing house Shade Mountain Press. Her novel Kingdom of Women is about Averil Parnell, a female Roman Catholic priest who has to decide what advice she is going to offer to a group of vigilante women who go after murderers, rapists, and child abusers. Virgins and Tricksters is Morales Kearns’ magic-realist short story collection. The Small Press Book Review raved:“It’s not that the stories are comfortable — these worlds of virgins, tricksters, wives, daughters — are fraught with complication and searching. Nor do they lack surprise: by blending precise realism with wild magic, Kearns subverts our expectations in subtle yet astounding ways.”

Scar on/Scar Off by Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a 2018 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship winner and an Academy of American Poets Award recipient. Her first book is Scar On/Scar Off, a cross-genre poetry and prose text. The theme of scarring runs through the book — the scarring from being a woman, from having dual ethnic identities, and from dealing with racism. She is the Contest Editor at The Missouri Review. Her work has been selected as a “Short Story of the Day” by The Seattle Review of Books and a “Poem of the Week” by Split this Rock. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles ReviewPuerto del SolThe Feminist Wire, among other outlets. She has finished a historical novel set during the Reconstruction era.

Fish Out of Agua: My Life On Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks by Michele Carlo

Michele Carlo’s Fish Out Of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks is a memoir about growing up as a redheaded, freckle-faced Puerto Rican in the Bronx during the 1970s. Throughout her youth, Carlo had to contend with being seen as white and not Puerto Rican. The memoir also chronicle’s her mother’s mental illness, the secrets that her family keeps, and how she comes into her own and becomes the artist she had always wanted to be. Carlo is also a performer who has appeared across the US, including The Moth’s GrandSlam and MainStage storytelling shows in NYC. Her current project is a radio show on Radio Free Brooklyn, where she interviews artists, activists, and educators.

The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho by Anjanette Delgado

Anjanette Delgado is an award-winning novelist, speaker, and journalist who has written or produced for media outlets, such as NBC, CNN, NPR, Univision, HBO, Telemundo, and Vogue Magazine’s LatAm and Mexico divisions, among others. Her award-winning romance novel The Heartbreak Pill is about scientist Erika Luna who sets out to create a pill to undo heartbreak. Her latest novel, The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho, is about Mariela Estevez whose clairvoyance kicks in when her lover is found murdered. Delgado is “fascinated with heartbreak, the different ways in which it occurs, and the consequences it brings.”

Homenaje a las guerreras/Homage to the Warrior Women by Peggy Robles-Alvarado

Peggy Robles-Alvarado is a writer and editor of several projects. She is the author of Conversations With My Skin, which is about the transformation of a pregnant and abused 15-year old who learns to define herself, and Homenaje a las guerreras/Homage to the Warrior Women, which pays tribute to women who “carry several lifetimes and dimensions within one frame and [who] learn how to properly balance them.” She is also the editor of The Abuela Stories Project, an anthology of writing and photography by women that is meant to challenge the notion of abuelas and their stories as inconsequential. Her latest book Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement and The Muse is an anthology “inspired by Taino, Lukumi and Palo traditions where women make connections to their muses through body and spirit.”

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa’s debut novel is Daughters of the Stone. Author Cristina Garcia enthuses, “Rejoice! Here is a novel you’ve never read before: the story of a long line of extraordinary Afro-Puerto Rican women silenced by history…Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa rescues them from oblivion.” Llanos-Figueroa’s novel follows the lives of five generation of women starting from Africa, moving to Puerto Rico, and ending in New York City. The novel was shortlisted for the 2010 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Daughters of the Stone is the first novel in a series of five, and Llanos-Figueroa has completed her second novel, A Woman of Endurance, and is now working on her third novel.

Outside the Bones by Lyn Di Lorio

Dr. Lyn Di Lorio is a professor and was a consultant on Puerto Rican cultural matters for Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved WorldIn her book, Outside the Bones, protagonist Fina Mata unwittingly unleashes a powerful Palo spirit when she attempts to make her neighbor Chico fall in love with her. Outside the Bones is the first English language novel about Palo Monte, an Afro-Caribbean religion that stems from the Bantu-speaking people and their Caribbean descendants.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

For decades, young readers of color did not find themselves in the literature they read. But now, representation of Latinxs in young adult literature is on the rise. A recent book to fill this niche is Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, which tells the story of Margot who is caught between her Puerto Rican world and the world of her prep school. Rivera was named a “2017 Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times.

Her next book, Dealing in Dreams, is forthcoming in March 2019; it’s a futuristic story about girl gangs and the leader’s desire to get off the streets and move up in the world.

About the Author

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez earned a PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MFA from Emerson College. She has published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, the Boston Review, the Bilingual Review, and others. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli, a Kimbilio fellow, and a VONA/Voices alum.

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Author Interview: Mickey Brent

Welcome to the 2018 Author Interview Series at The Writing Life, one of my favorite features on the blog. Instead of hosting one author per week as we’ve done for the past two years, I will share one interview per month to allow me to focus on finishing my second book, The Laments. The distraction quotient is real over here!

I hope you enjoy the new author interviews. Thank you for your visit!

Eleanor

This month, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Mickey Brent. We met in Brussels, Belgium through a shared love of and a deep appreciation for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, when we both lived in the fascinating city.

