ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Spring to you!

Eleanor x

Cover Reveal: A DECENT WOMAN

I’m thrilled to share the new cover of A DECENT WOMAN!

A Decent Woman Flat (1)

The story of midwife Ana Belén, her lifelong friend Serafina Martínez, and the women of turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, is coming soon in paperback and e-book, republished by Winter Goose Publishing.

la jungla beach

I searched high and low for an image that reminded me of Ana, the heroine. To me, the image is not only how I envision Ana in her white tignon; it also expresses the mystery, loneliness, tenderness, sensuality, strength, courage, and mysticism that is Ana.

la receta y cosas de la botanica

I was grateful for the opportunity to reread my debut novel, which, of course, encouraged me to rewrite several chapters in the book. Encouraged? Who am I kidding? I can’t read anything without editing it.

As a special surprise, the new book will feature a wedding–a request from a kind reviewer. Thank you for the lovely idea!

I look forward to seeing A Decent Woman back in reader’s hands very soon, where it belongs.

Thank you, readers!

Eleanor

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
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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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New Cover Reveal, New Beginnings!

Yesterday I found out that the new cover of ‘A Decent Woman’ (ebook) is on Amazon! Kudos and many thanks to the multi-talented Ally Bishop and her awesome team at Scarlet River Press, an imprint of Sixth Street River Press, for coming up with the super retro, artsy cover with the lovely title font. The woman in the image reminded Ally of the character Serafina, and I have to agree! I love the colors and how they match the International Latino Book Awards badge, which I’m very proud to display.

The paperback will be available on Amazon soon! I can’t wait to hold a copy of my “new” book.

I love fresh, new beginnings, don’t you? Have a super week, everyone!

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century

Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife, the only one in La Playa. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past while she continues to hide a more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest Padre Vicénte and the young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must fight to preserve her twenty-five-year career.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children who marries a wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. When she’s attacked during her pregnancy, she and Ana become allies in an ill-conceived plan to avoid scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society where women are treated as possessions, Eleanor Parker Sapia explores the battle of two women defending their dignity against the pain of betrayal in a society resistant to change.

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. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society.

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

 

Our Gifts: Small and Large #MondayBlogs

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It is not unusual for me to briefly return to painting or drawing after a particularly long writing session, or when I feel stuck in a chapter or a paragraph of my work in progress. Yes, you could say I reward myself for a good writing session with my first passion—painting, and you’d also be correct if you thought I return to what I know best and did for most of my adult life when things get tough. You see, I came to writing late in life–at age 50 to be exact.

Usually, I force myself to remain seated in my writing chair by trying out different phrases, grabbing the thesaurus, breathing in and out, and visualizing the scene, because I know writers must travel through dark valleys, alleys, and around corners to get to the other side, to the light. It has happened to me—beautiful prose doesn’t always flow on demand because we have time, the inclination, or even if the muse is willing.

I am blessed to have many wonderful avenues of expression—all creative outlets—and I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t paint. I thought of this last week and came to a realization—everything we do is a creative outlet; no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us…or others. Our creative outlets are blessings, and I am grateful for them.

How grateful am I?

My artistic gifts have always nourished and sustained me. My gifts of writing and painting keep me grounded, and make me feel vital, energized, and relevant. I do not, however, have other gifts that others might take for granted if they don’t view them as gifts and creative outlets. For example, I cannot sing a note without sounding off-key, and I don’t have the breath necessary to really belt out a song, which I’ve always wanted to do! I am not good at math, so my checking account is usually a bit messy, and I’m not a great organizer, so my writing desk isn’t neat and tidy–I was absent the day God handed out those gifts.

I am, however, highly intuitive and creative; always have been. When I was growing up, my father turned his head at the gift of intuition, as well as my gifts of creativity and imagination. His feet were firmly planted on the ground and growing up poor only led to his deeply-rooted belief that everyone should earn their way in life; hobbies were silly. When I was ready for college, my father was adamant that studying art and painting would lead me nowhere and that I would die of starvation. I wanted to pursue art and English Literature in college, but he forced me to study business, which I did. I pursued art and writing on my own while working as a secretary for seven years before I married and had children of my own.

