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.

 

 

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Author Interview: Mickey Brent

Welcome to the 2018 Author Interview Series at The Writing Life, one of my favorite features on the blog. Instead of hosting one author per week as we’ve done for the past two years, I will share one interview per month to allow me to focus on finishing my second book, The Laments. The distraction quotient is real over here!

I hope you enjoy the new author interviews. Thank you for your visit!

Eleanor

This month, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Mickey Brent. We met in Brussels, Belgium through a shared love of and a deep appreciation for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, when we both lived in the fascinating city.

Mickey Brent is a multicultural author and creative writing teacher who lives in Southern California with her partner and two kitties. She is also an active member of the LGBTQ community. Mickey spent nearly two decades living in Europe and loves writing quirky stories about Europeans, their diverse cultures, languages, and lifestyles. Mickey has written numerous travel articles, book chapters, poems, and screenplays, publishing various genres of fiction and non-fiction under other noms de plume. Mickey’s aim is to offer readers a more fun, light-hearted, and romantic view of life. She has created this vivid reality with Underwater Vibes, a well-crafted, contemporary novel showcasing a unique cast of characters thriving in the multicultural city of Brussels, Belgium, the capital of Europe. Its sequel, Broad Awakening, will be published by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018.

Underwater Vibes cover

Please describe what Underwater Vibes is about.

Hélène Dupont, a French-speaking scientific translator in Brussels, Belgium, cherishes two things: flowers and Chaussette, her cat. Hélène writes bad poetry to help her survive her painful existence with Marc, her husband, until she collapses at work and her doctor proposes a radical lifestyle change. She diets drastically and attempts sports for the first time, while Marc laughs at her efforts. Then Hélène meets Sylvie Routard, a carefree, young, amateur photographer from Greece. By chance, Sylvie becomes Hélène’s private swim coach. During their daily lessons, Hélène’s admiration towards Sylvie turns to attraction. As unsettling feelings hijack her mind and body, daydreams featuring Sylvie enter her life—even her poems. Hélène starts to question her relationship with Marc, and everything else in life.

How did you come up with the title?

Because Hélène and Sylvie spend so much time in the water, the attraction they feel can best be described as vibrations, hence the title, Underwater Vibes. I worked on my title for several weeks before I came up with one that was short, descriptive, and perfectly captured the essence of the story. These vibrations are underwater, just as underlying vibrations can translate to underlying meaning in our lives. As humans, we constantly feel things, whether we realize it or not. Believe me, Hélène and Sylvie are feeling things throughout the book. The fact that they are swimming underwater together adds to the intrigue, in my opinion.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea for Underwater Vibes came as an assignment for an English composition course I took in college. The story was about a plump, shy girl—a loner—who learned to swim in a lake one summer. My writing teacher loved the story and urged me to keep writing. Twenty years later, while taking a creative writing course in Brussels, Belgium, I remembered that original essay. Each day, as I biked through Brussels, I jotted down new ideas for the story. Despite minor accidents with light poles and a parked car, I kept up my pace until I had birthed a unique, humorous tale. After thirteen years of tweaking, Underwater Vibes is, at last, ripe and ready to be devoured by readers who like quirky, character-driven stories.

Knowing you, humor will be evident in this book. Congratulations! What is your favorite part of writing?

Sitting with my cat early in the morning with a pot of steaming tea. Every day, my cat meows at the bedroom door until I get up—at an insane hour—as soon as the birds start chirping. I roll out of bed, splash cold water on my face, put on the tea kettle, and proceed to brush the cat. Then I settle on the sofa with my mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook, contemplating each empty page, wondering what’s going to fill it each day. Every story starts this way: in silence, with bird chirps, meows, a hissing kettle, then furious scribbling noises as I pen my incessant, rapid-fire thoughts. That’s my routine and my favorite part of writing. I also love teaching creative writing. Working with my students motivates me and fills me with deep joy.

