On Stimulus Checks, Crepe Pans, and 1918 Influenza Diaries

April 15, 2020

cooked crepe
Photo by Hakim Santoso on Pexels.com

Good morning, I hope you and yours are well.

Although I wish it were warmer than a brisk 42 degrees this morning, the sun is shining. The lilac bushes are in full bloom and the vegetable and herb seedlings in my living room are standing strong like little toy soldiers. Next week’s weather forecasts promise temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s. I’m anxious to plant the seedlings in the garden plot and in the three-tier wooden planter I ordered from Lowe’s, but surprise snowfalls are common in my neck of the woods until Mother’s Day. So, I’ll enjoy the lilacs, peonies, grape hyacinths, and daffodils in my flower gardens while I wait for consistent, good weather. I will also continue searching for the cortisone cream to relieve my annual bout of poison ivy. Fun.

Other than making online donations, I wish I could adequately express my thanks and gratefulness to the brave souls on the front line of this pandemic, all heroes. We, the American people, can never thank them enough for keeping us safe and healthy, fed and sane. If I ran the world, I’d pay each front line worker crazy amounts of hazard pay and pay them retroactively until we are safely out of the woods. I shudder to think where we would be without them. My local heroes are the trash collectors, the Fed Ex and UPS drivers, and my postal carriers. The best thank you at this time is for us to stay home and practice safe distancing if we can. I will continue to stay home.

Despite reading about a Harvard study that predicts we could be dealing with periods of quarantine until 2022, which seems both unbelievable and totally believable, I felt tentatively hopeful this morning. I can’t think that far into the future; my brain won’t allow it. It’s a day-to-day, new normal type of struggle for me. Although my routine often feels out of whack and forced, the early days of fear and despair, of feeling numb and experiencing immense sadness over the suffering around the world, and missing my children, are thankfully fewer and not as acute. But when I feel happy, I immediately feel guilty for being happy. Welcome to the new world.

I suppose it’s true we play head games with ourselves to get through traumatic situations, and maybe ‘faking it ’til you make it’ can help. On days when I don’t feel particularly happy (blessed, always), I acknowledge my feelings, write my Morning Pages or a blog post, work on my WIP, and I start a project, any project. Yesterday I cleaned out my medicine chest and bathroom cabinets. Tomorrow I might tackle the under the kitchen sink nightmare…yuck.

Some days (particularly on rainy, gray days), it’s more difficult to reach inside and pull out happy thoughts and memories, but I try. Thoughts of my children, family vacations of the past, and videos of frolicking baby goats really help. Whatever floats your boat, right? Oh, and food videos. They always do the trick.

And speaking of food, my crêpe pan and beechwood crêpe spreaders arrived yesterday! I’m off to check out recipes for sweet crepes and savory galettes. On Sunday, I watched beautiful Salma Hayek’s fun video for making no-bake chocolate bites with nuts (she is one of two celebrities I follow on Instagram). I found a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bag of hazelnuts from Christmas pre-COVID in my pantry and done. They taste amazing and perfectly satisfy my major chocolate cravings.

Well, I have yet to receive my stimulus check. We shall see. This morning I learned about Trump and his insane pulling of funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) during a global pandemic. I can’t stand it. It’s pure insanity. I’m super grateful I don’t live in the states whose Governors refuse to put a state-wide, stay-at-home order in place. What the hell is the Governor of  South Dakota thinking? The depth of ignorance, short-sightedness, and stupidity in some people is mind-boggling. What doesn’t she understand? Doesn’t she care about her constituents? Okay, I’m not going there today. Not today, Satan, stand six feet back.

Be well.

Eleanor x

***

April 16, 2020

mona lisa with face mask
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve been a history buff as long as I can remember. As a kid, I read the encyclopedia for fun, so it should come as no surprise I write historical fiction novels and I love doing research. Before I began to write full-time, I was an exhibiting painter. My passion was rendering realistic portraits in pastel and watercolor (an unforgiving medium for portrait painting; actually, any painting). Clearly, I don’t do things the easy way, but I am tenacious.