Of course, as is life when you are a creative person (and a stubborn woman), I ended up painting, writing, and exhibiting my paintings as an adult. I now use my gifts every day, and so do you. You might bake, make beautiful flower arrangements or wreaths, decorate a beautiful room, and have a garden that people admire. You might make furniture, work on cars, cross-stitch, write short stories, make beautiful scrapbooks or invitations, or write poetry. I never took my gifts for granted because I had to fight for them all my life.

But how grateful am I for my creative gifts?

Last week, during my first book festival as a participating author, I met a tall, lanky young man who approached my author table, pushing a stroller that held an adorable infant who was rubbing her eyes, flanked by two little girls who held onto the sides of the stroller. The young man introduced himself as William and then he introduced his daughters, which I thought was beautiful. As it turned out, soft-spoken William and his brood were looking for a gift for his wife/their mother for Mother’s Day.

I answered his questions about my historical novel, A Decent Woman, and he said the book sounded right for his wife. He went on to tell me how strongly he felt about introducing his young daughters to women who are living their passions in life. I was entirely charmed by William, and my sister and I agreed that he was an amazing father.

Then William told us about his battle with brain cancer after a youth spent on drugs, playing basketball for his university only to fall and injure his knee, and about getting in trouble most of his young life. He said it was time to share his story. Well, it has been a long time since I taught creative writing, but I encouraged him and without thinking, I said I’d help him as a writing coach and I’d edit his manuscript free of charge. The words rolled off my tongue and felt right.

William thanked me, reached across the table, and shook my hand. I handed him my business card, and asked him to send me an outline of his story. He was overjoyed and when he left, I whispered to my sister, “What have I done? I’m writing and researching my second novel. I don’t have time for this!” My sister smiled and reminded me of the question I’d posed to myself the week before, “How grateful am I?” Was I willing to give back for writing a historical novel that has so far been well received? Was I serious about being grateful? It would have certainly been easier if I’d offered to read to his daughters or even babysit! Writing takes time, energy, and lots more energy. I’m 57…I don’t have all the time in the world, but I’d committed. And I always keep my word.

On Monday morning, I had a long email from William with an outline attached. I was blown away by what I read—his life had indeed been a struggle from childhood to the present. It’s a wonderfully inspirational story, and the outline will need a lot of fleshing out, but the bones are there. I will learn a lot while coaching and editing for William, and I have a feeling William will teach me more than I could ever imagine.

I know it will take us some time to write William’s inspirational memoir because he is a new writer, but we’re on the path. One chapter at a time.

(William is not his real name).

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

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

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

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Author Interview with Graciela Limon

I love offering author interviews at The Writing Life, and I especially enjoy sharing great writers with my readers. Today I’m very pleased  to introduce you to Graciela Limón.

Graciela Limón is a Latina writer, educator and activist. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a native of Los Angeles. She received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish Literature from Marymount College Los Angeles, a Master of Arts Degree in the same field from the University of the Americas Mexico City, followed by a PhD in Latin American Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Prior to retirement, Limón was a professor of U.S. Hispanic Literature, as well as Chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.  She is now Professor Emeritus of that University.

Graciela Limón (1)Graciela has written critical work on Mexican, Latin American and Caribbean Literature.  However, she now concentrates her writing efforts on creative fiction that is germane to her areas of interest:  feminism, social justice and cultural identity.  Her body of work includes In Search of Bernabé that won The Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award (1994). Limón also published The Memories of Ana Calderón (1994), Song of the Hummingbird (1996) and The Day of the Moon (1999).   Erased Faces, which was awarded the 2002 Gustavus Myers Book Award, was published in 2001, Left Alive was released in 2005, The River Flows North, 2009, followed by The Madness of Mamá Carlota, 2012. Her latest publication is The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy, 2015.