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

Hélène resembles me a little bit. I was a translator for many years in Brussels, and she’s a translator. Yet she’s much shyer than I am, and not very athletic, although she gains confidence and becomes an athlete as the story evolves. The other main character, Sylvie, is an amateur photographer, and so am I. She also loves food, and so do I. We’re total foodies. They both adore cats and flowers, and so do I. They also appreciate poetry, although Hélène isn’t very talented in that department. I like to think that I’m a better poet than her. But Sylvie is a much stronger swimmer than me.

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

The most challenging aspect of writing is keeping myself, and my voice, out of my characters’ heads. As a writer, it’s difficult to keep their viewpoints authentic, and it’s hard to not be influenced by their words and actions. I constantly have to ask myself, “What would she do in this situation?” or “What would he say if that happened to him?” It’s important to keep myself separate from their lives, yet it’s challenging because I’m attached to each of my characters. They are all living in my head. To make sure I’m writing from their unique points of view, I fill out at least four pages of a character sketch worksheet for each individual. I keep the worksheets next to my desk, so when I’m writing dialogue or action or plotting out a scene, I can refer to each character sketch, which includes the character’s history, voice, habits, attitudes, preferences, etc. Sometimes, I even stand up and act out a scene, to make sure I’m writing it from their perspective instead of my own.

I love character sketches and use them, as well. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

I just finished reading “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. It’s a New York Times Bestseller and I thought it was amazing. It’s a story about a couple living in Paris in the 1920s and it particularly caught my eye because I used to live in Paris myself. It’s about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife during the period when Hemingway finds his voice as a writer, which particularly intrigued me. It’s very well written, with powerful dialogue and colorful, dramatic scenes. As a reader, I was drawn into the story on each and every page.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Isabel Allende, Julia Cameron, Mark Nepo, Paolo Coelho, Eckhart Tolle, Sarah Waters, Radclyffe… These are a few of my favorites.

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

Julia Cameron opens her readers’ eyes to all expressions of creativity and beauty in the most intriguing way. For example, through her own experiences, she introduced me to screenwriting and songwriting. And I learned to love Taos, New Mexico—without ever visiting the place—because of the way she describes its scenery. In her books, she helps readers find their special place in life. She teaches them to learn to trust their intuition, the Universe, and all the pleasures and pains that come with being fully human. Her words are truly a gift to this planet. I am surely not the only reader who feels lucky to have picked up “The Artist’s Way” so long ago. I truly cherish this book and am thankful that Julia has been guided all these years to put her talents and insight to paper.

Along similar lines, Mark Nepo is a philosopher, poet, teacher and well-published author whose words and inspiration have made a positive difference in my life. In fact, I often begin teaching my creative writing classes by reciting one of Mark’s daily entries in “The Book of Awakening.” His exquisitely penned words set a calm, reflective atmosphere in the classroom. As his sentences unfold, my students and I contemplate his literary mastery—the delicate way he illustrates the simplest acts of life. Not unlike famous Japanese haiku poets, Mark offers his readers an opportunity to pause and reflect. By exposing the raw beauty of everyday happenings, he incites readers to appreciate the most insignificant details of life surrounding us: leaves falling in a mossy forest, a lone daisy, thoughtful glances, random acts of kindness by strangers. These are the kinds of insignificant details—that aren’t so insignificant, actually—that make stories real.

Mark writes non-fiction and poetry, while I mainly write fiction. But my hope is to transform my characters, and readers, through carefully selected words, plot, and mindful presence—like Mark—to bring everyone to a better place in life.

I will check out The Book of Awakening. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

As I mentioned earlier, I love to sit on my living room sofa with a big mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook. Surrounded by soft pillows, I contemplate the scenery outside—palm trees, a lush potato tree with its purple flowers, my statue of Buddha—wondering what’s going to fill my notebook each day. I use an aromatherapy diffuser, so there’s lemongrass, lavender, or some other calming, purifying scent in the room. I keep the large windows open to let in fresh air; their frames are lined with shells and stones from the local beach, colorful candles, postcards, and photos of loved ones. This is also my favorite place to read. I must admit, however, in the evenings I read lying down because I’m exhausted after getting up at dawn to write.

