On Writers Helping Writers and Friendship

May 21, 2020

black and white photo of holding hands
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Note: Did you know the “doldrums” is a popular nautical term that refers to the belt around the Earth near the equator where sailing ships sometimes get stuck on windless waters? I didn’t, not at the time I wrote this blog post. Synchronicity.

A thousand thanks to my writer friends and brilliant authors, Jack and Jessica, who pushed me out of my writing doldrums yesterday during a fun Zoom chat and impromptu writing workshop. I am eternally grateful to Jack for recognizing I was in desperate need of a writing support system, a writing group–I’d written alone for far too many years.

From past negative experiences, I’d shied away from writing groups, especially critique groups, which I’d viewed as creativity killers. The writers in my previous writing groups were nice people, who said they wanted to write but in my humble opinion weren’t putting in the necessary hard work, blood, and sweat. They came to the group to complain about the publishing industry, horrible editors, and the zero likelihood of any of us getting published. I always left the groups with a bad taste in my mouth and never went back. Believe me, my inner critic is always ready to feed me with negativity, self-doubt, and criticism. I don’t need any help there.

The guidance and support I received yesterday from Jack and Jessica made all the difference in the world. Jack’s keen observation, fine-tuned intuition, and life-changing instruction (he is an incredibly talented and brilliant writer, a true mensch, and a generous teacher), helped me tremendously. I had one of the best writing days (and nights) since this pandemic began. Sure, I’d managed to write, rewrite, and edit my work-in-progress since late February when the coronavirus pandemic began, but I knew deep down I’d been traveling rudderless and without a compass.

beach ship cracks black white
Photo by Zukiman Mohamad on Pexels.com

After our session, I told my friends I felt like someone had finally changed my dead batteries. I’d been running on low since the end of February with my manuscript and in danger of sailing around in circles with the story. Thanks to Jack’s brilliant techniques and tips for taking apart a paragraph or a chapter that doesn’t work and reworking it, I rewrote Chapter One last night and reduced the chapter by two pages. I was thrilled and felt newly energized to tackle the edits with what I’d learned from him. I now have a clearer course and I’m learning how to navigate the waters to my destination. I’m also more than ready to help them in any way I can.

I’m eternally grateful for Jack and Jessica’s friendship, their kindness, and very happy to be part of a new writing group of brilliant, like-minded writers. That’s what the doctor ordered and exactly what I’ve needed for months. Years, actually. Bless them.

Stay safe and be well.

Happy writing to you.

Eleanor x

ABOUT ELEANOR:

me in ma july 2019

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses. She currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. Eleanor’s adult children are out in the world doing amazing things, which fills her with enormous pride and affords her the peace to write full-time. She is currently in lockdown with a Chihuahua named Sophie.

 

On Current News, Editing, and Chihuahua Kisses

April 29, 2020

rewrite edit text on a typewriter
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Good morning, I hope you and yours are well. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in my neighborhood.

For parents who are wondering if it’s safe to send their kids back to school, consider this, the House of Representatives canceled plans to return to Washington next week, citing coronavirus safety concerns. Always watch what people do, not always what they say.

This morning, the US exceeded 1M confirmed cases of coronavirus. It’s unbelievable news and shocking. Yesterday Trump said: “Now that the experts believe that the worst days are behind us, Americans are looking forward to the safe and rapid reopening of our country.” These days it’s difficult to know who to believe. I believe science, doctors, nurses, and health care workers currently in the trenches. You should, too. God bless them all.

A few days ago, I discussed the President and the Pandemic (sounds like a movie title) with my friend. Right from the start, we disagreed. Since the start of his presidency, my friend supported most of Trump’s decisions. I didn’t. She said it all depends on who you watch, referring to what news network you choose for information. True enough. We ended the conversation in agreement that the US was unprepared for this pandemic and dragged its feet early on when time and action were critical. I added that Trump ignored intel briefings about the novel coronavirus in January and February. She repeated that it depends on who you watch for news. Yes, we are still on speaking terms, and the fact that we agreed on anything 45-related is a big step forward.

Yesterday, Pence refused to adhere to a mandatory mask order during a visit to the Mayo Clinic. He visited with staff and patients…in their rooms…in close contact…not wearing a mask. He spoke with vulnerable sick people without a mask. Explain to me how that’s not the ultimate, blatant disregard for human life. It’s difficult not to add multiple expletives here. What a jerk.