Much of Graciela’s work has been widely anthologized. She was honored with the prestigious Luis Leal Literary Award (University of California at Santa Barbara), 2009. Her Publishers are Arte Público Press (University of Houston) and Café Con Leche (Koehler Book Publishers). www.gracielalimon.com

ximena

Welcome Graciela! What is your book’s genre/category?

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is historical fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is the story of a woman told from age eight years to its end when she is fifty-two years old.  It’s a tale that begins with a crime and ends with its punishment, all during the first half of the 20th Century.  In between those two critical moments of Ximena’s story, her life intersects with the Revolution in Mexico, followed by the terrible times that bring world epidemic, deportations, and the American Prohibition and Depression that happen simultaneously with the unbridled life in Juárez, Mexico.  Throughout those years, Ximena Godoy grows, loves, achieves, stumbles, grieves and finds her identity only to succumb to the insurmountable flaws that are part of her nature.

How did you come up with the title?

I chose the name Ximena (with an X instead of J or H) because I find the name intriguing.  After that I chose the other parts of the title because I feel it reflects the life of my character.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

Stories that deal with strong, determined independent women always captivate my interest.  When that story deals with a woman who shatters the Latina “mold”, meaning that she is unconventional and untraditional, then I have all the reasons I need to write a book.  This is why I wrote The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I think that my favorite part of writing is when I come to the crafting of my characters.  Choosing their names is a particularly interesting and fascinating part for me.  I go through cycles of names, changing, combining, and even inventing names that I hope in the end reflect the nature and reality of each character.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I find the danger of falling into crafting stereotypes the greatest challenge of writing.  I find that it’s dangerous because my head is swarming with what are really stereotypes.  I don’t know if others suffer from this, but it could be that we are flooded by an abundance of stereotypes:  in film, on TV, on the Internet.  So when I begin to create a character with her story, I have to be super careful to beware of simply producing cookie-cutter, flat, predictable characters.  This is hard and challenging.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

There are many.  Among Mexican novelists is Juan Rulfo.  In the English language I especially admire John Steinbeck, and biographers such as Antonia Fraser and Hilary Mantel.  There are also so many mystery writers that I admire, but I’ll mention only Agatha Christie.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

John Steinbeck and Juan Rulfo.

Favorite place to write?

I need solitude to write, so if I have that luxury, then that place is a favorite.  As a pattern, I find that solitude in my home.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

People may be surprised to know that I’m extremely introverted.  I say this may surprise those who know me because they see a person (me) who interacts freely, enjoys other people and is talkative and relaxed in a group.  What people don’t know is that I need to be solitary afterwards in order re-energize.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Since I’ve been lucky enough to have nine novels published (including my latest), there are few surprises that come to me with the publishing process.  However, I will say that the experience of getting negative, even brutal criticism (which still happens) is something I will never be able to get used to.  The difference now is that I expect those barbs and try to prepare myself.

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

The best thing I did with this latest novel is having signed on with Leticia Gómez (literary agent/publisher), and John Koehler (publisher).  Being with them has opened up an entirely new view of the publishing process.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

I advise having a lot of patience especially when those rejections start rolling in.  Above all, I advise a new writer to have unshakable faith and confidence in her/his work.  Never doubt that your work is meritorious.

Website?   

www.gracielalimon.com

Where can we find your book?

www.cafeconlechebooks.com

http://www.authorcentral.amazon.com

What’s next for you?

I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. This is what is now rolling around in my head.  The story line could depict a murder or a series of murders that happen in the distant past, such as in viceregal Mexico, in a convent, with the Inquisition snooping around. Of course, there will have to be a detective to solve the crime.  What do you think?

I think the story line rolling around in your head would be a great read, Graciela!

Thanks so much for visiting us at The Writing Life, and much success with The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy!