In late February 2020, my son, who lives and works in Bangkok, urged me to pay full attention to worrying news out of mainland China. I listened and began preparing myself and my pantry for an epidemic. My blood pressure went up, but I prepared nonetheless. Remember the classic book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson? It’s a wise little story about the two mice named Hem and Haw, who are faced with a disappearing cheese supply. Well, I remembered it and recognized COVID-19 had moved the damn cheese in a dramatic way like only a global pandemic can. I became the curious, forward-thinking Haw, who paid attention, didn’t hesitate, and acted. I embraced (maybe accepted is more accurate here) and began thinking of ways to deal with the coming changes in emotional and physical ways. I recognized that adapting would be crucial to successfully get through the coming pandemic in one piece. It wasn’t always a pretty sight, but I didn’t hesitate to do what I thought might be the next helpful step.

Now…as the number of people in this country and around the world who died from this virus rose, did my new mindset help? No, not every day. Some days were/are harder than others, and each day is a new day for me, my community, this country, and the world. Let’s be clear, COVID-19 has caused MAJOR CHANGE and upheaval in our lives; it’s not as simple as a change of routine or mindset. This time in our history requires herculean efforts on our part to get by; it’s damn hard. We didn’t choose for any of this to happen and it’s more than okay to admit we are struggling. Yeah, I might clean out a closet or two, work on my work in progress, arrange lilac branches in an antique vase, and bake an ugly loaf of bread, but I’m struggling, too.

When the World Health Organization officially called the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, I began thinking about keeping a pandemic diary for posterity’s sake and started searching online for diaries from the past, specifically, diaries from the 1918 Influenza, the Spanish Flu. These days, my favorite past time is reading pandemic diaries as primary source in novel writing. Remember, I read encyclopedias for fun, so bear with me.

If you’re interested, check out the fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine by Meilan Solly, published on April 13, 2020, “What We Can Learn From the 1918 Influenza Diaries”.

Two excerpts from the article, “History may often appear to our students as something that happens to other people,” writes Civil War historian and high school educator Kevin M. Levine on his blog, “but the present moment offers a unique opportunity for them to create their own historical record.”

“Nancy Bristow, author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of The 1918 Influenza Epidemic, advises writers to include specific details that demonstrate how “they fit into the world and … the pandemic itself.”

We writers, specifically writers of historical fiction, use everything we can get our hands on while researching for our novels: diaries, historical photographs, memoirs, letters, journals, government documents, newspaper clippings, vintage magazine articles, and merchandise catalogs. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about using drone camera videos on YouTube of Old San Juan and Isla de Cabras, the settings of my work-in-progress (WIP), THE LAMENTS. They are all primary sources and useful tools for a writer’s research arsenal.

My WIP benefited greatly from deep and extensive research, and from articles like the one written by Meilan Solly, all fantastic resources. As an added awesome benefit, pandemic diaries remind us that people, our ancestors, remind you and me, that they lived through the 1918 pandemic in quarantine with lost jobs, illness, disease, depression, limited food sources, death, losing loved ones, and they survived. I don’t know about you, but that gives me tremendous hope and strength today.

This too shall pass. I will see my children as humanly and medically-safe as possible.

Thank you for your visit. My blog post stats show many of you are reading my posts, which I appreciate. Please feel free to leave a comment. I read and reply to all comments.

Be well, stay safe.

Eleanor x

Me in March 2020

ABOUT ELEANOR:

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 in quarantine, working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

Summer 2019 Update

Happy Summer to you, dear reader!

