Puerto Rico: It’s Better Than Nothing?

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My two cents today:

From what I’ve read and heard, officials on the island, mayors in PR, first responders, members of the National Guard and the US military, and FEMA employees on the ground, were frustrated, anxiously waiting for word to act and mobilize, while having to follow protocol, use proper channels, wait for the perfect organizational chart, a memo, an email, a call from higher-ups in Washington, and for marching orders to trickle down.

Make no mistake, the White House, the administration, DOD, the generals, FEMA, all knew what was coming at Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean with Hurricane Maria, and what had already happened with Irma. They knew, yet inexplicably dragged their feet.

I respect and I’m grateful for everyone involved in assisting Puerto Rico and the USVI in the aftermath of this catastrophic natural disaster. Someone described Maria as an atomic bomb. I also respect those in the military in the US, who’ve been working behind the scenes in the relief effort. They know it’s important work, and I know their families are proud of the efforts their loved ones are making on behalf of Puerto Rico. My Dad, a thirty year veteran of the US Army, even my ex-husband and his brother, each 27-year Army veterans and West Point graduates, all veterans of the Vietnam War, would say, “It’s part of our job; it’s what we are paid to do.”

We cannot ignore that the preliminary relief effort in Puerto Rico was a debacle and worse yet, that Trump looked the other way. Yes, the Jones Act is waived for ten days, and that will be incredibly helpful, but ten days clearly isn’t enough time to put things right in Puerto Rico and in the USVI. You only have to look at the NASA video of the Caribbean islands to know, ten days won’t be enough time. There are still ongoing rescues, containers of supplies sitting in ports, men, women, and children are still without power, potable water, and food. Many of us still haven’t heard from our loved ones and friends in Puerto Rico.

The military is capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of soldiers, equipment, supplies, communication equipment, to the other side of the world to set up bases. I’m praying that same decisive action and extraordinary capability is now used in the Caribbean.

Many friends responded to my dismay that the Jones Act waiver is only for ten days with, “It’s better than nothing”. To that I say, I understand what you’re saying, but Puerto Rico has been hearing those words and sentiments for decades, as they were forced to put bandage upon bandage on a crumbling infrastructure and economy with little help or relief from Washington. No, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

We must strike now while the iron is hot–continue to bring relief to the islands, attention to the Caribbean, and it’s high time to abolish the Jones Act.

Yes, we can do better in every single way. Thank you.   #PRstrong#PuertoRico

 

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.

 

 

 

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Why Should I Read Your Book?

A week ago, I thumbed through my historical novel, A Decent Woman, looking for passages for a three-author book reading, my second reading in New York City. I knew what I had to do–select a few passages from my novel, practice reading, and hope to make it to seven minutes. Sounds easy, right? Not as easy as you might think.

Speak slowly, make eye contact, don’t read in a monotone voice, engage with the audience, and try staying within the allotted time so you don’t hog the microphone. Those things I could do…though I still get nervous when I’m handed the microphone. I’m great with Q&A sessions after the reading, but ask me to read from my book and my nerves begin, my cheeks flush. I’ve been the first and fifth author to read–it’s still tough, but deciding which passage to read is a lot tougher.

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Why should I buy your book? This question kept popping into my head as I read passage after passage of my book. I didn’t know who would be at the book reading, and I certainly didn’t know what would appeal to the audience, so trying to find the perfect passages, something for everyone, was virtually impossible.

The event was to be held at a popular bookstore in East Harlem, La Casa Azul Bookstore. They showcase Latino literature, and their online bookstore features books by authors who have don’t write in the Caribbean or Latin American fiction genre. I realized I couldn’t count on an all-Latino audience that night. Nor could I count on an audience comprised of mainly women who might be interested in midwifery and women’s issues. Would there be history buffs or historians in the audience interested in the history of Puerto Rican women? And Hurricane Joaquin was due south of New York. I could very well end up with people walking by and dropping in to get out of the elements. It wasn’t as easy as thinking, “Who is my target audience?”

I knew the themes of my story were important, and who my character was as a woman. But which readings would I choose? Was it best to select a passage that described the setting, turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, or the protagonist, Afro-Cuban midwife, Ana Belén? Perhaps a passage with beautiful prose and descriptions, showing my writing style and voice? A passage that clearly demonstrated I’d done my research?