When it’s time to work on my stories with a computer, I move upstairs into the bedroom. My desk there overlooks more palm trees—and a parking lot. One day, I’d like to look out at the ocean instead of the parking lot. But for now, I’m content with where I am.

Mickey, tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know.

When I was young, I used to be a competitive athlete. I competed in several sports simultaneously and took winning very seriously. I was raised this way—my father was my coach. I was hard on myself, determined, a real overachiever, and perhaps not the kindest kid to others. Luckily, I grew out of this tough, self-focused phase and learned to be kind to others. I realized that winning is not everything in life. People and relationships are much more important. Looking back, I’m much happier as an adult to be in a more positive, open-minded, and caring place.

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

Yes, it did. The more I write, the more I learn about myself and my life. I have always had a passion for writing, even as a child. And when I started writing novels in addition to short stories, I realized that writing is a spectacular way to discover who I am and where I’m headed as a person. It unearths hidden passions, secrets, and, in my case, an imagination that seems to know no limits. I often get asked if I’ve experienced the things my characters go through in my stories. It’s a valid question. Some authors experience nearly everything they write about, even in fiction. But most of what I write comes from some other place—some hidden source from within. It just bubbles up and I put it down on paper.

As you might have guessed, I’m a pantser (I write from the seat of my pants, rather than planning and plotting my stories). So I don’t even know what’s coming until it literally shows up on the page. For example, in Underwater Vibes, Sylvie’s obnoxious ex, Lydia, showed up in my novel while I was rewriting my seventh version of the manuscript. A true perfectionist, I completely rewrote the manuscript thirteen times over a thirteen-year period. The fact that Lydia simply popped up on the page after seven years surprised me. I had never met anyone like Lydia before and I had no clue how she got there. Somehow, she hijacked my fertile imagination with her despicable charm. Surprises like these represent tremendous gifts to authors like me, who strive to tell meaningful stories with unexpected twists.

The publishing process is a whole different story. If you don’t mind, I’ll wait to answer that question in my next interview with you, after my sequel, Broad Awakening, is released in October.

Underwater Vibes cover

What do you hope readers will gain from Underwater Vibes?

Hopefully, my book will offer readers a pleasant literary experience that will also transmit a strong message of human acceptance, so that LGBTQ issues will no longer be topics of overt—or hushed—conversations in boardrooms, school cafeterias, at dinner tables, etc. Because my novel explores a budding, yet awkward, lesbian romance, I hope it will open up the minds of readers in a positive way, especially those who have never bought a book or opted to watch a film featuring LGBTQ characters. Personally, I wish one’s sexual orientation could be as insignificant to others as one’s hair color or freckles. It shouldn’t matter. Love is love.

Underwater Vibes is a contribution to the struggle for equality for all. Perhaps this might seem like a lofty aim, but I wrote my novel to help reduce the discrimination that still exists globally among humans on many levels: racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc. This discrimination also includes biases against peoples’ sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, linguistic, regional and cultural differences, etc.

Without knowing these intentions, certain people have advised me to end the novel by having Hélène and Marc, her verbally abusive husband, get back together; but if that were the case, the essential meaning of this story would be lost. These two characters are obviously not meant for each other. Somehow, they ended up together, but once Hélène discovers that someone special exists out there, she needs to trust her heart and face the truth. I hope my book will help readers learn to trust their true feelings. Sometimes, this trust involves taking risks to get what they deserve in life.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. My editor and several advance readers encouraged me to change the original ending of A Decent Woman. I’m glad I listened. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I had a dream that I truly believed in. I wanted to be a writer so I wrote every day for many years. I didn’t give up on my book, even when I felt like it. I worked weekends and evenings, early in the morning, and late at night. I followed my intuition every step of the way. I didn’t listen to naysayers who told me two decades ago, “You’re only a beginner. You’ll never get published.” Likewise, I ignored those who said, “You’re not making any money on this. Why don’t you just give it up and get a real career?” They didn’t seem to notice that I was juggling several jobs while writing all these years.

