Author Interview: Ivelisse Rodriguez

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

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

Welcome and congratulations, Ivelisse.

What is your book’s genre/category?

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

Please describe what the stories are about.

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

How did you come up with the title?

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

What inspired you to write this book?

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

What is your favorite part of writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

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

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

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

Website and social media links?

https://www.ivelisserodriguez.com/

Love War Stories Cover

Where can we find your book?

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

What’s next for you, Ivelisse?

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

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

About Eleanor Parker Sapia:

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

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

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Book Review: Citadel by Jack Remick

June 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Buy the book:
 

About Eleanor Parker Sapia:

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

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

 

 

Author Interview: Linda DeFruscio

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series. I love introducing readers to authors across genres, which makes Tuesday one of my favorite days of the week.

Today, I am pleased to welcome Linda DeFruscio, memoirist and author of the children’s book, Ginger and Moe and the Incredible Coincidence, which releases today, March 7, with Brown Publishers.

Linda DeFruscio is the founder and president of A & A Laser, Electrolysis & Skin Care Associates in Newtonville, MA. Her writing career began years ago, when she was invited to write a series of skincare articles for a national magazine. Linda’s fascinating memoir, Cornered: Dr. Richard J. Sharpe As I Knew Him, published in 2015 by Twilight Times Books, will be featured at a later time. So do check back with us.

linda-defruscio

Welcome, Linda. Tell us a little about Ginger and Moe.

 

Ginger and Moe is a true story, about two sibling cats that I adopted, only to find out later that I was allergic to cats. I was determined find them a new home with someone who, like me, would never want to see them separated. My commitment to these wonderful cats turned into a journey, for both them and me, that I could never have imagined. 

How did you come up with the title?

Ginger and Moe and the Incredible Coincidence was a title I came up right away, on the very day I began to write the story. Ginger and Moe were the real names of my cats, and the story is about the coincidence that resulted in them finally finding a home after being nomads for a while. “Coincidence” is a hard concept for children to understand. My hope is that my book will illuminate the concept in a straightforward manner. It made sense to include the word in the title so parents buying the book will know what to expect.

What inspired you to write Ginger and Moe?

Ginger and Moe was a story that lived for years in my heart. I didn’t need boxes of notes to be able to write it. All I needed was a little time to reflect on the ways in which those cats touched and changed my life.

linda-df-books

You are the narrator in your story. How easy was that for you?

Yes, I appear as the narrator in both Ginger and Moe and Cornered; in both cases I sacrificed anonymity in order to tell the truest story I could.

For Ginger and Moe and the Incredible Coincidence, this only required that I talk about my allergies.

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

Great thoughts sometimes find their way to me when I’m in an environment that is not conducive to writing them down. I have been known to scribble on Post-its, paper napkins, and even checkbook registers. I have also been known to run out of my office, ostensibly to use the ladies’ room but really to have a moment’s privacy to write down a thought before it slips away. The worst is when great thoughts come to me late at night. Since I have a day job, I need to get a good night’s sleep. But I know I will forget all about the great idea if I don’t get up and write it down right away. So I get up, which leads to challenges the next day.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I came to writing more or less by accident. Years ago a magazine publisher asked me if I would write some skincare articles for her. And, a doctor asked me to contribute an article to a publication called the Annals of Dermatology. I found, in both cases, that writing is an engaging process. If it requires research, so much the better. Now I’m working on my third book, and I’m collecting notes for a fourth book. I’m so glad I discovered writing. It has become my way of exploring the world.

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

No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth by Grace Anne Stevens may be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read about what it means to be a woman. The ironic thing here is that Grace started out as a man. Another title I loved was Joan Heartwell’s memoir Hamster Island, which is about growing up dirt poor with two disabled siblings. You can see I gravitate towards memoirs, mostly about people overcoming great emotional obstacles. I also read a lot of spiritual books.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Besides Grace Stevens and Joan Heartwell, and off the top of my head, I enjoy Jennifer Boylan, Keith Ablow, and Jeanette Walls.