Mickey Brent is a multicultural author and creative writing teacher who lives in Southern California with her partner and two kitties. She is also an active member of the LGBTQ community. Mickey spent nearly two decades living in Europe and loves writing quirky stories about Europeans, their diverse cultures, languages, and lifestyles. Mickey has written numerous travel articles, book chapters, poems, and screenplays, publishing various genres of fiction and non-fiction under other noms de plume. Mickey’s aim is to offer readers a more fun, light-hearted, and romantic view of life. She has created this vivid reality with Underwater Vibes, a well-crafted, contemporary novel showcasing a unique cast of characters thriving in the multicultural city of Brussels, Belgium, the capital of Europe. Its sequel, Broad Awakening, will be published by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018.

Underwater Vibes cover

Please describe what Underwater Vibes is about.

Hélène Dupont, a French-speaking scientific translator in Brussels, Belgium, cherishes two things: flowers and Chaussette, her cat. Hélène writes bad poetry to help her survive her painful existence with Marc, her husband, until she collapses at work and her doctor proposes a radical lifestyle change. She diets drastically and attempts sports for the first time, while Marc laughs at her efforts. Then Hélène meets Sylvie Routard, a carefree, young, amateur photographer from Greece. By chance, Sylvie becomes Hélène’s private swim coach. During their daily lessons, Hélène’s admiration towards Sylvie turns to attraction. As unsettling feelings hijack her mind and body, daydreams featuring Sylvie enter her life—even her poems. Hélène starts to question her relationship with Marc, and everything else in life.

How did you come up with the title?

Because Hélène and Sylvie spend so much time in the water, the attraction they feel can best be described as vibrations, hence the title, Underwater Vibes. I worked on my title for several weeks before I came up with one that was short, descriptive, and perfectly captured the essence of the story. These vibrations are underwater, just as underlying vibrations can translate to underlying meaning in our lives. As humans, we constantly feel things, whether we realize it or not. Believe me, Hélène and Sylvie are feeling things throughout the book. The fact that they are swimming underwater together adds to the intrigue, in my opinion.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea for Underwater Vibes came as an assignment for an English composition course I took in college. The story was about a plump, shy girl—a loner—who learned to swim in a lake one summer. My writing teacher loved the story and urged me to keep writing. Twenty years later, while taking a creative writing course in Brussels, Belgium, I remembered that original essay. Each day, as I biked through Brussels, I jotted down new ideas for the story. Despite minor accidents with light poles and a parked car, I kept up my pace until I had birthed a unique, humorous tale. After thirteen years of tweaking, Underwater Vibes is, at last, ripe and ready to be devoured by readers who like quirky, character-driven stories.

Knowing you, humor will be evident in this book. Congratulations! What is your favorite part of writing?

Sitting with my cat early in the morning with a pot of steaming tea. Every day, my cat meows at the bedroom door until I get up—at an insane hour—as soon as the birds start chirping. I roll out of bed, splash cold water on my face, put on the tea kettle, and proceed to brush the cat. Then I settle on the sofa with my mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook, contemplating each empty page, wondering what’s going to fill it each day. Every story starts this way: in silence, with bird chirps, meows, a hissing kettle, then furious scribbling noises as I pen my incessant, rapid-fire thoughts. That’s my routine and my favorite part of writing. I also love teaching creative writing. Working with my students motivates me and fills me with deep joy.

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

Hélène resembles me a little bit. I was a translator for many years in Brussels, and she’s a translator. Yet she’s much shyer than I am, and not very athletic, although she gains confidence and becomes an athlete as the story evolves. The other main character, Sylvie, is an amateur photographer, and so am I. She also loves food, and so do I. We’re total foodies. They both adore cats and flowers, and so do I. They also appreciate poetry, although Hélène isn’t very talented in that department. I like to think that I’m a better poet than her. But Sylvie is a much stronger swimmer than me.

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

The most challenging aspect of writing is keeping myself, and my voice, out of my characters’ heads. As a writer, it’s difficult to keep their viewpoints authentic, and it’s hard to not be influenced by their words and actions. I constantly have to ask myself, “What would she do in this situation?” or “What would he say if that happened to him?” It’s important to keep myself separate from their lives, yet it’s challenging because I’m attached to each of my characters. They are all living in my head. To make sure I’m writing from their unique points of view, I fill out at least four pages of a character sketch worksheet for each individual. I keep the worksheets next to my desk, so when I’m writing dialogue or action or plotting out a scene, I can refer to each character sketch, which includes the character’s history, voice, habits, attitudes, preferences, etc. Sometimes, I even stand up and act out a scene, to make sure I’m writing it from their perspective instead of my own.

I love character sketches and use them, as well. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

I just finished reading “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. It’s a New York Times Bestseller and I thought it was amazing. It’s a story about a couple living in Paris in the 1920s and it particularly caught my eye because I used to live in Paris myself. It’s about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife during the period when Hemingway finds his voice as a writer, which particularly intrigued me. It’s very well written, with powerful dialogue and colorful, dramatic scenes. As a reader, I was drawn into the story on each and every page.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Isabel Allende, Julia Cameron, Mark Nepo, Paolo Coelho, Eckhart Tolle, Sarah Waters, Radclyffe… These are a few of my favorites.

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

Julia Cameron opens her readers’ eyes to all expressions of creativity and beauty in the most intriguing way. For example, through her own experiences, she introduced me to screenwriting and songwriting. And I learned to love Taos, New Mexico—without ever visiting the place—because of the way she describes its scenery. In her books, she helps readers find their special place in life. She teaches them to learn to trust their intuition, the Universe, and all the pleasures and pains that come with being fully human. Her words are truly a gift to this planet. I am surely not the only reader who feels lucky to have picked up “The Artist’s Way” so long ago. I truly cherish this book and am thankful that Julia has been guided all these years to put her talents and insight to paper.