Me at the wedding June 2019

June was a special month of much joy and long-awaited reunions with my family. In early June, I enjoyed six fun-filled days with my daughter, my son, and his girlfriend in Capon Bridge, WV after their year in Asia. We kayaked and fished on the Great Cacapon River; cooked together and enjoyed Portuguese wines (courtesy of my son and his girlfriend); laughed and hugged, and made new memories. 🧡

Last week, I spent four fun days in Maryland with a cousin and my sister before her daughter tied the knot, and this past weekend, our family members and friends traveled from MA, OH, GA, MD, and VA to share the joy at my niece’s beautiful wedding ceremony and fun-filled reception at Celebrations at the Bay in Pasadena, Maryland with breathtaking views of the Bay at sunset. It was magical. My Polish/Russian and Puerto Rican clans sure can party and party, we did!

Last night, my son and his girlfriend flew back to Asia. Of course, as a mom, I have mixed emotions about that, but they are happy, so I am happy for them. My daughter is thinking about new adventures herself, especially about joining me in visiting my son and his lovely girlfriend in Thailand this fall. We are excited to see them again!

So life goes on, and I do what I always do—take off enough time during the summer months to enjoy life and my loved ones. And to make sure my second book, The Laments, (published next year) is the best novel possible, I will be working with someone special, with whom I’ve wanted to work with for a few years now. More details about that later!

Enjoy your summer and your families, my friends, and keep calling your state representatives—No more family separations at the border! Reunite the families!

Note to self: Learn how to apply lashes before the wedding day 🙂

Be well and be happy.

Eleanor x

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Tell me where you were born, where you’ve lived and about your travels, and most probably, I’ll intuit a bit about you. Of course, I don’t know specific details about your life, your favorite color or song, or everything about your culture, but I’ll feel a kinship with you.

Now if you tell me you are bi-cultural, a third culture kid like me or you love to travel, and you’re a writer, from my experience there will be a whole lot of nodding and smiling between us after we meet. And I’ll have a million questions for you; it’s natural to gravitate towards people with similar life experiences and sensitivities.

“Third culture kids are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.” Wikipedia

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Luckily for me, I’m still curious and love learning about different cultures, languages, and traditions. I’m a bona fide sponge (I’m learning Latin phases for my second book and my second tattoo). I adore ancient history and research (vital for a writer of historical fiction); I love meeting new people; and I still travel, which is a huge blessing. My children live in the Washington, DC area and in Thailand (where I hope to visit for the first time this fall), and I have many good friends around the world I’d love to visit with again. Among many things that can enrich a writer’s writing “kit”, travel and experiencing life abroad, whether in person or through books, are right up there in my humble opinion.

As an Army brat, a bi-cultural and bilingual (Spanish) kid, my childhood was spent in the United States, Puerto Rico (my love, my birthplace), and in many capitals of Europe. My father is of Polish and Russian ancestry and my mother, born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was of French, Catalonian, Canarian, and Italian ancestry. I married an Army officer and enjoyed posts in the US and in Europe with many summer vacations spent in Puerto Rico with our children, and after enjoying 13 years living in Belgium and France, I returned to the US in 2006 with my children. I continued to travel throughout Europe and returned to Puerto Rico to visit friends and family each summer. In 2010, I made a solitary move to Berkeley County, West Virginia (nearly a foreign country to me at first and I’ve been happy here), where I’d hoped to write full-time. I am happy to report I’m still writing full-time in 2019, which is not without sacrifices and many challenges, believe me. I make it work because I can’t imagine not living a creative life.

At times, I think I’ve lived the life of five or six people. But, oh the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met through travel, reading, and writing!

If you were to ask me about my favorite authors and books, I would say I love reading novels primarily written by diverse authors with diverse characters in their homeland settings, and authors whose novels are flavored by their experiences of having lived in or of traveling abroad. Makes sense, doesn’t it? To me, the language is rich, lyrical, familiar, and there’s nothing like being an armchair traveler while I save up for that next trip.

Happy Spring to you!

