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

Pre-order A Decent Woman!

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Dear Friends and Readers,

I have some long-awaited and exciting book news to share – the Kindle edition of my newly-edited novel, A DECENT WOMAN, is available for pre-order today! The Amazon release day for both the Kindle edition and the paperback with the new cover is March 20, 2019!

In the past, you might have seen two other covers of this book on Amazon, and that’s because this is the third printing. Yes, it happens in the book world. I imagine this is what it feels like to send a child off into the world, only to have them return home…twice before. Smile. #shepersisted

https://amzn.to/2F84n8a

So technically, I’m not a debut author, but it sure feels like it with this newly-edited book. The story has not changed, by the way, and in my humble opinion, it’s a better read. What a treat, what a gift, and what a journey. #shepersevered

A big thank you to Jessica Kristie and Winter Goose Publishing for putting my first novel back in reader’s hands, where it belongs. A special thank you to my sister, an ace proofreader, whom I owe dinner and drinks in Puerto Rico when we travel back to nuestra isla querida this summer.

From January 2019 to a few days ago, I read the manuscript, from page one to the end, eight times. I read, edited, and rewrote until my weary eyes went blurry and added a surprise wedding suggested by a lovely reviewer, thank you!

I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for this long winter that has kept me focused and out of the flower and vegetable gardens.

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I’m grateful to my family, friends, and to readers, who embraced Ana, her lifelong friend Serafina, and the cast of characters of A Decent Woman, which garnered two literary awards at the 2016 and 2017 International Latino Book Awards. I couldn’t be happier that local and national book clubs chose the book and that readers continue to share their love of Ana’s story with their family and friends, and with me.

Now I buckle down to finish my second novel, The Laments, set in 1927 Old San Juan and Isla de Cabras, Puerto Rico. The characters, Sister Inmaculada, Fray Ignacio, Doctor White, and the tiny community at the leprosarium on Isla de Cabras are more than ready to be presented to readers. I hope to finish the book later this year.

For those who’ve kindly asked, there is a sequel to A Decent Woman; it’s called Mistress of Coffee. The story continues in the mountains of Jayuya and in Ponce, Puerto Rico and will include events that led to the Ponce Massacre, which occurred on Palm Sunday, 1937. I am ten chapters in. #neverbored

Muchísimas gracias for your continued support and friendship!

Eleanor Parker Sapia

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico.

When Eleanor is not writing, she tends her garden, travels, reads, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing, adult children and she lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

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!

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‘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.

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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

 

 

A Creative Journey: Nature, Nurture, or Genes?

Reblogged from Tiffani Burnett-Velez’ blog, THIS WRITER’S LIFE blog https://tiffaniburnettvelez.wordpress.com

“Creativity is a DNA imperative. It is impossible for us to not be creative. We make things by nature.” – James Navé

I love reading and writing stories about intrepid souls with unshakable confidence; those characters who pursue their dreams, passions, and adventures despite crazy odds, challenges, and inner demons. Many writers learn and perfect the craft of writing with little regard to the critics, naysayers, and the dreaded, interior censor, which sounds a lot like me.

A writer continues the creative journey for years, amidst myriad rejections from literary agents, a few disappointed readers, and publishers they never hear back from. She digs deep into emotional, mental, and spiritual wells, while perfecting the craft of writing, discovering her voice, and finally accessing the dark place where a golden vein hid from her until three in the morning. And at that exact moment, she ran out of coffee. That really happened. I drove to Sheetz in my pajamas, bought supplies, and wrote furiously until the sun came up. A writer, despite all the odds, challenges ahead, obstacles in front, and yes, lurking inner demons, toils night and day for years, and finally hits the perfect vein—the one they believe and pray will bleed gold for their story.

So which vein did I pierce when I wrote A Decent Woman, my historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico? The veins I unconsciously tapped into were my life as a Puerto Rican-born woman, blessed with two rich heritages, Puerto Rican and Polish-Russian, and my maternal grandmother’s veins, which flowed with rich, colorful stories about growing up in Puerto Rico—the same blood that flows in me.

I knew my grandmother’s stories by heart, and the character who stood out the most was her midwife, Ana, an Afro-Caribbean woman who smoked a cigar and enjoyed a shot of rum after every birth. This formidable woman caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, and through the stories the women in my family told me, Ana seemed larger than life. But there wasn’t a lot of information about Ana, so in my story, Ana Belén became a tall, gritty but kind, Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery. But who did I think I was writing and inhabiting the body, mind, and soul of a black woman in colonial Puerto Rico? Would readers believe this story written by a white, five foot tall woman with green eyes, who’d only ever been a ‘slave’ to her children during soccer and football season? I’m fluent in Spanish and I still travel to Puerto Rico to visit my family, but could I tell Ana’s story?

As a budding writer, I had two things going for me—inexperience and naivety—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write this story. Ana was a great character and I knew dozens of colorful family stories. In addition to my grandmother’s life blood and stories flowing through my veins, I’d worked as a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker, a counselor, and one of the staff members of a residential treatment center/school for children. I knew what pain and struggle looked like and I felt the pain of my clients on a daily basis. I also had a love of the mystical and magical world we live in, and a damn good imagination, so I forged ahead, finished the novel, and four years later, it went to layout.

Then something and unexpected happened. One of the early readers of A Decent Woman, an African-American woman, called me. She loved the book and during our first phone conversation, she shared her surprising discovery with a hearty laugh—I wasn’t black. I laughed with her because I’d thought that might eventually come up. We laughed a good bit, and I asked my new friend what she thought of Ana.

She replied, “You wrote a beautiful character.  I love the story.”