Along similar lines, Mark Nepo is a philosopher, poet, teacher and well-published author whose words and inspiration have made a positive difference in my life. In fact, I often begin teaching my creative writing classes by reciting one of Mark’s daily entries in “The Book of Awakening.” His exquisitely penned words set a calm, reflective atmosphere in the classroom. As his sentences unfold, my students and I contemplate his literary mastery—the delicate way he illustrates the simplest acts of life. Not unlike famous Japanese haiku poets, Mark offers his readers an opportunity to pause and reflect. By exposing the raw beauty of everyday happenings, he incites readers to appreciate the most insignificant details of life surrounding us: leaves falling in a mossy forest, a lone daisy, thoughtful glances, random acts of kindness by strangers. These are the kinds of insignificant details—that aren’t so insignificant, actually—that make stories real.

Mark writes non-fiction and poetry, while I mainly write fiction. But my hope is to transform my characters, and readers, through carefully selected words, plot, and mindful presence—like Mark—to bring everyone to a better place in life.

I will check out The Book of Awakening. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

As I mentioned earlier, I love to sit on my living room sofa with a big mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook. Surrounded by soft pillows, I contemplate the scenery outside—palm trees, a lush potato tree with its purple flowers, my statue of Buddha—wondering what’s going to fill my notebook each day. I use an aromatherapy diffuser, so there’s lemongrass, lavender, or some other calming, purifying scent in the room. I keep the large windows open to let in fresh air; their frames are lined with shells and stones from the local beach, colorful candles, postcards, and photos of loved ones. This is also my favorite place to read. I must admit, however, in the evenings I read lying down because I’m exhausted after getting up at dawn to write.

When it’s time to work on my stories with a computer, I move upstairs into the bedroom. My desk there overlooks more palm trees—and a parking lot. One day, I’d like to look out at the ocean instead of the parking lot. But for now, I’m content with where I am.

Mickey, tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know.

When I was young, I used to be a competitive athlete. I competed in several sports simultaneously and took winning very seriously. I was raised this way—my father was my coach. I was hard on myself, determined, a real overachiever, and perhaps not the kindest kid to others. Luckily, I grew out of this tough, self-focused phase and learned to be kind to others. I realized that winning is not everything in life. People and relationships are much more important. Looking back, I’m much happier as an adult to be in a more positive, open-minded, and caring place.

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

Yes, it did. The more I write, the more I learn about myself and my life. I have always had a passion for writing, even as a child. And when I started writing novels in addition to short stories, I realized that writing is a spectacular way to discover who I am and where I’m headed as a person. It unearths hidden passions, secrets, and, in my case, an imagination that seems to know no limits. I often get asked if I’ve experienced the things my characters go through in my stories. It’s a valid question. Some authors experience nearly everything they write about, even in fiction. But most of what I write comes from some other place—some hidden source from within. It just bubbles up and I put it down on paper.

As you might have guessed, I’m a pantser (I write from the seat of my pants, rather than planning and plotting my stories). So I don’t even know what’s coming until it literally shows up on the page. For example, in Underwater Vibes, Sylvie’s obnoxious ex, Lydia, showed up in my novel while I was rewriting my seventh version of the manuscript. A true perfectionist, I completely rewrote the manuscript thirteen times over a thirteen-year period. The fact that Lydia simply popped up on the page after seven years surprised me. I had never met anyone like Lydia before and I had no clue how she got there. Somehow, she hijacked my fertile imagination with her despicable charm. Surprises like these represent tremendous gifts to authors like me, who strive to tell meaningful stories with unexpected twists.

The publishing process is a whole different story. If you don’t mind, I’ll wait to answer that question in my next interview with you, after my sequel, Broad Awakening, is released in October.

Underwater Vibes cover

What do you hope readers will gain from Underwater Vibes?

Hopefully, my book will offer readers a pleasant literary experience that will also transmit a strong message of human acceptance, so that LGBTQ issues will no longer be topics of overt—or hushed—conversations in boardrooms, school cafeterias, at dinner tables, etc. Because my novel explores a budding, yet awkward, lesbian romance, I hope it will open up the minds of readers in a positive way, especially those who have never bought a book or opted to watch a film featuring LGBTQ characters. Personally, I wish one’s sexual orientation could be as insignificant to others as one’s hair color or freckles. It shouldn’t matter. Love is love.

Underwater Vibes is a contribution to the struggle for equality for all. Perhaps this might seem like a lofty aim, but I wrote my novel to help reduce the discrimination that still exists globally among humans on many levels: racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc. This discrimination also includes biases against peoples’ sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, linguistic, regional and cultural differences, etc.

Without knowing these intentions, certain people have advised me to end the novel by having Hélène and Marc, her verbally abusive husband, get back together; but if that were the case, the essential meaning of this story would be lost. These two characters are obviously not meant for each other. Somehow, they ended up together, but once Hélène discovers that someone special exists out there, she needs to trust her heart and face the truth. I hope my book will help readers learn to trust their true feelings. Sometimes, this trust involves taking risks to get what they deserve in life.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. My editor and several advance readers encouraged me to change the original ending of A Decent Woman. I’m glad I listened. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I had a dream that I truly believed in. I wanted to be a writer so I wrote every day for many years. I didn’t give up on my book, even when I felt like it. I worked weekends and evenings, early in the morning, and late at night. I followed my intuition every step of the way. I didn’t listen to naysayers who told me two decades ago, “You’re only a beginner. You’ll never get published.” Likewise, I ignored those who said, “You’re not making any money on this. Why don’t you just give it up and get a real career?” They didn’t seem to notice that I was juggling several jobs while writing all these years.