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

Marissa Lynn is the magazine editor who, the first day we met in her office, asked me if I would like to try to write an article on skincare. I went home and poured everything I knew about skincare into a first draft. Then I took it in to show Marissa a few days later. She read it, and, to my horror, she ripped it up. She said, “I don’t want this!” I was stunned. I started to cry. “This isn’t how you write!” she continued. “This sounds like a text book. Tell me real stories about real people with real skin problems. Tell me what you know from experience, not what you studied in school.”

My inclination was to tell her nothing, other than that I wasn’t interested in working with her after all. But I took a minute to think it over and decided that would be a mistake. She was offering me an opportunity to reach many potential clients. She opened her drawer and took out a tape recorder. She said, “Take this and start talking. I’ll type it up later.” So I pulled myself together and told her a story about a man who had the beginnings of folliculitis barbae—a rare but serious bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin and subcutaneous tissues—and how we determined the cause of his infection and how we finally got rid of it. Marissa loved it. That was how it all began.

You experienced tough love from Marissa, which is often necessary to dig deep with a story. I’ve experienced similar tough love from editors, which I appreciated very much.

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

Because I have my own business and work long hours, I don’t have the option of writing whenever or wherever I want. I write notes, as I mentioned above, wherever I am, as I think of things. Most of them I never look at again. But sometimes I realize I have the makings for a manuscript.

Linda, can you share something personal that people may be surprised to know?

I am a yoga fanatic. I do yoga very early in the morning, as many mornings a week as possible. I am also a closet eater of candies and other sweets that I know are not good for me. My favorite indulgence is York Peppermint Patties. So, something healthy and something not, that’s one surprise about me—though there are others.

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

Yes! I learned so much about myself through the writing of both books. Loyalty is not something I ever gave much thought to before, but as it happens, it became a major theme in Cornered, and to a lesser degree, even in Ginger and Moe. I am a loyal person; I didn’t even know that before. And that’s just one example. Writing is a way of living; for all that it seems like such a passive activity, it results in lots of experiences and insights.

linda-df-books

What do you hope readers will gain from your books?

As far as Ginger and Moe, I think there is a lot to learn in that little book. There are lessons on caring and commitment that might be valuable for parents as well as for the children they read to. And of course the big thing is that children reading the book will learn about the concept of coincidence, maybe for the first time. I’m especially hoping that teachers will see the value of using the book in the classroom. You can stand up and tell a roomful of little kids that a coincidence is “a remarkable concurrence of events without apparent casual connection,” (as one dictionary has it), or you can read them Ginger and Moe and let them see that the “remarkable event” at work in the book has a name. Which one do you think will ultimately be more memorable?

Experiential learning usually works like a charm. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market these books?

I stuck with it. In these times it’s not enough to find a publisher and hope your book flies off the shelves. You’ve got to accept every interview invitation that comes along, every opportunity to talk about your work, and not just right after the launch date. You’ve got to keep at it. It’s been difficult for me, because I work so many hours. But I do as much as I can and I plan to continue to do so.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t give up. Go after your dream. Persevere. The rewards for me have been huge, even though Cornered is not a best seller and Ginger and Moe is barely out at this time. Not only did I accomplish what I set out to do, but in the process I discovered answers to questions that had plagued me for years.

linda-df-book

Website and social media links?

www.lindadefruscio.com

www.thecorneredbook.com

www.gingerandmoecatbook.com

Where can we find your books?

On Amazon and other online sites, on my website, and in libraries and stores.

What’s next for you?

I’m completing a wonderful book about individuals in the transgender community. Because I am an electrologist, and because I was introduced to people from the trans community early on, a great number of my clients are transgender. And because every transgender individual works with a variety of healthcare professionals, I know lots of people peripheral to the transition process. Over the last two years I worked with an assistant to interview several of my trans clients. Their stories are all different and all fascinating. Now I’m in the process of adding a preface and some back matter, and deciding on a title.

The book I’m just starting is about my sister, who suffers from MSA, or Multiple System Atrophy. As you might guess, this book will describe her personal journey, and mine as well, with the context of our relationship as sisters. Again, I have boxes of notes, some of which are my sister’s ideas and insights. I can’t wait to get started.

Both books sound wonderful and very close to your heart; not to mention timely. I wish you the best of luck with your books and your works in progress, Linda. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you.

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 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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

Author Interview: C. P. Lesley

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. We have a wonderful line up of talented authors into May 2017, so please check back in next week.

