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.

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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.

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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.

Livin’ La Vida Latina: Q&A with Eleanor Parker Sapia

Reblogged, October 7, 2015

http://livinlavidalatina.blogspot.com/2015/10/q-with-eleanor-parker-sapia.html

ellie

Historical novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia was born in Puerto Rico and raised as an Army brat in the United States, Puerto Rico, and several European cities. As a child, she could be found drawing, writing short stories, and reading Nancy Drew books sitting on a tree branch. Eleanor’s life experiences as a painter, counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker, continue to inspire her writing. Eleanor loves introducing readers to strong, courageous Caribbean and Latin American women who lead humble yet extraordinary lives in extraordinary times. Her debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, has garnered praise and international acclaim. She is a proud member of PENAmerica and the Historical Novel Society. A Decent Woman is July 2015 Book of the Month for Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club.

Eleanor is currently writing her second historical novel titled, The Island of Goats, set in Puerto Rico, Spain, and Southern France. When Eleanor is not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor has two loving grown children, and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.

Synopsis: A DECENT WOMAN

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older, wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (2) (1)

  1. What inspired you to write A Decent Woman?
    I was initially inspired by a tribute I wrote on the occasion of my maternal grandmother’s 90th birthday, and by my grandmother’s stories about her midwife, Ana, who caught my mother, two aunts, and an uncle. I’ve always said Ana whispered her story in my ear. She was an Afro-Caribbean midwife of unknown origins, who my relatives said liked her rum and a cigar after every birth—a very colorful woman. Ultimately, Ana’s story was the inspiration. I wish I’d met her.

After writing the tribute for my Puerto Rican grandmother, which included stories about her childhood and adulthood on the island, I realized how much I knew about the daily lives of women in the 1900’s. Through my research, I was further inspired by the extraordinary lives of ordinary women during a complex and tempestuous time in the island’s history. There are many books written about Puerto Rican women’s experiences after leaving the island, but I wasn’t aware of any books in English with stories such as mine, about the women who stayed behind. I wrote what I wanted to read.

  1. How do Ana and Serafina relate to each other in the story?

In chapter one, midwife Ana Belén catches sixteen-year old, Serafina Martinez’ first child as a tropical storm threatens the little Martínez house. The women immediately bond, especially Serafina to Ana as her mother died in Hurricane San Ciriaco two years prior. Ana is very fond of Serafina, but she is afraid of getting too close to the young woman for many reasons: her childhood as a slave; Serafina’s young age; Ana’s place in society; and because of the secret Ana brought to Puerto Rico from Cuba twenty years before, which if discovered, could destroy all Ana has worked for.

Through sharing life experiences, despite their different places in society, and after a crime against Serafina that brings them together in an ill-conceived plan to avenge Serafina’s honor and protect her marriage, the women become close friends, close as sisters. Not only was Ana the young woman’s confidante andcomadre, midwife, they are comadres of the heart. Their friendship continues until the end of the book.

  1. What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

I explored the issues of racism, misogyny, and elitism, as well as crimes against women and abuse within marriage and relationships. I thought it was important to portray life as it was for women of all socio-economic levels—the rich and the poor, white and black, the educated and uneducated.

Women suffered abuse at the hands of men at home, in the workplace, and in the street. Women struggled to feed their children and make ends meet at home with low-paying jobs, often going hungry themselves. They fought other women, vying for male attention, which at the time, was the only way a woman could survive in the world—with a man’s protection and money. Consequently, women were pitted one against the other. In some places in the world, this continues.

And finally, the US Department of Health sterilized hundreds of Puerto Rican women (more women in later years), against their will and by not telling them what procedures were being done on them. I believe once you know a truth—and this truth, a shocking truth in our history as a colony—you must tell it. If we deny or ignore a truth, it will revisit us. I didn’t and I don’t shy away from the ugly bits of life or the past. The women of 1900 Puerto Rico needed a voice.

  1. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

As with viewing a work of art, what the viewer/reader ‘sees’ is subjective. We filter our life experiences through everything we read, hear, observe, and experience, and come to an understanding. We each take what we need and discard what we don’t need in most situations. It’s no different with books. So, it’s tough to say what I hope readers will gain from my book. However, I do hope readers who usually shy away from historical novels will see through my story that people of the past weren’t that different from us. Our ancestors dealt with the same pains, tragedies, and joys in life as we do today. Life was harder, of course, because people had few modern conveniences and fewer opportunities, especially  women, and that is still true of many people around the world today.