I settled on three short paragraphs from the Prologue, which describe 1900 Puerto Rico, where the story begins. I set the stage for my audience. I didn’t plop potential readers right smack in the middle of a dialogue between two or more characters they didn’t know. Potential readers need a beginning point, a grounding, and then they will usually follow you anywhere. My friends know to tell me a story with some background or I will stop them mid-stream with many questions. I’ve been to many book readings, good and bad readings. To me, when the author sets the stage with an introduction to the story, a brief synopsis, or by reading a passage that will ground me as a listener–I’m all theirs.

The second group of passages I selected were of my protagonist Ana’s inner dialogue, which included a memory of a priest from her past she didn’t care for. The passages described a bit of her personality, her grit and humor, and it showed her distrust of people, mainly men. I made it clear Ana had secrets, but didn’t give away the plot. Leave enough mystery for your reader to want to read your book and find out what happens!

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‘La Negresse’, Marie Guillemine Benoist, Musee du Louvre, Paris

The last passages described Ana, standing in ankle-high ocean surf, preparing her ebó, the offering to the Yoruba gods and goddesses for the safe delivery of her client’s first child, and for keeping them safe during a tropical storm that threathened the little house at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. As a former slave, Ana is devoted to the Yoruba traditions of her childhood and to the Virgin Mary, who was introduced to her by the priests of her new parish. This gave the audience a vivid description of Ana,  the duality nature of her life, and a few inner conflicts as a woman and a midwife.

I have no clue how long my reading went for (my watch stopped), but I felt confident I’d introduced my story, the setting, and my protagonist well enough to stop. And I didn’t want to go over my allotted time so my fellow authors had enough time for their readings. When the event was over, we had fifteen minutes to spare. Lesson learned–buy a new watch.

My advice for authors preparing for a book reading: don’t put all your apples into one basket, and certainly don’t pick only the green apples–it’s a delicate balance. Leave enough time to interract with the audience during the Q&A session after the reading. This is a golden opportunity to share with and reach your readers, who love getting to know authors, the story behind the book, and what makes authors tick.

Why should I buy that author’s book? Because I connected with the characters, the story, and especially because I connected with the author.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

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

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

A Decent Woman is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-decent-woman-eleanor-parker-sapia/1121258236?ean=9781620154007

La Casa Azul Bookstore    143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029         info.lacasaazul@gmail.com

http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

@eleanorparkerwv

http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

 

 

Author Night at La Casa Azul Bookstore

 

Book reading at La Casa Azul

Eleanor will be reading from her historical novel, A Decent Woman and signing copies of the book at La Casa Azul Bookstore on Friday, October 2, 6-8 pm.

La Casa Azul Bookstore  *  143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029  *    info.lacasaazul@gmail.com

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

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

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

A Decent Woman is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-decent-woman-eleanor-parker-sapia/1121258236?ean=9781620154007

La Casa Azul Bookstore    143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029         info.lacasaazul@gmail.com

http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

@eleanorparkerwv

http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

Twelve Days in Paradise–A Journal of My Family Vacation in Puerto Rico

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My August vacation to Puerto Rico was just what I needed after the publication of my historical novel, A Decent Woman in February 2015. After six, intense months of publicizing my book on social media, doing interviews, guest blogging, and being on blog talk radio shows to promote my book, I was pretty spent. By early August, the idea of continuing to write my second historical novel, also set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, was beginning to feel like a chore, despite my love for my new story and amazing, new characters. I needed a break. A writing break. My mind needed to vegetate a bit and my eyes needed new vistas, and my soul demanded inspiration, which I found during my late August vacation to the island of my birth, Puerto Rico.

On Thursday, as our plane made its final descent into Luis Muñoz Marin Airport in San Juan, my sister Elaine and I smiled at the turquoise waters and palm tree-fringed coastline below. We were home. Elaine hadn’t visited the island in twenty-five years and she was as giddy as I was to return to the birth place of our mother and grandparents, and the place where our great-parents landed in the mid 1800’s after their voyages by schooner from Italy and the Canary Islands. In flight, we’d shared what we hoped to see and do during our vacation and our lists were similar–pristine beaches, turquoise waters, salsa and merengue music, dancing, rum drinks, visits with family and friends, and day trips to mountain villages–FUN. We were on the same page of music. We would also celebrate our birthdays on this vacation. August 20, the day we flew from the US was my sister’s birthday and we would celebrate mine on August 28.

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As we collected our baggage and texted our cousin that we’d landed, my sister and I chuckled at the loud conversations in Spanish all around us. Puerto Ricans are loud, fun, gregarious, and they love to have fun, wherever they are. A couple of years ago, I read the results of world-wide poll of the happiest people on the planet and Puerto Ricans took first place that year. I wasn’t surprised. Piped-in salsa music followed us out of the terminal to wait for our cousin, and the heat and humidity immediately slapped us in the face, waking us up after our 6 am flight from Baltimore. I instantly wanted an ice cold Medalla beer, a beach chair on a beautiful beach, and I couldn’t wait to slip into my bathing suit!