During my video chat with my endocrinologist, she reminded me I had a severe case of bronchitis in Feb-April and ordered me to get tested for coronavirus. I now have a number to call to set up an appointment for a drive-thru test, but I haven’t called. I don’t know which test it would be, but if it’s the test I call the “into the brain” test, I won’t like that one bit. I haven’t decided if a two-month-long cough is worth going out for, but I know how fortunate I am to be offered a test. I’m leaning toward waiting for the antibody test unless my symptoms become worse. I just can’t imagine going out right now.

My new concern is that an adorable Pug tested positive for COVID-19, the poor little guy. I worry I might have had COVID-19 because a week ago, my Chihuahua had a croupy kind of cough for a few days. She was still eating, drinking, and running around like a little heathen, and this week, she’s doing great. I’m always bugging Sophie with hugs and kisses. She would not be a happy pup if I didn’t allow her to sleep with me.

The best part of yesterday was speaking with my new editor. I love how that sounds! We hit it off and I feel she is the right editor for me. She answered all my questions and offered lots of editing and price options. I chose a developmental edit. I’m giving myself a week to ten days to send her a clean manuscript, and after a cursory first read, she will inform me of the price of the edit. I’m very excited! It’s a step forward to getting my novel THE LAMENTS into reader’s hands.

Understandably, I won’t be sharing blog posts until the manuscript has left the building. I will, however, share my coronavirus test results if I decide to go in. I like the thought of knowing I contracted COVID-19 and survived.

Be well and stay safe.

Eleanor x

ABOUT ELEANOR:

me in ma july 2019

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. Her children are out in the world doing amazing things, which fills her a lot of pride and allows her to write full time.

 

 

 

On Family Visits, Author Interviews, and New Babies

April 14, 2020

sliced meats on wooden chopping board
Photo by Nicolas Postiglioni on Pexels.com

A few days ago on Instagram, I joked how I would give a roll of toilet paper in exchange for a charcuterie board. I have plenty of food at home, but no cheese or salami left, but I did have a new cutting board. It’s like that during this pandemic–you might have three ingredients for a great recipe, but you lack the most important ingredient, so you keep searching. God love the chefs who teach us how to use substitutes, such as how to turn milk into buttermilk and heavy cream. Thank you, chefs.

On Saturday afternoon, my daughter sent me a text, “Look out the window.” She is always sweet about sending gorgeous floral arrangements for holidays, so I assumed I had an Easter delivery. I looked out the front window and there stood my beautiful daughter and her boyfriend! My jaw literally dropped and my eyes teared up. What a sight for sore eyes.

They’d driven two hours from Northern Virginia to my home in Berkeley County, West Virginia for a much-needed, mask on, six feet away visit in my courtyard garden. And to deliver a grocery bag with cheeses, salami, crackers, and roasted eggplant dip!

That’s love. 💗 We had a wonderful two-hour visit and again, I realize I’m the luckiest solo quarantine mom in the world. We didn’t hug, but love was in the air in my garden.

 

***

After two awesome ZOOM chats with my children, family members, and friends over the weekend, last night I finally figured out how to create a meeting and invite friends. That was a major coup for me as I’m as untech savvy as they come.

My invited guests were my “The Artist Way” participants and a new friend, which puts our group at five. Tonight, we do it “for real”. Fingers crossed it all works out as we tackle Week Three for 40 minutes.

On the writing front:

I’m nearly finished with my written interview with Five Directions Press, which might come out in May. Fellow author Joan Schweighardt sent interesting, thoughtful questions and asked that I include a photograph of one of my paintings, which I am very happy to share. Thank you, Joan.

Last night, I found out that the wonderful, talented editor I’d hoped to work with for my work-in-progress, “The Laments”, gave birth to a baby girl in NYC! My heartfelt congratulations to Marcela, her husband, and their healthy baby girl. What a birth story, wow. Marcela is, of course, on maternity leave and kindly recommended an editor friend. I’ll contact her friend today and hopefully, we’ll get this editing ball moving forward soon. Gracias, Marcela!

A baby. What a beautiful symbol of unbridled joy, pure love, and tremendous hope. I’m hanging onto those good feelings today as I move forward in this new and unknown reality we’re all living through.

I hope you and yours are well.

Be safe, stay healthy.

Eleanor x

 

ABOUT ELEANOR:

Me in March 2020

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

 

On Bernie, Birthdays, and the New Normal

April 8, 2020

i voted sticker lot
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

In the last few minutes, Bernie Sanders announced his withdrawal from the battle for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. I can’t believe it. So soon? The pit in my stomach feels awful and I’m close to tears. His campaign has ended, “The fight for justice is what our movements remains about.”

So. We are left with Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. He was never my first choice, but I said I would vote blue all the way and that’s what I intend to do.