Eleanor x

Rays of Hope and Understanding

footsteps in sand prIf I had a time machine, I would press a button and erase last week. It was one of those weeks you’re ready to block from your mind or forget completely. I can say with total certainty—I hope it never repeats itself. If I’d known my world would be in such turmoil, I would have holed up on a remote island or in an isolated mountain cabin and shut out the world. Everything seemed to go wrong and nothing worked—nothing I said was helpful, nothing I wrote was pleasing, and nothing I did helped me move forward. There was no movement in any positive or clear direction. For three days, I floated in some limbo-like place, where for every two steps forward, I was forced to take five steps back. My tub stopped draining, my washer pooped out again, and a necessary check was beyond late. I prayed for answers and relief.

Maybe the planets were lined up in a strange astrological configuration, precluding me from accomplishing good, necessary, and helpful work because nothing I did changed the way things were going down. So I put those situations on the back burner. Denial and being still can be beautiful states and very helpful when nothing else works, or when we can’t see our way forward. It was a bleak time with no relief or end in sight. I had to look away. By sitting quietly, I realized how low my energy was and how shaken my confidence levels were in a few areas of my life that I’d previously thought were fine and dandy. In some areas, I had some semblance of control, yet in a few others, I was helpless to change events, thoughts, or perceptions.

I realize I’ve written the word ‘nothing’ six times so far in this blog post. Enough already. Well, I’m happiest when writing, but to work on my novel at that time would have been wasted time as I was having trouble focusing and counting my many blessing, for which I’m very thankful.

It was time to fill my dry well with projects and activities that usually take my mind off troubles. As it turned out, it was too cold for working in the flower garden, I couldn’t focus enough to read, and who cleans to relax? Certainly not me. I decided to continue researching for my novel called, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, set in 1900 on an islet off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico called Isla de Cabras, The Island of Goats. I find the process of researching both interesting and satisfying (nearly as much as writing), but I already had a bunch of research material. Wouldn’t that be wasting time? Oh, I don’t know, it seemed a better option than jumping into bed and pulling the covers over my head for the rest of the week. At least I’d be moving forward for a very good cause—my book, and in the process, hopefully I’d improve my mental state and lift my spirits.

I write historical fiction, Historical Caribbean, Hispanic, and Latin America fiction, to be exact. In my stories, I strive for accuracy in setting, the historical timeline, history of the era, and period details such as, customs, food, music, social and class structure, dress, religion, architecture, and so on. My job as a novelist is to help the reader become immersed in the world I create for them as they step through from real life to the past. My goal as a storyteller is to enable my readers to connect with the characters on page one by giving them enough juicy details so they can see, hear, feel, touch the world and characters I’ve created as they enter my fictional world. At the same time, however, bogging our readers down with large information dumps is never a good idea. Information and details must be carefully woven into a story so the reader’s eyes don’t glaze over, causing them to lose interest in the story with too many facts, figures, names, and dates so we can show off our awesome research skills. Not a good idea. We want our readers to learn new things about our chosen setting and characters in a seamless, organic way. Many fiction writers believe we are preachers, teachers, and historians, and that’s true in a way–we have ideas, beliefs, and messages we wish to convey to the world through our books, but first and foremost we are storytellers.

So, I fired up the laptop and began with the Library of Congress, which led to the Hispanic Department, which led to searching for information about the leprosarium on Isla de Cabras, where my current story takes place. I don’t know if I felt any better, but the search was gratifying and took my mind off my troubles. During the research, I discovered several doctoral dissertations, which I thought might be helpful, so I emailed the Hispanic Department for help because I couldn’t access one pertinent dissertation. The next day, someone from the Department emailed back with access information and included a link to another doctoral dissertation. Thank you, person at the Hispanic Department of the Library of Congress! Well, that was exciting news because the student, now a Doctor of Anthropology, had also written a paper that included difficult-to-access Governor Reports of the time period I needed, complete with lists and inventories from the leprosarium, maps of the islet I hadn’t seen before, charts, and details of buildings on the island at the time—priceless information.