I was stubborn and optimistic; I bought every worthy book on writing that I could get my hands on and devoured it with passion. Next, I joined a book club, then I joined a writing group, then a critique group. I kept taking classes on how to write short stories and screenplays. I wrote several of each, edited the stories until I was satisfied, then I sent them to publishers of anthologies, writing contests, magazines, etc. After quite a few rejections, several stories got published. That motivated me a lot. Next, I started teaching creative writing classes, which motivated me even more, especially when my students started publishing their work. I learned the craft of writing even better by researching it, then instructing others on what I had learned.  

To conclude, what I did right was believing in my dream of becoming a published author and sustaining my intense determination to realize this dream. Working hard created a positive momentum that made it easier for me to write, edit, and submit my book several times until I found the right publisher. It has also helped me market Underwater Vibes now that my story is out in the world.

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

Waiting so long to submit my first book to agents and publishers slowed the process down. Like so many writers, I was afraid of rejection, and I was a perfectionist. Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to overcome these two issues. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more initiative to get my first book published. As a published author now, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m much more confident. That is why I’ve promised my publisher that I will be devoting two years to write my third novel, instead of thirteen!

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

If you have a dream to become a published writer, you must believe in yourself. Write something every day, even if it’s just in your journal. That’s still writing. Don’t give up on your projects or ideas, even when things look bleak. If you can, work a little on weekends, evenings, early in the morning, and holidays. Every little bit counts and it fuels you with positive momentum. Follow your intuition—trust your gut—every step of the way. That person you feel compelled to contact on a hunch just might open the right door for you. Don’t listen to naysayers, especially those who say they mean well or “it’s for your own good.” Know that writing is extremely hard work. It’s pure dedication. But it’s worth it to feel the satisfaction of finally having your name in print, or seeing your friends waiting in line for your autograph. Royalty checks are great too but don’t count on receiving those right away.

In my opinion, your primary aspiration as a writer shouldn’t be to rake in tons of money and become famous overnight. It should be to share your story with the world, and hopefully, transform people in a positive way. You’ll only get discouraged if you strive for instant success and fame. That’s extremely rare. Join a book club, a writing group, a critique group, take writing classes, find a skilled and experienced mentor or editor—and beta readers—who know how to critique your work in a gentle yet constructive manner. Write lots of different pieces, go outside your comfort zone, edit your stories multiple times until you’re satisfied, let them rest, then edit them one final time. Read them aloud standing up, then send them out to potential agents, publishers, magazine contests, blogs, etc. When you finally get your publishing contract, read the fine lines carefully. Then hire a professional who is highly experienced with author contracts to help you negotiate your book/film deal. Good luck!

Great advice! Website and social media links?

I’m not yet on Facebook but I’ve promised my publisher that I will set up a Facebook page within the next few weeks. Until then, please visit me at www.mickeybrent.com

Let me know when your Facebook page goes live, so I can tag you. You might look into setting up accounts with Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well. Where can we find Underwater Vibes?

There’s a link to my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, listed on my website. https://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/authors/mickey-brent-275  That’s the best place to purchase Underwater Vibes, and pre-order my sequel, Broad Awakening. They are available in print and as ebooks. They can also be ordered at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and at your local bookstore. As a public speaker on the craft of writing, multiculturalism, diversity and LGBTQ inclusion issues, I’m often invited to give author presentations at bookstores, libraries, book festivals, and book clubs. My book is available for purchase at these events, which are listed at www.mickeybrent.com.

Awesome. What’s next for you, Mickey?

The sequel to Underwater Vibes, Broad Awakening, will be released by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018. It takes place in Brussels, Belgium, and in Santorini, Greece. Now, I’m working on my third novel, which will be set in San Francisco. It’s also a multicultural, multilingual contemporary lesbian romance. I’m very excited about this new story. I lived in San Francisco for three years and I’m looking forward to heading back to this exciting, cosmopolitan city to do more research for my upcoming book.

Thanks for a great interview, Mickey. I wish you the very best with your books. We should plan a reunion with our fellow The Artist’s Way group members soon!

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, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

decent

 

 

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.

 

The Mess of Knots: Ponce, Patriarchy, and La Mujer Mala: An Interview with Eleanor Parker Sapia

The Mess of Knots: Ponce, Patriarchy, and La Mujer Mala: An Interview with Eleanor Parker Sapia

Ivelisse Rodriguez, PhD

Editor’s note: This interview is the sixth in a series that will focus on contemporary Puerto Rican authors. Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. 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, and a collection of poems.


Ivelisse Rodriguez: Ponce, La Perla del Sur or La Ciudad Señorial, is considered the second city in Puerto Rico. In your novel, A Decent Woman, you note how Ponce used to be the capital of Puerto Rico; you detail the high-society life in Ponce and its mores. These particulars help bring the city to life. How does the city itself function as a character in your novel?

Eleanor Parker Sapia: Puerto Rico, a new possession of the United States in 1900 when the story opens, is very much a character in my novel—a woman lured into a relationship with the United States with hope and promises of safety, protection, food on the table, and a brighter future. The reality was that the US government had a business plan. They quickly devalued and began to replace the Porto Rican peso with the American dollar, taxes were raised, farmers were evicted from their lands, English was imposed as the co-official language, and new regulations were forced on the Puerto Ricans.

