Two Gateways to the Garden of Creativity

My friend Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator. We share many common interests, and most of our conversations revolve around a gentle, kinder life, and about writing and creativity.

After a recent email exchange, I invited Beth to write a guest post on writing and creativity. My reply (which she encouraged me to share) to Beth’s inspiring piece is at the end of the post. I am very pleased to share my creative friend’s widsom with you, dear readers.

Dear Ellie,

The invitation you’ve given me to write for your blog is so sacred. I’m really into structure! And having to work within the structure of a single post–on someone else’s blog, where no one knows me–is especially enticing. I think a lot of writers secretly love structure, even though nowadays it’s not as popular as its complement, freedom. For me these are two gateways to the garden. If one gateway gets overused, its as if it got stuck in the “on” or the open position…the garden suffers.

This letter to you is about my love of taking “the gateway less traveled,” to paraphrase Robert Frost, the one less often opened nowadays–structure. I like structure so much I’m writing a whole book about it!  I see structure as an opening to creativity and more: manifestation. That’s an area in which I work with some of my coaching clients and even my consulting clients when they let me! If it’s appropriate, you can send people to find out more at this link: www.raisingclarity.com

My “Structure Book” (what is it about titles? I’m one of those writers who gives them at the end, not the start of a manuscript; right now I have five different titles) is in manuscript. It’s being read by a dear friend and I’m ready to see how it lands with others if anyone’s interested!

In it, at one point, I draw on the history of the mnemonic arts by Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, especially her chapter on the classical memory art taught Cicero. Cicero said if you wanted to remember a speech, you created a house for it that was unusual, and then created rooms in your house for each major part of your speech, then placed unusual objects (like sculptures in wall niches) in the rooms that reminded you of the things you wanted to be sure to say in each part of your speech. To help you remember your whole speech, you enter the house, and go room by room to stand before each room’s unusual objects.

The ancient memory arts gave me permission to make even thinking about my writing important enough to set aside time and space for.
For me, thinking is tantamount to writing: once I’m in my set-aside time and space, I begin thinking. And then my fingers start to itch to write. What I write may be drivel! But I know I am putting in the time I need to on my writing.

You can see how natural it was for me, when you invited me to write, and because it was so sacred, to respond that that I would meditate on the subject of my post before getting back to you.  And then, in the magical way that life’s microcosms are a fractal of its macrocosm, I realized that the act of setting aside time to meditate on a piece of writing was probably more unusual, and more useful, to your readers than anything else I could write about.

Let me anticipate some readers’ response, and add that one of the best reasons to set aside time is what you may fear the most: having nothing come from your fingers once your set-aside time begins.

I’m sure many of us have read Writing Down the Bones: Natalie Goldberg’s advice in the event of “nothing to write” is simply to write anyway–write nonsense, keep the arm and fingers moving. Similarly, once you are in the time and space you’ve set aside, you are in the garden. If you keep faith with it, it will keep faith with you. The act of entering a creative space is itself creative.

Being present in our creative space just means showing up, committed but not always clear. The most glamorous garden activities are the most visible ones: planting seeds, or flowering, or fruiting or harvesting. We don’t always have to be in glamour mode. In our garden, we can weed or water or compost or simply contemplate what we’ve done thus far, our garden in its present state. We can noodle around or research or plan or meditate. We can read something inspiring or juicy or controversial to us, and free-write in response to it. We can take a bath (why can’t the garden have a bathtub in it?) and contemplate the back story of our main character. Or a minor character we find interesting. We can make ourselves a special treat in the kitchen, taking our time and dedicate it and the enjoyment of our treat to the fruition of our short story. We can go to a museum or a cathedral and walk around and think about the relationship of what we’re seeing to our essay or history.  We can re-read our last draft from start to finish as my favorite book on writing, Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel, says is when the real work begins, and we understand what we’ve created in an entirely new way.

I have lots more specific ideas but I’d love to hear what other readers of your blog think about and do with this idea!

Thanks again for inviting, Ellie!

–Beth

My response to Beth:

Dear Beth,

I’m very pleased to share your wonderful, insightful piece! I found myself nodding and smiling as I read along. Thanks for accepting my invitation; it’s an honor to share your wise words.

After reaching 57, 467 words with my work in progress, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, I couldn’t decide on an ending. My characters were doing things I hadn’t expected, so I stopped writing to sit with the story. I also watched movies, puttered around the house, painted a few pieces of furniture, and bought two books for further research.

As much as I’d like to put out one book a year, I must remain patient with the story, the characters, and with myself. I listen to my gut and spirit, and try not to fall prey  to kind and generous cries of, “We are ready for your next book.” I wasn’t ready.

Last night, the ending came to me, and how the entire story and characters fit together! How important it is to sit with our characters and the pasts we’ve created for them in order to know and understand what their next moves might be. My job is to listen, write, and not rush the characters and story along. And I agree with you: what I do in between is also important and necessary to the creative process.

I love my new story, I’m happy with the ending, and now, it’s time to think about structure, while remembering that the story is still baking until I write, ‘The End’. Even then, I allow myself time to think and honor my ability to edit and rewrite, just as I did for 25 years as a painter. When is a painting, a story ready to be shared with the world? When my gut tells me it’s time.

