Author Interview: Ivelisse Rodriguez

Welcome to the monthly Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Today I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dr. Ivelisse Rodriguez on a special day, the debut of her short story collection, Love War Stories (The Feminist Press, 2018).

Ivelisse Rodriguez has published fiction in the Boston Review, All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Kweli, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US that spans over a century. The series is published in Centro Voices, the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli and is a Kimbilio fellow and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel The Last Salsa Singer about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Welcome and congratulations, Ivelisse.

What is your book’s genre/category?

My book, Love War Stories, is a collection of short stories. It is literary fiction.

Please describe what the stories are about.

My book is about the burgeoning sense of womanhood in Puerto Rican girls and young women. I am interested in the love stories women have been told generation to generation and how anti-love stories need to rise up to give women other alternatives.

How did you come up with the title?

The title comes from the last story in the collection where mothers and daughters hold “love wars.” Daughters tell love stories and mothers tell anti-love stories. The title captures the trouble with love that is evoked throughout all the stories.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book, I think was written for my college self. I think that these are the stories young women who break themselves for love need to hear, that the self is more important than being beholden to love. Women need to hear different stories that they can be more than women in love.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Being done. Or, in the interim, writing really good lines.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

The most challenging part is sitting down and doing it. You have to face your fear of failure every time you sit down and sometimes it is so overwhelming that you just have to walk away. Another challenging aspect for me is revision. It is easier for me to start something, but when you revise, you really have to focus on the larger story and your word choices, so this part of the writing process is much slower for me. 

Ivelisse, did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

During the writing process, I learned to be more patient versus rushing to send out a story that needs more work. I also learned that consistency is the only way to get your story done.  

What I learned about the publishing process is that it is pretty mysterious and plenty of other writers don’t know what is going on either. I wanted to know how everything works—who got my ARCS, who got my press kit, etc., but I didn’t want to stalk my publicist. I’m just super nosey, and I wanted to learn about the process. And other writers and I would trade any information we were able to procure.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I hope they gain some insight about love, and the ways it can break women in particular. I also hope they will be deeply moved by the stories I have to tell. I hope it is a book that people carry in their hearts.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

In terms of marketing, my query letter did a good job of describing my book. That partly stems from the feedback I received from a professor in my Ph.D. program who was working with the students going on the job market; for my academic job letter, she told me to make my book sound more interesting, so I worked a bit on that. And I name-dropped in my query letter, so that helped too.  

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

What didn’t work is that I sent the book out when it wasn’t ready. And I think that squanders opportunity. Being on the other end as a reader of submissions for a literary journal and for fiction contests, I can tell you, especially for the contests, there were too many submissions that needed a lot more polishing, so they weren’t even in the running.

Ivelisse, do you have advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Revise, revise, revise. And go to writer’s conferences and meet other emerging writers. Don’t be dismissive of people because they aren’t some bigwig. I have received support from people I met early in their careers, those still building their careers, and those who are literary icons. We are in this together, so don’t treat people like crap because they are not famous—just as a general rule of being a decent person but also because you never know where people will end up. I also think it is important to be a good literary citizen—again, we are in this together, so take the opportunity to help other writers whenever and however you can.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

The last book I read is the forthcoming Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. I think the book adds so much to the narrative of Colombia. It’s the story of a wealthy family and a plot to kidnap the two daughters. Contreras shows how wealth does not shield one from violence or dire situations or the destabilization of home. She also showcases all the hard choices that women, in particular, have to make. It’s a lovely read, and I would highly recommend it. It’s a memorable book.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have favorite books more so than favorite authors. Some books that I love are The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros, Middemarch by George Eliot, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, Drown by Junot Diaz, and Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas, and quite a few others.

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I like to write in bed, only because I have an adjustable bed, and it is super comfy. I also like to read in bed. I hate reading paper books now because I love turning off the lights and reading my Kindle or Nook in the dark. It is one of my favorite things to do.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and then I went to boarding school when I was 13 (on a full scholarship).

Website and social media links?

https://www.ivelisserodriguez.com/

Love War Stories Cover

Where can we find your book?

You can find it at https://www.feministpress.org/books-a-m/love-war-stories, or Indie bookstores, or Amazon.com.

What’s next for you, Ivelisse?

Hopefully, I will get back to working on my novel in August. It’s called The Last Salsa Singer, and it is about the friendship between two musicians in a salsa band in Puerto Rico during the 1970s. It’s about the value of friendship and art over romantic love, it’s about salsa, and it’s about an underestimated young woman who shatters everyone’s life.

Best of luck with Love War Stories. I look forward to reading the book and wish you happy writing!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia:

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her 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. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico.

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Book Review: Citadel by Jack Remick

June 24, 2018

In Jack Remick’s newest novel, Citadel, a complex, mind-bending, apocalyptic story, the author weaves genetic science, a Citadel of women, complete with warrior women, and valuable lessons for writers and editors into a masterpiece. Remick takes risks with this fascinating novel; it’s a story within a story within a story—a literary gem that opened my mind to casting aside limiting thoughts on genre, style, and structure; encouraged me to ponder deeper questions about what it means to be a woman today; and then forced me to ask questions of myself and of the characters in my work-in-progress. Yes, all that in one book and the writing is impeccable.