I was an exhibiting painter of still life and portraiture for nearly 30 years before I decided to write a novel. I’m told my first passion shows in descriptions and attention to small detail in my first published book—portraiture of place with words. In A Decent Woman, there are stark contrasts between Ana’s world of poverty, struggle, and racism as an illiterate, black midwife, and the world of the upper class and privilege that newly-widowed Serafina learns to maneuver after her second marriage. I chose to depict three barrios of that era, Playa de Ponce, San Antón, and el pueblo de Ponce, each with its distinct voice, mood, flavor, music, architecture, and history. As such, the actions and futures of my characters were limited by external forces, at times unbeknownst to them, and determined by the confines of the socio-economic condition of where they lived and worked. It was important that the setting/place of this book evolve as the women and society evolved, or lack thereof.

IR: The title of your book, A Decent Woman, immediately begs the question of what constitutes a decent woman, and, normally, this idea of decency is tied to the sexuality of women. In your novel, you mention throughout how prostitutes are treated in Ponce, how there are these systematic programs to exile them from “decent” society, how color and class are conflated with sexuality/prostitution, and how prostitutes are marked by the passbooks they have to carry, etc. This is the way Ponce treats prostitutes, but you have a different approach. Emilia and Maria, two prostitutes in your text, are humanized; they are women who laugh, who cry, who are mistreated, yet they are rendered as whole characters. What do these two characters help say about prostitution in Ponce?

EPS: The characters Emilia and Maria came to me in the rewrite and editing phases of the manuscript, and there was no doubt they would be fully-fleshed characters since I’ve previously worked as a counselor, refugee caseworker, and a Spanish-language family support worker. I have great sympathy for women of that era, who were played against each other in a patriarchal society.

Through further research, I was reminded of how intrinsically linked ‘la otra y la mujer mala’, the prostitute, were to women’s stories—as much a part of their stories as marriage and motherhood. It was important to include a more complete portrayal of society and the situations in which women found themselves—from begging in the streets to feed their children; to widowhood; playing the hostess at charity events and society balls; and to inviting politicians, clergy, and the men of ‘high society’ into their beds to make the rent and pay bills. Each woman sought to secure male protection and security, and hopefully, to keep a man from straying—that was the tapestry I attempted to weave, while discovering the mess of knots, changes of colored threads, and disarray on the underside as meaningful and beautiful as the finished product. Looking beyond the obvious—that’s what fascinates me about a character and a story.

Later, I was saddened to learn of the treatment of prostitutes in Ponce and later, about the forced sterilization of thousands of Puerto Rican women. That spoke loudly of the great hypocrisy in Ponce at that time: the myth of la sagrada familia, born of arrogance and racism, deceit and male dominance. The men who were wagging their fingers and agreeing with their wives about the dangers of prostitution were busy playing house with other women and fathering children out of wedlock. Their wives, the women of the upper class and early feminists, many of whom truly believed they were helping out their wayward sisters, were accomplices in two campaigns to rid Ponce of prostitutes, and in doing so, added to the desperation, poverty, and abuse of women of little means. The characters Emilia and Maria helped to tell that part of history.

IR: In your novel, male doctors advocate a shift toward modernity by having women give birth in hospitals, eclipsing the midwife and painting that practice as backwards. This limits Ana’s, the main character, work as a midwife. This is one way that “modern” medicine is used against women. For Emilia and Maria, their bodies are not their own in the medical world. When they are jailed, they are subjected to pelvic exams in front of others with instruments the women feel are not sanitized. And there are other moments where the medical treatment is even more invasive. How is medicine and so-called progress used against women’s bodies in Puerto Rico?

EPS: There were many issues and themes in the early days of so-called progress in Puerto Rico—colonialism, misogyny, population control, poverty, religion, male doctors invading the birthing room and pushing midwives out of business, and experiments performed on Puerto Rican women in the advancement of modern medicine, namely forced sterilization. Women were needed in the workforce to make money for American corporations, specifically the sugarcane industry. A good example is from the 1930s when clinics performing sterilization procedures were installed inside the factories, so the women wouldn’t lose time on the factory floor.

Men were in positions of authority and in control of the lives and bodies of women and of their children. Sadly, this is still the case in many parts of the world today.

Click on the picture for additional images

IR: In Adrienne Rich’s seminal article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” she posits her idea about the lesbian continuum which focuses on any strong bond between women. One of them being friendship. Friendship is central to your novel, and it is the relationship that is sustained throughout the life of the two main characters, Ana and Serafina. Discuss the significance of friendship in your text.

EPS: In 1900 Puerto Rico, while emotional relationships and friendship between women were considered important, especially between women and their comadrona, only men were thought to provide real security with financial benefits as they controlled every aspect of women’s lives. Even childbirth with a midwife, which for centuries had been strictly a female-dominated experience, was in danger of extinction in the cities as hospitals and clinics were built and male doctors entered the birthing room. The strong bonds of friendship between women were constantly tested in a patriarchal society.

Ana would agree with Rich’s assertion that women can benefit more from relationships with other women than with men, as she’d suffered at the hands of one man at an early age, and though she is still struggling, she is a self-made woman. Ana, who is forty when the story opens, has little use for men for the first half of the book. The teenager Serafina has lost her mother, so they inevitably develop a strong mother-daughter bond, which is an easy, yet complicated relationship. All is well until Serafina gets caught up in her second husband’s world of privilege, where Ana has no place as a poor, black woman. Much later in the story, Serafina is a mother of four children and a woman of society. She will come to believe that she has outgrown Ana until tragedy strikes in Serafina’s life. Ana is the first person she contacts and their friendship resumes with lessons learned about loyalty and friendship.

IR: Can you tell us what you are working on next, and what your objectives are with your writing?