One reader loved that I showed how important women friendships are throughout a woman’s life. I agree. Women should continue uplifting their fellow women when they can. There’s plenty to go around.

  1. What inspired you to be a writer?

I was an exhibiting artist for over twenty-five years before discovering my passion for writing books. One day, the paint brush and canvas weren’t ‘saying’ what I wanted to convey. I began writing on the dry, painted canvas with a colored pencil. Soon, I wrote personal thoughts and quotes, on the painted images. Words appeared on the side of painted images, around the edges, until finally making their way inside the piece. It was then the little light illuminated in my brain—I needed words as well as paint to tell my stories; to express what I had in my heart and soul. I believe I inspired myself. It was then my inner world opened up, making connections where up until that point, I’d kept separate.

After a few years, writing took over, and I wrote the first draft manuscript of A Decent Woman. Looking back, however, I see my artist side revealed in how I describe settings, characters, and objects in my stories; the play or light and color and texture—that all comes from an art background. I now paint to relax, as a reminder that I am a creative person, when inspiration strikes, and when I get stuck during the writing process. Writing has become an obsession, and I am happy when I visit with my old friend, painting.

  1. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love being alone in my head with my characters, and seeing where they lead me and the story. What I like least is when I must be on social media instead of writing. I understand the importance of social media to an author and love getting to know my readers, I really do, but I much prefer sitting at my writing desk. I came to writing in my late forties—I feel the urgency to get my stories to readers before it’s too late!

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors?

A few of my favorites are, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Jack Remick, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Milan Kundera, and Cormac McCarthy.

  1. If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

I love this question! I’ve always thought A Decent Woman would make a great film. The incredible actress Viola Davis would be perfect to play adult Ana and Selma Hayak as the adult Serafina. For the younger Ana, I would love to see Lupita Nyong’o and Melanie Iglesias as young Serafina.

  1. Are you working on anything right now?

Yes, thanks for asking. I’m currently writing a novel called The Island of Goats, which begins in 1920 Puerto Rico, and moves to the pilgrimage path of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and then to Southern France. It is the story of two young women, Magdalena and Nadya, who will meet and forge an unlikely friendship on the medieval pilgrimage route, while trying to make sense of a new world before WWII.

My first published novel, A Decent Woman will always have a special place in my heart, but I am very excited about the second book.

  1. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

Latino literature has evolved for hundreds of years, and will continue to evolve as Latinos in the United States continue writing culturally-rich stories in Spanish and in English, or begin writing books in genres where there are few Latino writers. I’ve read comments from Latino writers who are tired of reading stories of one more Latino/a drug addict, prostitutes, or another story of coming into the United States. I say just write. Tell whatever story is in your heart.

What comes to mind when I think of the future of Latino literature is the need for more Latinos in publishing and more Latino agents, who specialize in Latino literature. It’s difficult for all writers to get published, and my personal experience was that I had an extra hurdle to get over—writing a historical novel about a diverse heroine in 1900 Puerto Rico—not easy to sell, but as it turned out, Ana’s journey has been embraced by readers. I’m glad I didn’t give up, and I still need an agent!

I’d like to think that the future of Latino literature looks bright and promising.

Thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers. Happy writing to all!

A DECENT WOMAN is available on Amazon

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

and at La Casa Azul Bookstore,143 E. 103rd Street  New York, NY 10029 (212) 426-2626 http://www.lacasaazulbookstore.com/

Website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

Author Blog: http://www.thewritinglifeeparker.wordpress.com

Twitter: @eleanorparkerwv

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=252952928&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

A Love Letter To Puerto Rico~

A Love Letter To Puerto Rico~Reblogged from Sahar Abdulaziz’ blog.
September 15, 2015

Interview with Author Eleanor Parker Sapia

Today, On Sahar’s Monday Morning Blog on Tuesday, I am very honored to have the especially talented and insightful author and artist, Eleanor Parker Sapia as my guest.