In Citadel, Remick explores relationships between men and women, and what the world could be if women were in control. Each story is relevant and timely, as many of the themes in Citadel make up today’s headlines—femicide, atrocities perpetrated against girls and women, domestic violence, misogyny, and rape culture. I was reminded of Margaret Atwood’s quote, “Why do men feel threatened by women? They’re afraid women will laugh at them. Why do women feel threatened by men? They’re afraid of being killed.”

The author introduces readers to scientists, writers, editors, publishers, and the warrior women, protectors of the women of the Citadel called daughters. The stories of Trisha, Daiva, Rose, and Clara will feel familiar, might feel uncomfortable—and that’s the point. We are challenged to think about choice, our humanity, motherhood, the relationship between men and women, and our future as a species. Throughout the book, I found myself saying, “I am her. I am them.” I love this book.

I won’t give away the story. Readers must experience Citadel for themselves. Here’s a taste,

“The way you build the world without men, you show me that there are no accidental pregnancies in the Citadel. There are no rapes. There is only a complete dedication to the altruism of birth. It boils down to this—a daughter, in a Citadel, not only chooses the kind of fetus she will carry and why she will carry it, but she chooses to perpetuate the race until the final decision is made—to continue, to let the race go extinct, or to let the Y decay and on its own cease to be.” (Y, as in the Y chromosome).

The character Trisha says it best: when you finish this novel, you won’t be the same person who started it. And that’s a good thing. Let the discussions begin.

 
Buy the book:
 

About Eleanor Parker Sapia:

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her 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. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

 

2017 International Latino Book Awards

I am honored and pleased to share exciting book news with you! My novel, A Decent Woman, set in 1900 Ponce, Puerto Rico, was awarded Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Awards held in Los Angeles this past weekend. 
My deepest gratitude and thanks to Latino Literacy Now; Las Comadres Para Las Americas; Kirk Whisler and his amazing staff; all the judges; and most importantly, many thanks to my wonderful, supportive readers!
I am hard at work on a second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Old San Juan and the Puerto Rican islet of Isla de Cabras, Island of Goats, off the coast of San Juan. This happy book news makes me smile and offers encouragement as I finish writing the next book.
Thank you for your visit! Please read on for more information from Kirk Whisler, Latino Literacy Now, about the book awards. I will post the complete list of winners very soon.
Eleanor X
new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016
The Largest Latino Cultural Awards in the USA Recognizes the Greatness in 233 Authors & Publishers From Across the USA & Around the World
By Kirk Whisler, Latino Literacy Now
The International Latino Book Awards Ceremony occurred on September 9th at the Dominguez Ballroom of California State University Dominguez Hills. Over the last 19 years, the Int’l Latino Book Awards has grown to become the largest Latino literary and cultural awards in the USA.
A crowd of book lovers cheered on this year’s 233 author and publisher
honorees from across the USA and from 19 countries outside the USA. The 2017 ceremony also unveiled the new, world class medals that were given to all honorees in Recognizing the Greatness they have achieved.
Latinos in the USA will purchase $700+ million in books in both English and Spanish. The number of books by and about Latinos has risen substantially. In 1980 less than 400
books were written and published by a Latino in the USA. In 2017 that number will be between 25,000 and 30,000. The bottom line is that books targeting Latinos are a growing
segment because of the rapid growth of the market and the current gaps in relevant topics being presented.
The ceremony also featured a major salute with The National Latino Trail Blazer Awards for Charlie Ericksen, co-founder of Hispanic Link; Mimi Lozano, founder of Somos Primos; Ambassador Julian Nava; and former Secretary of Labor, Supervisor Hilda Solis. Edward James Olmos, Rick Najera, and Katherine A. Díaz were this year’s emcees. The Awards also featured musical performances by Suni Paz and Georgette Baker. This list of winning books makes a great Christmas shopping list: a kid’s book for this child; a good mystery for that friend, this nonfiction book for that student headed off
to college, etc. With all the categories we have, there’s at least one perfect book for everyone.
The 2017 Int’l Latino Book Awards are another reflection of the growing quality of books by and about Latinos. In order to handle this large number of books, the Awards had 196
judges, triple the number from 2013. The judges raved about the quality of the entries. The Award sponsors included California State University Dominguez Hills as a Gold Sponsor; The California State University System, Entravision, Latino 247 Media Group, and Libros Publishing as Silver Sponsors and the American Association of Latino Engineers and Scientists, El Aviso, the Los Angeles Community College District, LA Plaza de Cutura y Artes, and Scholastic Books as Bronze Sponsors. Award partners include Las Comadres de las Americas, REFORMA, and Mi Libro Hispano.
Latino Literacy Now, is a nonprofit co-founded in 1997 by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler that has five types of programs:
Latino Book & Family Festivals around the USA: we’ve held 63 Festivals attended by a combined 900,000+ people; Awards which also include the Latino Books into Movies Awards; Education programs like Empowering Students and Education Begins in the Home; Membership programs like the Int’l Society of Latino Authors (www.ISLA.news) and the Empowering Speakers Bureau; and Content programs
like Latino Reads video show plus other online efforts. More about the Awards can be found at http://www.Award.news, and the 2018 entry form is now available.
Amazingly, sales of books by past ILBA winning authors have totaled more than 200 million copies! Winners have included many of the best-known Latino authors including
Belinda Acosta, Rodolfo Anaya, Alma Flor Ada, Ron Arias, José Antonio Burciaga, F. Isabel Campoy, Denise Chavéz, Paulo Coelho, Dr. Camilo Cruz, Junot Díaz, Gabriel García Márquez, Reyna Grande, Juan Felipe Herrera, Oscar Hijuelos, Mario Vargas Llosa, Josefina López, Pablo Neruda, Ana Nogales, Jose-Luis Orozco, Luis Rodriguez, Don Miguel Ruiz, Alisa Valdes, and Victor Villaseñor. Winners have also included well-known figures from other professions including Entertainers like Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Shelia E, Cheech Marin, Rick Najera, Jenni Rivera, Linda Ronstadt, and Carlos Santana; Sports notables Pedro Guerrero, Oscar de la Hoya and Jorge Posada; Media figures like Martín Llorens, Jorge Ramos, Teresa Rodriguez, and Ray Suarez; Public servants like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Henry Cisneros; and Chefs like Paulina Abascal, Jose Garces, Pati Jinich, and Daisy
Martinez.
ABOUT ELEANOR:
ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered 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 featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book, A Decent Woman, available in paperback and ebook format:  http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK


Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

decent

 

Author Interview: William Galaini

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life blog. I am very pleased to welcome William Galaini, author of Trampling in the Land of Woe. It turns out we share the same editor and publisher, Ally Bishop at Scarlet River Press. I am happy to finally chat with William about writing, publishing, and his book.

Bio:

Everything is now Twitter. My bio will be 140. Vet, married, bonkers son, four cats, crushing insecurity. Out of room to explain myself. Sad.

Welcome, William!

galaini

What is your book’s genre?

Hmmm… historical neoclassical fantasy literature? With romance. And even a bromance.

galaini-book-cover

Please describe what Trampling in the Land of Woe is about.

Book blurb – As World War I rages on Earth, Hephaestion, lauded general and soul mate of Alexander the Great—and now a citizen of Purgatory—embarks on the darkest, most challenging journey of his existence: descending into The Pit of Hell to rescue his king. Chased by Hellbeasts, hunted by Jesuits, and aided by unexpected allies, Hephaestion tests the bounds of loyalty, dedication, and even death as he faces the greatest demon of all: himself. A blend of steampunk and Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, Trampling in the Land of Woe drives through the cobblestoned streets of New Dis, soars above The Pit in airships, and then stumbles down into the terror-ridden rings themselves. Steam-powered trains, zeppelins, and ornithopters zoom by in a mash-up of literary proportions, all to answer one question: What will one man do to understand the meaning of love and truth?

Envision a steam-punk Dante’s Inferno for the setting. In that setting, Hephaestion breaks into Hell in an effort to rescue his lover and king, Alexander the Great. Throughout his journey he encounters various historical figures and personalities that either aid or hinder his efforts. This all occurs while the first World War occurs on the surface of Earth, so we have dirigibles, paddleboats, cannons, and locomotives.

Sounds like an intriguing read. How did you come up with the title?

Milton’s Paradise Lost has several passages that refer to Hell as a land of woe. The thought of an ancient Greek cavalry general like Hephaestion kicking in Hell’s door to descend its rings of torment brought the verb ‘trampling’ to mind.

What inspired you to write this book?

….. okay this might be embarrassing. A DND session. Well, technically the gaming system we used is called Savage Worlds. This system lets you establish the setting in any way you like, so I build the setting of Dante’s Hell in 1910 so that my players had trains to ride and zeppelins to fly. So my gaming group and I used my setting as a narrative playground for about a year. From that, I plucked story elements, conflicts, and plots that captivated everyone the most. Trampling is the first novel from this.

While the specific characters we played don’t make a showing in the novels, many of their challenges do.

I had to look up ‘DND session’–Dungeons & Dragons. I can see real merit (and fun) in the creative sessions you and your gaming buddies enjoy; especially for writers of fantasy, dystopian, and steam punk stories.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Being done. At least, being done before the next round of edits and revisions. At that moment you feel the marvelous sensation of growing power and overcoming adversity.

Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Not really. Hephaestion is a handsome, capable man driven by principals. He is patient, temperate, and focused. I am NONE of those things.

I will confess that Hephaestion’s caretaker, a German from Purgatory with bad gambling habits named Yitzhak, is exactly like me. His sarcasm, observations, and reckless idealism causes all kinds of trouble but also often saves the day.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I likely have a different answer for this question each time I’m asked, so here is my current one: patience. I can pound out a novel once a year and that includes six to seven months of research. Granted, I’ve got eleven novels planned out and I spend years outlining them, but once I’ve finished my first draft my patience VANISHES. I become impatient with my cover artists, my editors, my layout artist, and my publisher. I do my best to contain this tiny, embarrassing monster of mine, but sometimes my editors or artists will get a rambling voicemail message that entails a combination of my raging impatience and my apologies regarding such.