I was stubborn and optimistic; I bought every worthy book on writing that I could get my hands on and devoured it with passion. Next, I joined a book club, then I joined a writing group, then a critique group. I kept taking classes on how to write short stories and screenplays. I wrote several of each, edited the stories until I was satisfied, then I sent them to publishers of anthologies, writing contests, magazines, etc. After quite a few rejections, several stories got published. That motivated me a lot. Next, I started teaching creative writing classes, which motivated me even more, especially when my students started publishing their work. I learned the craft of writing even better by researching it, then instructing others on what I had learned.  

To conclude, what I did right was believing in my dream of becoming a published author and sustaining my intense determination to realize this dream. Working hard created a positive momentum that made it easier for me to write, edit, and submit my book several times until I found the right publisher. It has also helped me market Underwater Vibes now that my story is out in the world.

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

Waiting so long to submit my first book to agents and publishers slowed the process down. Like so many writers, I was afraid of rejection, and I was a perfectionist. Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to overcome these two issues. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more initiative to get my first book published. As a published author now, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m much more confident. That is why I’ve promised my publisher that I will be devoting two years to write my third novel, instead of thirteen!

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

If you have a dream to become a published writer, you must believe in yourself. Write something every day, even if it’s just in your journal. That’s still writing. Don’t give up on your projects or ideas, even when things look bleak. If you can, work a little on weekends, evenings, early in the morning, and holidays. Every little bit counts and it fuels you with positive momentum. Follow your intuition—trust your gut—every step of the way. That person you feel compelled to contact on a hunch just might open the right door for you. Don’t listen to naysayers, especially those who say they mean well or “it’s for your own good.” Know that writing is extremely hard work. It’s pure dedication. But it’s worth it to feel the satisfaction of finally having your name in print, or seeing your friends waiting in line for your autograph. Royalty checks are great too but don’t count on receiving those right away.

In my opinion, your primary aspiration as a writer shouldn’t be to rake in tons of money and become famous overnight. It should be to share your story with the world, and hopefully, transform people in a positive way. You’ll only get discouraged if you strive for instant success and fame. That’s extremely rare. Join a book club, a writing group, a critique group, take writing classes, find a skilled and experienced mentor or editor—and beta readers—who know how to critique your work in a gentle yet constructive manner. Write lots of different pieces, go outside your comfort zone, edit your stories multiple times until you’re satisfied, let them rest, then edit them one final time. Read them aloud standing up, then send them out to potential agents, publishers, magazine contests, blogs, etc. When you finally get your publishing contract, read the fine lines carefully. Then hire a professional who is highly experienced with author contracts to help you negotiate your book/film deal. Good luck!

Great advice! Website and social media links?

I’m not yet on Facebook but I’ve promised my publisher that I will set up a Facebook page within the next few weeks. Until then, please visit me at www.mickeybrent.com

Let me know when your Facebook page goes live, so I can tag you. You might look into setting up accounts with Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well. Where can we find Underwater Vibes?

There’s a link to my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, listed on my website. https://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/authors/mickey-brent-275  That’s the best place to purchase Underwater Vibes, and pre-order my sequel, Broad Awakening. They are available in print and as ebooks. They can also be ordered at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and at your local bookstore. As a public speaker on the craft of writing, multiculturalism, diversity and LGBTQ inclusion issues, I’m often invited to give author presentations at bookstores, libraries, book festivals, and book clubs. My book is available for purchase at these events, which are listed at www.mickeybrent.com.

Awesome. What’s next for you, Mickey?

The sequel to Underwater Vibes, Broad Awakening, will be released by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018. It takes place in Brussels, Belgium, and in Santorini, Greece. Now, I’m working on my third novel, which will be set in San Francisco. It’s also a multicultural, multilingual contemporary lesbian romance. I’m very excited about this new story. I lived in San Francisco for three years and I’m looking forward to heading back to this exciting, cosmopolitan city to do more research for my upcoming book.

Thanks for a great interview, Mickey. I wish you the very best with your books. We should plan a reunion with our fellow The Artist’s Way group members soon!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the 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, 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, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

decent

 

 

Two Gateways to the Garden of Creativity

My friend Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator. We share many common interests, and most of our conversations revolve around a gentle, kinder life, and about writing and creativity.