EPS: I’m currently working on my second book, The Laments, set in 1927 Old San Juan and on the islet of Isla de Cabras, where once stood a maritime quarantine station that was later used as a lazaretto for containing patients of many diseases, primarily leprosy. It is the story of a highly imaginative and naïve Puerto Rican novice nun, who impulsively volunteers to serve the lepers at Isla de Cabras under the protection and tutelage of a rotund, secretive Spanish friar, who moonlights as a rum runner. Into the mix will arrive a young American Protestant minister on a clandestine mission for the American government at a time when the Spanish were being forced to leave the island, and Catholicism and Protestantism were in hyper-competition for souls on Puerto Rico.

My goal in writing novels is to transport readers to exciting, new worlds and to introduce them to the complicated history, rich culture, and beautiful people of Puerto Rico. I hope my books and poetry will stimulate, provoke, expose, and challenge myself and others. Here are two of my writing mottos: ‘Write through the scary bits; that’s usually where the meat and the essence of the story are found’ and ‘This is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved.’ I hope that comes across in my books.


Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her short story collection, Love War Stories, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in summer 2018. The Belindas, a fiction chapbook, is forthcoming from Tammy in summer 2017. She is the senior fiction editor at Kweli, a Kimbilio fellow, and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel The Last Salsa Singer about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico. To learn more about Ivelisse visit: http://www.ivelisserodriguez.com.

© Ivelisse Rodriguez. Published by permission in Centro Voices 13 December 2017.

2017 International Latino Book Awards

I am honored and pleased to share exciting book news with you! My novel, A Decent Woman, set in 1900 Ponce, Puerto Rico, was awarded Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Awards held in Los Angeles this past weekend. 
My deepest gratitude and thanks to Latino Literacy Now; Las Comadres Para Las Americas; Kirk Whisler and his amazing staff; all the judges; and most importantly, many thanks to my wonderful, supportive readers!
I am hard at work on a second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Old San Juan and the Puerto Rican islet of Isla de Cabras, Island of Goats, off the coast of San Juan. This happy book news makes me smile and offers encouragement as I finish writing the next book.
Thank you for your visit! Please read on for more information from Kirk Whisler, Latino Literacy Now, about the book awards. I will post the complete list of winners very soon.
Eleanor X
new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016
The Largest Latino Cultural Awards in the USA Recognizes the Greatness in 233 Authors & Publishers From Across the USA & Around the World
By Kirk Whisler, Latino Literacy Now
The International Latino Book Awards Ceremony occurred on September 9th at the Dominguez Ballroom of California State University Dominguez Hills. Over the last 19 years, the Int’l Latino Book Awards has grown to become the largest Latino literary and cultural awards in the USA.
A crowd of book lovers cheered on this year’s 233 author and publisher
honorees from across the USA and from 19 countries outside the USA. The 2017 ceremony also unveiled the new, world class medals that were given to all honorees in Recognizing the Greatness they have achieved.
Latinos in the USA will purchase $700+ million in books in both English and Spanish. The number of books by and about Latinos has risen substantially. In 1980 less than 400
books were written and published by a Latino in the USA. In 2017 that number will be between 25,000 and 30,000. The bottom line is that books targeting Latinos are a growing
segment because of the rapid growth of the market and the current gaps in relevant topics being presented.
The ceremony also featured a major salute with The National Latino Trail Blazer Awards for Charlie Ericksen, co-founder of Hispanic Link; Mimi Lozano, founder of Somos Primos; Ambassador Julian Nava; and former Secretary of Labor, Supervisor Hilda Solis. Edward James Olmos, Rick Najera, and Katherine A. Díaz were this year’s emcees. The Awards also featured musical performances by Suni Paz and Georgette Baker. This list of winning books makes a great Christmas shopping list: a kid’s book for this child; a good mystery for that friend, this nonfiction book for that student headed off
to college, etc. With all the categories we have, there’s at least one perfect book for everyone.
The 2017 Int’l Latino Book Awards are another reflection of the growing quality of books by and about Latinos. In order to handle this large number of books, the Awards had 196
judges, triple the number from 2013. The judges raved about the quality of the entries. The Award sponsors included California State University Dominguez Hills as a Gold Sponsor; The California State University System, Entravision, Latino 247 Media Group, and Libros Publishing as Silver Sponsors and the American Association of Latino Engineers and Scientists, El Aviso, the Los Angeles Community College District, LA Plaza de Cutura y Artes, and Scholastic Books as Bronze Sponsors. Award partners include Las Comadres de las Americas, REFORMA, and Mi Libro Hispano.
Latino Literacy Now, is a nonprofit co-founded in 1997 by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler that has five types of programs:
Latino Book & Family Festivals around the USA: we’ve held 63 Festivals attended by a combined 900,000+ people; Awards which also include the Latino Books into Movies Awards; Education programs like Empowering Students and Education Begins in the Home; Membership programs like the Int’l Society of Latino Authors (www.ISLA.news) and the Empowering Speakers Bureau; and Content programs
like Latino Reads video show plus other online efforts. More about the Awards can be found at http://www.Award.news, and the 2018 entry form is now available.
Amazingly, sales of books by past ILBA winning authors have totaled more than 200 million copies! Winners have included many of the best-known Latino authors including
Belinda Acosta, Rodolfo Anaya, Alma Flor Ada, Ron Arias, José Antonio Burciaga, F. Isabel Campoy, Denise Chavéz, Paulo Coelho, Dr. Camilo Cruz, Junot Díaz, Gabriel García Márquez, Reyna Grande, Juan Felipe Herrera, Oscar Hijuelos, Mario Vargas Llosa, Josefina López, Pablo Neruda, Ana Nogales, Jose-Luis Orozco, Luis Rodriguez, Don Miguel Ruiz, Alisa Valdes, and Victor Villaseñor. Winners have also included well-known figures from other professions including Entertainers like Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Shelia E, Cheech Marin, Rick Najera, Jenni Rivera, Linda Ronstadt, and Carlos Santana; Sports notables Pedro Guerrero, Oscar de la Hoya and Jorge Posada; Media figures like Martín Llorens, Jorge Ramos, Teresa Rodriguez, and Ray Suarez; Public servants like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Henry Cisneros; and Chefs like Paulina Abascal, Jose Garces, Pati Jinich, and Daisy
Martinez.
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 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.