Initially, I had high hopes for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I shook my head at the ridiculousness of timing in life…Bernie can’t seem to catch a break.

We fought the good fight for you, Bernie. You fought your heart out for every American.

Added this morning:

Last night as I perused Facebook before bed, I read several posts that well, shocked me. It appears more than a few Latinx will not vote for “creepy Joe Biden” as they put it, no matter what. A few said they were not voting, at all. Wow. One said he is considering switching parties and voting for 45. Seriously? What the hell has 45 done for Latinos in this country and in Puerto Rico? As if he’d read my mind, he replied to a comment, saying 45 had built hospitals in NYC and had done a lot for the good of our country during this pandemic.

Well. I’ll leave it right there. I respect everyone’s right to vote as they see fit.  I wish I could understand, though. It makes no sense to me, at all. And not voting? I cannot get behind that decision. Your vote is so important.

***

April 9, 2020

light landscape nature sky
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Happy birthday to my beautiful Aries daughter! I wish you every blessing and a world of love and peace. I love you more than words could ever express. The world is absolutely a better place with you in it.

The poppy, my daughter’s favorite flower, is the symbol of enduring remembrance of the First World War; how eerily appropriate for today as the world fights a war against the novel coronavirus.

My daughter is sheltering in place with her boyfriend and my son is with his lovely girlfriend, which makes me very happy. We agreed how strange it is to celebrate a birthday today, and because of who my daughter is, she added that we have so much to be grateful for today. She’s right. We do. We’ll never forget her 2020 birthday.

I keep hearing people say they’ll be glad to get back to ‘normal’. I don’t know what they mean. The definition of normal, like an art piece, is subjective. My normal as a full-time writer may feel downright boring, too intense, difficult, or lonely to you. Your normal may work for you like a charm and irritate the hell out of your neighbor. What’s normal?

The collective, global normal of last year (or as far back as 2016 for me) wasn’t all that great: people around the world were already suffering greatly, the planet was suffering, and corporate American was getting away with murder. Hatred, greed, and the callous treatment of and disregard for others were rampant in this country. I hope radical changes begin to take place in our world; it’s time. Where this will end is anyone’s guess. We need a change, a seismic change/shift in this country, in the world. Perhaps this virus is the catalyst for change.

This morning, I pray for the world and everyone on the frontline of this pandemic, and for those who’ve tested positive, fought hard and survived, or tragically succumbed to this deadly virus. I pray my children, family members, and friends remain safe, healthy, and happy. I pray we all do.

This too shall end. Stay strong. I can’t wait to hug my children and loved ones again in the near future. This daily journal is key to keeping my balance and perspective, and to staying sane.

“In the rush to return back to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis

Back to editing and finishing up a written interview with Five Directions Press, which should come out in May. I’m grateful for their kind invitation.

Eleanor x

ABOUT ELEANOR:

me in ma july 2019

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Have you ever felt rushed, pushed, or encouraged to publish your book before you felt ready and more importantly before the story was the best it could be? Are you feeling internal or external pressures to put out a book a year, every two years?

If you’re not a writer, you might have a project in the works that you feel unsure about or hesitant that it’s ready for public consumption. If this feels true for you, this might be the blog post for you. Allow me to share my experiences (and humble two cents).

By 2014, I’d been hard at work on my first novel, A Decent Woman, for over five years and had finally found a publisher. I was more than ready to become an author and with that contract came a fair amount of immediate pressure to publish the book in a timely manner. Along with my new publishing team, I decided on what I thought was a feasible and realistic publication date…despite a nagging feeling that my story wasn’t quite ready. Was it true the story wasn’t ready for publication or was I fearful of the unknown? Since I’d never published a book before, I felt my fears were valid. On the other hand, how could this story not be ready after more than five years of writing and research?

The nagging feeling persisted. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly where the issues lay in the story, I knew it in my gut. If only I’d given myself more time, I agonized. Was I being too much of a perfectionist? It was a stressful and confusing experience, and I was faced with the momentum I’d created and didn’t know how to stop—I had a set publication date. I felt I couldn’t back out and didn’t want to let my publishing team down but deep down, I knew moving forward would be a huge mistake for me and for my book.

Then I met Ally, a godsend, who’d joined the team after it hadn’t worked out with my first editor. Ally agreed to work with the original pub date and a few weeks later, we spoke—it was as I’d felt in my gut, the book wasn’t ready. She suggested adding a few chapters for clarity and a new ending as she felt the original ending would let readers down. I agreed with her.