Eleanor: Thank you for having me, Sahar. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today.

Sahar: Eleanor, where to begin! Can you share with me how and when did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing, A Decent Woman?

Eleanor: For more than twenty-five years, I was an exhibiting painter before discovering my passion for telling stories. Actually, I told stories as a kid, and yes, some were embellished! A trip, a vacation, the school cafeteria—I used experiences in my daily life to tell stories. My kids joke that if you ask me how my day was, get ready for a story; quirky and interesting always happen around me. I suppose I pay attention to my surroundings and the people in it. Human behavior fascinates me.

Looking back, I should have known I’d become an author, but outside of painting, keeping a journey for decades, and writing poetry I never showed anyone, I never dreamed I’d write and publish a book. My debut novel, A Decent Woman, began as a tribute to my grandmother for her ninetieth birth. I was amazed how much I knew about life in turn of the century Puerto Rico and about the lives of women in my hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico.

My debut novel is a love letter to Puerto Rico, the island of my birth. I hoped to create and give voice to diverse characters, such as my protagonist, the Afro-Cuban midwife, Ana Belén, who was born into slavery. I wrote what I wanted to read, and I love reading books set in exotic locations with diverse characters. My friends didn’t know much about Puerto Rico and its’ rich history, so I wrote A Decent Woman.

Sahar: Tell us a little more about you . . . When you’re not writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

Eleanor: I’m a Puerto Rican-born, fifty-eight-year old mother of two adult children who are doing rewarding and exciting things in the world. I used to say I was a single mother, but my kids are now in their thirties—this is more accurate. They live and work in Northern Virginia and the Netherlands, and I miss them every day.

When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my stories and characters—an occupational hazard for a writer! I love to garden, paint, swim, take walks in nature, play with my animals, and spend time with my children and family. I write at my dining room table with a view of my flower garden and at my river place with a view of the West Virginia side of the Potomac River, a setting that always clears my mind and inspires me. Travel is high on my list, as well. My passport is always up-to-date.

Sahar: Do you write every single day, and do you have any particular writing rituals?

Eleanor: During autumn and winter, I write every day, whether it’s my work in progress, articles, or blog posts. In spring, and especially during the summer months, I take the weekends off to enjoy travel and my river place, which I love to share with family and friends.

My ritual before beginning a new book is to compile a relevant, inspirational musical playlist. I add and delete songs as I write, and the songs must be strictly instrumental or with lyrics in a language I don’t speak, so I’m not distracted by words. I don’t wear lucky writing socks, but I do enjoy writing in pajamas or comfy, draw-string pants.

Sahar: I know you love to travel, so where is the one place you would want to visit that you haven’t been before?

Eleanor: Yes, that’s right. I’d love to visit India. Many of my favorite authors are from India, and I’d love to experience the sights, smells, and sounds I’ve enjoyed through their books. India is a fascinating, complex country with a rich history. I could eat Indian cuisine every day, and I’m learning to prepare many of my favorite Indian dishes.

Sahar: Your book, A Decent Woman, what genre does it fall under?

Eleanor: Historical and literary fiction.

Sahar: Your novel, A Decent Woman, it is set in the turbulent 1900s—two years after the United States invasion on the shores of Guánica, Puerto Rico. What made you select this particular time setting and place to tell your story?

Eleanor: Since the character Serafina is loosely based on my maternal grandparents’ stories, I knew the story would be set in early 1900 Puerto Rico, their birthplace and mine. The specific timeframe, timeline, and characters of the story evolved as I refined my research, and when my characters spoke and pointed me in new directions, I rewrote the story.

I was interested in how the Puerto Ricans who remained on the island dealt with the changes of American colonial rule after being a Spanish colony for so long, and what the challenges women faced during that time might be.

Sahar: Your book speaks about the need for social change, the struggles against misogyny, and chauvinism, and the journey to find dignity. How do you think this story relates to the struggles experienced by women still today? How is it different?

Eleanor: In many parts of the world today, including the United States, women live in male-dominated societies, where they still struggle against abuse, misogyny, and chauvinism on a daily basis. Through my research, I discovered that women of the past were no different from you and me—we deal with the same issues in our love relationships, our families, in the workplace, and with our children. Most American women today have modern conveniences and more opportunities in life, but behind some closed doors, the same struggles exist and incidents of abuse are still present. For women, the journey of finding dignity in a complex and fast-faced, challenging world is at times, a daily challenge, even today.