Eleanor’s book, A Decent Woman, available in paperback and ebook format:  http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK


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

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Author Interview: Daniel Cubias

Welcome to our Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I am pleased to welcome Daniel Cubias, and zombies.

Daniel Cubias is a writer whose award-winning fiction has been published in numerous literary journals. He is also the author of the novel “Barrio Imbroglio,” and he contributes frequently to the Huffington Post.

Daniel’s latest novel, “Zombie President,” is a black comedy about the twisted conflux of politics, journalism, and American culture.

Cubias author pic

Welcome, Daniel.

What is your book’s genre?

Horror-comedy

Please describe what your black comedy Zombie President is about.

A defeated presidential candidate comes back from the dead to take the White House by force — and to win the country’s heart in the process.

Samuel Tilden never won the presidency when he was alive, but now that he’s a rampaging ghoul, the American people are enthralled with the power and tenacity of his undead army. Fawning media coverage ensures that the zombies’ bloody march to Washington D.C. goes unchecked. Meanwhile, an ambitious television reporter, a small-town sheriff, and a scientist with a dark secret join forces with a trio of backbiting teenagers to fight for their country.

zombie_president_full_web

Sounds like a intriguing, wild ride. How did you come up with the title?

Let’s just say that the title lent itself.

What inspired you to write this book?

My co-author, Kristan Ginther, asked me, “Has there every been a story about a zombie running for president?” I had to admit that, no, there had never been a story quite like that.

Does your main character resemble you?

I am not a zombie, so I’m going to say no.

Good point. What do you hope readers will gain from Zombie President?

First, my hope is that readers find it funny. But there are more than a few references to our political process, which will provoke, enlighten or infuriate the reader, depending on his/her viewpoint.

It sounds intriguing and timely.

What is your favorite part of writing?

The second draft. The tyranny of the blank page (i.e., the first draft) is behind you, and now you can concentrate on what the story is really about. Successive drafts aren’t as enjoyable because you begin seeing the flaws that eat away at your very soul.

Great description of successive drafts. I’m at that point with my second book–the eating away at my soul part–where I have to battle doubt.

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

If you don’t rewrite a passage, it most likely is not as good as it could be. If you rewrite it too much, you most likely sap all its energy and kill whatever made it interesting in the first place. Finding that balance is crucial.

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

“The Langoliers” by Stephen King. I’m a big King fan, but I had missed that one. I’m very happy that I dug it out, because it has all the elements of what he does best.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Leyner, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King.

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

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Leyner, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. Each possesses a unique voice, which I find inspiring.

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

I write in one place (at my computer) and read everywhere. So favoritism doesn’t come into it.

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

I stopped listening to the radio years ago. That’s because my phone’s music library contains almost 8,000 songs, so I just listen to that.

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

The writing process is a constant surprise, and not always in a good way, because every story is different. As for the publishing process, this is only my second novel, so I’m still learning, and as such, everything about it surprises me.

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

My best choice was working with my co-author. She’s brilliant.

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

I gave myself an overly aggressive deadline. This didn’t inspire me to write faster. All it did was stress me out. So I’m going to lighten up on the self-imposed timelines in the future.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

At some point in your writing career, you need third-party validation. If you’re convinced that you’re a genius, but the only people who agree with you are your spouse and your mom, you might be overestimating yourself. Get feedback from impartial readers, fellow writers, and editors. It’s the best way to learn what’s working and what’s not.

Good advice. Website and social media links?

I’m at:

http://www.danielcubias.com

http://hispanicfanatic.com

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-cubias/

https://www.facebook.com/daniel.cubias

Twitter: @DanCubias

Email: hispanicf@gmail.com

Where can we find your book?

“Zombie President” is now available: http://amzn.to/2nzJJFG

Daniel, what’s next for you?

I’m working on the sequel to my first novel “Barrio Imbroglio.” So far I have a title, a basic plot, and the first sentence. That’s a good place to start.

Indeed it is. I wish you the best with your books and work in progress. Thanks for chatting with me today, David.

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

Author Interview: Manuel A. Meléndez

Welcome to our Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I am very pleased to welcome Manuel A. Meléndez. 

Manuel A. Meléndez is a Puerto Rican writer, who was born on the island and raised in East Harlem, N.Y.  He is the author of two mystery/supernatural novels, WHEN ANGELS FALL, and BATTLE FOR A SOUL, five poetry books, OBSERVATIONS THROUGH POETRY, VOICES FROM MY SOUL, THE BEAUTY AFTER THE STORM, MEDITATING WITH POETRY, and SEARCHING FOR MYSELF.  Two collection of Christmas short stories, NEW YORK CHRISTMAS TALES, VOL. I and II, and IN THE SHADOWS OF NEW YORK: TWO NOVELETTES.  The novel WHEN ANGELS FALL, was voted by The LatinoAuthors.com as the Best Novel of 2013, while BATTLE FOR A SOUL was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards for Mystery Novels.  His short story A KILLER AMONG US was published by Akashi Books in SAN JUAN NOIR anthology.