Finally, I had a clear road map to follow. Now I had to inform the publishing team that the original pub date had to be scrubbed, which caused loathing and stress in my mind, body, and soul. But it had to be done. I realized then (and now because these patterns of behavior tend to repeat themselves) that if I’d spoken honestly with my team early on, the stressful situation might have been avoided. But then again, we only know what we know at the time and I hadn’t met Ally yet, right?

Ultimately, I stuck to my guns, knowing I might piss someone off and would mess up the existing publishing schedule. Ally supported me in her brilliant way and I’m forever grateful to her. I learned to speak my truths and protect/honor my writing process and my book. By being honest, I gifted myself a few extra months to edit, to rewrite, and to put out the best possible book. The newly-edited A Decent Woman was finally published in 2015 and went on to win two international Latino book awards, garnering close to 80 positive and lovely book reviews on Amazon. I gained hundreds of new readers, which was amazing. I learned that timing is everything in life, and working with a great editor, who gets you and your story is crucial.

So please, take all the time you need and don’t rush your project or book; it won’t be in vain. I can’t overstate how important it is to honor your writing process; don’t underestimate it. I’m not saying you should analyze the hell out of the story and your characters until you’re paralyzed in fear and afraid to turn in your manuscript. Not at all, though that has happened to me with poetry! I’m talking about giving yourself the necessary time to reread, to think, and if necessary, to rewrite portions of your book. Most importantly, work with a great editor to help you mine or add the gold to your story. Then read your work in progress with new reader’s eyes and do share the story with beta readers before publication.

At this time, I’m at the same place with my second novel, The Laments–sitting with the story and with my characters. I’m further exploring their darker sides and how that could affect their journey and their relationships with the other characters. I no longer rush the creative process. Sadly, Ally doesn’t offer editing services at the moment but happily, I’ve connected with a fantastic editor who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. There’s not much that tops doing what we love.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting several blogs as I head to Thailand next month with my daughter to visit my son and his girlfriend who’ve made Bangkok their home. We are very excited and ready for a new, exotic adventure!

My next blog post explores where ideas for books and characters come from, which came up during Marsha Casper Cook’s fun and informative Blog Talk Radio podcast that aired in early October. I was honored Marsha asked me back and as always, I loved chatting with her and my good friend and brilliant writer, Jack Remick. So do check back and if you’re interested in listening to the archived podcast, please click this link:

http://bit.ly/2oG6Q3W

Thank you for your visit. Happy writing and reading to you!

Eleanor

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Her best-selling 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 proud to be featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico. When Eleanor is not writing, she tends to her garden, travels, reads, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing adult children and currently lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

BUY A DECENT WOMAN:

https://amzn.to/2WjgXuC

Holiday Greetings!

christmas tree coffee

Holiday greetings to you!

The time has come to reflect on the past year and to acknowledge events in my writing life and my personal life. There have been challenges and setbacks, and plenty of wonderful surprises and great book news with my first novel, A Decent Woman, and my work-in-progress, The Laments. I am grateful for it all!

Book News:

In early 2018, I finally “broke into” my Belgian writing desk with the missing key and discovered more than 30 poems I’d carefully stashed while finishing my first novel. It was a thrilling moment for me. Now I have a fun writing project in the wings, which I will tackle in 2019. I didn’t cause much damage to the keyhole, but the letter opener is kaput—a small price to pay for a stash of poems!

At the beginning of March, my second publisher, Scarlet River Press, closed their doors. I was thrilled for their new adventures but sad that A Decent Woman was no longer for sale on Amazon. Luckily for me, a friend and fellow author kindly offered me a tip and by August, I’d signed with Winter Goose Publishing. I’m happy to say they will republish A Decent Woman in early 2019 with a new book cover (my third).

winter goose publishing logo

I enjoyed rereading A Decent Woman and getting it ready for the editor. Although I didn’t make any changes to the story, I was grateful for the opportunity to fix typos and finesse sentences, and for visiting with my beloved characters, Ana and Serafina. I’m grateful Winter Goose Publishing will also publish my second novel, The Laments, in early Fall 2019. I look forward to receiving the editor’s changes and suggestions, as well as thinking about the new cover, which is always exciting. I very much look forward to working with WGP in the coming years.

Now, if you’re a writer and you’re like me, you’ll appreciate that while I was extremely happy to sign with a third publisher in such a short time, it was a stressful, anxious, and distracting period of time. My second historical novel, The Laments, still a work-in-progress, had to be put on hold a few times while things were sorted out. At that time, the WIP was two-thirds finished, right at the point where the words were flowing nicely, the research nearly complete, and I was getting into the writing groove. Unfortunately, I’ve never been great at multi-tasking when it comes to writing—when I’m writing, I’m writing. I write best with blinders on and distractions give my inner child a chance to binge-watch shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Guilty as charged. I’ve now finished Season One and Two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Goliath, and I’m excited for The Crown to begin in January. It’s historical fiction, so I put that under ‘Research’.

