Photographs from Women’s Marches in the US and Around the World

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Author Interview: SJ Brown

Welcome to The Writing Life blog and to the Tuesday Author Interview series. I will be showcasing authors well into May 2017, so please check back in.

This week, I’m very pleased to chat with wildlife photographer, memoirist, and author, S. J. Brown.

Prior to pursuing wildlife photography, S. J. Brown describes living an average life in New Jersey. She discovered her love of writing in high school, and her love of photography began on a whim with an inexpensive 35mm camera, a few rolls of film, and an appreciation for the natural world. For over 15 years, she has traveled extensively throughout the eastern United States in pursuit of wildlife encounters. Much to the dismay of her spotter, this often involves trekking through thick brush, muddy trails, and secluded locations, and on rocky seas. S. J. says the interaction with wildlife makes it all worth the effort.

S. J. Brown’s books include, Close ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens and Adults Gone Wild Coloring Book, and for little ones, All The Birds I See, Clancy’s Catnap, and Wild Animals Coloring Book. I am a fan of this creative lady’s beautiful, sensitive photographs.

Welcome, S. J. Brown.

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What is your book’s genre(s)?

Close Ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens is a mix of nonfiction, memoir, and photography.

Please describe what Close Ups & Close Encounters is about.

The reader goes into the field with me to see what photographing wildlife is really like.  There is more to photography than just clicking the shutter button.

That’s a unique approach and very true about photography. How did you come up with the title?

I played with several titles, which I sent to friends and family for their opinion.  Most of them loved Close Ups & Close Encounters. They felt it accurately captured the feel of the book.

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What inspired you to write this book?

A fellow author overheard my conversation about one of my photographs. He later said, “Girl, you have to write this shit down.” I went home that evening, put aside the project I was working on, and began Close Ups.  Everyone has heard the saying every picture tells a story.  Well, there is a story behind getting every wildlife image.

Within the pages of my book, I share the learning experiences in the field, my close calls, and my failures and successes.

I love that your book combines photography with memoir, which helps the reader to learn about and connect with you, the person behind the camera.

I’m still smiling about your friend’s comment. So true about the importance of getting it all down. What are your favorite parts of writing and photography?

I love sharing my love of wildlife and ultimately, sharing my images and experiences with readers. The time I spend with students and adults presenting and discussing my photographs hopefully inspires others to explore their creative side. Whether it is through photography, painting, sculpting, or sketching, I believe there is a little bit of artist in everyone that often just needs to be nurtured a bit to bring it to the surface.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Punctuation, I really suck at punctuation. As the book evolved, many pages were put aside, which at first was hard. However, the book slowly took on another feel and showed things from a different perspective, which I liked better.

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

I Have MS. What’s Your Superpower. It is a very informative book for people with MS and for their loved ones. I am fortunate to not have MS, and now I have a better understanding of how the disease affects people.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Most of my favorite authors are people most people may not have heard of. They are authors I have met, hung out with, and consider friends. Sally Brinkman, Victor Banis, Kirk Judd, Lisa Combs, R. G. Redding, Tracy Ball, Eleanor Parker Sapia, Cheryl Grogg, Diana Pishner Walker, and M. Lynn Squires.  Of course, there are many more, these are just the top 10 that came to mind. They are not only good authors; they are good people, as well.

Thank you kindly, SJ, for including me in your list. What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and as a photographer?

That list is long. Every time I read a book that captivates me, I want to write better to capture my audience.

My family has played a big part in encouraging  me to continue both my writing and photography careers.

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

I write at my desk in my newly-completed office. I write mostly at night when the house is quiet and there are no distractions; however, I tend to get lots of ideas and will take notes almost anywhere.

As for where I read, that varies; it might be in my car, in an office, on the couch, just about anywhere I can find a few minutes of quiet.

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

A couple of things: I don’t like water, but I will get into a canoe or a boat if it means there is a chance to get a few critter photos. I’ve owned a small business and have explored sketching and working with stained glass and ceramics. And lastly, when I first began submitting my photography to publishers, most of the submissions were returned unopened. I knew I was choosing publishers that would be interested in my work, but they weren’t looking at the images. Once I began using my initials, publishers began opening the submissions. No, they didn’t all buy my work, but they were  looking and some were buying. It turns out that most publishers I approached assumed a woman couldn’t get the kind of wildlife images they were looking for, so they just returned them unopened.

