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

 

 

Sacred Writing Spaces

I know many writers who are quite content to write in coffee shops and diners, and between their kids’ dental appointments and soccer games. I know a few who can write on the bus, subway, or in between meetings. I am in awe of them. I’ve tried writing outside the home and it doesn’t work for me. The inevitability of major distraction is a fact: I need a sacred writing space.

I recently read two blog posts written by male writers, who said that the idea of a sacred writing space is pure hogwash, ridiciculous. I disagree, and I’m not a diva, thank you very much. The only sounds and images I want to hear and see whilst writing must come from my imagination; directly from my story and characters. How can I hear what my heroine is saying amidst singing baristas, crying babies, and people who can’t seem to speak in low tones in small spaces? And that’s just inside. Add to that, sirens or disgruntled drivers honking car horns. I can’t, but I’ve sure tried because sometimes I need human interaction as much as the next writer.

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Here’s what happened the last time I tried to write at one of my favorite coffee shops on a cool summer morning. I sat at my favorite table, plugged in my laptop and began to work on a chapter of my WIP. I was the only customer for an hour until a man entered the coffee shop wearing a trench coat on a summer day. Yeah, a trenchcoat. Like in the movies. He mumbled something to the owner and I began to panic, looking for the nearest exit, which was behind me. As far as I saw, he didn’t buy a thing, and when he left, I asked the owner what he’d wanted. The man was looking for work, she said. I breathed a sigh of relief, and sat back down, irritated at myself for being afraid. Then, I remembered all the shootings and bombings around the world and gave myself a break. I tried to figure out how I could add the man to a short story I’m working on, and then remembered I was there to work on an important chapter in my work in progress, a novel.

Fifteen minutes later, I became irritated by a young woman who yanked a crying toddler off the floor by his arm. Memories flooded in to when as a young mother I’d dislocating my young daughter’s elbow by pulling her up by the arm as she stepped off the curb, deadset in crossing the street alone. God, I’m so glad my kids are grown! That incident was followed by watching a woman sitting outside feeding her tiny puppy bits of an Everything bagel, and wondering why she’d do that. None of my business, I know, but I am a people watcher. I watch!

When I’m writing, I must live as a cloistered nun, sequestered from the world in a convent atop a Himalayan mountain.

I need the solitude, tranquility offered by nature while still feeling part of the world, without the crowds. It’s fortunate I live alone, so no one is bothered by my late night/early morning writing binges, which is the best time to write as far as I’m concerned. There are few cars on the road, and the only sounds I hear are the click clack of the keyboard, early morning birdsong, and the distant sound of freight trains whizzing past. Heaven.

Alone with stacks of books, notebooks, myriad stray pieces of paper with scribbled notes and quotes, a dictionary, and a thesauraus that litter my oak dining room table turned writing desk, I’m in nirvana. At this moment, there are two empty coffee cups (one from yesterday), one water glass, hand lotion, a small lamp, Chapstick, an ashtray, photos of my kids, assorted pens, pencils, and highlighters, and my cell phone, which is on mute. That’s how I like it. Oh, and a chopstick to put up my hair.

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Last holiday season when gifts, Christmas cards, and rolls of wrapping paper took over the dining room table, I was forced to write upstairs in my bedroom–the coldest room in the house. Most days, I wrote in bed with a cold nose and a toasty body under two down comforters. The following Spring, I moved back to the dining room with a view of the garden, and by summer’s end, I’d finished the draft manuscript of my first book at my river lot on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River. With no Internet, TV, and only one radio station out there, it was perfect tranquility and silence during the week with a river view I adored. Weekends brought the ‘crazies’, the loud party people, who I tried to avoid unless family or friends were visiting. Then, of course, we joined in the merrymaking. By the following autumn, I was writing at the dining room table again.

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I’ve since sold the river property, and my dining table has become my #1 sacred writing spot. Christmas 2017 will find me wrapping presents on the living room floor–I’m not moving all that stuff again. I happily write at the cluttered dining room table/writing desk, situated right smack in the middle of my house where I can easily get to the front door to receive packages from Amazon (books, of course). I have a beautiful view of my garden from two windows, and in ten steps, I’m at the kitchen. When I hit the lottery, I’m having a bathroom installed downstairs because as it it now, the only bathroom is upstairs and that’s a major pain. But…as it turns out, besides gardening, climbing the steep staircase of my old house is a good workout since I write for many, many hours on end.