After a recent email exchange, I invited Beth to write a guest post on writing and creativity. My reply (which she encouraged me to share) to Beth’s inspiring piece is at the end of the post. I am very pleased to share my creative friend’s widsom with you, dear readers.

Dear Ellie,

The invitation you’ve given me to write for your blog is so sacred. I’m really into structure! And having to work within the structure of a single post–on someone else’s blog, where no one knows me–is especially enticing. I think a lot of writers secretly love structure, even though nowadays it’s not as popular as its complement, freedom. For me these are two gateways to the garden. If one gateway gets overused, its as if it got stuck in the “on” or the open position…the garden suffers.

This letter to you is about my love of taking “the gateway less traveled,” to paraphrase Robert Frost, the one less often opened nowadays–structure. I like structure so much I’m writing a whole book about it!  I see structure as an opening to creativity and more: manifestation. That’s an area in which I work with some of my coaching clients and even my consulting clients when they let me! If it’s appropriate, you can send people to find out more at this link: www.raisingclarity.com

My “Structure Book” (what is it about titles? I’m one of those writers who gives them at the end, not the start of a manuscript; right now I have five different titles) is in manuscript. It’s being read by a dear friend and I’m ready to see how it lands with others if anyone’s interested!

In it, at one point, I draw on the history of the mnemonic arts by Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, especially her chapter on the classical memory art taught Cicero. Cicero said if you wanted to remember a speech, you created a house for it that was unusual, and then created rooms in your house for each major part of your speech, then placed unusual objects (like sculptures in wall niches) in the rooms that reminded you of the things you wanted to be sure to say in each part of your speech. To help you remember your whole speech, you enter the house, and go room by room to stand before each room’s unusual objects.

The ancient memory arts gave me permission to make even thinking about my writing important enough to set aside time and space for.
For me, thinking is tantamount to writing: once I’m in my set-aside time and space, I begin thinking. And then my fingers start to itch to write. What I write may be drivel! But I know I am putting in the time I need to on my writing.

You can see how natural it was for me, when you invited me to write, and because it was so sacred, to respond that that I would meditate on the subject of my post before getting back to you.  And then, in the magical way that life’s microcosms are a fractal of its macrocosm, I realized that the act of setting aside time to meditate on a piece of writing was probably more unusual, and more useful, to your readers than anything else I could write about.

Let me anticipate some readers’ response, and add that one of the best reasons to set aside time is what you may fear the most: having nothing come from your fingers once your set-aside time begins.

I’m sure many of us have read Writing Down the Bones: Natalie Goldberg’s advice in the event of “nothing to write” is simply to write anyway–write nonsense, keep the arm and fingers moving. Similarly, once you are in the time and space you’ve set aside, you are in the garden. If you keep faith with it, it will keep faith with you. The act of entering a creative space is itself creative.

Being present in our creative space just means showing up, committed but not always clear. The most glamorous garden activities are the most visible ones: planting seeds, or flowering, or fruiting or harvesting. We don’t always have to be in glamour mode. In our garden, we can weed or water or compost or simply contemplate what we’ve done thus far, our garden in its present state. We can noodle around or research or plan or meditate. We can read something inspiring or juicy or controversial to us, and free-write in response to it. We can take a bath (why can’t the garden have a bathtub in it?) and contemplate the back story of our main character. Or a minor character we find interesting. We can make ourselves a special treat in the kitchen, taking our time and dedicate it and the enjoyment of our treat to the fruition of our short story. We can go to a museum or a cathedral and walk around and think about the relationship of what we’re seeing to our essay or history.  We can re-read our last draft from start to finish as my favorite book on writing, Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel, says is when the real work begins, and we understand what we’ve created in an entirely new way.

I have lots more specific ideas but I’d love to hear what other readers of your blog think about and do with this idea!

Thanks again for inviting, Ellie!

–Beth

My response to Beth:

Dear Beth,

I’m very pleased to share your wonderful, insightful piece! I found myself nodding and smiling as I read along. Thanks for accepting my invitation; it’s an honor to share your wise words.