Our first evening in San Juan with our cousin Josefina and her Chilean friend was perfect–dinner at Pamela’s on the beach. And I mean ON the beach. We enjoyed a tasty dinner at tables and chairs placed on the sand in front of the ocean, where we stayed until late that night catching up and laughing at our antics as kids. Perfectly magical. After dinner under a nearly-full moon and sipping superb drinks called Caipirinha, made with Brazilian rum, we walked on the beach and finally set foot in cool, Caribbean waters. We toasted Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and the seas, and I thanked God for my family and for this much-needed vacation. Stress seemed to melt off my shoulders into the ocean.

Caipirinha Cocktail, Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Cachaça is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage. Wikipedia

Ingredients: Half a lime cut into 4 wedges, 2 Teaspoons brown sugar, 1 2/3 oz Cachaça

Preparation: Place lime and sugar into old fashioned glass and muddle (mash the two ingredients together using a muddler or a wooden spoon). Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the Cachaça.

Served: On the rocks; poured over ice

Standard garnish: Lime, Sugar cane Drinkware: Old Fashioned glass

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I’d hoped to visit Isla de Cabras on this trip, an islet off the coast of San Juan, the setting of my second novel I’m currently writing, The Island of Goats, but with family schedules, we decided to visit the small island at the end of our trip since we would be returning to San Juan to fly home. I knew it was risky to put off, but the pull to visit family and friends was greater than more research, which I’d done boatloads of already!

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After spending Wednesday morning at the beach, we left bustling San Juan behind, headed to our hometown Ponce, in the southwestern coast of the island. We couldn’t wait to see our Aunt Elena and our cousins’s daughter, Mari and her beautiful baby, Mia Elena. How wonderful to see them after so many years. That evening we listened to the weather channels about the coming of what was thought to be Hurricane Danny, and feasted on a lovingly-prepared, traditional Puerto Rican Christmas meal of pernil, roast pork with plenty of garlic; pasteles, plantain mash with chick peas, capers, olives, and again, plenty of garlic; and arroz con gandules, rice with a type of black-eyed pea, courtesy of my aunt who is a tremendous cook. Tropical storm or hurricane, we vowed nothing would ruin our vacation! Elaine and I love extreme weather and rain, so we weren’t swayed by the news–we would help my Aunt make household hurricane preparations, and buy plenty of beer, wine, and food to help ride out the storm!

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In order to get ahead of the storm, we drove west and enjoyed two days at Playa Jungla, an incredibly pristine beach with mangroves near Guánica that you won’t likely find without taking a local with you. Simply amazing. We placed our beach chairs in a circle in the water, and spent two days laughing, drinking, and dancing to music courtesy of a family who brought their sound system to the beach. I never wanted to leave and started thinking of buying a home on the island. Could that be a possibility for me? My river place on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River is currently for sale, and with the sale of my home in West Virginia, I could put down a sizeable downpayment on a property to lower my monthly payments. The wheels in my brain were beginning to turn. Live in Paradise? Why not?

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On the drive from back to Ponce from Playa Jungla, Tropical Danny brought high winds and plenty of sideways rain, but not enough to fill the dry river beds and reservoirs after a three-month drought, which was a shame. Water was still being rationed in several towns and cities on the island, and Ponce was finally free of rationing. Many Caribbean islands were suffering the same drought and Tropical Storm Danny did some major damage to neighboring islands with some fatalities, which was sad to hear. But such is life on a Caribbean island with hurricane season from June to November. You prepare and that’s pretty much all you can do in addition to praying and hiding under a table.

Note: A Decent Woman opens with a birth taking place in a major tropical storm. Readers tell me they held their breaths while reading–check it out!

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On Tuesday morning, we awoke to blue skies and headed to our beach hotel destination in Rincón, on the west coast of the island, which we’d booked ahead for three days. We invited our Aunt and two cousins to join us, which is always fun. The more the merrier! Hotel Cofresí is beautiful and I highly recommend it. It is situated right on the beach with a great pool bar and famous coconut drinks–that’s what I’m talking about. We had three days of fun in the sun, took a day trip to the lighthouse in Aguada, and were already nursing the sunburns we’d acquired at Playa Jungla, despite the heavy sunblock and hats we wore to keep the sun from burning our delicate skin. We upped our sunblock protection and kept on driving, enjoying the coastline as little blisters began to form on my upper thighs. Oh well, so much for saying I could never tan the front of my legs. They were a nice brown color, but I knew would soon peel.