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon 

The Running Themes in A Decent Woman

As a novelist, I often enjoy allowing the themes in my stories to develop organically. The themes of religion and spiritism, among others, run through A Decent Woman. My main protagonist, Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, was raised in the Yoruba tradition, which is not the same as voodoo or practicing black magic. Ana speaks to the spirits of her ancestors and to the orishas, the gods and goddesses of her Nigerian ancestors, as she prays the Catholic rosary and honors the Blessed Mother of God.

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (2) (1)Serafina, a devout Catholic and one of Ana’s midwifery clients, becomes her best friend later in life. Both women are baptized Catholics and although they share a great devotion to the Virgin Mary, Ana continues to practice the Yoruba tradition, so as to cover all bases in protecting herself and her clients, which was common.

I spent many years of my childhood in Puerto Rico–my religious and spiritual life was a mix of religion, spirituality, with a good dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. All through my childhood, I attended Catholic schools and went to Mass every week. As a teen, I visited a psychic after my first boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident, and I still pray the rosary in the car when I travel. I check my monthly horoscope, as well…perhaps like Ana, I’m still trying to cover all my bases.

An excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“One day I found the cowrie shells on my bed. I didn’t know who’d returned them or why. I hid the shells in my room and went to the kitchen to prepare the priest’s lunch. As I was serving the almuerzo, I heard yelling. I was given a few minutes to gather my belongings and was escorted off the property by the same young priest who’d found my things. I was accused of practicing witchcraft. He crossed himself, barely blessed me, and shut the rectory gate in my face.”

Serafina furrowed her brow and shook her head. “That’s so cruel. You were so young. What did you do?”

“I was young. Thankfully, it was early enough in the day for me to find a safe place to sleep before the sun went down. At first, I was confused; I had no idea the Church considered our Yoruba traditions black magic,” she said. “It is the religion of my ancestors.

“But, you do believe in God y la Virgen?” asked Serafina, watching her closely.

“Yes, of course. I believe in God, the Virgin Mary, and all the Saints. We slaves had different names for them. My Yoruba traditions are now mixed with Catholicism from so many years in Porto Rico, and I pray to them all,” said Ana. “You know, I still remember the church bells ringing the day I was thrown out. I crossed the church grounds and looked up at the sky, watching the clouds around the church steeple. The white steeple looked gray that day, and suddenly, hundreds of palomas flew around the tower. So many doves, I could barely see the sky. I followed them across the street to the park to figure out my next step, and one dove landed on the marble bench where I sat. I thought it was the Holy Spirit!”

“Maybe it was, Doña Ana! You never know!”

“I doubt it, child,” Ana grinned. “It was a sign of something, but I didn’t know what. I sat on that bench all day long, paralyzed with fear. And that’s where I slept, right in front of the church where surely God would protect me. The next day, I met Doña Milagro, who taught me everything I know about being a midwife.”

Another excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“You’re giving me your turn?” Emilia nodded. Ana made the sign of the cross before pushing aside the heavy, black velvet curtain. She sat in the chair closest to the entrance and looked around the medium’s reading room. The only source of light emanated from a single candle on the small table in front of her that also held an ashtray, a small stack of mismatched sheets of paper, a stump of a pencil, and a bowl of water. To the right, Ana saw a small bookcase stuffed full of old, dusty books with titles she couldn’t read without sufficient light. The room was probably crawling with spiders, she thought. She looked down, expecting to see a huge insect crawling up her leg, and then she stomped on the floor to deter any bugs.

“Hurry, Fela,” Ana said, smoothing her dress, and smelled the musty smell of cigar smoke. Behind Fela’s chair stood a two-tiered altar that held a multitude of religious statues, icons, candles, and vases. Most statues had white faces, some had black faces and hands, and most of them had either rosary beads or scapulars hanging from the necks. Ana couldn’t help but giggle at the statue with the over-sized pair of spectacles. Numerous vases of all sizes held freshly-cut lilies, wilted bunches of flowers, and stiff, dried flowers standing in stagnant water. The heavy scent of patchouli and frankincense reminded Ana of a church. But this church was of a different world—the world of spirits.”