So, if you come for dinner, my writing gear will be safely tucked into two French wicker market baskets, which I’ll hide in the armoire. You’ll never see my clutter as we wine and dine, and I’m a good cook. But I can’t promise I won’t bore you to tears talking about writing, or the book I just finished, or about my new story, book #2, and my awesome new characters.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

Award winning novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani.

When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is at work on her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and thinking about the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ titled, ‘Mistress of Coffee’.

http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

 

 

 

 

 

Prolong the Creative Journey; Don’t Give Up

“Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way. – E. L. Doctorow

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When I think of writing and painting, I am reminded of the above quote. The same feelings are evoked by facing the blank screen at the laptop or staring at an untouched canvas or pristine sheet of art paper. I tell myself it’s okay not to know everything. I must trust the process and jump in. I have nothing to lose.

Whether I have a theme, an idea, a detailed outline, or an available model for painting, the creative process produces the same fascination, exhilaration, and anxiety-producing emotions. I know my days will be filled with ups and downs, questions and discoveries, and twists and turns. I’ll experience plenty of aha moments, self-doubt, debilitating fear, and I will hang on with hope that even if I don’t know exactly where I’m headed, or if I get lost along the path, I’m embraced by the gods of creativity. I’m cheered on by anyone who has had the nerve and courage to pursue a creative project and life, even if only once.

In my opinion, getting lost is the most interesting, fun part of the creative process, which allows for discovery, if I let go of the end result and if I trust the journey.

Here are some questions I ask of myself while writing and painting:

  • Is this a place where I should exercise control or release control?
  • Should I slow down, stop, or rush through here?
  • Is it best to skim the surface or go deep at this time?
  • Can I sit with this mystery or question? How long?
  • Am I heading toward caving in prematurely because it’s easier?
  • Is it wise to prolong this journey, or is it best to end where I’m at?
  • Will this decision or direction hinder or help the story or painting?
  • How do I feel right about now? Do I need a break?
  • Am I open and paying attention?

I encourage you to embrace the entire creative process, the good with the bad, the roadblocks and detours, whether you’re writing or painting. Not embracing the process might end up with producing a shallow, trite, staged, and not fully believable story or painting. The fact that you rushed through will show.

Do we really want a neat, tidy experience for our readers and viewers? Is the quick, easy route from A to Z the best course of action?

A viewing experience that allows for thought and discussion, discourse and personal growth is what I’m after; for myself and my audience. I lean toward the untidy, raw, transformative experience every time in story telling because that’s more like real life. Of course, I’ve always done things the hard way, but life is more exciting and rewarding when we trust that we’re headed is for our highest good. We should want that for our characters, as well.

Trusting ourselves and the process have the potential of positively affecting our creative lives and to me, that is a win-win situation.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA

ellie

Award winning novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani.

When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is at work on her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and thinking about the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ titled, ‘Mistress of Coffee’.

http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Book News!

I have great book news to share with you!

After a difficult, scary, and confusing month of worrying myself into a near panic over my first publisher, Booktrope Editions, closing the doors on May 31, 2016, I am thrilled to announce that my historical novel, ‘A Decent Woman’ found a new home with Sixth Street River Press, LLC.The book will be republished under the imprint, Scarlet River Press, headed by Ally Bishop, editor of ‘A Decent Woman’ and the fabulous host at ‘Upgrade Your Story’ podcast. I am grateful to Ally and her fabulous publishing team, and relieved beyond belief.

‘A Decent Woman’ is now AVAILABLE in ebook format on Amazon, republished by Sixth Street River Press, with the paperback version soon to follow! And we might have a new book cover design, still featuring the Our Lady of Montserrat. Lots to look forward to!

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A special thank you to my loving kids, family, friends, FB and Instagram friends, and blogger friends, who offered great information, love, and support, while pushing and encouraging me to keep writing despite an uncertain publishing future.

Now I can finish my second book, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’, knowing my first ‘child’ has an awesome, new home and a brighter future. Lots of lessons learned this month…

and Mercury is out of retrograde! Hallelujah. Be well and happy writing to you!

More to come…

ABOUT ELEANOR

ellie

Award winning, Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ called ‘Mistress of Coffee’.

http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

ellie

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Over the weekend, you watched the umpteenth YouTube video under the guise of researching for your work in progress. Congratulations, you now know more than anyone about the history of toilets, the sketchy death of Marilyn Monroe, and about the bedroom activities of the British monarchs.

