Author Interview: Ivelisse Rodriguez

Welcome to the monthly Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Today I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dr. Ivelisse Rodriguez on a special day, the debut of her short story collection, Love War Stories (The Feminist Press, 2018).

Ivelisse Rodriguez has published fiction in the Boston Review, All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Kweli, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US that spans over a century. The series is published in Centro Voices, the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli and is 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. She earned 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.

Welcome and congratulations, Ivelisse.

What is your book’s genre/category?

My book, Love War Stories, is a collection of short stories. It is literary fiction.

Please describe what the stories are about.

My book is about the burgeoning sense of womanhood in Puerto Rican girls and young women. I am interested in the love stories women have been told generation to generation and how anti-love stories need to rise up to give women other alternatives.

How did you come up with the title?

The title comes from the last story in the collection where mothers and daughters hold “love wars.” Daughters tell love stories and mothers tell anti-love stories. The title captures the trouble with love that is evoked throughout all the stories.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book, I think was written for my college self. I think that these are the stories young women who break themselves for love need to hear, that the self is more important than being beholden to love. Women need to hear different stories that they can be more than women in love.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Being done. Or, in the interim, writing really good lines.

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

The most challenging part is sitting down and doing it. You have to face your fear of failure every time you sit down and sometimes it is so overwhelming that you just have to walk away. Another challenging aspect for me is revision. It is easier for me to start something, but when you revise, you really have to focus on the larger story and your word choices, so this part of the writing process is much slower for me. 

Ivelisse, did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

During the writing process, I learned to be more patient versus rushing to send out a story that needs more work. I also learned that consistency is the only way to get your story done.  

What I learned about the publishing process is that it is pretty mysterious and plenty of other writers don’t know what is going on either. I wanted to know how everything works—who got my ARCS, who got my press kit, etc., but I didn’t want to stalk my publicist. I’m just super nosey, and I wanted to learn about the process. And other writers and I would trade any information we were able to procure.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I hope they gain some insight about love, and the ways it can break women in particular. I also hope they will be deeply moved by the stories I have to tell. I hope it is a book that people carry in their hearts.

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

In terms of marketing, my query letter did a good job of describing my book. That partly stems from the feedback I received from a professor in my Ph.D. program who was working with the students going on the job market; for my academic job letter, she told me to make my book sound more interesting, so I worked a bit on that. And I name-dropped in my query letter, so that helped too.  

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

What didn’t work is that I sent the book out when it wasn’t ready. And I think that squanders opportunity. Being on the other end as a reader of submissions for a literary journal and for fiction contests, I can tell you, especially for the contests, there were too many submissions that needed a lot more polishing, so they weren’t even in the running.

Ivelisse, do you have advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Revise, revise, revise. And go to writer’s conferences and meet other emerging writers. Don’t be dismissive of people because they aren’t some bigwig. I have received support from people I met early in their careers, those still building their careers, and those who are literary icons. We are in this together, so don’t treat people like crap because they are not famous—just as a general rule of being a decent person but also because you never know where people will end up. I also think it is important to be a good literary citizen—again, we are in this together, so take the opportunity to help other writers whenever and however you can.

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

The last book I read is the forthcoming Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. I think the book adds so much to the narrative of Colombia. It’s the story of a wealthy family and a plot to kidnap the two daughters. Contreras shows how wealth does not shield one from violence or dire situations or the destabilization of home. She also showcases all the hard choices that women, in particular, have to make. It’s a lovely read, and I would highly recommend it. It’s a memorable book.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have favorite books more so than favorite authors. Some books that I love are The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros, Middemarch by George Eliot, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, Drown by Junot Diaz, and Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas, and quite a few others.

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

I like to write in bed, only because I have an adjustable bed, and it is super comfy. I also like to read in bed. I hate reading paper books now because I love turning off the lights and reading my Kindle or Nook in the dark. It is one of my favorite things to do.

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

I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and then I went to boarding school when I was 13 (on a full scholarship).

Website and social media links?

https://www.ivelisserodriguez.com/

Love War Stories Cover

Where can we find your book?

You can find it at https://www.feministpress.org/books-a-m/love-war-stories, or Indie bookstores, or Amazon.com.

What’s next for you, Ivelisse?

Hopefully, I will get back to working on my novel in August. It’s called The Last Salsa Singer, and it is about the friendship between two musicians in a salsa band in Puerto Rico during the 1970s. It’s about the value of friendship and art over romantic love, it’s about salsa, and it’s about an underestimated young woman who shatters everyone’s life.

Best of luck with Love War Stories. I look forward to reading the book and wish you happy writing!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia:

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-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. 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 1926 Puerto Rico.

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Author Interview: Gabrielle Mathieu

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

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

gabrielle-mathieu

Welcome, Gabrielle!

What is your book’s genre/category?

It’s a fantasy adventure firmly grounded in reality.

Please describe what The Falcon Flies Alone is about.

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

How did you come up with the title?

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

Gabrielle, what inspired you to write this book?

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

 What is your favorite part of writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What didn’t work?

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

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

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

Website and social media links?

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

Where can we find The Falcon Flies Alone?

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

What’s next for you, Gabrielle?

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

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

ellie

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

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

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

 

 

 

Author Interview: Apollo Papafrangou

The Writing Life is pleased to welcome Apollo Papafrangou, author of the upcoming novel, Wings of Wax.

Apollo Papafrangou is a writer from Oakland, California, where he pens novels, short stories, and, occasionally, poems. He is a 2010 graduate of the Mills College Creative Writing MFA program, and the author of “Concrete Candy,” a short story collection published by Anchor Books in 1996 when he was just 15 years old.

His debut novel WINGS OF WAX, the story of a shy, young artist seeking to reconnect with his ladies’ man father in Greece, will be published in March, 2016 by Booktrope.