By Thursday, we were back in Ponce and heard about Tropical Storm Erica who was slowly making her way to the Caribbean, headed directly to Puerto Rico. It was thought that this storm had all the signs of turning into a Category 2-3 hurricane, so we stayed local and visited the Ponce Yacht Club where we’d gone to dances and parties as young teens. Not much had changed at the Club, and we enjoyed the brand new, semi-salty outdoor pool watching dark, ominous clouds come from the north and go out to sea. The air was noticibly cooler, but the sun still beat down on us. By Friday, the news was that Erica was starting to fizzle out and we headed to downtown Ponce to shop for souvenirs to take home, with stops at a few botánicas, botanical shops, in town. We took photos of the Plaza and had coconut ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop, Helados Los Chinos, which specializes in tropical fruit ice cream. Their ice cream recipes haven’t changed since I was a baby–still incredible and still melt quicker than you can imagine in the heat, giving you a brain freeze quicker than you say, “cóco“!

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Late Thursday afternoon, cousin Mari took us to a local healer, Doña Chencha, who is one of the oldest healers on the island. I’ve written about my experience with her in a previous blog called “Healing with Medicinal Plants and Herbs in Puerto Rico“.

At ten that evening, Elaine and I put on our bathing suits, grabbed cold beers and headed to the patio to welcome Tropical Storm Erica, which was due to pass over Ponce at midnight. We joked that we’d do a rain dance and at exactly midnight, the rain started falling and the high winds began. We lasted about thirty minutes, enjoying the cool rain on our bodies, and chilly air. The power went off as we listened to the howling winds around the house, and the rain pounded the roof. When we woke up, there was no damage to my aunt’s house, but our towels were blown from the patio out back to the front of the garage.

Papa at the farm 1961

Saturday was perfect for a drive in the country and we chose the mountain towns of Villalba, Jayuya, and Orocóvis, which is the setting of my third novel, Mistress of Coffee and the location of my grandparents coffee farm. What a treat. Erica did some major damage to the mountain towns with dozens of downed plaintain trees and débris across the mountain road we climbed on our way to Toro Negro Nature Reserve, which in my opinion, rivals El Yunque Rain Forest in the north. My cousin did a great job dodging branches strewn across the roads and we ended up at Doña Juana’s waterfall, which is splendid! As we passed beautiful cement homes, humble wooden abodes, rushing rivers, and the lush tropical surroundings, again, I thought, “Could this be my forever home?” I could envision myself writing my historical novels from a lovely home nestled in the mountains with a view of a pristine river along with Oshún, the goddess of rivers.

Note: The goddesses Yemaya and Oshún are featured in my novel, A Decent Woman, as my protagonist, Ana Belén, has a special connection and reverence to the Yoruba goddesses.

ADW in Puerto Rico July 2015

On Sunday, we decided to drive to the mountains again. This time we’d visit a few rivers for bathing and communing with nature–right up my alley! As we bought supplies, we met two older gentlemen who said they were on their way to a birthday party in Villalba, which was exactly where we were headed. We joined the fun party at an amazing, rustic restaurant/bar high in the mountains with a perfect river flowing below. There is nothing better than sharing good times and dancing with friends, holding cold Coronas and hearing the sound of rushing water nearby. We didn’t get the opportunity to bathe in the river and I was hoping we’d get to before Tuesday.

I loved Villalba as much as I did as a kid and thoughts of selling my river place and my home in West Virginia continued peeking into my consciousness all day and on our drive home. My cousin Josefina is a real estate broker, so I decided I’d tell her about my idea. My sister was on board, as well. Could we do this?

Monday found us driving along the southern coast to join our new friends from Juana Díaz at the Guayama Yacht Club. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of red snapper, lobster in mofongo, plaintain mash with plenty of garlic (get the idea Puerto Ricans’ love garlic?!) with great red wine, which was not a good choice for a hot day!

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By Tuesday afternoon, we were saying teary goodbyes to my cousins and my aunt at the airport. Time just ran out and I realized I wouldn’t see Isla de Cabras on this trip. I will have to rely on my research and on the aerial videos I found on YouTube. We were very sad to leave Puerto Rico and hope to return in March 2016 for a family reunion. Elaine and I felt our mother and grandparents’ spirits strongly during this trip and leaving seems to reopen emotional scabs I thought we’d dealt with. We miss our mother and dearly departed family members, moreso when we’re on the island, and that will never change.