To this day most publishers assume S. J. Brown is a man and often write the check to Mr. S. J. Brown.  Yes, I enjoy enlightening them.

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I can imagine you do enjoy enlightening them after you receive your check! Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

The final version of Close Ups & Close Encounters is nothing like the original draft. Along the way and as the book evolved, I  spent a lot of time with fellow authors. The evolution included adding entire chapters, while deleting others.  Writing a book is a process and the end result can be surprising.

As for the publishing process, I still have a lot to learn. However, I now know that I need to consider each submission carefully, and if I  have doubts, that might not be the right place for my work. 

I absolutely agree with trusting our gut. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

A love and appreciation for nature along with a better understanding of just what it takes to get that perfect shot. I also hope this book encourages people to follow their passion wherever it leads them.

That’s awesome. I’m also a big fan of encouraging others and following our passions in life. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

Getting input from fellow authors is invaluable. I was fortunate to have a varied mix of authors weigh in on my work. A lawyer is going to offer a different perspective than a children’s book author or someone who writes sci-fi.

As for marketing, I am still learning and I have a lot more to learn. 

What didn’t work?

Marketing. Publishing with a small publisher was a mistake for me. A larger publisher could have guided me through the marketing process and helped me to find the right market for Close Ups & Close Encounters.

I always say I write full-time along with a part-time job in marketing. Marketing isn’t easy. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t rush things. It is better to publish one good book than to publish several so-so books. Take your time. A book is your baby, nurture it. When you are ready to let it go, make sure you find the right home for your book.

Website and social media links?

Website www.sjbrown.50megs.com

FaceBook  https://www.facebook.com/sj.brown.3367

Google+ https://plus.google.com/107089848958196015385

Linkedin  https://www.linkedin.com/in/s-j-brown-40667b47?trk=hp-identity-name

Where can we find your book?

Amazon   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Close-Ups-Encounters-View-Behind/dp/0985726784

Create Space  https://www.createspace.com/4228022

Autographed Copies available at www.sjbrown.50megs.com

Barnesandnoble   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/close-ups-and-close-encounters-s-j-brown/1115678349?ean=9780985726782

What’s next for you, SJ?

I just completed a memoir that I co-authored with my sister.  Now it is time to find a publisher for it.

While that hunt proceeds, I am working on a project I have wanted to do for a while. Time after time, readers have commented on the images in Close Ups & Close Encounters. Many admitted they never actually read the book, only looked at the photographs, so I am ready to tackle a coffee table book of just images. The real challenge with this project will be finding a publisher that is willing to handle a project with so many images.

Thanks for a fun interview, SJ. Best of luck with Close Ups, your new memoir, and the coffee table book. I look forward to catching up with you soon.

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

 

Three of My Favorite Holiday Reads and A Fireplace

Three of My Favorite Holiday Reads and A Fireplace

By Eleanor Parker Sapia

My quirky, old house in West Virginia is the perfect house for me with one glaring exception: it doesn’t have a fireplace. When I first walked through this 1907 Federal-style house, it had everything on my house hunting check list and the remnants of where a fireplace had once stood. Even without a fireplace, the house had enough charm for me, so I quickly bought it.

Although I prefer a wood burning fireplace, I would be more than content with a gas one, but as a full time writer, that’s probably not happening any time soon. If I had the money, there would be wood burning fireplaces in every room, especially in the living room and in my bed room. Luxurious, cozy, sensual, and glorious! My house would then be the perfect house for me. I’d never leave my home, which as it happens, I don’t leave much now; that’s how much I love my cozy home. The period features throughout the house more than make up for only having three miniscule closets, one bathroom with a claw foot tub that drains when it feels like it, and no dishwasher…except for me, of course.

011why is a fireplace so important to my winter happiness?