Today I’m very pleased to welcome C. P. Lesley, a historian who has published six novels. Her Legends of the Five Directions series, set in Russia during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible, so far includes The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, and The Swan Princess.

C. P. also hosts New Books in Historical Fiction, a channel in the New Books Network.  http://newbooksnetwork.com

Welcome to The Writing Life.

carolyn-pouncy

 

What is your book’s genre/category?

Historical fiction, with elements of romance and adventure.

Please describe for our readers what The Swan Princess is about.

The Swan Princess is no. 3 (North) in Legends of the Five Directions, a series set in the 1530s featuring a Tatar princess, Nasan, who marries a Russian nobleman. In this book Nasan, whose ambition in life is to imitate the warrior heroines of old, feels abandoned by her husband, who has gone off to war and never writes, as well as suffocated in the rigid household run by her mother-in-law, Natalya. When Natalya decides to undertake a long pilgrimage for her health, Nasan sees a path to regaining the life she loves, but she soon runs afoul of an old enemy determined to avenge what he perceives as unjust treatment from her and her husband. Fortunately for all concerned, she has more skills to draw on than the domestic knowledge her mother-in-law considers the only acceptable pursuit for women.

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I’m currently reading and very much enjoying The Swan Princess.  How did you come up with the title?

Well, as has happened throughout this series, the title came to me before I knew what the image meant for my story. I had to hunt down legends about swan maidens and swan wives before I could figure out what my subconscious was trying to tell me. I discovered that such legends are widespread throughout the world, including in the Tatar lands. One version, familiar in the West, appears in the ballet Swan Lake, but most often the story involves a young woman who has been captured and forced into domesticity until she can reclaim her wings, which her captor has hidden from her, and fly away. That urge for freedom drives Nasan’s character development here. But swans also symbolize marital fidelity, and the loss and recovery of her relationship with her husband are also an important theme in the novel.

What inspired you to write the Legends of the Five Directions series?

The series came about because I have spent four decades studying this fascinating place and time: Russia between the Mongol invasion (1237-40) and the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725). I wanted to share it with people in an accessible way, and fiction seemed like the ideal means to do that. In particular, I love to explore the many different ways that women adapt and grow in societies that restrict their choices and have low expectations of their abilities—historically, most societies. Every one of the women featured in this series, from Nasan, the descendant of Genghis Khan, to Grusha the slave girl, has to address and solve the question of where she fits in the larger world; each one responds in her own unique way.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I love every part of writing except the final proofreading. Because I tend to start with sketches and fill them in as I go, I’d say that my absolute favorite part is the second stage, when I can see the broad lines of the story but still have lots of room for creativity and invention. But I find even the revision and pruning stages satisfying in their own way. 

C. P., does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Well, psychologically, all my characters—even the antagonists—must represent some part of me, right? I just don’t always want to admit it! Nasan is braver than I am and does things I’d never think of, like impulsively going after men-at-arms with her sword. Her emotions lie on the surface, whereas mine tend, in good Scots style, to remain hidden. She is like me in terms of having a practical approach to life, and she loves to read, which I do, too. But I have worked to make her different from me, unlike some of my earlier heroines (Nina in The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel; Sasha in Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades). By the way, it’s easier, in my view, to write a character less like the author; it gives me some much-needed distance to appreciate both her virtues and her flaws.

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

Character development always gives me fits. My brain goes to plot first, and so left to my own devices I would shove my poor characters into situations without considering how they feel or even why they would act that way. Fortunately, my critique group (Ariadne Apostolou and Courtney J. Hall) exerts steady pressure until I stop contorting the characters and focus on who they are and what they need to learn.

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

Martha Conway’s Sugarland, a mystery set in semi-segregated Jazz Age Chicago. I read it for New Books in Historical Fiction, http://newbooksnetwork.com/category/historical-fiction/ a podcast channel that I host for the New Books Network, and I really enjoyed it. It has a nice twisty plot and believable, not always admirable characters, as well as a fast pace, good writing, and great historical detail.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

That would be a long list, but the ones I always come back to include Agatha Christie, Laurie R. King, Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy L. Sayers, and for real literary comfort food, Georgette Heyer. No one since Jane Austen has managed to nail a character in a line and a half the way Heyer could.