I’m impatient with the team that makes a book happen because I’m ignorant of what they have to do to make my book a reality. This childishness embarrasses me.

I appreciate the candid answer, William. I remember growing impatient with my first book until I discovered what each of the team member’s important projects entailed on the road to publication. Thank God I listened to my gut, my editor, and that we didn’t rush to publish; it would have been a disaster.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Enemy at the Gates. It was about the siege of Stalingrad. I was engrossed in it for both its detail and humanity. I had chosen the book to read for research for an upcoming novel that involves a city under siege. Just before Enemy at the Gates, I had read The 900 Days, which was equally haunting.

My next book will be fun. I’ve got my eye on Ready Player One. I hear it is a good read.

My writing mentor recommended the film version of Enemy of the Gates for dealing three alternating POVs; it’s a super film. I just ordered the book.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’m a fan of books, but some of my favorites are written by Ken Follett, M.M. Kaye, Isaac Asimov, and I love Milton and Pope’s prose.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

Mom. Yeah, it is cliché but completely true. Mom had me reading science fiction like I, Robot and Rama as a kid and I gobbled it up wholesale. My stepmother, Mutti was also a huge reader and she got me into contemporary works like Terminal Man and some John Grisham.

My wife also. She is always there next to me in the car or the kitchen when I’ve got an idea. She is the first barrier all ideas and character elements have to pass through in order to make it to the page. Ginger actually doesn’t read my books because, frankly, she just doesn’t have to. She watched me mix the thing and bake it in the oven. No need to taste it to know it is good.

How nice to have that instant feedback. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

We have a couch that is actually long enough for me to splay myself out on. I look like I’m ready for Jack to paint me like one of his French girls. That is the BEST place to get my read on. 

As for writing, I just need a proper keyboard, a chair, and either headphones or silence.

Okay, now I won’t be able to get through that scene in Titanic without thinking of you sprawled out on the couch, waiting for Jack. Too funny. Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m not as insecure as I profess to be.

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

I learned a lot of self-acceptance in writing. There are no mistakes to be made in writing. You literally will not do anything wrong when you write…

…until you publish. Publishing is where mistakes are made, not the writing. Publishing too early or without revising properly are both brutal mistakes that I have paid for.

Do not be impatient when publishing. Allow the various stages of double-checks to occur. The hindrances you face in publishing your book will make it more refined.

Couldn’t agree more. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

Meaning and fun. I explore heart-break and deeper themes via the proxy of adventure. I hope that, on the surface, the reader is satisfied with a good time but upon reflection, they ask themselves the questions that motivated the story.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I didn’t stop.

What didn’t work?

Awesome question. Well, a number of things. First off, I had a preconception of the book being a lone journey and I kept trying to force it into that mold. My dev editor, Ally Bishop, wisely aimed me toward focusing not on character in the narrative, but on relationships. This brought a close friendship between Yitzhak and Hephaestion and through that relationship a lot of the story’s themes and conflicts became far more vivid and engaging.

Secondly, I had a hard time finding the rhythm of my syntax. I still struggle with it now, but it took a lot of proof editors to help me polish it.

Ally is the real deal. She encouraged me to change the original ending of my book, smart lady. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

There are no mistakes in writing, only in publishing. That is my axiom.

galaini-book-cover

Website and social media links?

Williamgalaini.com

@wgalaini on Twitter

https://www.facebook.com/WilliamLjGalaini/

Where can we find your book?

My, so glad you asked! Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and ask for it at your local library.

https://www.amazon.com/Trampling-Land-Patron-Saints-Hell/dp/0996926208/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485893782&sr=8-1&keywords=trampling+in+the+land+of+woe

What’s next for you, William?

Part two for Trampling is already done and it is awesome. Boudica is the main character in the sequel. I’ve just started part three!

Great interview, William. Thanks for chatting with me. Best of luck with your books!

About Eleanor:

ellie

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

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

 

 

 

Author Interview: Caroline Allen

Welcome to our first author interview of 2017! Here at The Writing Life blog, I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres every Tuesday. Today, I’m happy to chat with talented artist and award-winning author, Caroline Allen.

caroline-allen-pic

Caroline Allen is the author of EARTH and AIR, part of the 5-book Elemental Journey Series. Both novels were published in 2015 by Booktrope Editions of Seattle. Each won Independent Publisher awards soon after publication, a gold medal for regional fiction for EARTH, and a silver medal for visionary fiction for AIR. Prior to becoming a fiction writer, she worked as a journalist all over the world, as a reporter and editor in Tokyo, London and Seattle, and as a travel writer throughout SE Asia. She now lives in rural Oregon and is a book coach and a visual artist.

Welcome, Caroline!

What are your book’s genres?

Literary, visionary fiction.

Please describe what your books are about.

I’m writing a series of five books, The Elemental Journey Series, which includes EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER, and ETHER.