I’ve thought about my obsession with fireplaces, and this is what I came up with. Imagine you’re 100% ready for the holidays and the family is out buying last minute Christmas gifts. You are sunk into the world’s most comfortable, cushy, reading chair with good lighting and you’re covered by an incredibly soft, warm blanket. A sleepy cat warms your lap and your dog lies on the ottoman at your toasty feet. On the table next to you sits a pot of steaming tea, a frothy cappuccino, or a glass of your favorite wine or sherry. As the roaring fire warms your cheeks, you tuck your feet under the blanket and begin reading from your favorite book. The view outside your window is all about glistening, crystalline, snow-covered trees and mountains against a wintery sunset, and somewhere in the distance you hear the faint sound of church bells. The smells around you fill your nose: orange, cranberry, a light whiff of frankincense, and the incredible smell of a freshly-cut Christmas tree–it just doesn’t get any better than that. A heavenly scene in my book, and speaking of books, I’d like to share three of my favorite holiday books to gift and read during the Holiday season, especially on Christmas Eve.

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  1. A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS, more commonly known as THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, by Clement Clark Moore

When my children were young, I read this holiday classic to them every Christmas Eve and they read the book aloud on Christmas Eve when they were older with just as much anticipation and joy as when they were little ones. My adult children now have their own homes and I live alone, but I still place this beloved book on the coffee table and read it on Christmas Eve. And every year, I wish for a fireplace!

I hope to share this time-honored classic with my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There is still something comforting about the illustrations and descriptions of cozy home life when the world was simpler. Yes, I get nostalgic! My Christmas memories take me back, way back to when I used to kiss my sleeping children’s warm cheeks with red lipstick (a kiss from Santa), and sprinkle powdered sugar inside the fireplace and then step in the sugar with my husband’s heavy boots, recreating Santa’s steps to the Christmas tree with his sack full of gifts, much to my young children’s delight in the morning. Beautiful and peaceful days of Christmas past.

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  1. THE HAUNTED TEA-COSY: A DISPIRITED AND DISTASTEFUL DIVERSION FOR CHRISTMAS by Edward Gorey.

“In the preface to ‘A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens wrote that he tried “to raise the Ghost of an Idea” with readers and trusted that it would “haunt their houses pleasantly.” In December 1997, 154 Christmases later, the New York Times Magazine asked our Edward Gorey, ‘the iconoclastic artist and author’, to refurbish this enduring morality tale. What is Gorey’s moral? Don’t eat fruitcake? Don’t look for morals? Don’t mess with the classics? Whatever. You decide. But don’t think too hard, and have a Merry Christmas.”

I added this gem of a book to my Christmas Eve reads a few years back while searching the Internet for obscure, weird, or little known books written about the holidays. I don’t remember which website I gleaned it from, but the blogger described the book perfectly. If you’re like me and you love Christmas, and weird and interesting reads, this is the book for you. I love it. Let me know what you think after you read it!

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  1. Noche Buena: Hispanic American Christmas Stories, Oxford University Press.

“A family seated round the fireplace singing and making merry; a sprightly waltz played with grace, Noche Buena brings us all the magic of the Christmas season as seen through the eyes of the Hispanic Americans who celebrate it. Christmas is at times a universal story, and many of the images here are recognizable across cultures. We hear and see proud, joyful singing; the adoration of the Infant Jesus; and the peaceful strains of Adeste Fidelis. But here as well are the rich traditions and legends specific to the Hispanic culture, such as the celebration of the posadas for nine nights leading up to Christmas, with candy raining down from colorful swinging piñatas, egg shells filled with confetti, and beautiful paper lanterns crafted to illuminate the town on Christmas Eve. There is the “Legend of the Poinsettia” where a poor child embarrassed by the modesty of his gift for the Christ Child sheds tears on the dull green leaves of the familiar plant, thereby miraculously transforming them to a brilliant red. And here too are hopeful children singing “If You Give Me Meat Pies,” asking for the reward of warm meat pies and rice pudding in return for their sweet caroling. Thirty-six inspiring literary selections comprise this enchanting collection of works from Mexican, Colombian, Cuban, and Puerto Rican writers–writers who represent the range of Hispanic minority groups in the United States. Through these stories, traditional tales, songs, and poetry, readers gain a true understanding of the importance of the Christmas holiday within the Hispanic community, and begin to grasp the issues that inform the Hispanic American creative process–issues such as communal identity, patriotism, poverty, assimilation, and religion. With vivid illustrations and original Spanish text for all poetry, this fascinating anthology will inform readers of all cultural backgrounds, and give them the opportunity to celebrate this cherished time with a newly extended family.”