All the best with your book, Beth!  Thanks again. Off to write.

–Ellie

About Beth:

beth-raps-photo

Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator.  She blogs at:

http://www.raisingclarity.com/blog/

https://bethrapsblog.wordpress.com/blog/

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/rapsraps

About Eleanor:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

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Guest Post: Norma Burgos Vázquez on Puerto Rico, PROMESA, and Oscar López Rivera

“Give Us Our Mandela Moment: Free Oscar Now! So the World Can Witness ‘Invictus’ of Puerto Ricans by the Power of One”

“If I am standing here today, it is not because I lack the courage to fight, but rather because I have the courage to fight. I am certain, and will reaffirm, that Puerto Rico will be a free and sovereign nation.” 

– Oscar López Rivera, at his trial for seditious conspiracy, 1981

Oscar Part 2: “The Perfect Storm”

The Winston Churchill words “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” often touted by President Obama on the dais, to steer Americans on the path to righteousness, ring very hollow today.  The PROMESA passage on June 29, 2016 will go down in history as a day of infamy for the United States of America. And the buzz word from every corner of the island is“indignation.”

  COUNTDOWN TO COLONIAL TAKEOVER:

BACK TO THE FUTURE

May 27, 2016
Juan González, co-host of Democracy Now, Daily News column, “A Colonial Takeover Proposed Puerto Rican Debt Bill to Give ‘Dictatorial’ Powers to Unelected Board.” “The bill has provoked a furor among many island residents because it imposes a seven-member oversight board with dictatorial powers that hearken back to colonial days, and because it is geared to protecting bondholders and paving the way for massive cuts in the island’s public services.” read more

May 31, 2016
Matt Peppe, Global Research, “Obama Continues to Ignore Pleas to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera.” The mega star Lin Manuel Miranda uses his coveted invitation to the White House to put in a good word for the release of political prisoner Oscar, to which President Obama made the reply, “he had the case on his desk.” read more

The Puerto Rican tragedy couldn’t get any worse, you might think. But it does for me. The catharsis that followed this email was the 16-year build-up of outrage, frustration and anguish. I froze before my closet mirror sliding doors, my eyes on the floor, afraid to see the woman in the mirror.  Tears were staining my face like the forlorn stepchild, unloved and mistreated.  I prayed, God, in our darkest hour don’t let President Obama turn his back on the people of Puerto Rico he made a promise to back in June 2011.  When the eyes of the world were on us for a whole 3 ½ hours!  And Obama won the hearts and minds of islanders enjoying the Puerto Rican hospitality, “El Sandwiche Media Noche” surrounded by jubilant locals for lunch.

Obama’s ‘Visita Flash’

To the outside world, beyond our island’s shores, Obama’s historic presidential visit all boiled down to just another pit-stop along the campaign trail, and his courtship of the State of Florida Puerto Rican voters.  But from my view (a loyal and I mean loyal Obama supporter) Air Force One was packed with hope.  The Fortuño years of unbridled austerity had ruined confidence in local government. Obama represented the “Great Black Hope for Brown Folks” coming to the rescue of his adoring fans.

Obama’s top advisers to the 2010 White House Task Force on the Status of Puerto Rico were also aboard, to follow-up on the President’s mandate to island political leaders: To set a date for the 2012 referendum on the resolution of the island’s political status that he promised to honor, endorse and take before the US Congress. This Task Force Report revealed President Obama is a friend and ally of the Puerto Rican people and our cause for self-determination, economic and sustainable recovery and prosperity (unlike his predecessors who are most remembered for their policy of lip-service):

“The Task Force recommends (consulting) all relevant parties – the president, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico – statehood, independence, free association, and commonwealth- and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” (NILP: “The White House Task Force on Puerto Rico,” March 16, 2011) 

Five years later…Nada que ver.

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. 

For full article: 

http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

About Norma Burgos Vazquez

Norma Burgos Vazquez

A DiaspoRican returnee, residing in Puerto Rico since 1999, the forty-year veteran of the wars on poverty in NY, the SF/Bay Area and Comunidades Especiales (PR) has worked for federal, state and municipal island governments.  She’s a Writer’s WellLiterary Competition Winner, former public affairs writer KCBS News Radio (SF), her personal vignettes and essays appear in The Rebeldes Anthology: Bolder (Latino Rebels e-book),Border-Lines Journal, Latino Research Center, University of Nevada, Reno; La Respuesta; Mujeres Talk; Latina Lista News; Somos Primos. The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC) and education courses, La Universidad Interamericana, Guayama. And lives in Vega Alta with her daughter where she is editing her back-to-roots memoirs.

Norma Iris Lafé is her pen name

Read Part One here:

http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/2016/07/memoir-ll-unmasking-colony.html

 

 

 

Guest Post: Boricua Freedom Writer Speaks

I am very happy to welcome fellow Borinqueña, Norma Burgos to The Writing Life Blog. I hope you will enjoy Norma’s heartfelt and informative piece on what is most dear to Puerto Ricans–our homeland–la Isla del Encanto. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted during the next two weeks, so please check in again.