After reaching 57, 467 words with my work in progress, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, I couldn’t decide on an ending. My characters were doing things I hadn’t expected, so I stopped writing to sit with the story. I also watched movies, puttered around the house, painted a few pieces of furniture, and bought two books for further research.

As much as I’d like to put out one book a year, I must remain patient with the story, the characters, and with myself. I listen to my gut and spirit, and try not to fall prey  to kind and generous cries of, “We are ready for your next book.” I wasn’t ready.

Last night, the ending came to me, and how the entire story and characters fit together! How important it is to sit with our characters and the pasts we’ve created for them in order to know and understand what their next moves might be. My job is to listen, write, and not rush the characters and story along. And I agree with you: what I do in between is also important and necessary to the creative process.

I love my new story, I’m happy with the ending, and now, it’s time to think about structure, while remembering that the story is still baking until I write, ‘The End’. Even then, I allow myself time to think and honor my ability to edit and rewrite, just as I did for 25 years as a painter. When is a painting, a story ready to be shared with the world? When my gut tells me it’s time.

All the best with your book, Beth!  Thanks again. Off to write.

–Ellie

About Beth:

beth-raps-photo

Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator.  She blogs at:

http://www.raisingclarity.com/blog/

https://bethrapsblog.wordpress.com/blog/

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/rapsraps

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

 

 

My Thoughts After The Women’s March on Washington

photo-by-andrew-caballero-reynolds-the-womens-march

Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Mission and Vision 

“We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Shared from The Women’s March on Washington website.

My experience of standing shoulder to shoulder and marching with thousands of women, men, and children at the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, January 21, 2017, was one of peace, inclusivity, unity, and respect. I am grateful to the women who marched with us in 600 sister marches in their respective countries, and I’m very grateful to the organizers and co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, who worked hard to organize what turned out to be a massive, historic event.

The short speeches made by six-year-old immigrant rights activist, Sophie Cruz (who won my heart), America Ferrara, Amanda Nguyen, Scarlett Johansson, Angela Davis, Cynthia Hale, Rabbi Sharon Brous, Gloria Steinem, LaDonna Harris, each of the co-chairs of the March, and Ashley Judd reciting a poem written by 19-year-old Nina Donovan from Tennessee, and many others, left me feeling represented at the March—as a Latina, as a mother, as a sister, and as a woman. As a mother, my heart broke for the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, and Jordan Davis. The mothers and their sons were rightly remembered that day.

I took away nuggets of wisdom from all the speeches, heard the truth of each speaker, and felt fortunate to be part of a march that demanded unity and respect for ALL. My group left just before Madonna came on stage, so I can’t speak to her message.

What I can say is that women and men, from across the United States and Canada, carried signs with deeply personal messages on a wide range of issues. The signs around me included messages about the LGBTQ community, the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights, human rights, domestic violence, immigration, the environment, education, Pro-choice, Pro-life, keeping our young women safe on college campuses, unity, and respect, among many messages against Trump and his decisions. And no, not every woman at the March was pro-choice as I’ve read recently. I saw plenty of women carrying pro-life signs standing next to plenty of women carrying pro-choice signs. So to me, it is incorrect to say or assume that it was a women’s pro-choice march as it has been described; it was much more. I never thought it was a case of “us” versus “them” that day; not at all. That’s not how I choose to live, and it pains me that many women and men are painting the March in that divisive light. Maybe you had to be there?

We were single and married women, mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, activists, members of the clergy, members of every denomination, faith, belief, and then some, standing together with our children, partners, and friends. The march wasn’t a dangerous, violent, hate-filled event, where you, your beliefs or your children were in danger of being trampled and hurt like I’ve read this week. I didn’t witness animosity or shaming of women by women; everyone simply spoke from their hearts as women do on matters that are important to them. Instead, it was a peaceful, rowdy, wonderful march with lots of respect, kindness, humor, and comradery among the marchers. I experienced patience, polite and kind behavior, and good humor, which was incredible, given the huge number of marchers, the long hours of standing, and the frustrating lack of large screens and microphones for thousands of our fellow marchers who weren’t close enough to the stage to see or hear. But who could have predicted the massive turnout?