HistoricalFiction Centro de PR image

In October, the Center of Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY, kindly invited me to sit on a historical fiction panel. Despite a heavy downpour that evening, there was a full house and wonderful discussions about reaching/teaching new audiences for historical fiction; in this case, Puerto Rican history. I was proud to participate and happy to share the table with two talented and enthusiastic Puerto Rican authors–Dr. Virginia Sanchez-Korrol and Dr. Vanessa Perez-Rosario, who moderated the event.

From the flyer — “Two authors speak about their books using historical fiction to relate the female narrative in the 19th Century (one in NYC and the other in Puerto Rico). Dr. Virgina Sanchez-Korrol’s newest book “The Season of Rebels and Roses” is a historical novel for teens which follows women’s involvement in the nineteenth-century independence movements to free Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain.  Eleanor Parker Sapia’s first novelA Decent Woman”, a 2016 & 2017 International Latino Book Award winner, is set against the combustive backdrop of 19th century Ponce, Puerto Rico. The book explores the battle of two women from different backgrounds who defend their dignity against the pain of betrayal in a male-dominated society resistant to change.”

Personal News:

In April, I spent two fabulous weeks in Puerto Rico with my sister. We enjoyed three wonderful days in Old San Juan without our rental car being towed (very limited parking in OSJ!), and finally, I made it to Isla de Cabras, the setting of my second book, The Laments. What a thrill to explore the ruins of the old leprosarium, walk the islet, and to speak with an older gentleman, who shared fascinating historical tidbits with me, “For the book!”

cropped-cropped-el-morro11.jpg

Sadly, the after-effects of Hurricane Maria were still evident on the islet and on the mainland as we drove along the coasts and through mountain towns with non-working traffic lights, piles of debris, abandoned homes, and hundreds of blue FEMA tarps. Everyone we met had a story. We listened with constricted hearts and tears, but there was also hope for better days and joy as we swam in beautiful waters and enjoyed wonderful meals. We made new memories with family and friends in Ponce, and as always, we missed Puerto Rico and our family as soon as we boarded our flight back to the DC area. It’s a horrible feeling to leave mi isla. I feel as if I’m leaving my mother, grandparents, my family, and ancestors, all over again, until the next visit.

In August, my intrepid son and his girlfriend decided to travel throughout Asia for a few months. They managed to escape the monsoons and heavy floods in India and two major typhoons in the Philippines and Taiwan before returning to Thailand, where they intend to stay for three more months. While I’m happy for them and I love the photographs and stories they’ve shared of their adventures, the stress levels are a bit higher than usual at home, smile. Before he left on his adventure, my brilliant son developed an app he says I won’t understand and still owns an IT company, so I know he won’t starve.

In a few months, my daughter, a brilliant therapist who lives and works in Northern Virginia, will receive her licensure after years of study (a Masters degree in Mental Health) and hard work. She is well-deserving and we couldn’t be happier for her or more proud of her. Her clients and supervisors love her and of course, I already knew they would, smile. My daughter is happy and in love, so the world looks rosy and hopeful. We look forward to our first trip to Thailand next year to visit my son and his girlfriend. I’m one proud Mama!

After seven years of living in this old house, I’m painting again, walls, that is. I’m tackling one room at a time and I stop when my shoulders tell me to quit. It’s slow going, but I’ll get there. And with winter in full swing and writing full-time, let’s face it; it’s the only exercise I get! My Chihuahua named Sophie still snoozes in a chair next to me as I write. I can’t imagine life without her.

Dear Reader, I wish you and your family a safe, happy, and blessed holiday season and all the best in 2019. This time of year is tough for many, so please reach out to others who might need a smiling face, a little conversation, or an invitation to share a holiday meal. I’ll be doing the same in my neck of the woods.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the “new” edition of A Decent Woman and the release of The Laments. I hope you’ll like my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

A tip: If you subscribe to my writing blog and my website, you’ll get new book news much quicker, smile. Thank you in advance.

Happy Holidays!

Eleanor x

Author Interview: Mickey Brent

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

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

Eleanor

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

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

Underwater Vibes cover

Please describe what Underwater Vibes is about.

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

How did you come up with the title?

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

What inspired you to write this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underwater Vibes cover

What do you hope readers will gain from Underwater Vibes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

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

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

Great advice! Website and social media links?

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

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

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

Awesome. What’s next for you, Mickey?

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

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

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

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Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

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