Norma Burgos Vazquez

Norma Burgos Vázquez is a DiaspoRican returnee residing in Puerto Rico since 1999.  The forty-year veteran of the wars on poverty in NY, the SF/Bay Area and Comunidades Especiales (PR) has worked for federal, state and municipal island governments.  She’s a Writer’s Well Literary Competition Winner, former public affairs writer at KCBS News Radio (SF), and her personal vignettes and essays appear in The Rebeldes Anthology: Bolder (e-book), Border-Lines Journal, Latino Research Center, La Respuesta, Mujeres Talk, Latina Lista News, Somos Primos.  The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC) and education courses, Universidad Interamericana, Guayama. She currently lives in Vega Alta with her daughter where she is retired and editing her first back-to-roots memoir.

Give Us Our Mandela Moment: Free Oscar Now! So the World Can Witness ‘Invictus’ of Puerto Ricans by the Power of One

“If I am standing here today, it is not because I lack the courage to fight, but rather because I have the courage to fight. I am certain, and will reaffirm, that Puerto Rico will be a free and sovereign nation.” 

– Oscar López Rivera, at his trial for seditious conspiracy, 1981

Oscar-López-Rivera

Every year, for 35 years, on May 29th, the face of “The Last Prisoner” has symbolized “Unity” in the ongoing struggle to liberate the last colony standing of the Americas, before the world community of free sovereign nations, on the floor of the United Nations. That, sadly, has been a painful reminder, much as, an army of compatriotas and worldwide supporters, 5 Nobel Peace Prize winners among them, UN delegates, illustrious journalists, scholars, lawmakers, celebrities, athletes, civic leaders and human rights and legal advocates of the Free Oscar Campaign, have been relentless in demanding his presidential pardon and release, Puerto Rico’s National Hero Oscar López Rivera, the victim of a miscarriage of (Empire) justice, still remains behind bars. At 73 years of age, his yearning for his homeland in the letter “Where the Sea Breathes,” written from prison to Karina, his granddaughter (he’s only seen through iron bars) is a heart-wrenching sign of the urgenthumanitarian imperative to bring Oscar home, sooner than later:

“…It has been 35 years since the last time I saw it. But I have painted it many times, both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the smiling foam in Cabo Rojo, which is made of light mixed with salt…Here in prison I have often felt nostalgic for the sea; filling my lungs with its smell; touching it and wetting my lips, but right away I realize that many years may have to pass before I can give myself that simple pleasure… I always miss the sea, but I think I never needed it as much as when they transferred me from Marion prison in Illinois, to Florence, in Colorado. In Marion, I went out into the yard once a week, and from there I could see the trees, the birds… I heard the sounds of the train and the song of the cicadas. I would run over the earth and smell it. I could grab the grass and let the butterflies surround me. But in Florence all that came to an end… Did you know that ADX, which is the maximum-security prison in Florence, is designed for the worst criminals in the United States and is considered the hardest and most impenetrable in the country? There the prisoners have no contact with each other, it’s a labyrinth of steel and concrete built to isolate and incapacitate. I was among the first men in this prison (…) (source:Global Voices) read more

In the days leading up to the final Congressional approval of the PROMESA Act (HR 5278) on June 29, 2016 that purports to “rescue” Puerto Rico from total economic collapse, and falls dismally short of island expectations, analyzed the locally-vested Center for a New Economy.  position paper As I was writing this blog, deeply disturbed by the catastrophic prognosis: that our beloved Borinquen is a dying colonial nation hooked to US life support, La Junta-Fiscal Control Board of the Republican Congress would administer lethal austerity transfusions, I marveled that Oscar Rivera, the political prisoner for far too long, was in the eye of the Perfect Storm of anti-colonial forces and island and Diaspora events that would vindicate him before the entire world.

And it all happened between the dates May 27 (my birthday) and June 29, 2016. These fast-moving chain of events compelled me to put my life on pause, to document, eat, sleep and pray the night away.  Inspired, as I was, to capture the living history unfolding at my laptop.  To share with my readers this cruel dichotomy, how it feels to be, at once, a “colonized subject” and an American born in the USA, on the receiving end of the Anglo Supremacist message:  Puerto Ricans are incapable of governing themselves, as if the US government had no culpability whatsoever in the debt crisis debacle, and could get away with blaming the victim, for being the victim of colonial abuse.
Not while journalist educator Ed Morales is on the case, breaking down the debt crisis en arroz y habichuelas. America’s colony was set up to fail by the very hand that feeds us:  YouTube.

Adding insult to injury, on the day the US Congressional House Speaker Paul Ryan reaches PROMESA bill bipartisan approval, the US Department of Natural Resources, that profits from total jurisdiction over Puerto Rico’s national treasures, posts a racist and offensive tweet that ridicules and humiliates Puerto Ricans online, reported Caribbean Business News.  read more
Now, I’m no political pundit. I’m a chronicler of events on a quest to make well-informed decisions about Puerto Rico’s future. Your everyday news junkie hooked on CNN, ABC, Univision, Telenoticias, El Nuevo Dia, Primera Hora, NotiUno Radio, the weekly local newspaper regionals (and even, the pro-statehood propagandist freebie, El Vocero daily). The various blogs worth reading of progressive-thinking and like-minded individuals of good conscience. I’m also an avid follower of NiLP National Institute for Latino Policy in New York. And, as of 2014, I am connected to the San Juan-based DiaspoRicans l DiaspoRiqueños network that’s a Who’s Who in the Puerto Rican progressive movement. In essence, the view (for the wizened me) is a split screen of happenings, both here and there.