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As I understood, I had two options: ask my local library to order the dissertation, or visit the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Both options involved more energy than I had in reserve last week, so I went on Academia.com and emailed the Doctor of Anthropology, requesting a copy of her dissertation. A day later, she kindly replied, graciously offering to forward several documents. I was grateful for her generosity, and hope her dissertation will be one of the attachments. Pesky closed doors were finally opening. My hope, spirit, and mood were bolstered and uplifted.

I spent the next few days reading articles and papers that filled in missing pieces to my story. The information aided in adding more concrete images to my story and in fleshing out characters. So now when I say the boat approached the dock, I now know which side of the island the only dock actually stood and where the disinfection sheds stood for disembarking patients, called inmates at the time. The mother lode of information is priceless for creating rich description, a vivid setting, well-fleshed out characters, for creating mood, and for historical accuracy.

So, it’s Monday. Have things improved in my world? I’m hopeful things will sort themselves out this week, and I pray things improve around me, but for the moment I’m lying low. I’m buying a new washer, finally, and I’ve returned to my story, excited and armed with loads of delicious detail and interesting information, which I hope will please my readers. I’m happily writing again.

What did I learn last week? I was reminded that there are things in life we cannot control, no matter how hard we try to reign stuff in and how much we worry. Sometimes we have to let go because we might not get the answers or solutions we want, when we want or need them.

We share our world with lots of people and people can and do impact our lives in positive and negative ways. Our job is to weather the storms with dignity, honesty, and clarity, while remaining as humble, open-minded, and compassionate as we can with what we know. And when we find life is still difficult and doesn’t make sense, it might mean we don’t yet have the necessary tools or skills, or that we weren’t given the entire story with which to make a decision. So we forgive ourselves and others, and try to understand with an open heart, a newly-expanded heart, which is entirely possible and worth growing.

Writers, check out Academia; you just might find what you’re searching for. Happy writing to you!

https://www.academia.edu

About Eleanor

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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 a 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, she 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’.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47W

Anna Reviews: A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Reblogged from The Review http://thereview2014.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/anna-reviews-decent-woman-by-eleanor.html

My heartfelt thanks to Paula Loftig at The Review for this wonderful opportunity, and to Anna Belfrage for the gift of her time and this review, complete with period photographs.

In 1898, the former Spanish Colony of Puerto Rico became American, this as part of the treaty ending the Spanish American War. The population of Puerto Rico may have had their own concerns about this sudden transfer of their citizenship, but such concerns were swept away in 1899, when the little island suffered one of the worst hurricanes in history, leaving behind a traumatized population and an infrastructure in tatters.

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   None of the above really play a part in A Decent Woman – except as background. The recent hurricane is the reason why young Serafina is so terrified when yet another storm hits the island just as she’s giving birth. The new American regime, bringing with it modernities such as electricity and educated doctors, threatens the existence of Doña Ana, until recently a much respected midwife. And as Doña Ana has a tendency to hedge her bets by praying not only to the Virgin and the saints, but also to an assortment of African deities, she is also under close scrutiny by the Church. Not a good place to be in, putting it mildly.

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   I enjoy reading books set in unusual places. In this case, Ms Parker Sapia presents us with the humid, tropical setting of Playa de Ponce, a small town just on the outskirts of Ponce – and of Ponce itself, already sliding into genteel oblivion now that the Americans have made San Juan the capital. It rains, it is unbearably hot, it rains some more, storms pass by at regular intervals, causing flooding and damage to the sad collection of sheds that house most of Playa’s inhabitants. Puerto Rico at the time is also a pot-luck of beliefs. People may flock to church on Sunday, but only a fool would ignore those other gods, such as Oyé, Changú and Yemayá. Here and there, rags in various colours decorate the doors, a silent offering to whatever God the colour belongs to. In a world where man is so exposed to the elements, it makes sense to keep all potential deities happy – just in case. The Holy Virgin figures prominently – in a book dedicated to the world of women, it is apt that she does.