I didn’t set about to write, as my novel has been called, “a feminist novel”. It evolved. I believe when we know or discover a truth, we shouldn’t hide behind it or ignore it. Truth is a gift. And if we deny a truth, it will most certainly revisit us again until we acknowledge it. The abuses Puerto Rican women, black and white, rich and poor, suffered and endured by society and men were glaringly obvious to me—I couldn’t turn my back. These women needed a voice.

Sahar: How important are names to you in your book? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or for the meaning?

Eleanor: The names of my characters in A Decent Woman and The Island of Goats are names that were prevalent and popular in turn of the century Puerto Rico, which I found in census reports of the era, and many names I’ve used are those of family members. Using their names or nicknames links my family to my book forever, which I find very special.

Sahar: Your book cover is very poignant. Can you tell us a little about it?

Eleanor: Thank you. After several attempts and false starts of using images found online, I decided to take my own photograph so as to eliminate the copyright and legalities of using those images. The image on my book cover is that of a wood statue I own of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat, a black Madonna. I purchased the statue in Lourdes, France, during one of my volunteer weeks in the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, where I worked as a piscine lady (bath maiden) for over thirteen years. The statue is precious to me. I’d walked by that statue for over ten years before discovering the Madonna’s connection to my character Ana, who was devoted to the Virgin Mary and to the Yoruba religion goddess, Yemaya, the goddess of maternity and the sea.

Sahar: What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Eleanor: Books on writing by Julia Cameron, Stephen King, and Natalie Goldberg have influenced my writing over the years, as well as the writing website by award-winning authors, Jack Remick and Robert Ray, which has become my writing Bible. I highly recommend the website to writers—it’s like taking writing classes from two Master storytellers.

The books that have influenced and inspired me are many! The Awakening-Kate Chopin, Gabriela and the Widow-Jack Remick, The Poisonwood Bible-Barbara Kingsolver, Sister of My Heart-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Anna Karenina-Leo Tolstoy, Girl with a Pearl Earring-Tracy Chevalier, Stones From the River-Ursula Hegi, and Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen.

Sahar: Eleanor, what are you working on right now? What is your next project?

Eleanor: I am currently writing my second book, The Island of Goats, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, southern Spain, and the south of France. The sequel to A Decent Woman called Mistress of Coffee comes next, along with the Spanish-language translation of A Decent Woman, which I’m keen to begin.

Thanks again for inviting me to visit with you, Sahar. It’s been a real pleasure. I wish you blessings and happy writing. Eleanor

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.

Website [s]: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

Blog: http://www.thewritinglifeeparker.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

Twitter: @eleanorparkerwv

Sahar: Where can we purchase your book[s]?

Eleanor: 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      (212) 426-2626     info.lacasaazul@gmail.com

Wishing you the very best, Eleanor Parker Sapia with all you set out to do, and a BIG Thank You for visiting! Your work is an inspiration. ~ Sahar

Sahar book cover

Sometimes a visit to crazy town is necessary.

Earlier this week, nearly twenty days after my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman was published, I set about creating a to-do list that included, answering emails, writing articles for ezines, replying to author interview questions, and trying to keep up on social media sites I’m part of. The list of what I needed to accomplish post-publication seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t expect to feel new, strange emotions–I was a bit disoriented, and felt flustered and overwhelmed. The book I’d worked on for five years was no longer in my hands–it was in readers’ hands. All I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch my protagonists, Ana and Serafina, take over–it’s their story. At this point, my book, the story, must stand alone. I just happened to write it. But, of course, I got in my own way.

When A Decent Woman first came out, I was overwhelmed with feelings of pride and joy, much like a parent when their firstborn goes off to school. I was grateful to Booktrope Publishing for taking a chance on a historical novel about an Afro-Cuban midwife, who lives and works in Puerto Rico and thankful to my publishing team, who were a dream to work with on this project. I was thrilled and grateful when readers left wonderful comments and reviews. I was humbled and felt dizzy. Much like my experiences when my adult kids left the nest, who are doing wonderful things in the world, by the way, I knew post-publication that it was time to get a life.