New Manuel Melendez

Welcome, Manuel!

Which book are we chatting about today, and what is the genre?

The book I would like to talk about is a collection of supernatural/mystery short stories I’m currently working on called “Wicked Remains”. The supernatural genre is one of my favorite genres not only to write, but to read, as well.

Please describe what “Wicked Remains” is about.

The collection is an assortment of tales, from the typical old fashioned werewolf and vampires stories, to the demons who invade your dreams, turning them into nightmares.  And then, to the twisted, criminally insane killers.

Thanks for sending the illustration by Henry Simon, which will appear in your short story collection.

Manuel Melendez photo

How did you come up with the title?

I played with many different angles to come up with a title I felt was able to capture the many themes of the book and its eclectic collection of stories.  “Wicked Remnants” is what haunts you after the nightmare.

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

Yes, many of my characters have some of my DNA twisted somewhere in their personalities.  You can’t help it.  I’m sure many writers use their own experiences, pain, laughter, and tears to blend into their fictional creations.

So true; it’s hard for most writers to not weave something personal into their character or story. What inspired you to write this collection?

Even though the majority of my writing involves poetry and novels, short stories have always been the format I’m most drawn to.  The challenge of creating rich tales complete with conflicts has always fascinated me.  I believe to quickly deliver the full arc of the story to the reader makes you a better novelist…and poet, as well.

I agree with you. What is your favorite part of writing?

Taking a deep breath, having an idea that will launch a story and give it flight, and then allowing the voices to take over your creativity. Then just let it flow. Forget the basic concepts of grammar, spelling, run-on sentences—just write and write non-stop.  Those voices are not going to stop because you want to refer to your reference books…that comes later. At the beginning it is all freestyle. It’s like a street fight with no rules or referee!

That’s a great description! I research my book idea for a few months, write furiously for six months, and then the rewrites and deeper research begin, which can take up to two years. The first few months are very exciting.

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

Coming up with something new, something that has never been done or written about.  Which seems impossible, but creatively makes you dig deeper, or soar higher, it’s there you just have to find it or expose it.

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

Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes”, the first of a trilogy.  I’m a big Stephen King’s fan, and the interesting thing about this book is that it is unlike most of his books, which are supernatural. This one is strictly a detective story with a team of three very diverse characters.  Very enjoyable, not one of his best, but still a good read.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Too many to put on paper, but obviously Edgar Allan Poe must lead the parade.  Followed by Stephen King, Piri Thomas, Pete Hamill, James Clavell, Frank Herbert, Vicente Blasco Ibañez, to name a few.

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

Edgar Allan Poe for introducing to me the short story format.  Stephen King for teaching me how to developedbelievable characters, and Piri Thomas for allowing me to dream at the age of 13 that Puerto Ricans from El Barrio could be writers, as well.

Puerto Rican writer Esmeralda Santiago inspired me to try my hand at writing after I read the now-classic memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican”. Like you, I love Stephen King’s book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”.

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

Any place I get inspired, but my favorite places are the subway trains, parks, and a place that I discovered to be a beacon to my creativity, underneath the elevated tracks of the subway line in my neighborhood.  I need the chaos and noises of the city. If you put me in a quiet place, like up in the country, my voices refused to speak!

I find it so interesting where people write and find inspiration. I need total silence in the country for my voices to be heard.

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

Two of my favorite things are drawing/painting and cooking.  The activities allow me to relax and think about the plots or characters I’m working on, and it’s a form of meditation.

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

Writing can be very liberated. Through my writing, I have an outlet for my emotions; regardless if they are happy, sad, angry, or even mean-spirited.  The publishing process is too much of a business that I’d rather not get involved in, but it’s also part of the game. I need to work a bit more on the publishing process. One thing for sure, do your research before signing anything, and especially do your work before agreeing with promises, that may be broken and not fulfilled.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

To be entertained.  To be moved, to be afraid, and sometimes to be informed about things they never knew. Lessons may be learned through stories.

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

The writing part is actually the easiest. Somehow the plots, characters and situations come pretty easy and are extremely rewarding.  The marketing aspect is what I need to work on, especially being a shy person who’d rather let his words on paper be his voice.

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

Well, it’s not so much what didn’t work, but more of what I need to do to make it work, and that’s to be more involved and let people know I’m here with a lot of stories and poems to share.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

First work on that story, and don’t be lazy.  Revise that book as much as it needs to be revised.  Get an excellent editor, not a friend, but a real editor, who is not afraid to tell you what works on the story and what doesn’t.  If you write 400 pages, don’t be afraid to cut down as many pages as you need to cut.  Don’t fall in love with a whole paragraph or even a sentence, or a character because if it doesn’t move the story, but rather slows it down, you need to delete it. After your book went through every cycle, and it’s the best thing you have written, then it’s time get it out there.

Good advice.

Website and social media links?

www.manuel-melendez.com

Manuel A. Melendez’s Books on Facebook

Where can we find your book, Manuel?

Amazon.com, or feel free to contact me if you’d like an autographed copy.

What’s next for you?

For the second time, I’m doing the 30-30 Poetry challenge.

I’m also working on two novels, one is a supernatural tale and the other one a more crime/human drama.  And, I have two other stories, which I wrote about 20 years ago that must be revisited.

Thanks for chatting with me today, Manuel. I wish you continued success with your writing! 

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 adult children are out in the world doing amazing things.

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