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

I enjoy reading books on the craft of writing. Particular favorites include John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene. So those authors have all influenced me. But my critique group, which has now expanded to include the writers of Five Directions Press, http://www.fivedirectionspress.com are the ones who help me figure out how to apply the advice to my own work.

That’s a great list, thanks. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I write at my computer, which is in my office. Reading, though, is an activity for the couch and evenings, unless it’s research—then that, too, takes place in my office and during the day.

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

I took twenty-five years of classical ballet class—with teenagers, no less—starting at thirty-six, when most ballet dancers start thinking about retirement. That’s where my two nonhistorical novels, Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades, come from. They star a ballerina and were great fun to write.

Good for you for following your passion! Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

My characters surprise me constantly. No matter how much plotting and outlining I do, they get on the page and act like they have minds of their own. I’d heard other people say that, but experiencing it amazes me, even now. And the research, which I love, produces wonderful story twists and possibilities that I might never have considered on my own. As for publishing, the climate has changed so fast in so short a time, I don’t think I—or anyone—could have predicted what it would like today or will look like five years from now. 

True words about characters and the publishing business. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

To appreciate the resilience of the human spirit. It’s easy to think of women, especially, in the past as being downtrodden victims or ignorant housewives, but that ignores the influence of social standing and wealth as well as individual creativity. Some of my characters—Natalya, Nasan’s mother, Nasan’s sister-in-law Firuza—thrive in their traditional world. Others—like Nasan and, in a different way, Grusha—fight to align society’s expectations with their need to stay true to themselves. Maria, my current heroine, conforms outwardly but suffers inside and takes out her unhappiness on those around her. She would excel in the modern world but needs a huge push to get herself moving where she is. This complexity seems more real to me than sticking everyone into a single box.

I’d also love to push people’s understanding and knowledge about Russia beyond Vladimir Putin’s latest stunt or even the Cold War. It’s a thousand-year-old country with a rich and varied history that is tailormade for fiction and film; it deserves to be seen as more than an enemy state or a foe of democracy and capitalism.

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Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market The Swan Princess?

I wrote what I love, without worrying about whether it would sell, and took good advice everywhere I could find it. I agreed with my writers’ group to set up our own publishing cooperative. That was an even bigger learning experience than the writing, and we’re only now starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but it’s been an amazing journey over the last four years. I started a blog, which I update every Friday, and dipped my toe into social media. And I accepted the position as host of New Books in Historical Fiction, which has given me a platform, as well as introducing me to writers both famous and not so famous.

What didn’t work?

I don’t think anything has really failed, but marketing is still a work in progress for both me and the coop. I probably need to do a lot more with social media than I do, for example, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Revise, revise, revise. Find people you can trust, whose writing you respect, and work with them. Don’t assume that your first draft will be your last, because first drafts are hardly ever publishable, even when experienced writers produce them (experienced writers know this, unlike beginners). And if you decide to self-publish, which is very easy nowadays, do yourself a favor and hire a copy editor who understands the requirements of fiction, a typesetter who knows what goes into producing a physical book, and a professional cover designer. Nothing will sink your book faster than an amateurish cover and a book riddled with typographical and grammatical errors. The only exception to that last is where a character uses nonstandard speech as evidence of his or her background and educational level, and even then, you need to be careful not to slip into dialect. 

Great advice. Website and social media links?

http://www.cplesley.com

http://blog.cplesley.com

https://www.facebook.com/cplesley.authorpage

https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/103313436359988009047/+CPLesleyAuthor/posts

https://www.twitter.com/cplesley

https://www.pinterest.com/cplesley/  (where I have boards for each of my books)

Where can we find your books?

All my books are on Amazon.com. The Golden Lynx and The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel are also available as e-books at Barnes and Noble and to libraries via Biblioboard http://self-e.libraryjournal.com. The best way to find any of my books is to go to http://www.fivedirectionspress.com/books and click on a cover picture. A page will open with purchase links, a description, endorsements, and excerpts for that book. The page for The Swan Princess is http://www.fivedirectionspress.com/the-swan-princess

What’s next for you?

The Vermilion Bird (Legends 4: South). I have four chapters and a prologue in reasonable shape, plus goal/motivation/conflict charts and a vaguely defined plot. Now I need to figure out how to put the two halves—plot and character—together into a functioning story.