What a beautiful gift my friend gave me that day. I was relieved and encouraged by what I’d heard—A Decent Woman was a believable story and I’d reached a reader on a deep, emotional level. That is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved. Yes, I researched the history of Puerto Rico for years, but a ton of historical information isn’t an historical novel. I had to become Ana with all the information I’d gleaned from research. Her blood had to flow with mine, and it did. It still does. She is a character I will never forget.

I encourage you to tap into your life experiences as you write. Take risks. Think of your cultural background, learn about and understand other cultures if travel is not possible, and reach deep to find empathy and compassion for others. Pain is pain no matter where we look or what era we decide to write about, but the story and characters must be believable, or the reader will sense something is off, and possibly close the book. And Lord knows, we don’t want that.

I offer my deepest thanks, Tiffani Burnett-Velez for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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 Eleanor’s debut historical novel. She is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Author Interview with Graciela Limon

I love offering author interviews at The Writing Life, and I especially enjoy sharing great writers with my readers. Today I’m very pleased  to introduce you to Graciela Limón.

Graciela Limón is a Latina writer, educator and activist. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a native of Los Angeles. She received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish Literature from Marymount College Los Angeles, a Master of Arts Degree in the same field from the University of the Americas Mexico City, followed by a PhD in Latin American Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Prior to retirement, Limón was a professor of U.S. Hispanic Literature, as well as Chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.  She is now Professor Emeritus of that University.

Graciela Limón (1)Graciela has written critical work on Mexican, Latin American and Caribbean Literature.  However, she now concentrates her writing efforts on creative fiction that is germane to her areas of interest:  feminism, social justice and cultural identity.  Her body of work includes In Search of Bernabé that won The Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award (1994). Limón also published The Memories of Ana Calderón (1994), Song of the Hummingbird (1996) and The Day of the Moon (1999).   Erased Faces, which was awarded the 2002 Gustavus Myers Book Award, was published in 2001, Left Alive was released in 2005, The River Flows North, 2009, followed by The Madness of Mamá Carlota, 2012. Her latest publication is The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy, 2015.

Much of Graciela’s work has been widely anthologized. She was honored with the prestigious Luis Leal Literary Award (University of California at Santa Barbara), 2009. Her Publishers are Arte Público Press (University of Houston) and Café Con Leche (Koehler Book Publishers). www.gracielalimon.com

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Welcome Graciela! What is your book’s genre/category?

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is historical fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy is the story of a woman told from age eight years to its end when she is fifty-two years old.  It’s a tale that begins with a crime and ends with its punishment, all during the first half of the 20th Century.  In between those two critical moments of Ximena’s story, her life intersects with the Revolution in Mexico, followed by the terrible times that bring world epidemic, deportations, and the American Prohibition and Depression that happen simultaneously with the unbridled life in Juárez, Mexico.  Throughout those years, Ximena Godoy grows, loves, achieves, stumbles, grieves and finds her identity only to succumb to the insurmountable flaws that are part of her nature.

How did you come up with the title?

I chose the name Ximena (with an X instead of J or H) because I find the name intriguing.  After that I chose the other parts of the title because I feel it reflects the life of my character.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

Stories that deal with strong, determined independent women always captivate my interest.  When that story deals with a woman who shatters the Latina “mold”, meaning that she is unconventional and untraditional, then I have all the reasons I need to write a book.  This is why I wrote The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I think that my favorite part of writing is when I come to the crafting of my characters.  Choosing their names is a particularly interesting and fascinating part for me.  I go through cycles of names, changing, combining, and even inventing names that I hope in the end reflect the nature and reality of each character.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I find the danger of falling into crafting stereotypes the greatest challenge of writing.  I find that it’s dangerous because my head is swarming with what are really stereotypes.  I don’t know if others suffer from this, but it could be that we are flooded by an abundance of stereotypes:  in film, on TV, on the Internet.  So when I begin to create a character with her story, I have to be super careful to beware of simply producing cookie-cutter, flat, predictable characters.  This is hard and challenging.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

There are many.  Among Mexican novelists is Juan Rulfo.  In the English language I especially admire John Steinbeck, and biographers such as Antonia Fraser and Hilary Mantel.  There are also so many mystery writers that I admire, but I’ll mention only Agatha Christie.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

John Steinbeck and Juan Rulfo.

Favorite place to write?

I need solitude to write, so if I have that luxury, then that place is a favorite.  As a pattern, I find that solitude in my home.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

People may be surprised to know that I’m extremely introverted.  I say this may surprise those who know me because they see a person (me) who interacts freely, enjoys other people and is talkative and relaxed in a group.  What people don’t know is that I need to be solitary afterwards in order re-energize.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Since I’ve been lucky enough to have nine novels published (including my latest), there are few surprises that come to me with the publishing process.  However, I will say that the experience of getting negative, even brutal criticism (which still happens) is something I will never be able to get used to.  The difference now is that I expect those barbs and try to prepare myself.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

The best thing I did with this latest novel is having signed on with Leticia Gómez (literary agent/publisher), and John Koehler (publisher).  Being with them has opened up an entirely new view of the publishing process.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

I advise having a lot of patience especially when those rejections start rolling in.  Above all, I advise a new writer to have unshakable faith and confidence in her/his work.  Never doubt that your work is meritorious.

Website?   

www.gracielalimon.com

Where can we find your book?

www.cafeconlechebooks.com

http://www.authorcentral.amazon.com

What’s next for you?

I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. This is what is now rolling around in my head.  The story line could depict a murder or a series of murders that happen in the distant past, such as in viceregal Mexico, in a convent, with the Inquisition snooping around. Of course, there will have to be a detective to solve the crime.  What do you think?

I think the story line rolling around in your head would be a great read, Graciela!

Thanks so much for visiting us at The Writing Life, and much success with The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy!

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work 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