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   A Decent Woman is the story of Serafina and Ana – mostly of Ana – who meet when Ana delivers Serafina’s first child during a storm. Ana is old enough to be Serafina’s mother, Serafina has no mother, Ana has no daughter, and in each other they find something of what they’re lacking. Serafina is a Puertoriqueña but Ana is from Cuba, and her past casts long shadows. Ana was born a slave, lived her first few decades as a slave,  and was forced to flee Cuba head over heels. Why is not revealed – not initially – and as the story progresses Ana has other battles to fight, primarily that with an intolerant priest and a humiliated doctor.

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   Where Ana is wary of others and generally disillusioned with life – she has lost too many people to risk developing new relationships – Serafina is a child-woman of sixteen, several years younger than her husband. A whirlwind romance ended in marriage, and before she knew it, Serafina was pregnant – one of the good, decent women in this world, those that see their role as wife and mother. But it isn’t easy, coping with a new baby when you’re not much older than a child yourself, and Ana sees no option but to help. Opposites attracts, one could say, with Ana acting the mainstay to Serafina’s initially so exuberant and hopeful take on life.

   Spanning the first few decades of the 20th century, this is a story about women – from the pampered wives of high society to the syphilis-infected whores. In a time where women had no rights, a single woman was viewed with suspicion, the assumption being that the only way such a woman could survive was on her back. Doña Ana experiences first-hand just how vulnerable a single woman can be – even more so if she is black, lacks a formal education and can’t read. Although Serafina is a married woman, she is not much better off. A wife is at the mercy of her husband’s whims, whether they be to drink too much and abuse her, or keep a stable of mistresses on the side. Sometimes, however, the downtrodden fight back – sometimes, they have to, to survive. 

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   Life for Serafina and Ana takes a number of surprising turns. At times for the good, just as often for the bad, but neither Ana nor Serafina have the luxury to give up. They do, however, have each other, despite the differences in age and status. In a setting heaving with tropical heat, with hurricanes and earthquakes, with corrupt policemen and abusive pimps, unfortunate demise and premeditated murder, such a friendship can be the difference between life and death.

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   Ms Parker Sapia does a great job of depicting early 20th century Puerto Rico – all the way from the opulence of the mansions of the rich to the various natural catastrophes that regularly sweep across this little island. Both Ana and Serafina are well-developed characters, women it is easy to care for.

I do believe the novel would have benefited from a thorough edit – specifically as concerns the time line. There are various occasions when I am jolted out of the story by strange time leaps, such as where one chapter is dated 1915, the next 1917 – but it starts off the morning after the events in the preceding chapter. As a reader, I spend considerable time sorting out these timing issues… Likewise, in some cases the leaps are too long: one moment Serafina is living in marital bliss, the next chapter her husband has a mistress set up in a separate home, behavior which is difficult to reconcile with the amorous and tender husband of just some pages back.

   All in all, A Decent Woman offers interesting insight in the life and fate of women – not that long ago. I loved the setting, the various descriptions of customs and rites, and having been fortunate enough to experience first-hand the rich Latino culture of Hispanic America, I was delighted to find myself yet again submerged in festivities and traditions that still, to this day, contribute to the fabric of everyday life. 

About The Author

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


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

Find out more about Ms Parker Sapia on her Blog!

A Decent Woman is available on Amazon.uk
And Amazon.com

If you would like to win a copy of A Decent Woman then leave a comment here or on our Facebook page 

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Anna Belfrage is the author of eight published books, all part of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. The first book in her next series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, will be published on November 1, and is set in the England of the 1320s. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her 

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Posted by Paula Lofting at Sunday, October 18, 2015 

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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.

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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!

cropped-marieguilhelminebenoist-portrait-dune-negresse-1800.jpg
‘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.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

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

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

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

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-decent-woman-eleanor-parker-sapia/1121258236?ean=9781620154007

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

http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

@eleanorparkerwv

http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

 

 

The Running Themes in A Decent Woman

As a novelist, I often enjoy allowing the themes in my stories to develop organically. The themes of religion and spiritism, among others, run through A Decent Woman. My main protagonist, Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, was raised in the Yoruba tradition, which is not the same as voodoo or practicing black magic. Ana speaks to the spirits of her ancestors and to the orishas, the gods and goddesses of her Nigerian ancestors, as she prays the Catholic rosary and honors the Blessed Mother of God.