Note: As for finding a home in Puerto Rico. I am on the search and have contacted my cousin and another local realtor for properties in Cabo Rojo and Villalba, which we will visit in March 2016. It makes sense–I am Puerto Rican-born, I love every inch of my island, I write novels set on the island, extreme weather doesn’t freak me out, and…

A writer can dream, can’t she? Time to make a vision board for my forever home, which I’ve done before and my dream came true.

ellie

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

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

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

 

A Creative Journey: Nature, Nurture, or Genes?

Reblogged from Tiffani Burnett-Velez’ blog, THIS WRITER’S LIFE blog https://tiffaniburnettvelez.wordpress.com

“Creativity is a DNA imperative. It is impossible for us to not be creative. We make things by nature.” – James Navé

I love reading and writing stories about intrepid souls with unshakable confidence; those characters who pursue their dreams, passions, and adventures despite crazy odds, challenges, and inner demons. Many writers learn and perfect the craft of writing with little regard to the critics, naysayers, and the dreaded, interior censor, which sounds a lot like me.

A writer continues the creative journey for years, amidst myriad rejections from literary agents, a few disappointed readers, and publishers they never hear back from. She digs deep into emotional, mental, and spiritual wells, while perfecting the craft of writing, discovering her voice, and finally accessing the dark place where a golden vein hid from her until three in the morning. And at that exact moment, she ran out of coffee. That really happened. I drove to Sheetz in my pajamas, bought supplies, and wrote furiously until the sun came up. A writer, despite all the odds, challenges ahead, obstacles in front, and yes, lurking inner demons, toils night and day for years, and finally hits the perfect vein—the one they believe and pray will bleed gold for their story.

So which vein did I pierce when I wrote A Decent Woman, my historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico? The veins I unconsciously tapped into were my life as a Puerto Rican-born woman, blessed with two rich heritages, Puerto Rican and Polish-Russian, and my maternal grandmother’s veins, which flowed with rich, colorful stories about growing up in Puerto Rico—the same blood that flows in me.

I knew my grandmother’s stories by heart, and the character who stood out the most was her midwife, Ana, an Afro-Caribbean woman who smoked a cigar and enjoyed a shot of rum after every birth. This formidable woman caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, and through the stories the women in my family told me, Ana seemed larger than life. But there wasn’t a lot of information about Ana, so in my story, Ana Belén became a tall, gritty but kind, Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery. But who did I think I was writing and inhabiting the body, mind, and soul of a black woman in colonial Puerto Rico? Would readers believe this story written by a white, five foot tall woman with green eyes, who’d only ever been a ‘slave’ to her children during soccer and football season? I’m fluent in Spanish and I still travel to Puerto Rico to visit my family, but could I tell Ana’s story?

As a budding writer, I had two things going for me—inexperience and naivety—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write this story. Ana was a great character and I knew dozens of colorful family stories. In addition to my grandmother’s life blood and stories flowing through my veins, I’d worked as a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker, a counselor, and one of the staff members of a residential treatment center/school for children. I knew what pain and struggle looked like and I felt the pain of my clients on a daily basis. I also had a love of the mystical and magical world we live in, and a damn good imagination, so I forged ahead, finished the novel, and four years later, it went to layout.

Then something and unexpected happened. One of the early readers of A Decent Woman, an African-American woman, called me. She loved the book and during our first phone conversation, she shared her surprising discovery with a hearty laugh—I wasn’t black. I laughed with her because I’d thought that might eventually come up. We laughed a good bit, and I asked my new friend what she thought of Ana.

She replied, “You wrote a beautiful character.  I love the story.”

What a beautiful gift my friend gave me that day. I was relieved and encouraged by what I’d heard—A Decent Woman was a believable story and I’d reached a reader on a deep, emotional level. That is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved. Yes, I researched the history of Puerto Rico for years, but a ton of historical information isn’t an historical novel. I had to become Ana with all the information I’d gleaned from research. Her blood had to flow with mine, and it did. It still does. She is a character I will never forget.

I encourage you to tap into your life experiences as you write. Take risks. Think of your cultural background, learn about and understand other cultures if travel is not possible, and reach deep to find empathy and compassion for others. Pain is pain no matter where we look or what era we decide to write about, but the story and characters must be believable, or the reader will sense something is off, and possibly close the book. And Lord knows, we don’t want that.

I offer my deepest thanks, Tiffani Burnett-Velez for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

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 Eleanor’s debut historical novel. She is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

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