I realized I had to write another book, but how? I couldn’t concentrate, and in the first ten days, I obsessively checked Amazon, looking for new reviews so I could thank the kind reader (if I knew them). Checking my rankings on Amazon was a daily ritual, which I didn’t know how to do until my marketing guru, Anne told me where to look. Then, I realized being a best selling author is an hourly thing, and I soon gave that up. I now look weekly and hope that stops. During the first ten days, I found it difficult to have ‘normal’ conversations, and discovered it was extremely difficult not to mention my debut novel to the mailman, the guy at the post office as I mailed out copies of my book, and to the guy behind the deli counter, who loves historical fiction. I went a bit nutty reminding my very kind and tolerant family members and friends not to forget to post an honest review for A Decent Woman on Amazon. Sheesh.

I was sick of me, and this isn’t me. Although I know how important social media is, and how very important reviews are to an author, I lived alone for five years, writing and rewriting a story that loved. In the pre-publication days when I was writing, I wouldn’t speak to a soul for days on end, save for a quick phone call, emails and texts to family and friends to catch up and let them know I was alive. I did talk with my cat and my Chihuahua, Sophie, who as it turns out, is an extremely good listener if you don’t mind her licking your face. I knew how to do all that. I just didn’t know how to be humble and a social animal, when all I wanted to do was write more books. Life is all about balance, and I wasn’t feeling particularly balanced right after publication.

So, I wrote an email to my friend and writing mentor to many writers, including myself, the master storyteller, Jack Remick. Sensing that I was experiencing, as he calls it, “Firstitis”, he kindly wrote back with a diagnosis that was spot on. He gave me the definition of this curable illness and the cure–get back to writing. Immediately. He was absolutely right. It was sage and timely advice from an incredibly talented writer and a composed, generous man to a discombobulated, but well-meaning, new author.

Thank you, Jack. The craziness has diminished. I’m getting down to the business at hand-writing on my second book–and I’m at peace. I should have written sooner, but I learned valuable lessons, and I’ve always learned the hard way.

Ana Belén, you are on your own, my love. I’m onto The Island of Goats, my second historical novel set in 1920 Puerto Rico and Spain. I’m getting to know my characters, Alta Gracia and India Meath, and accessing my experiences on the medieval route of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, The Way of St. James, in Spain, which I walked with my then-teenage children.

But, I’ll see Ana and Serafina again when I get to writing the sequel to A Decent Woman called Mistress of Coffee.

Sometimes, you must visit crazy town to find peace and sanity again.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, an 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 

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

 

New Release – A Decent Woman

I was going about my day as usual, when my book manager emailed to tell me A DECENT WOMAN was live on Amazon! I am thrilled beyond words, very emotional, and I’ve popped open a bottle of champagne I’ve been saving!

CHEERS! To five long, amazing years of writing and researching A Decent Woman! Ana finally has her day! I love you, Ana and Serafina!

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (3) (1)

Do you know what my first thought was? I wish my Mom and grandmother were here with me today to celebrate this happy day. My second thought was to call my children, but my daughter was at work and my son lives in Holland. So, I texted my beautiful daughter and emailed my handsome son!

I was actually dizzy, honest to God. I said a prayer of thanks, logged onto my social media sites, and starting posting 🙂

THANK YOU to my family and friends who’ve supported me for five long years. I love you all!

Here’s how you can purchase A DECENT WOMAN-

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Thank you for visiting today. I hope you will enjoy A DECENT WOMAN well enough to write an honest review of the book. Thank you!