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (2) (1)Serafina, a devout Catholic and one of Ana’s midwifery clients, becomes her best friend later in life. Both women are baptized Catholics and although they share a great devotion to the Virgin Mary, Ana continues to practice the Yoruba tradition, so as to cover all bases in protecting herself and her clients, which was common.

I spent many years of my childhood in Puerto Rico–my religious and spiritual life was a mix of religion, spirituality, with a good dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. All through my childhood, I attended Catholic schools and went to Mass every week. As a teen, I visited a psychic after my first boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident, and I still pray the rosary in the car when I travel. I check my monthly horoscope, as well…perhaps like Ana, I’m still trying to cover all my bases.

An excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“One day I found the cowrie shells on my bed. I didn’t know who’d returned them or why. I hid the shells in my room and went to the kitchen to prepare the priest’s lunch. As I was serving the almuerzo, I heard yelling. I was given a few minutes to gather my belongings and was escorted off the property by the same young priest who’d found my things. I was accused of practicing witchcraft. He crossed himself, barely blessed me, and shut the rectory gate in my face.”

Serafina furrowed her brow and shook her head. “That’s so cruel. You were so young. What did you do?”

“I was young. Thankfully, it was early enough in the day for me to find a safe place to sleep before the sun went down. At first, I was confused; I had no idea the Church considered our Yoruba traditions black magic,” she said. “It is the religion of my ancestors.

“But, you do believe in God y la Virgen?” asked Serafina, watching her closely.

“Yes, of course. I believe in God, the Virgin Mary, and all the Saints. We slaves had different names for them. My Yoruba traditions are now mixed with Catholicism from so many years in Porto Rico, and I pray to them all,” said Ana. “You know, I still remember the church bells ringing the day I was thrown out. I crossed the church grounds and looked up at the sky, watching the clouds around the church steeple. The white steeple looked gray that day, and suddenly, hundreds of palomas flew around the tower. So many doves, I could barely see the sky. I followed them across the street to the park to figure out my next step, and one dove landed on the marble bench where I sat. I thought it was the Holy Spirit!”

“Maybe it was, Doña Ana! You never know!”

“I doubt it, child,” Ana grinned. “It was a sign of something, but I didn’t know what. I sat on that bench all day long, paralyzed with fear. And that’s where I slept, right in front of the church where surely God would protect me. The next day, I met Doña Milagro, who taught me everything I know about being a midwife.”

Another excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“You’re giving me your turn?” Emilia nodded. Ana made the sign of the cross before pushing aside the heavy, black velvet curtain. She sat in the chair closest to the entrance and looked around the medium’s reading room. The only source of light emanated from a single candle on the small table in front of her that also held an ashtray, a small stack of mismatched sheets of paper, a stump of a pencil, and a bowl of water. To the right, Ana saw a small bookcase stuffed full of old, dusty books with titles she couldn’t read without sufficient light. The room was probably crawling with spiders, she thought. She looked down, expecting to see a huge insect crawling up her leg, and then she stomped on the floor to deter any bugs.

“Hurry, Fela,” Ana said, smoothing her dress, and smelled the musty smell of cigar smoke. Behind Fela’s chair stood a two-tiered altar that held a multitude of religious statues, icons, candles, and vases. Most statues had white faces, some had black faces and hands, and most of them had either rosary beads or scapulars hanging from the necks. Ana couldn’t help but giggle at the statue with the over-sized pair of spectacles. Numerous vases of all sizes held freshly-cut lilies, wilted bunches of flowers, and stiff, dried flowers standing in stagnant water. The heavy scent of patchouli and frankincense reminded Ana of a church. But this church was of a different world—the world of spirits.”