Puerto Rico, The Isle of Enchantment

The summer 2014 launch of my historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, is right around the corner! With the book launch in mind, I’ve decided to share blog posts on topics that relate to my main characters, the midwife Ana Belén and young Serafina, and of course, the setting of the story-the colonial city of Ponce on the island of Puerto Rico. I am excited to introduce you to the Puerto Rico I know and love, and to share some of the reasons Puerto Rico is called la isla del encanto, meaning the island of enchantment.

A Decent Woman was birthed by family stories, old yarns and local lore told to me since I was a young girl. I interviewed my maternal grandmother, my mother, and my aunt (all born in Ponce) who, for hours, patiently retold the stories over family meals. I spoke with healers, a curandero (folk healer), a psychic in Puerto Rico and a medium in the Dominican Republic who helped me to better understand the fascinating and sometimes, difficult lives of healers, mystics and those who communicate with spirits in the spirit world.

My protagonist, the Afro-Cuban midwife Ana Belén, grew up as a slave in Cuba with the Yoruba traditions of her ancestors, so I paid good attention. From now until the book launch, I will share blog posts on the history of Puerto Rico, Ponce and midwifery practices at the turn of the century. I will also include posts on: healing practices and superstitions, women’s issues at the turn of the century, the sometimes blurred lines between spiritism, religion, and the Lukumí religion (also known as Santería) on the island. slavery in the sugar trade in the Caribbean, typical foods, flora and fauna of Puerto Rico, music and dance from the Barrios of San Antón and Bélgica in Ponce, and hurricanes that have affected the island which for me have become characters in A Decent Woman.

I hope you will join me on this journey and enjoy discovering the Puerto Rico I know and love. Thank you for your visit!

Unexpected Blessings and Lessons

This is Sophie, a six month old Chihuahua, I adopted last month. I wasn’t in the market for a baby to add to my brood of furry children. It just happened. In the past, when I’ve sent photos of puppies to my children, I’ve received texts that urged me to resist the temptation, put the puppy down and slowly walk away from the puppy in question. I love animals, what can I say. I’m glad we welcomed Sophie, however, she has brought a lot of fun, joy and good lessons in ways that this writer never expected.

My life has been an exciting blur of positive activity and blessings since my historical fiction novel was accepted for publication by Booktrope in February. A puppy? I didn’t need a puppy at this time in my life! For a writer who lives alone with a friendly cat who seems to think he is a writing critic and an equally friendly Pug who lives to eat, the thought of bringing another pet into our lives seemed nuts. I’m helping to plan my daughter’s wedding next year and my son hasn’t decided whether he will move to London for his job. There are so many wonderful things happening to our family and I couldn’t be happier or feel more blessed. It’s a busy time, but I am learning to go with the flow because the momentum is in place and life goes on.

I thought I must be nuts to consider adopting Sophie, but I didn’t hesitate when I got the call and offer from her former owner. You see, I saw first met Sophie as she sat in a shopping cart in Walmart eight months ago. She was this tiny two month old and I fell in love right on the spot. I had never seen a puppy that small and instantly, my motherly instincts took over. I couldn’t help myself. I gave the man my card and told him to call me if he decided to breed her. He called last month to say that he couldn’t keep “Baby Girl” and had remembered me.

My good friend was visiting me with her Bichon Frise, Ruby, and we jumped up and down! Two grown women with plenty going on their lives couldn’t wait to meet this baby. Sophie came home with us the next day. As we drove home, Sophie on my friend’s lap, I vacillated between how nuts I must be to adopt another dog, a puppy no less and how excited I was. We just couldn’t resist her. Look at that face. Could you?

Sophie has reminded me that although I might be pulled in many directions at this time, it’s important for me to play, take a nap when I need one, get fresh air, and take writing breaks. Ozzy is nearly seven years old and he spends most of his day snoozing as does Pierre. They are used to my writing schedule which includes hours upon hours at the laptop. I take walks with Ozzy and play with them, but lately, our play dates have been few and far between. Sophie has changed all that. She takes cat naps and as a puppy, I have to be alert to her outside bathroom breaks and need for quality cuddle time. It’s like having a baby all over again and there is a new schedule to keep.