HBO Films optioned the movie rights to his story “The Fence” from 2000-2004, and his fiction has appeared in the 1998 Simon & Schuster anthology entitled “Trapped. Apollo’s work has appeared in “Voices,” a collection of works by Greek writers published in 2013 by Nine Muses Press, Quiet Lightning, among other publications.

Apollo author pic

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome, Apollo.

WingsofWaxcoverWhat is your book’s genre/category?

Wings of Wax is literary/contemporary fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Wings of Wax is the story of Angelo, a shy, young artist seeking to reunite with his estranged father in Greece and to learn the mysterious ways of the kamaki: the classic Mediterranean ladies’ man.

The novel takes place in both the San Francisco Bay Area and in Greece. In many ways, it’s a travel narrative, an odyssey of sorts, both in respect to Angelo’s physical journey, and his interior transformation.

 Apollo, how did you come up with the title?

Wings of Wax is a nod toward the Greek myth of Icarus–the boy who gained flight via mechanical wings attached with wax, but, in failing to heed his father’s advice, flew too close to the sun. Icarus serves as a metaphor in the book as flight is a central theme, as is the often tumultuous relationship between fathers and sons. 

What inspired you to write Wings of Wax?

Many things, but perhaps above all else, the desire to join the ranks of Greek-American writers who are mining the terrain of our collective experience through their fiction. I feel that the Greek-American experience–in all its complexity and variation–has been largely unexplored in contemporary fiction. Of course we have Jeffrey Eugenides, one of my literary heroes, but we need more voices.

My heritage is pretty important to me. Through my stories I want to share its richness with others.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is the process itself. It’s tedious at times, but I imagine building a story is like crafting a sculpture–you chipaway long enough, and you’ve got something. I also like exploring the interior experience of my characters. Fiction is the only artistic medium through which we get into other people’s heads. Stories show us we’re not alone in the world.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Starting, whether it be a new project or a continuation of yesterday’s work. When I sit down to write each day, I spend a lot of time looking over what I wrote over previous days to get back into the flow. There’s a lot of staring at the white space, but then something inevitably clicks, and I’m able to find that groove again.

I write five days a week, generally, Monday through Friday. I try to get five-hundred words a day; sometimes I write more, sometimes less, but consistency is the key. I put in the time five days a week because I treat writing like a job. 

Who are some of your favorite authors? 

There are so many. Of the classic writers I like Steinbeck, Faulkner, Baldwin, Nabokov, Tolstoy. In grad school I was introduced to some fantastically underrated writers like Bruno Schultz, Italo Calvino, Fernando Pessoa, and Anne Carson. Favorite contemporary authors include Jennifer Egan, Victor Lavalle, Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Susan Straight, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem, Cormack McCarthy, George Pelecanos, and many more.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

Other than the writers I’ve already named, Nikos Kazantzakis has been a big influence, of course. He is the quintessential Greek writer. His prose is so lyrical and rich without being flowery. I’m also influenced by the great contemporary Greek poets, as Greece is a land of poetry–George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos, Odysseas Elytis.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I write on a desktop Mac in my bedroom. I can’t get with the writing in a coffee shop thing. Too many distractions. I’d like to have a little writing studio someday. 

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

It’s not so “personal,” but an interesting fact is that I had my first short story published in Zyzzyva magazine, a pretty well known journal here on the west coast, at the age of thirteen. Another bit of trivia: before committing to English as my major back in college, I thought I would earn a degree in Child Development. I’ve always been interested in the way children learn and adapt. I work with kids now at an after-school program as my “day job.”

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

One big lesson I gained from this process is that next time around I need to send out blurb requests much further in advance! It takes a while to corral those endorsements from other writers and public figures.

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

Going to grad school for creative writing at Mills College was a great experience. I grew so much as a writer, and I began this novel during my second semester in the program. Soon after graduation I had a completed draft and now, several years and drafts later, I’ve got a published book! 

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Not much beyond the old cliches of keep writing and pushing your work out there. When you’re tired of pushing, push some more. It’s standard advice, but I’ve found it to be solid.

Website?

http://www.apollopapafrangou.wordpress.com

www.twitter.com/Apo_Papafrangou.

You can find me on Facebook, too.

Where can we find your book?

Wings of Wax will be released in March, 2016 from Booktrope, and will be available via local bookstores, Amazon, and other major retailers.

What’s next for you?

I’m almost finished with a first draft of my next book, a currently untitled novel-in-short-stories about twenty-somethings in the Oakland art scene trying to make a living outside of a traditional nine-to-five. The stories feature Greek-American characters, as the Greek community has a lengthy history in the Bay Area, and the culture is obviously my point of reference. It’s an interesting time to be in Oakland, with all the gentrification going on, and I hope, this book reflects that.

WingsofWaxcover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for chatting with us, Apollo. I enjoyed getting to know more about you. Happy writing!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

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

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut historical novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Book club members across the United States have enjoyed the story, as well. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is the mother of two awesome adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

New Anthology: Latina Authors And Their Muses

Latina Authors and Their Muses

Final book cover Latina Authors and Their Muses

Eleanor Parker Sapia is honored to be featured in the new anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. The anthology, which highlights 40 respected Latina authors, …”is a celebration of creativity, the writer’s life, the passionate quest for spiritual and artistic freedom.”

Enjoy an excerpt from Eleanor:

“In many descriptive passages in the book, I see where my painterly eye took over. Knowing the ins and outs of painting, and understanding the necessary patience and discipline helped me with writing—like already speaking the local language when you visit a new country. Building layers, focusing on details, always the details, and highlighting the nuances, light, and dark parts in a painting, are a lot like writing.”

The ebook version debuted September 25th, 2015 through Twilight Times Books. The paperback version will be available in December 2015.

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