Thanks very much for your visit, C. P.  It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I wish you the best with the publishing coop, the podcast, and on your writing journey.

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 in Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport, and a camera. 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: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

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

 

 

Rejection and Bad Reviews: What’s to Be Done?

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“What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work.” – C. S. Lewis

Negative book reviews certainly aren’t a walk in the park for an author. Yes, the book that took you years to research and write; the one that was finally, finally published was rejected and trashed by a reader, and they couldn’t leave it well alone. They wrote, in excruciating detail, mind you, how much they hated your book, and how no one should read it for many reasons that you find awfully unfair.

Okay, breathe. First of all, the reader isn’t rejecting you personally, unless perhaps the review was written by your disgruntled neighbor with the precariously leaning tree that you’ve complained about to everyone and anyone who will listen. Or maybe the negative review was written by your ex under another name. Well, that’s another story.

Let’s take a look at negative reviews. In truth, most authors will receive one or more negative reviews for each of their books. Rejection and negative reviews can sting and feel unfair, and sometimes what the reader says in their review might really tick you off. I’ve read some pretty mean-spirited book reviews about other books that raised my eyebrows, elicited a quiet “damn”, and reminded me of Thumper’s father’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” If you dislike a book that much, stop reading, put the book down, and say nothing. That’s what I do. Wouldn’t that be kinder to the author? Of what possible value is a negative review?

There is value in every book review. No, I haven’t lost my marbles. I know experiencing rejection through a negative review can hurt and sting, but at the same time, the experience can be helpful to a writer–if the writer chooses to view and understand it from another angle.

My debut novel garnered a few negative reviews; they’re part of the writing life. We writers put ourselves out there with every book, so buck up; it’s going to happen. Did I like reading those less-than-glowing reviews of my book? No, I didn’t; I’m human, but deep down I knew I could learn something from them. And besides, my sage writing mentor told me to in so many words to quit whining, ignore all reviews, and keep writing because I am a good writer. He was right. I never whined again.

What did I learn and remember as an exhibiting artist of nearly 30 years, before I discovered my passion for writing books?

Art is subjective. The same is true with books. In a group of 10 book club members, five readers might come away with a similar reaction to a book, but be sure that each reader will filter your story through their life lens, their life experiences. The story will mean different things to different readers. Keep writing.

Accept that not everyone will love your book. You won’t appeal to the masses and that’s okay–that’s not your job. Your job is to write the best book you can possibly write, and to write an even better book next time with what you’ve learned. Keep writing.

For goodness sake, don’t write what you believe will sell! Write the story that’s in your heart. Keep writing.

If two or more reviewers touch on the same or similar issues with your story, take a serious look at what they are saying. I don’t care how many editors or advanced readers have read at your book–the reader(s) may be right. Or not. Be open to explore the possibility, and consider the reader may have a point. Keep writing.

Use all feedback to improve your writing. Be grateful to readers who’ve bought your book, read it, and took the time to write an honest review. Reviews are gold. Keep writing.

Whether your book is your debut or seventh novel,  learn from your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up, especially if it’s your first book. Major kudos to you for doing what most people will never do–you wrote and published a book. Keep writing and learning.

Don’t obsess over reviews–good or bad. That’s easier said than done; I know. My writing mentor encouraged me early on to not read my reviews…I still find that difficult. I checked my Amazon reviews this morning. I am #stillwriting.

Lastly, I humbly offer this one bit of writerly advice:

Never. Never ever, challenge, argue, or discuss a negative review with the reviewer. Don’t blog about it or out the reviewer on social media. Save yourself the grief, negative publicity, and possible public embarrassment and social media backlash (hey, it happens). Remain mute when it comes to receiving negative reviews or negative comments. Grit your teeth, cry for a couple hours max, and then focus all your attention on your work in progress, improving your writing skills, and growing your readership. Develop thicker skin and accept the negative reviews as constructive criticism. Learn from them. Keep writing.

Always remember to thank and interract with your wonderful readers on social media.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear readers, for buying and for sharing your honest reviews of my book.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for dealing with a negative review? If so, please share.

ABOUT ELEANOR:

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 Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport, and a camera. 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: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

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