All my worries about Sophie disrupting the harmony of my home have disappeared. As I write this blog post, Sophie and Pierre are sleeping on the back of the couch in a sunbeam and Ozzy is snoring nearby. Ozzy and Sophie now sleep in the same doggie bed and morning time means tussling and wrestling for the baby and the cat.

Although I have a great group of friends who I wish I could see more often and I do when time permits, I was becoming a writing hermit. An author with her nose in social media, related online news, books and my manuscript. For example, I called a New York City office yesterday to ask about securing the rights of an image for my book cover and the kind gentleman told me that I had indeed found the right place and that it was possible. He also gently asked that I call back during normal business hours–it was 6:38…pm. See what I mean? I lose all track of time these days.

A cold wind is blowing today, but I’m off to walk the dogs. I need some fresh air, but first I need lunch and a bathroom break.

Ellie

Character Study-Ana Belen from A Decent Woman

Somehow, my cat Pierre knows when I’m editing my book. I don’t know how he knows this. When I’m doing my bit on social media, he is nowhere to be found and as soon as I settle in with a mug of tea and pull my novel up on the laptop, the cat is there in minutes. Here he is looking all smug and critical. I caught that smirk, Pierre. He doesn’t think I’m working hard enough today. I can tell and he doesn’t approve of social media. I tell him it’s necessary for writers and authors, but he says, “Get back to your book, Eleanor.” A real slave driver that cat is.

I’m looking forward to spending the whole day with my book. As I write this, it is snowing. Again. Actually, I like to write and edit when it rains and snows. No one is out and about on my street and it’s very quiet, save for the CD I bought for inspiration. Soft music in the background and a mug of hot tea are very conducive to writing and thinking about what my characters are getting into.

Have I introduced you to Ana, my protagonist? Here’s a little information about Dona Ana, the midwife.

When my story opens in 1900 we meet Ana Belén, a 40-year old Afro-Cuban midwife who grew up as a slave on a sugar plantation in Cuba. At 20, she was hidden by her father in the bowels of a steamer ship and arrives in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico in the middle of the night. She has no family or friends on the island, and yes, there is a dark secret. A secret that Ana fears will ruin her, her reputation, not to mention, her business as the only midwife in the Playa de Ponce.

Ana’s positive qualities – Ana is a hard-working midwife, tough as nails, and tender and loving with her clients and their children. Despite always hoping to appear stoic and serious, she has a fun side that is shared with a select few. She is highly intuitive, courageous, a loyal friend, and she recognizes that she needs good working relationships with the male doctors and obstetricians who have entered the birthing room for the first time. She is a spiritual woman who practices the Yoruba tradition side by side with Catholicism. Ana becomes a fighter for the rights of women with no regard for social class when she realizes that men, society, and the Church regard her as an indecent woman.

Although Ana understands that Ponce is male-dominated and knows her place in society, she fearlessly forges ahead with her work and her unlikely friendship with Serafina, a member of Ponce society. Her friendships later in life include prostitutes and women, white, black, brown, mulattas, creoles, all labeled as indecent by society. She is a teacher and a mentor to younger women, but doesn’t realize that until later. When Ana lets down her emotional walls, she becomes naive, hopeful, more trusting, and she finds love.

Ana’s negative qualities – Ana was born on a sugar plantation in Cuba, and this makes her secretive. She has trouble trusting, assumes she knows it all, and doesn’t make friends easily. She is leery of the men she meets and has no use for male doctors, which could cost her if she doesn’t learn the game and play it. She is judgmental, stubborn, opinionated, and a bit naive with friendships and men. Ana is cautious, rebellious and at times, can appear unfeeling. The love of her life could cost her dearly and in the end, she could make the ultimate sacrifice for a dear friend who has betrayed her.

My historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, will be published in March by Booktrope. I see Pierre lurking around the corner… Ellie