In a 36-hour period, you managed to walk by your writing desk and not actually look at it, or the contents on top, namely your laptop, the lamp, assorted pencils and pens, notebooks full of research material and important research links. Twice you’ve straightened the stack of books at the left-hand corner of your writing desk, which includes how-to writing books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Hell, you even bought ‘The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression’, and made a special trip to the dollar store for new highlighters and more notebooks in snazzy colors and designs. You can never have enough highlighters and notebooks. I know this. Everything is perfect and lined up, yet you aren’t writing.

Your calendar is clear, the house is cleaner than its’ been in months, and the laundry is caught up. You’ve said ‘no’ to invitations for lunch, drinks, and catching up with friends over the weekend, and you alerted family and neighbors that you’re writing. The ‘Please do not disturb’ sign is taped to your front door. The conditions for writing couldn’t be more ideal, there’s no time like the present and all that jazz, yet it is now late Sunday evening and you haven’t written a word all weekend. Why?

This type of dry spell is especially troublesome when our homes and relationships are in turmoil, when bills and taxes are due, or when we can’t see a way forward. It doesn’t matter what’s happening: we can’t write, but we wish like hell we could to alleviate the guilt.

Yes, this has happened to me, more than once, and to most writers I know; it happens to the best of writers. But what’s going on? Is it a case of writer’s block? Does writer’s block really exist?

I personally believe writer’s block is a real thing, but I call it my ‘dry spell’, as the word ‘block’ denotes a complete and utter blockage that I might need several sticks of dynamite to get through. I can get through a dry spell.

When a dry spell manifests in my writing life, it often comes at the heel of one thing: FEAR. Most writers have experienced the paralyzing fear of failure, fear of rejection and ridicule, and the fear of the unknown, which can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem and confidence at the time of the dry spell—a real vicious cycle.

Here are few ways to combat the writing dry spell, while keeping your story at the back of your mind:

  • Do something else for twenty minutes.
  • Take a walk or short drive.
  • Thumb through a magazine, searching for the perfect book cover idea, story idea, or new character.
  • Write a blog post or article on a completely different topic.
  • Go to a coffee shop or diner to journal about what the heck is going in your life and interior life.
  • Call a trusted fellow writer or good friend that you can commiserate with on the dreaded dry spell.
  • Read a good book by one of your writing heroes and heroines.
  • Read a bad book and write down ways you’d improve that book.

Don’t give in to the dry spell for too long. Take a break if you need it, but come back to it. Slow and steady will win that race. Try one these suggestions:

  • Consider that you might need an outline rather than writing by the seat of your pants;
  • Rewrite your outline; flesh it out;
  • Write a short biography of each character in order to get to know them better;
  • Write three synopses: the elevator ‘one liner’, the short synopsis, and the 4-5 synopsis (this worked for me not too long ago);
  • Avoid negative people (always!) until you feel stronger;
  • Keep writing.

Good luck!

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s bestselling historical novel, is described as “…a true work of historical depth and artistry.” Eleanor has two adventurous, grown children and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.

http://www.amazon.com/Decent-Woman-Eleanor-Parker-Sapia-ebook/dp/B00TUP47WI/

 

On Characters: I Resemble That Remark

How much do characters in novels resemble the writer and the writer’s journey?

Before and after the publication of my novel, ‘A Decent Woman’, I accepted many kind invitations for written interviews to introduce and market the book. One interview question provoked much personal introspection about my character Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, who lives and works as a midwife at the turn of the nineteenth century in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico.

The interviewer, a fellow author, and good friend, emailed the questions and added a smiley face after this question, “How much do you resemble the character, Ana Belén?” My long-time friend knows me well, so the jig was up. A few weeks later, I sent her my responses, and wrote this next to the smiley face, “I resemble that remark in more ways than I feel comfortable owning up to at this time!”

Of course, the character of Ana is like me, in many ways. How could she not be? I created her and the world she inhabits from my imagination and a few family stories. But. I’m not a statuesque, Afro-Cuban midwife born a slave, living in Puerto Rico at the turn of the nineteenth century. I’m a five-foot-tall, green-eyed, Puerto Rican-born writer, currently living in West Virginia. How much could I possibly have in common with Ana?