Ellie

Author Interview with Kathryn Gauci

I’m very pleased to welcome Kathryn Gauci, author of the debut historical novel, The Embroiderer, which is already garnering great reviews. I received my copy of the book today and can’t wait to travel back in time with her characters. KATHRYN-001 Welcome, Kathryn! What is your book’s genre/category? The Embroiderer is historical fiction. Please describe what the story/book is about. The Embroiderer is a sweeping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity, set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens. In the spring of 1822, during one of the bloodiest massacres of The Greek War of Independence, a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty in the Byzantine Monastery of Nea Moni on the island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek Army invades Smryna (modern day Izmir) in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However, it is her granddaughter, Sophia, a couturier in Constantinople, who takes the business to great heights, only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of The Balkan Wars, 1912-13.In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but the memory of a dire prophecy about a girl with flaming red hair once told to her by her grandmother begins to haunt her with devastating consequences when the Germans occupy Greece in 1941. The story unravels when Eleni Stephenson – an English woman living in London – is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens in September, 1972. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth about her family’s dark past plunging her into the sensuous and evocative world of Orientalist art and Ottoman fashion, to the destructive forces of political intrigue, where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in superstition simmers just below the surface. How did you come up with the title? During this period women in the Ottoman Empire led a cloistered existence and embroidery was one of the only areas in which a woman was encouraged to excel. A skilled embroiderer enhanced her chances of a good marriage as textiles were seen as an important part of a woman’s dowry. Whilst a great deal of high-quality embroidery was made either for the consumption of the Ottoman court or in the professional workshops of the Topkapi Palace, many women were able to supplement the family income through this work. 9781781322963-Perfect.indd What is the reason you wrote this book? This was a story I had to write. Whilst working as a carpet designer in Athens, 1972-78, I worked alongside refugees and their descendants from The Asia-Minor Catastrophe of 1922. In 1919, the Greek Army occupied Smyrna (Izmir) and fought a campaign to win back the land they had lost when Mehmet the Conqueror sacked Constantinople in 1453.  For most Greeks, this was unmitigated disaster and they had long harboured a dream to unite those lands once inhabited by Greeks for over 2000 years. With the collapse of The Ottoman Empire after WWI, Greece finally seized the chance of taking back what she considered to be rightfully hers. Unfortunately, circumstances turned against them and they underestimated the steely determination of Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk. The debacle resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides and the destruction by fire of one of the most important cities in Asia Minor – Smyrna. Over one and a half million Greeks poured into Greece, changing the social and political face of modern Greece forever. It was the harrowing stories told to me by these people and their descendants that resonated with me. When I did finally decide to write The Embroiderer, I realized that to give an insight into those years, I needed to go back in time, hence the story begins with the massacre at Chios in 1922, during the second year of The Greek War of Independence. What is your favorite part of writing? Transporting myself into another world and putting myself into someone else’s shoes. How would I have reacted if my world fell apart and I had to reinvent myself? The instinct for survival changes people and I believe you do things you never thought you would be capable of. What is the most challenging aspect of writing? Finding the right voice. The characters grew up in a different era and would have thought and spoken differently. And of course, putting the images and story in my imagination into words; something all authors face. Who are some of your favorite authors? Where do I start? Nikos Kazantzakis, Louis de Bernieres, Sarah Dunant, D.H. Lawrence, Orhan Pamuk, Khaled Hosseini. And I find myself reading more Indian authors these days – Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth, Padma Viswanathan. What authors or person(s) have influenced you? Perhaps all of the above for the wonderful imagery and storylines they create Favorite place to write? I have my own room surrounded by books. My desk faces French windows which open out onto a patio. When the sun streams though and I can hear the birds singing – and Australian birds are very noisy – I am in my element. Something personal about you people may be surprised to know? I am a homebody and love to cook. It’s relaxation for me, as is gardening. Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process It is a difficult area to break into, especially if your novel is set in a place and time that is unfamiliar to many agents. It is also important to do your homework on the people who are eventually going to publish you. You only get one chance at your novel and you want it to be top quality. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book? I took advice from the professionals. Two people advised me to cut the words down – by a considerable amount. It took me six months to do it, but the result was a much tighter and fast-paced book, and it didn’t affect the storyline. Any advice for writers looking to get published? Do the very best you can. Aim for a quality manuscript. Believe in yourself and be determined. Website? www.kathryngauci.com Where can we find your book? On line through the publishers – SilverWood Books and all online retailers and good bookstores. What’s next for you? I have started another novel set in France during WWII. This story emerged whilst researching The Embroiderer. I also intend to write two more novels in my “Greek Trilogy”. Both will be set in a different place and era and will center on my favourite subject – art. Thank you for a wonderful interview, Kathryn. Best of luck with The Embroiderer!

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences 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  Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa. Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change. amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M