EARTH and AIR were published by Seattle’s Booktrope Editions in 2015. I’m currently at work on the third novel. All five books follow one protagonist on a hero’s journey around the globe as she finds herself in a world rocked by climate change and growing chaos. What does a person’s journey look like in such an unstable world? Is there a greater spiritual call to be answered by each person in a world on the edge?

Caroline Allen Earth.jpg

EARTH looks at our protagonist as she is rooted in place, in the rural farmland of her ancestors. Pearl Swinton, the protagonist, has mystical visions. She wants nothing to do with these visions, her family and teachers think she’s crazy. She can find nowhere where she “fits.” When she hears her aunt in another town has the same “curse”, she goes on a bicycle journey to find her. In the end, she learns she must uproot from this rural bedrock of tradition and forge a new path for herself.

Caroline Allen Air.jpg

In AIR, Pearl lands in Tokyo, where she hopes to float above the culture and find perspective. She meets a Japanese missionary who makes himself homeless, in his despair over his brother’s death in a culture that overworks its people. As he lives beneath a bridge folding origami cranes, he tells Pearl he is now homeless, just as she has made herself in leaving her rural American hometown. What are the uses of disconnection? He asks her: Where truly is home? He urges her to study her visions to find her purpose and help the world.

You ask great life questions. How did you come up with the titles?

I was a short story writer, living in Washington state, more than a decade ago now. I was sleeping in Seattle when I awoke from a dream and sat up, and I was “given” the message that my short stories would fit together into a novel, and there would be a series, EARTH (connection to our place of birth), AIR (leaving our traditions and floating above the culture), FIRE (the burning of the ego in London), WATER (personal healing in the Pacific Northwest), and ETHER (being of spiritual service to others).

I was “given” the general story for each book. The task after the dream, of course, is developing the characters, writing all of the plot twists, revising and editing and getting the books to market. It’s a lifetime task.   

Fascinating. What inspired you to write this series?

I was an international journalist for a decade, working in newsrooms in Tokyo and London. I was at the London dailies when I had a huge spiritual opening. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I was able to read everyone’s mind, no, more than that, I could see the bigger truths affecting them. It hit me all at once, and was extremely overwhelming. I moved back to the States as part of the process of figuring out what was going on with me. When I finally integrated this side of myself by doing metaphysical healing work in Seattle for years, I was inspired to include “visions” in the novels. What if there was a character who all of her life had spiritual visions? How would everyone react? What purpose would her visions ultimately fulfill?

My path in understanding my visionary side inspired me to write all five books.

I look forward to reading your books, Caroline! What is your favorite part of writing?

When I created Usui, the Japanese missionary, in AIR, I fully and completely fictionalized him. My books are semi-autobiographical in that sometimes a scene or a place or a character is based on either real life, or an amalgamation of different lives. But Usui was totally fictionalized. And I fell in love with him. I’m still in love with him. He is like the greatest love of my life. I dream of him, and talk to him and feel his presence. He’s depressive and weak and shy, but also so spiritually evolved. It’s just this love. I cannot explain it any other way.

His spirit has come back in FIRE, the novel I’m writing now, and he shows up and speaks every once in a while to my protagonist. My favorite part of writing is this falling in love. It’s as real as any love I’ve ever known.

What’s really exciting is that apparently I’m not the only one who fell in love with him. A Massachusetts artist fell for Usui too, did a painting of a scene in the novel where Usui is folding origami cranes beneath a foot bridge as a homeless person. The painting was accepted into a major juried show called Alienation in the fall of 2016.

The character Usui is intriguing as I practice Usui Reiki. The strong connection most authors have to their character(s) is quite fascinating. It happens to me, as well.

Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Pearl Elizabeth Swinton is a semi-autobiographical version of me. Like me, she grew up on a subsistence farm in Missouri, flew to Tokyo to live and work, traveled through SE Asia, lived in London and ended up in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike me, she has had visions since she hit puberty, and this fact in itself changed how closely the story could follow my life. Pearl is much more excitable than I ever was, much more dramatic, and much less intellectual.

As she travels the world, she meets many characters who do not exist in real life, people I never met.

I’m a book coach, as well, helping people all over the world write novels and memoir. Just this morning, I was speaking to a fiction client about how important it is to disconnect from thinking the protagonist is you. You need the freedom to truly create a work of art. I have been able to see Pearl as separate from me, even though sometimes our paths run side-by-side.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing, Caroline? 

Writing envelopes me. It swallows me. It takes me over like a whirlwind romance. I have to figure out a way to go into that phase and to come out of it, or, as has happened in the past, I look up and it’s the first of the month and I didn’t make enough money to pay the bills.

There were bigger challenges in the beginning of my fiction-writing life. When I gave up journalism, I couldn’t seem to get into the next phase of creative writing. I wasn’t writing. Anything. I was so shut down and didn’t know why. I came to a dangerous edge in my life. In therapy, a counselor told me, “You need to write every day. Every single day.”

I burst out sobbing. “I can’t. I can’t.” I just kept repeating those two words. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” wailing into my hands.

“Why?” she asked again and again.

“The monsters will come out. If I open that door, the monsters will get loose.”

She sat pondering, while I rocked on the sofa.

She didn’t even ask me to explain the monsters. I would’ve had no words for what I meant. Instead, she said: “OK, you like to build things, right? Here’s the plan. Go home and build a cage. Put it beneath your writing desk. Keep the monsters in the cage. You’ll need them for writing, so open the cage every morning to start your writing session, let them out, write, then put them back in and close the cage door. Can you do that?”

I looked up, sniffed, and nodded. For some reason, I loved the idea.

I built the cage. It sat under my desk for 13 years.

I understand the need of a visual and even a literal cage when dealing with monsters after a creative period. Artists and writers need their dark sides, as they are part of the whole.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Incarnations by Susan Barker. Loved it. Written by a British author, well-researched and beautifully written. It deals with the past lives of a Chinese taxi driver. I dig past lives and think the whole subject is rich fodder for fiction.

Caroline, who are some of your favorite authors?

Mostly my favorite writers are poets. Mary Oliver and Adrienne Rich top the list. Women who live their lives with integrity, outside the mainstream, who speak with poetry and love about their lives.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills and The Unconsoled were profoundly strong influences on me. He plays with time in both books, where forward is backward and now is then and people exist and do not exist, and he writes about these subjects within a well-told plotted story. This appeals deeply to my metaphysical side. I do not think life is linear, and an understanding of the nonlinear life can help expand our excitement of it. Authors who go to that place seem expansive and exciting to me.

Camus and Dostoyevski are two other influences. Any author who sees the dark side and absurdity of what it called “normal” society appeals to me. To me what we call normal is absurdist at best.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

My yurt! When I finished AIR, I gave myself the gift of a yurt in the woods. The original yurts were and still are used by nomadic tribes in Mongolia. A modernized versions of these are becoming popular on the U.S. West Coast. When I moved to Oregon, I camped up and down the coast to get to know the state, and the state parks rent yurts as cabins. I fell in love with the round, domed structures.

Caroline Allen yurt.JPG

I purchased a kit from Pacific Yurts. Don’t let the word “kit” fool you. It was an intense full-on construction scenario and my friends and I were utterly exhausted after building it in a clearing in the woods.

Months after it was constructed, I found a desk, chair, and dresser down a rural road, at the end of a gravel driveway, placed there for free by the owners. It was the kind of furniture I would’ve loved as a little girl. Now, I had my writing desk. There is no internet connectivity or consistent electricity, so it’s just me, my laptop with its battery, and some candles. Next year, I will be able to afford a wood stove. The view is of forest. A family of deer like to hang out around it. There’s even a bear. Being that close to the wild engages my inner wild child writer.

I do love the idea of a yurt in nature!  Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m also a visual artist. That’s not the surprise. I just finished a project called Outside the Lines, one painting a day for one year. For 366 days — it was a leap year — I painted a painting every single day. That’s not the surprise either. I painted one while in the departure lounge waiting for a late United flight, my carryon as an easel, I painted one the day I had surgery for an accident that severed my foot from my leg (the morphine made the painting really really wild), and I painted one during a birthday party for me in Seattle.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows about these paintings. I’ve strung them on clothes line with pins around the inner walls of my yurt, like prayer flags.

This is the surprise and it’s happened several times: I’ll walk into the yurt and see all of the paintings, hundreds of expressions of my soul, and become so emotional. I’ll wish I could paint like that. Oh, if I could just paint like that I’d be such a fulfilled person. I’d feel so weepy. Yes, I look at my own paintings and wish I could paint like I already do paint. That reaction is a surprise even to me. I still don’t get my reaction. A healer friend told me sometimes it takes the emotional body time to catch up with the physical body. Perhaps that is it.

We are constantly peeling our emotional onion while writing and painting, aren’t we?

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

As an author and a book coach, the biggest thing that always, ALWAYS, surprises me is how far we women still have to go in speaking our soul truth. How far we have to go as writers in working through the blocks to speaking our truth, and how far the publishing industry has to go in accepting us. It surprises me again and again that people are not used to women truly speaking the depths of their truth.

If my protagonist, or me as a person, speaks in terms of her/my relationships (to the opposite sex, or to children, or to any sort of caregiving role), we are much more accepted and acceptable.

Speaking pure truth through fiction or memoir is still more rare than it should be. This affects the writing process and it affects publication. Finding a publisher who’ll take a chance on women speaking deep soul truth is better than it was, but it’s still too difficult!

I wholeheartedly agree with you; still too difficult. What do you hope readers will gain from your books?

All five books explore a paradigm shift from linear thought to a more spiritual holistic mindset, through the story of one character. The books go from sticking to the past of our ancestors to trying an entirely new way of living through a shift in our perceptions. My deepest hope is that by explaining the process, in five books that will take decades to complete, the details of the path will help others on a similar journey. I believe we all need to make this paradigm shift, but that it’s so radical that no one person or book is going to create it. I am part of a greater path of bringing this information into this time period in the world.

caroline-allen-earth

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

Tenacity. I have nothing else to add. Simple hard work, day after day, month after month, year after year. You’ll be exhausted.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

Everything worked, even the things that didn’t because they were part of the learning process for “being” a fully fledged writer. I wouldn’t change any of it.

I landed a big New York agent with EARTH. I really connected with him. He loved my novel. We shopped the book around to all the major houses, and we got great feedback and some serious nibbles, but nobody would bite. It was a two-year process that failed. But I would not say it didn’t work. What I learned was unbelievably helpful. It helped me as a writer and as a book coach. I wouldn’t change that “failure” for the world.

Do you have any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Tenacity. Tenacity. Tenacity. It may take a decade longer than you thought. My path took 15 years longer than I thought it would. You may well be writing about subjects before your time! Maybe the world hasn’t caught up with you. But, your time will come, but you’ll miss it if you give up.

Great advice, Caroline. I love the idea of writing about subjects before our time!

Website and social media links?

www.carolineallen.com

www.artofstorytellingonline.com

www.artofstorytelling.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/carolineallenartist

www.twitter.com/artofstory

http://www.instagram.com/carolineallenartist 

Where can we find your book?

Amazon

EARTH

https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Elemental-Journey-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01GIBQIFA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405361&sr=1-1&keywords=earth+by+caroline+allen

AIR

https://www.amazon.com/Air-novel-Elemental-Journey-2/dp/1513703943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405375&sr=1-1&keywords=air+by+caroline+allen

Barnes and Noble

EARTH

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/earth-carol-allen/1000420387?ean=9781620156513

AIR

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/air-david-allen/1000420194?ean=2940153195681

IBooks

EARTH

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/earth/id1119725900?mt=11

AIR

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/air/id1119726394?mt=11

What’s next for you?

I’m nearly finished with my third novel, FIRE, and I just landed a literary agent. In FIRE, Pearl travels throughout SE Asia and lives in London, where she meets people who lead her more and more closely to her purpose. Before she can find her purpose, though, she has to heal her lost self.

The literary agent and I will shop the book around to find a publisher this year.

Fantastic, Caroline. It was great having the chance to know more about you and your series. All the very best with your writing and painting in 2017!

About Eleanor:

ellie

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

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

 

 

Leary, But Hopeful New Year Musings

IMG_0591
The Capacon River, West Virginia

What a year.

2016 was a roller coaster of a year, chock full of ups and downs, perilous and hairpin turns, sad and surprising, exhilarating moments sprinkled about, all the way to the ball dropping in Times Square.

Earlier in the evening on December 31, I joined my sister and a good friend in filling our champagne flutes with 2016 water (our Puerto Rican family custom), which we would throw out at midnight (throwing out the “bad”), and refill with bubbly to ring in the New Year. We were so DONE with 2016. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically spent at the beginning of the evening, we nervously looked toward the new year with hope, lots of lovely and all-important hope–may we never lose hope–but, I certainly prayed all those celebrating the end of 2016, at home and abroad, would remain safe.

Minutes before midnight, we muted Kathy Griffin’s voice and Anderson Cooper’s giggling for the fourth time, rolled our eyes over Mariah Carey’s concert walk out, and through our own giggles and raised eyebrows, wondered if a certain CNN anchor would have a job in the morning after many televised tequila shots and other interesting shenanigans, which included an on-camera ear piercing. At midnight, I popped the champagne cork (which I hate doing, but sister and friend declined!), and held my breath that nothing else would happen as we toasted each other–a knee-jerk reaction to 2016, I’m afraid. I then spoke with my beloved children, who stayed home (thank God) to celebrate with good friends, enjoyed my sister’s fabulous New Year spread, and we learned of the massacre at a Turkish club in Istanbul. We prayed for the victims, for Betty White (whom we adore), for our children, for everyone, in the tumultuous days before and after Trump takes office as President of the United States. God help us all.

Just before falling asleep on January 1, 2017, I wondered if Prince William will take over when Queen Elizabeth passes on because I can’t imagine a Queen Camilla, and pondered what would happen to the business of the monarchy if Princess Diana resurfaced alive and well, with a daughter born of her marriage to Prince Charles before their marital separation. I still miss her. I know, I know. But I’m a writer, an historical fiction writer; I think of stuff like that late at night. A story needs twists and turns, and all the complications imaginable to work well, right?

Although I know it’s not good for me to fall asleep with worries, fears, and negative thoughts on my mind, but baby steps with feeling hopeful and all rah rah optimistic in 2017. I’ll get there. All I can muster at the moment is cautious optimism. And thank God for the Bed Time Fan app my daughter told me about. I slept like a baby and woke up very happy to be alive, craving a Mimosa.

On the creative front, here at The Writing Life blog, we will continue posting our Tuesday Author Interview series, starting next week. So stay tuned! I’m now back at the writing desk with my second book, The Laments of Sister Inmaculada. No personal blog posts until then. I’ll be on social media sparingly, and by spring, I hope to send the first draft manuscript to my editor. Fingers crossed and prayers said. I love this new story and my characters, who will keep me company this winter. I hope you will love them, too.

I wish you and yours a blessed, safe, happy, healthy, prosperous, and creatively uplifting 2017. May all your hopes and dreams be realized this year.

I am happy to share some words from Neil Gaiman, which I highly encourage you to follow in 2017.

Eleanor x

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

About Eleanor:

ellie

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

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Creativity and Making Art Today: Wisdom or Folly?

My newest piece for The OCH Literary Society.

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CREATIVITY AND MAKING ART TODAY: WISDOM OR FOLLY?

 

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

“It is very interesting that foolish people make the world what it is, and wise people have to live in it. Foolish people can create disasters, but they cannot endure them; wise people do not cause them, but they can endure them. One of the proofs of wisdom is the fact it can survive the shock and stress of change and the shock and stress of error. There is something immortal about wisdom because wisdom can live in an environment where stupidity cannot exist. Wisdom possesses a certain immortality. A wise person can live in a world as it is, regardless of what that world may be, regardless of the religions and philosophies, or absence of them, regardless of the intemperances and intolerances. That which is truly wise flows continuously and placidly on its way, unmoved in itself by any of the changes which affect and afflict that which is unwise.”

~ Manly P. Hall

These wise words by Canadian mystic and writer, Manly P. Hall, were posted by a Facebook friend last month. They still resonate with me and accurately describe where I hope to find myself as we inch closer to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States: wiser.

I was deeply affected by the Election Night results. Shock, dismay, and at times, disgust plagued me on November 9. In the days and weeks that followed, I truly wish I’d returned to working on my second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, with new vigor, but that didn’t happen. The long periods of writing I’d enjoyed in the past weren’t possible. Instead, I was glued to on-line news and bought a newspaper every day. I didn’t go so far as to subscribe to cable television (which I’d given up in 2011,) or to the online version of the New York Times, but I was tempted. I felt distraught enough to consider asking a friend to hide my laptop charger so I couldn’t read another on-line article that I knew would anger me. I remained frustrated, unnerved, and frightened as the horrifying news finally came out of Aleppo and South Dakota.

Despite my humble attempts to decipher real news versus fake news in November and early December, I fell for a few headlines and felt my blood pressure rise upon discovering that I’d been duped. I wondered how many people had been duped during the campaign by fake news. I broke my time-honored “no-news” rule and kept reading, hoping to better understand people who’d voted for a man (and his Cabinet choices) who seems to stand for most everything I oppose. I prayed for an end to war in Syria and that the pipeline protesters in South Dakota would win before winter. All that did was to fill my mind and heart with despair and confusion, and everything I read fueled a growing feeling of guilt for not writing and a sense of the ridiculous when I did work on my novel.

In late November, the only answer for me was to practice self-care, which I did by binge-watching “Downton Abbey”, seasons 1-6. I watched the entire gorgeous series again, this time in four days. Don’t judge; I’d hoped the period series would take me back to a gentler, kinder, more innocent time. But of course, there wasn’t any truth in that. Each episode tackled some form of racism, hatred, misogyny, and classism in the turbulent times before and after WWI and WWII. So despite knowing how damaging it was for me to return to reading news articles, I felt the need to stay informed, voice my opinion and support where I could. I also needed to write, which I knew would ground me. For many creative folks, the internal creative push and pull of November seemed relentless. Some friends still find themselves creatively paralyzed.

Several times I sat at the writing desk, only to log off as my second book tackles deep, troubling issues facing women in 1920 Puerto Rico; unfortunately similar to what women today face around the world. I couldn’t focus. I turned to reading beloved books, taking afternoon naps, long walks with my dog, and kept busy by connecting with like-minded friends, but that was short-lived. We were going around in circles; not much help to each other, but we sure tried. And as soon as I logged back onto social media, there it was—the good, the bad and the ugly—right where I’d left it all.

When I did write, my words felt trite and after a good, long writing session, I’d feel guilty for not keeping up with the horrors of Aleppo and South Dakota. Then on November 28, something happened. I believe everything that happens to me and around me is useful for my creative life. What I am passionate about is making art and telling stories about uncovering truths, so I decided to use the disappointment, confusion, and fear to write. I owned my feelings of loss, rejection, and yes, anger, at the writing desk. I refused to get up. I reread and reconnected with my story; it worked. I sat with my young protagonist and she told me her tragic and troubling story. She’d faced the same feelings and emotions in her complicated world. I reentered her head, as broken and clueless as she, and moved about in her world, not sure where to turn next. We walked side by side, and wrote the next chapters together. I regained my creative strength, and love and courage for my characters. The words flowed.

My writing voice allows me to protest what happened to my character in 1920, and the act of writing brings a sense of control and meaning to my life, balance. I don’t know what will come after January 20, 2017. I pray for peace and a ceasefire in Aleppo, and I still worry that we are being duped about the Dakota pipeline. The pain and suffering in the world continues. We do what we can, we help wherever possible, and we are stretched beyond what is comfortable because that’s important, too. We can’t bury our heads in the sand to what is happening around us and far away from our homes.

Writers and artists must continue making art. Grab the hankies, your bullhorn, and use it all. Be bold, courageous, and use your art as a way to make sense of your world and that of others, who at this time might not be able to tell their stories.

About Eleanor:

ellie

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

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