Not much to add to the book’s summary on Amazon; it’s a great book to share with your children and family over the Holiday season.

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So, what is to be done about my missing fireplace situation?

Well, it turns out that I found a very old, beautifully-carved fireplace mantel for under $100 at my local ‘antique’ shop. For now, it lays against the dining wall room wall until I can figure out how to build it out and attach it the wall…like it has always been there. I might even figure out how to build a hearth, too. Then I’ll place white candles of every size inside the opening to read and eat by candlight. Romance is good!

And next Christmas Eve, my children’s old Christmas stockings will hang from the mantle, just like when they were young. I will recreate Christmas past from my well-stocked memory bank, and again, I will remember that Christmas is in my heart and mind, not with the material things around me. But hey, I have a vivid imagination and I truly believe that what we visualize will materialize. Let’s see what I come up with.

Happy Holidays to you and all my best wishes for a wonderful 2016!

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican 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, inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society, and she is a contributing writer for Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, 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, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Book clubs across the United States have enjoyed A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is the mother of two wonderful adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel and a short story collection.

http://amzn.to/1kzKdGq

 

 

Twelve Days in Paradise–A Journal of My Family Vacation in Puerto Rico

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My August vacation to Puerto Rico was just what I needed after the publication of my historical novel, A Decent Woman in February 2015. After six, intense months of publicizing my book on social media, doing interviews, guest blogging, and being on blog talk radio shows to promote my book, I was pretty spent. By early August, the idea of continuing to write my second historical novel, also set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, was beginning to feel like a chore, despite my love for my new story and amazing, new characters. I needed a break. A writing break. My mind needed to vegetate a bit and my eyes needed new vistas, and my soul demanded inspiration, which I found during my late August vacation to the island of my birth, Puerto Rico.

On Thursday, as our plane made its final descent into Luis Muñoz Marin Airport in San Juan, my sister Elaine and I smiled at the turquoise waters and palm tree-fringed coastline below. We were home. Elaine hadn’t visited the island in twenty-five years and she was as giddy as I was to return to the birth place of our mother and grandparents, and the place where our great-parents landed in the mid 1800’s after their voyages by schooner from Italy and the Canary Islands. In flight, we’d shared what we hoped to see and do during our vacation and our lists were similar–pristine beaches, turquoise waters, salsa and merengue music, dancing, rum drinks, visits with family and friends, and day trips to mountain villages–FUN. We were on the same page of music. We would also celebrate our birthdays on this vacation. August 20, the day we flew from the US was my sister’s birthday and we would celebrate mine on August 28.

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As we collected our baggage and texted our cousin that we’d landed, my sister and I chuckled at the loud conversations in Spanish all around us. Puerto Ricans are loud, fun, gregarious, and they love to have fun, wherever they are. A couple of years ago, I read the results of world-wide poll of the happiest people on the planet and Puerto Ricans took first place that year. I wasn’t surprised. Piped-in salsa music followed us out of the terminal to wait for our cousin, and the heat and humidity immediately slapped us in the face, waking us up after our 6 am flight from Baltimore. I instantly wanted an ice cold Medalla beer, a beach chair on a beautiful beach, and I couldn’t wait to slip into my bathing suit!

Our first evening in San Juan with our cousin Josefina and her Chilean friend was perfect–dinner at Pamela’s on the beach. And I mean ON the beach. We enjoyed a tasty dinner at tables and chairs placed on the sand in front of the ocean, where we stayed until late that night catching up and laughing at our antics as kids. Perfectly magical. After dinner under a nearly-full moon and sipping superb drinks called Caipirinha, made with Brazilian rum, we walked on the beach and finally set foot in cool, Caribbean waters. We toasted Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and the seas, and I thanked God for my family and for this much-needed vacation. Stress seemed to melt off my shoulders into the ocean.

Caipirinha Cocktail, Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Cachaça is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage. Wikipedia

Ingredients: Half a lime cut into 4 wedges, 2 Teaspoons brown sugar, 1 2/3 oz Cachaça

Preparation: Place lime and sugar into old fashioned glass and muddle (mash the two ingredients together using a muddler or a wooden spoon). Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the Cachaça.