The United States of America is trampling on the human rights and collective pride of our Puerto Rican people, “El Orgullo Boricua.”  The immense pride we all share in our  long trajectory of notable achievements. Harnessing the exceptional talent, capability, creativity, ingenuity, generosity, dignity and humanitarian passionthat originates from a tiny Caribbean island in the center of God’s green earth and is a force of nature in the world.  read here.

Yet…we have been brought to our knees.

cropped-cropped-el-morro11.jpg

“El Orgullo Boricua

Boricuas have climbed the steepest steps to the highest court in the land in the person of the Honorable Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx. We have flown on the NASA Discovery Space Shuttle and walked in Space with the daring astronaut Joseph M. Acabá, from Inglewood, California. We have had the first Latino to serve as Surgeon General of the USA in Dr. Antonia Coello Novello, born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Produced the most beautiful women in the world (second to Venezuela) boasting five (5) winners in the history of the “Miss Universe” Pageant, and the People Magazine “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” distinction bestowed upon Jennifer López, the diva from the Bronx.  We have fought America’s battles in the Borinqueneers65th Infantry, President Obama decorated with the Congressional Gold Medal for bravery.  We can win MVPs sports championships, Presidential Medals of Honor and Freedom, Oscars, Tonys and Grammys, rise to the top of the music charts and crossover; show theatrical, literary, philosophical, environmental, business, hi-tech and STEM scientific genius; lead armies, set laws in Congress, rise out of poverty and rise to the exalted status of Sainthood in the Vatican (which is no walk in the park). And have recently taken Broadway by storm in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Hamilton” sensation Lin Manuel Miranda.

And STILL…Puerto Ricans get no respect from the US Congress, the US Supreme Court or the US Executive Branch, for that matter.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Follow Norma:

Blog Op-Eds:      http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/

Blog Memoir:     http://boricuafreedomwriter.blogspot.com/

Facebook:           norma burgos

Twitter:                @BoricuaFreedom

Contact:               boricua.freedom.writer@gmail.com

 

 

 

A special thank you to Beth Raps and Raising Clarity for the kind invitation to share my journey.

A Decent Woman Reinvents Herself and Her Situation: A Guest Post by Eleanor Parker Sapia

9781620154007-Perfect.indd

OK, beloved readers, I have a treat for you: a true inspirational story that just happened to someone we know!

This interview was conducted with our soul-colleague Eleanor Parker Sapia about the life of her first book, A Decent Woman. Eleanor is an author and then some. She embodies “what goes around comes around”; she consistently highlights other writers’ work in her blog, The Writing Life. She is into her heritage and (as each of us is when we embrace who we are fully) universal. Her bio follows at the end of her interview for us on a recent challenge and her amazing turnaround. Blessings to you who read this and may they flow on Ellie for sharing hers with us!


Late last month, my family and friends joined me in celebrating a new publisher for my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, after my first publisher unceremoniously announced they were closing their doors. My kids asked, “Mom, how did you find a new publisher so quickly?” Well, it didn’t happen quickly, and I had one month to turn an awful experience into a happy ending. I had no idea how in the world I would make that happen, but I couldn’t give up on my book.

I’m of the mindset that we attract people, places, and situations by what we think and believe. What we perceive as negative can often be for our highest good, with lessons usually not far behind, if we care to investigate and learn from the negative experiences. Those beliefs would soon be tested.

I won’t lie; mind-numbing, stunned disbelief overshadowed a fun weekend with my best friend when I received Booktrope’s fateful email on April 29, 2016. By Monday, I was spitting mad. Another dream come true had dissolved. Did I have the energy to gather my wits, listen to my gut, and act without fear while my stomach was in knots? Did I have a clue what to do next? “No” to both questions.

Months before learning about Booktrope’s closing, I revamped my query letter. I don’t know why, but I was thankful I had listened to my gut. By the following Wednesday, I’d sent out two query letters to small publishers, even before the full details of Booktrope’s pending demise became available, which as it turns out, didn’t reach us for a week. I’m sure you can appreciate the stress induced by an uncertain future of an already-published book, a bestseller. Add to that the stress of not only having my book yanked off Amazon on May 31, 2016, but the potential of losing 74 wonderful book reviews in a month’s time. If I did nothing, by June 1, 2016, it would look like my book had never existed.

Well, the weekend was brutal for all Booktrope authors, their families and friends, for creative team members, and for Booktrope staff members, who despite losing their jobs, tried to answer our many, many burning questions. It was a tough situation all around.

I did make a few early decisions which served me well. I decided the reasons Booktrope was folding weren’t helpful to know; it just hadn’t work out. The publishing model, while interesting, unique, and hopeful, had failed. I don’t enjoy or see the merit of going around and around in circles with the “why” something has happened…okay, except for dating the wrong man…in the past, which has caused me to go around and around, trying to figure out what went wrong. Right or wrong, these days, I prefer asking “why?” once and moving on.

The second decision was not to get involved in the myriad heated discussions on social media, and not joining in when the name-calling, bashing, and the legal threats started on Facebook. Now, don’t get me wrong, at times I felt unreasonable and childish, and wanted to give certain people a little piece of my mind, but I knew that wouldn’t have been helpful or useful for me. Instead, I followed only useful, positive Facebook threads started by Booktrope authors and creative team members, who offered helpful information about moving forward and finding new homes for our books.

It was very tempting to sit on my river porch with a wine bottle, tearfully watching the boats sail by. I thought of going on vacation, burying my head, doing anything, anything, but restarting the tedious query process. I knew if I sat passively on the sidelines, I would hurt myself, my book, and my writing career, but it was tough to move.

Some situations require action and others require gathering information, thinking, and sorting things out before moving forward. But I, we, 639 authors, didn’t have the luxury of time…correction, Booktrope hadn’t given us much time. We had one month to sort ourselves out, get over the pity party, and find new publishers for our books or self-publish. Sink or swim time. I had to preserve my sanity AND save my book that had taken me years to write and see published.

So, as much as it pained me to step away from the great momentum I’d reached with my current work in progress, I set it aside. Regaining my footing was crucial as the initial shock wore off, before my emotions careened out of control due to paralyzing fear, self-doubt, and a loss of self-confidence. Worrying was fruitless. Being proactive helped me regain my balance and composure, and believe me, Booktrope’s announced closing ranked right up there with the time I dropped my only laptop on a concrete sidewalk. The hard drive had shattered and I’d lost most of my documents and all of my photographs. I began querying publishers before something worse happened.

Interestingly enough, starting the odious query process gave me the time and breathing room I needed. Baby steps made me feel more in control of my life, and reading the weekly emails from Booktrope, turned out to be far more appetizing and easier to digest than one huge info dump. While waiting for replies from publishers, I learned what I could about self-publishing from generous fellow writers, editors, and cover designers, who’d either helped put together a self-published book or had self-published themselves. I contacted a few trusted author friends, who like me, had never self-published, and a few who’d self-published several successful books. My friends replied with gracious information and assistance, if I decided to go that route, and most importantly, they offered the emotional support and friendship I desperately needed. I also reached out to a few Booktrope authors who I knew were struggling, hoping to be helpful and supportive. I am very grateful to all of them.

To keep myself clear and balanced while I waited to hear back from publishers, I practiced self-care. I didn’t isolate, but I sure thought about how my foundation had crumbled under my feet…again. I’d survived a financially devastating divorce after 25 years of marriage; I’d left my dream home in the south of France to move back to the US with my kids; and I’d survived on very little money as a single, working Mom of two college-aged kids. I’d graduated from massage therapy school at age 50 (trust me, it’s a pre-med course), and had reentered the dating game at age 50, which wasn’t easy! I’d bought a house in West Virginia, where I didn’t know a soul, and I decided to write full-time, which meant many, many sacrifices. Yes, it all worked out, thank God; much better than I’d ever dreamed possible, but it was tough going for a few years. How was I back to reinventing myself? Why?

I’d turned struggles and challenges into goals met in the past. I could do it again. Life was good, I’d tell myself in the morning, only to feel overwhelmed again by the afternoon. I continued writing out my blessings until I felt better. It became a mental game—a combination of being my own cheerleader and “fake it until you make it.” But Ego kept a good grip by reminding me of all I’d given up for writing, and then whispering, “It’s not worth it, Ellie. Too hard, too hard.”  Yes, there were many sacrifices to living the writing life. I’d accepted the solitary life of a writer with its myriad publishing woes because I love to write. I didn’t have much of a social life and wasn’t traveling as much as I like, but I was happy. My kids were happily thriving; my health was much improved, and then BAM. I found myself on my knees, yet again, at 58 years of age. The negativity reentered. Whatever happened to enjoying my golden years in peace and tranquility? Wasn’t it my turn to breathe free and easy for a while, after years of strife and heartache?

Well, I spent the first week in April licking my wounds, enjoying daily naps and lots of movies. I gardened, read, and followed the Booktrope story on social media, which wasn’t looking pretty. We were now called the Booktrope survivors and had a hashtag, which felt like a label. I used it once and disregarded it, but it was true—we were publishing orphans in a tough publishing world. We were frightened, angry, and lost, but I knew we’d survive.

My fears were temporarily assuaged by joining a Facebook support group page started by Booktrope authors. The members offered answers, hope, support, and information. I kept my hopes up, but it seemed the more I knew about the publishing world, the worse I felt. I started to feel unbalanced and a bit out of sorts again. How in the world would I find a new publishing home for my bestselling novel by May 31, 2016, Booktrope’s final day? Enough already!

To keep my sanity and clarity, I continued my regimen of self-care in the forms of prayer, meditation, and practicing Usui Reiki on myself. I gathered the ancestral, spiritual arsenal available to me and went quiet. I protected myself and blocked out the confusing, outside world of too much information coming at me from too many directions. I was still. I listened. I prayed. I waited. I walked and listened. I protected myself.

I rewrote my list of blessings and meditated on them, remembering how blessed I truly was despite the new bump in the road. I practiced gratitude and reconnected with family and friends. I gardened to my heart’s content and reconnected with friends on social media. I lit candles and recited prayers of protection and for guidance. I prayed the right people would enter my life.

Two weeks after the publishing fiasco, I emerged stronger, more in balance, and open to receive. I was clear enough to sift through and recognize good, useful publishing information and advice. I was ready to receive the blessings I knew were coming, and when I felt fear nudge me, I physically swept it away from my mind, body, and soul with Reiki. And then new blessings came to my life. Synchronicity and serendipitous events happened left and right. I was ready to act. I’d managed to see my book, A Decent Woman in print once; and I would do it again.

Well it turned out, unbeknownst to me that the fabulous editor of my book, Ally Bishop, had started a small publishing press called Scarlet River Press, which is now an imprint under Sixth Street River Press. When I told Ally I planned to self-publish my book, she sent me an email and an open door. A week later, I signed a publishing contract with Sixth Street River Press.

Two weeks later, A Decent Woman was selected as a Finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now.

In one month’s time, my book, which had been in danger of turning into a ghostly relic of the past, became an award-winning book. I can’t honestly tell you how that happened, but I can say I was open to receive and I didn’t give up on my dream. I also entered the competition in February 2016. We do have to act!

Each of us is on a personal journey, where some paths are straight and narrow, others are wide and curving. Up the mountain and low in the valley we go; it’s life. Sometimes we hike up, reach the goal, and sit on the plateau for a good long time. Other times, it seems there is no rest in sight, but the momentum is good, so we keep putting one tentative foot in front of the other.

I believe it is necessary and useful to reinvent ourselves several times in one lifetime. While I didn’t plan on reinvention, I’ve done just that several times since 2006. Last month, while awful, wasn’t life-threatening, although it sure felt like it. I have faith and hope that all will go well.

Blessings to you and yours.


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Award winning Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s award winning novel, A Decent Woman, set in turn-of-the-nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Scarlet River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now! Eleanor is featured in the award winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Musesedited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, and the sequel to A Decent Woman. Find her on Twitter @eleanorparkerwv and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia . More information about her, her work and the blogs she writes for are athttp://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com.


PS: I asked Ellie about the image on the cover of the book. It’s of a wooden, hand-painted statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, which Eleanor purchased while volunteering at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes, in France. The statue is made by Artisanats des Monasteres de Bethleem de l’Assomption de la Vierge et de Saint Bruno and Heather Parker, Eleanor’s daughter, is the photographer.

Guest Post: Writing My Heart

February Grace author photo

I’m very pleased to welcome my friend, February Grace, our first guest blogger at The Writing Life.

Writing My Heart

By February Grace

I’m always somewhat taken aback when people ask me why I wrote a particular story; but never before has it been more difficult to explain than it is with my fifth novel, published this month by Booktrope, called WISHING CROSS STATION.

You see, it’s a darker story than ones I’ve told in the past through my novels, and seeing that work, ‘dark’, in the description has given some people who are familiar with my work pause.

Why did I choose to write darker subject matter and tone than on previous projects?

Why did I choose to write a book about a time-traveling college student who gets himself into more than he ever bargained for?

After thinking of possible answers to those questions and especially the first one, “Why?” I realized the answer is incredibly simple.

I wrote my heart.

With each of my books I have written what was in my heart; and I know that’s not exactly what is in style these days, but it is the only way I can write. If I tried to write to market trends or predictions and forecasts then the magic of words; the power that the characters have to take up residence in my soul and dictate their stories to me, would be all but completely lost.

I know what they say about selling books, about branding, about… everything that authors are supposed to be paying attention to these days if they want to be successful.

That brings me to what I have, at the age of 44, come to define as success.

It is something different than I even might have thought it was a year ago; certainly five years ago, if you asked me what being a successful writer meant.

To me, now, being a successful writer is about telling the tales of those in my heart, wherever they may come from (whether from a painting I’ve done, as did Marigold in WISHING CROSS STATION, or from an event in my life that made me experience a certain feeling I needed and wanted to express in fiction in another way.) That way they have their chance at life, their chance to find hearts that will connect to them on a soul-level, even though they happen to be fictional people.

Often, I have found fictional people to be some of the most influential I have ever acquainted myself with.

Stories have power, beyond the words they are comprised of. When the characters really work together, when the strength and wisdom of one quietly offsets the youth and inexperience of another and yet both end up learning something; that is a story I feel is worth telling.

How we deal with life, loss and love in its many variations in life are the stuff of which WISHING CROSS STATION is made; and writing it was a deeply moving and also a valuable, freeing experience for me.

I can’t imagine how I would write if I didn’t write my heart.

It’s the same way when I pick up a paint brush, or a pencil to draw.

It’s the same way when I rearrange the design of my home (my poor husband has to do the actual furniture moving, but I digress) so that the cat can finally have that sunny spot by the small window he has been longing for since the day we moved into this apartment.

I decorate with my heart, just as I do all things.

It may not exactly always turn out to be the trendiest, forward-thinking creation, whatever I end up with; sometimes it may reflect times past in the way that only hindsight can; with perfect, crystal clarity.

Why did I write a ‘darker’ novel like WISHING CROSS STATION?

Because Keigan had a story that I needed to tell, and so did Marigold. Their existence, even if confined to the pages of a book, matters to me.

I hope that if you choose to read and come along with them on their journey, it will matter to you, too. That my heart will speak to yours, and in that one moment of human connection, we will have transcended time and distance itself, souls meeting on an equal plane, no matter who we are or what our place in life may be.

We will have shared something beyond a simple story. We will share, for a little while, the lives of people who came into being because my heart insisted they must; and to me, that is the very best reason of all to write anything.

~*~

ABOUT FEBRUARY GRACE

February Grace is an author, poet, and artist from Southeast Michigan. In previous novels, she has introduced readers to characters with clockwork hearts, told of romantic modern-day fairy godparents, and reimagined a legend, centuries old. Now, in her fifth novel with Booktrope, readers will board the special at WISHING CROSS STATION and embark on a trip through time. She is more than mildly obsessed with clocks, music, colors, meteor showers, and steam engines.

Find out more about her by visiting www.februarywriter.blogspot.com or connecting with her on Twitter @februarygrace

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

http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

Finding Home: Other Voices

THURSDAY, APRIL 16, 2015 reblogged from author, Arleen Williams’ blog

http://arleenkaywilliams.blogspot.com/2015/04/finding-home-other-voices_16.html

Finding Home: Other Voices

Please welcome Eleanor Parker Sapia with her lovely guest post based on her memoir-in-progress titled, Home in Three Acts.

ACT I: 1957-2005: Military Housing

By my eighteenth birthday, I’d lived in four countries. This Army brat’s idea of home was a temporary place, where my roots had grown accustomed to remaining shallow, but with strong runners that grew horizontally outward and downward from the plant. As far back as I can remember, every three to four years, I was carefully uprooted, tenderly cut from the main plant, and transplanted at the family’s next duty station, where again I’d thrive as best I could.

My mother’s habit, which later became my own, was to set up the children’s bedrooms first to make us kids feel comfortable, safe, and secure in a new place. Invariably favorite curtains wouldn’t fit the new windows of our next military quarters, the bathroom colors had changed, which meant new towels were added to an already large mismatched collection, or I was forced to share a bedroom with my youngest sister, but I was a flexible child. A house didn’t mean all that much to me—leaving new friends was an expected part of the life my parents had chosen. Besides, I loved meeting and making new friends at new postings, vacationing in exotic places, and traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean with stops in Puerto Rico to visit family.

I graduated from college and worked in the DC area as a single woman for seven years, where I met and married an Army officer. At our wedding reception on Fort Myer, overlooking the Potomac River, I thought my new husband was my soul mate. Maybe he was, and with him came the promise of more travel and exotic vacations, a lifestyle I wanted for my children. When the kids were nine and seven, my 57-year old mother died suddenly, shattering a lifelong dream of living close to her. She was the epitome of home to me, where love, safety, fun, and warmth lived. Home and the world no longer felt safe, fun, or warm without her.

With my mother gone, the Army sent my little family on one more Army tour and we moved from Northern Virginia to Brussels, Belgium, where we lived in a vibrant ex-pat community for the next thirteen wonderful years. Our stay in Brussels was the longest I’d ever lived in one place, and it was a great place to raise children. I was again responsible for creating a home for my growing family.

In our ninth year in Brussels, when my oldest child left for university in the United States, early stresses in our marriage were no longer shrouded and were impossible to ignore. We bought un mas in the Provençal village of Uchaux, in the south of France, the way some people believe a new baby can ‘fix’ a broken marriage. For the next four years, we were blissfully happy. Plans were made to turn the mas into a B&B, where I would lead art workshops in the French countryside and write a novel. My husband would relax under the platain tree in the garden, watching the farmers next door till the soil for new grapevines after nearly thirty years in the Army. The word idyllic was a close description to what I planned for us in the home where we’d retire in a few years time. But sometimes you can’t see what is coming toward you at warp speed.

ACT II: 2006: Abandoned Home

Standing on the balcony of a rented townhouse, overlooking a black-topped parking lot in Syracuse, New York, I stared blankly at the white geraniums and variegated ivy plants I’d planted in three, green plastic flower pots. How in the hell had I ended up in this place? I pushed an exposed root deeper into the dirt and wondered what happens to our past visions. The kids were now at their respective universities, friends and family were happy to see me ‘stateside,’ but I wasn’t so sure. There had been no time to assimilate, make concrete plans, or weigh the options of leaving Europe. It had happened quickly—I’d been a healthy, thriving plant and was yanked out of the ground and thrown onto a musky compost heap amidst other debris. One morning, I was married and by that evening I was separated from my husband of twenty five years.

A year later the contents of the rented Belgian house and our French home were packed into an enormous truck and before I knew it, I was on a plane bound for the US with my worried teenagers and two freaked out cats.“Everything will be fine. Don’t worry; we will be fine,” I told them, but I didn’t believe my thin words. I had no choice—I was now mother and father to two children who had known HOME for thirteen years. As Brussels became a tiny spot thousands of feet below, I wondered if my husband, who’d remained behind, would come to his senses. My throat threatened to choke my shallow breaths and I prayed. Hard.

Another errant root pushed back into the soil, I watched the neighbor park his car, and struggled to remember the garden in Provence with the lavender-lined walkway, and how sweet the morning air smelled when I pushed open the blue shutters of our bedroom. It would be time to cut back the lavender and rosemary soon, but I knew the house and grounds sat abandoned. An abandoned home. I realized how close to the edge I was; how close I felt to losing myself, so I chose anger because it was always safer than sadness. No one would know of my secret pain, but I dreamed of France—the palm trees in front of my daughter’s bedroom, the kitchen counters and sink hewn in the same stone as the custom-made, floor to ceiling fireplace. Memories of picking plums, nectarines, figs, and peaches in the orchard to the right of the in-ground pool with the stone surround that Thierry, the maçon had lovingly installed using old tools so the house would appear older than it was. I remembered night swims with the deafening sound of the cicadas’ songs around me. Let it go, I told myself as tears stung my eyes.

One should never grow attached and accustomed to HOME. One couldn’t trust it. If I hadn’t loved my home so much, this sickening, intense homesickness and the stabbing pains in my heart at having realized a life dream only to lose it, would subside. I didn’t miss my husband; I missed my home, my life overseas. Never again would I be attached to home. This, I told myself.

ACT III: 2011 to Present Day – Fear and Freedom.

Despite repeated, tiring attempts of pushing the idea of home out of my head in the weeks and months after my divorce, I unpacked dishes, a few of my mother’s knickknacks, photographs of my children, but I vowed never to unpack my writing journals or family photo albums from 1994 to 2006. Forget about watching films and reading books set in France, especially Provence; that life was over. A good friend advised me to think of my time in Europe as a goal achieved rather than a vanquished dream. I agreed but told my friend to convince my heart; it wouldn’t listen to logic.

Once again, my roots were thin, delicate, shallow, just beneath the surface as I roamed from New York to Maryland to Virginia, trying to find a place to call home. Hell, not even home; a couple of years in one place so my children had a home to return to during summer and holiday breaks from university would have been nice. Instead, a year here, two there, and I divorced, but with every move, I was closer in distance to my beloved children who lived in Virginia. When the French house was bought by a French lawyer, a single woman with no children, I cried for days.

No more soul mates; only endless first dates, job interviews, and the same dull DC conversations of the high cost of living, the Redskins, and the ridiculous traffic—stories I’d heard in 1994 when we left for Belgium. I nodded politely at the man, my dinner date. He insisted I select a bottle of wine for our dinner. I decided on a bottle of Saint Emilion I could no longer afford, but he was buying, and I slowly sipped the blood red nectar until I began to feel myself uncoil. As he spoke about his football glory days, I remembered a beautiful evening in France feasting on oysters, a tagine of lamb, couscous, and grilled vegetables. Suddenly, the harsh words of my expensive divorce lawyer rang in my ear, “Most women never recover from divorce because they refuse to change the lifestyle they led as married women. They end up in one bedroom apartments with no money in the bank. Be smart.” What did he know? Jerk.

Four years later, it was the same routine—work, home, dinners out, work, home, dinners out. The idea of home seeped into my consciousness once again. I felt more settled, but not settled enough. My children graduated from college, found good jobs, and my work, though rewarding, didn’t feed my soul. I longed to paint and write again. Why not? That’s what I loved, that was my life’s passion, but how could I make that happen? I pulled out a map, tied a string to a straight pin and taped a pencil to the end of the string. I inserted the straight pin into the map, in the city where I stood and drew a circle. I would search for an available home within the circle, which would be two hours from my kids. West Virginia. According to the young man at the bank, that was where I could afford to buy a house. My pain-in-the-ass lawyer had been right.

All signs pointed to West Virginia, where I knew one person, a good friend. I didn’t hesitate. In three months time, I’d quit my job, bought an historic house with good bones—not my forever home, but a soft place to land and rebuild my life. My kids with their busy lives and my family visited me in the new, old home for family holidays and weekend visits. I was happy again.

Sitting in a French country armchair in front of an oak table bought at a Brussels flea market, amidst family photos in old silver frames, French and Dutch oil paintings on the walls, with my memories and thoughts of family roots and home, I finished that novel. And then my son moved to the Netherlands just like I’d always known he would, in search of home.

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (2) (1)

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist and painter, Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Her passion for travel and adventure, combined with her careers as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, and a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker inspire her writing. She loves introducing readers to Latina characters and stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she enjoys facilitating The Artist’s Way creativity groups, and has taught creative writing to children and adults. Eleanor shares her passion for telling stories at her blog, The Writing Life and her website,http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut historical novel, has garnered rave reviews and currently sits on several Amazon best seller lists for Hispanic, Latin American, and Caribbean Literature. She has two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.