As it turns out, we share many common traits: feistiness, courage, bluntness, loyalty, a fierce love of family with a strong commitment to protecting the rights of women and children. Was it in my genetic makeup or life experience (when I was writing the book) to respond and behave in similar ways to threats, happy circumstances, and impossible challenges the way Ana did? No, not in every circumstance. Tough as nails and compassionate Ana is my heroine, but we are all survivors of something. I had a few life experiences to draw upon during the writing.

Along with a few positive traits, I share a couple negative traits with Ana, such as stubbornness, sensitivity to unfair criticism, impulsiveness, and at times, short-sightedness, especially when I think I’m right. In my story, Ana is forging a path in a difficult, new world; a world I was discovering and exploring through writing, research, and my imagination. A bit or a lot of ourselves is bound to emerge in our characters, but it was only after the book was published that I realized how closely related our journeys were and where they overlapped.

For the rest of 2015, I journaled about that question, and like the author of ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron says, after the midway point of journaling three pages in longhand, the truth came out: I’d been working through stuff while writing Ana and Serafina’s stories, even the men’s stories, and I hadn’t realized it. Here’s what I discovered.

In 2010, I pulled out the draft manuscript I’d begun in 2005. After two years of a difficult separation and divorce, a few more years of working in an entirely new field, having my heart broken and finally, moving to a new state, I was ready to write again. My world had been continually rocked with so many unknowns that it made my head spin during that time and even now as I think back to what we went through as a family. Between 2006 and 2010, questions plagued me at every turn: What will turning 50 look and feel like? Will we be safe and will I find work? Where will I live? Can I support myself while writing full time, and if not, what the hell will I do to make that happen? Will anyone hire a fifty-year-old woman with an old resume? Should I go back to school and find a new career? Are my kids okay? Will I find love after divorce? Will this book ever be published?

I survived and so did my kids. We’ve grown and flourished where we were planted, but it was a tough road. My kids graduated from college, found good jobs, and in 2011, I bought an old house in West Virginia. At the next fork in the road, I gave up sending out resumes that I knew would never be answered—I would write full time, which was a huge gamble and risk for someone living on a small budget. The decision was made. I sat down to write and soon discovered Ana’s story had to change. I had learned many valuable lessons and developed new skill sets, more than I’d ever dreamed possible, that had enriched my life as a woman and mother. The original Ana was merely a skeleton of the woman she was meant to be; it was time to put meat on those bones. I rewrote the story, worked with two editors and sent out the manuscript. The book was finally published by Booktrope Editions in February 2015.

Ana’s journey of learning to read and write, and moving from La Playa to Ponce when male doctors entered the birthing room for the first time, threatening her livelihood, were born only after I was reborn. It makes perfect sense–I had gone back to school and moved from Virginia to West Virginia. What I did not realize until after the book was published was that Ana embodied everything I’d needed during the difficult years after marital separation and divorce: a protector, a loyal friend, an advocate, a mom. Serafina, the young, motherless widow in the story was me, a motherless child, as my beautiful mother had passed away in 1992, and I missed her terribly. The characters I created, my heroines, mimic and embody the internal and external life struggles I experienced and helped me through a difficult time. All my characters gave me the courage, guts, and tenacity I needed during the writing and publishing journeys, and later with marketing the book, which continues today. I might not have all the answers, but I am leaps and bounds ahead in my journey.

Writing ‘A Decent Woman’ was a journey and as it turns out, a quest toward wholeness. I believe in starting your journey, whatever it might be, from where you are standing, and I believe in paying attention along the way.

Fast forward. I am currently writing a second novel called ‘The Lament of Sister María Inmaculada’, featuring a young Puerto Rican nun, an old Franciscan friar from Spain, and a young Protestant minister sent to Puerto Rico from the United States in 1920. The characters, most definitely from different worlds, find themselves living and trying to work together on a barren islet of La Isla de Cabras, The Island of Goats. It is a challenging, joyful, gut-wrenching, and empowering story to write, set in a new, unknown world to me, and I am loving the process. And I am including male point of view in a story for the first time.

A new, unknown world…is it really?

We shall see. I am excited of what I’ll learn and discover through these new characters, and already, I have discovered something amazing: I didn’t think it was possible to love a new character as much as I love Ana Belén, but I do. Her name is Sister María Inmaculada.

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

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

 

 

 

Rays of Hope and Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

la jungla beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.academia.edu

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and a refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Inmaculada’.

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