I know women multi-task like nobody’s business, but on that day, we were physically limited to carrying one large sign, or two small signs as some did. I felt we were more than the signs we carried that day, as I would venture to say most women who participated (myself included), hold many, many issues close to our hearts. It was heartening to see the different messages around me; many that expressed my own feelings. I wished I’d had ten hands for ten different issues!

To say the Women’s March wasn’t focused, organized, or inclusive doesn’t describe the March I experienced—women have big hearts and we hold many issues close to our big hearts, and thank God for women—ALL women. Are we perfect? Will we always get it right? Will we always agree? No, and there is still plenty of work to do for future generations, and lots to learn.

Obviously, I can’t know if the March was a wonderful experience for all the marchers, but I pray it was. If it was less than a positive day for you, I’d certainly like to know how we can do better. I was proud to march with women for women’s rights, for respect, compassion, and for unity in this country. I certainly marched for the rights of my sisters, neighbors, and for children around the world—refugees most definitely included.

‘Respect my existence or expect my resistance’ was the message I chose to bring to the Women’s March. I wrote the message on my poster board in English and in Spanish. That message still resonates with me and my heart as I believe it includes the rights of all men, women, and children in this country and the world. I took home a lot more understanding of the human experience, and how we all do the best with what we’ve been dealt with in life. I am grateful for the eye-opening experience.

Thank you to the thousands of women who couldn’t march with us and who took the time to knit and donate the pink pussy hats most of us wore with pride on that historic day.

Lastly and most important of all: you may not like or agree that women marched and protested on Washington as is our right. You may not like or agree with the many messages women brought to the March, but please know women marched for YOU, too. And we will keep marching for you because we that’s important. Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.

For a list of speakers and performers at The Women’s March on Washington:

https://qz.com/891175/the-full-lineup-of-the-many-many-speakers-and-performers-at-the-womens-march-on-washington/

About Eleanor: 

ellie

Former counselor and family support worker for immigrant and refugee families, 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 selection 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, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.


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

 

 

Leary, But Hopeful New Year Musings

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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

My Writing Life: How I Made It Happen

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The research material for my work in progress, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, rests in three full notebooks, scribbled on scraps of paper, and written on junk mail that day I ran out of paper. My first book, A Decent Woman, was published in February 2015.

On Saturday, after a book reading at a local bookstore, a writer asked me the following question:

“How did you make all this happen?”

I am excited, honored, and committed to doing what I’m passionate about–writing and making art full time. How did I make this happen? I’m glad you asked.

Beginning in 2011, I learned to say no. I sacrificed a lot. I changed my life. I was honest with myself. I trusted my gift. Listened to my gut. I shut out the negative, toxic, and even well-meaning voices, who offered negativity and fear when I said I would give up my job, a comfy life, and healthcare to write full time. I was afraid, but more afraid of what it would mean to never publish my book. I jumped off the cliff to my new life. I had BIG faith. Moved to a new state with lower cost of living. I was brave, tenacious, and firm. Practiced discipline and sat/sit at the writing desk every day, no matter what. I adopted a writing mentor. I refused to join a writing group for many reasons. I grew more patience than I ever thought I possessed. I’d turned 50 in 2006 and realized that time would not wait for me to be ready. I got rid of cable TV. Stopped reading newspapers. Read more books. I believed in myself and my story. I honored my gift; never took it for granted. I felt that what makes my heart soar, cry, and love a story would matter to one reader. I showed confidence on the days when I had very little. I learned from others. I strive to continue improving my writing each day. I work very hard. I play. I trust my gut. And so much more.

Most importantly? I kicked my inner critic/censor to the damn curb. But, that’s just me. That’s what worked for me.

I wish you the very best in whatever you choose to do. Oh, and today, I have health care for those who kindly asked. Thank you and happy writing to you!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who 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 and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book, A DECENT WOMAN: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

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PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM