On Characters: I Resemble That Remark

How much do characters in novels resemble the writer and the writer’s journey?

Before and after the publication of my novel, ‘A Decent Woman’, I accepted many kind invitations for written interviews to introduce and market the book. One interview question provoked much personal introspection about my character Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, who lives and works as a midwife at the turn of the nineteenth century in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico.

The interviewer, a fellow author and good friend, emailed the questions and added a smiley face after this question, “How much do you resemble the character, Ana Belén?” My long-time friend knows me well, so the jig was up. A few weeks later, I sent her my responses, and wrote this next to the smiley face, “I resemble that remark in more ways than I feel comfortable owning up to at this time!”

Of course, the character of Ana is like me, in many ways. How could she not be? I created her and the world she inhabits from my imagination and a few family stories. But. I’m not a statuesque, Afro-Cuban midwife born a slave, living in Puerto Rico at the turn of the nineteenth century. I’m a five-foot-tall, green-eyed, Puerto Rican-born writer, currently living in West Virginia. How much could I possibly have in common with Ana?

As it turns out, we share many common traits: feistiness, courage, bluntness, loyalty, a fierce love of family with a strong commitment to protecting the rights of women and children. Was it in my genetic makeup or life experience (when I was writing the book) to respond and behave in similar ways to threats, happy circumstances, and impossible challenges the way Ana did? No, not in every circumstance. Tough as nails and compassionate Ana is my heroine, but we are all survivors of something. I had a few life experiences to draw upon during the writing.

Along with a few positive traits, I share a couple negative traits with Ana, such as stubbornness, sensitivity to unfair criticism, impulsiveness, and at times, short-sightedness, especially when I think I’m right. In my story, Ana is forging a path in a difficult, new world; a world I was discovering and exploring through writing, research, and my imagination. A bit or a lot of ourselves is bound to emerge in our characters, but it was only after the book was published that I realized how closely related our journeys were and where they overlapped.

For the rest of 2015, I journaled about that question, and like the author of ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron says, after the midway point of journaling three pages in longhand, the truth came out: I’d been working through stuff while writing Ana and Serafina’s stories, even the men’s stories, and I hadn’t realized it. Here’s what I discovered.

In 2010, I pulled out the draft manuscript I’d begun in 2005. After two years of a difficult separation and divorce, a few more years of working in an entirely new field, having my heart broken and finally, moving to a new state, I was ready to write again. My world had been continually rocked with so many unknowns that it made my head spin during that time and even now as I think back to what we went through as a family. Between 2006 and 2010, questions plagued me at every turn: What will turning 50 look and feel like? Will we be safe and will I find work? Where will I live? Can I support myself while writing full time, and if not, what the hell will I do to make that happen? Will anyone hire a fifty-year-old woman with an old resume? Should I go back to school and find a new career? Are my kids okay? Will I find love after divorce? Will this book ever be published?

I survived and so did my kids. We’ve grown and flourished where we were planted, but it was a tough road. My kids graduated from college, found good jobs, and in 2011, I bought an old house in West Virginia. At the next fork in the road, I gave up sending out resumes that I knew would never be answered—I would write full time, which was a huge gamble and risk for someone living on a small budget. The decision was made. I sat down to write and soon discovered Ana’s story had to change. I had learned many valuable lessons and developed new skill sets, more than I’d ever dreamed possible, that had enriched my life as a woman and mother. The original Ana was merely a skeleton of the woman she was meant to be; it was time to put meat on those bones. I rewrote the story, worked with two editors and sent out the manuscript. The book was finally published by Booktrope Editions in February 2015.

Ana’s journey of learning to read and write, and moving from La Playa to Ponce when male doctors entered the birthing room for the first time, threatening her livelihood, were born only after I was reborn. It makes perfect sense–I had gone back to school and moved from Virginia to West Virginia. What I did not realize until after the book was published was that Ana embodied everything I’d needed during the difficult years after marital separation and divorce: a protector, a loyal friend, an advocate, a mom. Serafina, the young, motherless widow in the story was me, a motherless child, as my beautiful mother had passed away in 1992, and I missed her terribly. The characters I created, my heroines, mimic and embody the internal and external life struggles I experienced and helped me through a difficult time. All my characters gave me the courage, guts, and tenacity I needed during the writing and publishing journeys, and later with marketing the book, which continues today. I might not have all the answers, but I am leaps and bounds ahead in my journey.

Writing ‘A Decent Woman’ was a journey and as it turns out, a quest toward wholeness. I believe in starting your journey, whatever it might be, from where you are standing, and I believe in paying attention along the way.

Fast forward. I am currently writing a second novel called ‘The Lament of Sister María Inmaculada’, featuring a young Puerto Rican nun, an old Franciscan friar from Spain, and a young Protestant minister sent to Puerto Rico from the United States in 1920. The characters, most definitely from different worlds, find themselves living and trying to work together on a barren islet of La Isla de Cabras, The Island of Goats. It is a challenging, joyful, gut-wrenching, and empowering story to write, set in a new, unknown world to me, and I am loving the process. And I am including male point of view in a story for the first time.

A new, unknown world…is it really?

We shall see. I am excited about what I’ll learn and discover through these new characters, and already, I have discovered something amazing: I didn’t think it was possible to love a new character as much as I love Ana Belén, but I do. Her name is Sister María Inmaculada.

About Eleanor


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

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. 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, reads, 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 happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.





Why Should I Read Your Book?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.


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






A Love Letter To Puerto Rico~

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

Interview with Author Eleanor Parker Sapia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor: I’m a Puerto Rican-born, 58-year-old mother of two adult children who are doing rewarding and exciting things in the world. I used to say I was a single mother, but my kids are now in their thirties—this is more accurate. They live and work in Northern Virginia and the Netherlands, and I miss them every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor: Historical and literary fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @eleanorparkerwv

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

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


Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.


La Casa Azul Bookstore    143 E. 103rd Street      New York, NY 10029      (212) 426-2626     info.lacasaazul@gmail.com

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

Sahar book cover

What Would the World Look Like If We Did Nothing?

cropped-writing-at-the-river-015.jpgThis month we celebrate Women’s History Month, and today we celebrate International Women’s Day. It’s an important day to highlight and celebrate, but it’s also a day to remember the hundreds of thousands of our sisters around the world who have been silenced with ridicule, by verbal and physical abuse, and downright censorship on this day. It’s just another day for them—a day of hiding, suffering, and of waning hope.

This morning, I shared tweets and posts on Facebook, celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), and as the morning went on, I read articles on IWD written by women from around the world, I felt a profound sense of sadness. While I recognize the importance of highlighting the demand for equality, and I support it 100% as a woman, a daughter, sister, and as a mother of a young adult woman, I am reminded of the missing and tortured women of Tijuana, the hundreds of girls still missing in Nigeria, the disruptions of women’s day celebrations in Peking, the stoning of women in the Middle East, and the list that goes tragically on and on. Let’s not forget them on this day.

Closer to home, I am reminded of families we serve dinners to at our local shelters, and how I felt when I first discovered that dozens of the families and single women we served live in the woods on the outskirts of my town with young children. I remember the frightened faces of young women who’d entered the US illegally with young children and babies in their bellies, hoping for assistance, a kind, respectful word, and a nonjudgmental smile when they walked through the doors of the Department of Health.

I think of the women I worked with as a refugee case worker in Belgium, the counseling clients we served in our Brussels counseling center for free, and the 27 women I worked with as a Family Support Worker of a non-profit organization in Northern Virginia. I am holding them close to my heart this morning, as well as the amazing women I worked with, who continue to serve as social workers, case managers, Family Support Workers, WIC staff, nurses, and staff members at different social service offices and organizations in Fairfax County, Virginia.  I like to believe we had a common goal—to ease the lives of women and their children who were suffering. It is hard work, and I thank them all for their huge hearts and commitment.

Before I left my job at Northern Virginia Family Services, I thanked my co-workers for their tireless work and wished them well. One co-worker replied, “We do our best, but it’s only a drop in a huge bucket of needs.” It’s true, yet imagine if we did nothing. I shudder to think of the state of our world if we stood back, watched, and did nothing to help our brothers and sisters.

We must do better at home and abroad for women, for equality, and in educating young children that we are not islands–we are all brothers and sisters.

And to the women of the past, our ancestors, the women who forged the path for me and for millions of women around the world, I say thank you. To the awesome women in my family, alive and now passed on, thank you for your teachings and lessons. To my daughter, who works with young adults who’ve experienced their first psychotic episode, thank you for doing such important work. I love you. To the men and women who have mentored me, advised and encouraged me on my path, my thanks to you.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon 

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

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

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