Served: On the rocks; poured over ice

Standard garnish: Lime, Sugar cane Drinkware: Old Fashioned glass

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I’d hoped to visit Isla de Cabras on this trip, an islet off the coast of San Juan, the setting of my second novel I’m currently writing, The Island of Goats, but with family schedules, we decided to visit the small island at the end of our trip since we would be returning to San Juan to fly home. I knew it was risky to put off, but the pull to visit family and friends was greater than more research, which I’d done boatloads of already!

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After spending Wednesday morning at the beach, we left bustling San Juan behind, headed to our hometown Ponce, in the southwestern coast of the island. We couldn’t wait to see our Aunt Elena and our cousins’ daughter, Mari, and her beautiful baby, Mia Elena. How wonderful to see them after so many years. That evening we listened to the weather channels about the coming of what was thought to be Hurricane Danny, and feasted on a lovingly-prepared, traditional Puerto Rican Christmas meal of pernil, roast pork with plenty of garlic; pasteles, plantain mash with chickpeas, capers, olives, and again, plenty of garlic; and arroz con gandules, rice with a type of black-eyed pea, courtesy of my aunt who is a tremendous cook. Tropical storm or hurricane, we vowed nothing would ruin our vacation! Elaine and I love extreme weather and rain, so we weren’t swayed by the news–we would help my Aunt make household hurricane preparations, and buy plenty of beer, wine, and food to help ride out the storm!

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In order to get ahead of the storm, we drove west and enjoyed two days at Playa Jungla, an incredibly pristine beach with mangroves near Guánica that you won’t likely find without taking a local with you. Simply amazing. We placed our beach chairs in a circle in the water and spent two days laughing, drinking, and dancing to music courtesy of a family who brought their sound system to the beach. I never wanted to leave and started thinking of buying a home on the island. Could that be a possibility for me? My river place on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River is currently for sale, and with the sale of my home in West Virginia, I could put down a sizeable down payment on a property to lower my monthly payments. The wheels in my brain were beginning to turn. Live in Paradise? Why not?

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On the drive from back to Ponce from Playa Jungla, Tropical Danny brought high winds and plenty of sideways rain, but not enough to fill the dry river beds and reservoirs after a three-month drought, which was a shame. Water was still being rationed in several towns and cities on the island, and Ponce was finally free of rationing. Many Caribbean islands were suffering the same drought and Tropical Storm Danny did some major damage to neighboring islands with some fatalities, which was sad to hear. But such is life on a Caribbean island with hurricane season from June to November. You prepare and that’s pretty much all you can do in addition to praying and hiding under a table.

Note: A Decent Woman opens with a birth taking place in a major tropical storm. Readers tell me they held their breaths while reading–check it out!

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On Tuesday morning, we awoke to blue skies and headed to our beach hotel destination in Rincón, on the west coast of the island, which we’d booked ahead for three days. We invited our Aunt and two cousins to join us, which is always fun. The more the merrier! Hotel Cofresí is beautiful and I highly recommend it. It is situated right on the beach with a great pool bar and famous coconut drinks–that’s what I’m talking about. We had three days of fun in the sun, took a day trip to the lighthouse in Aguada, and were already nursing the sunburns we’d acquired at Playa Jungla, despite the heavy sunblock and hats we wore to keep the sun from burning our delicate skin. We upped our sunblock protection and kept on driving, enjoying the coastline as little blisters began to form on my upper thighs. Oh well, so much for saying I could never tan the front of my legs. They were a nice brown color, but I knew would soon peel.

By Thursday, we were back in Ponce and heard about Tropical Storm Erica who was slowly making her way to the Caribbean, headed directly to Puerto Rico. It was thought that this storm had all the signs of turning into a Category 2-3 hurricane, so we stayed local and visited the Ponce Yacht Club where we’d gone to dances and parties as young teens. Not much had changed at the Club, and we enjoyed the brand new, semi-salty outdoor pool watching dark, ominous clouds come from the north and go out to sea. The air was noticeably cooler, but the sun still beat down on us. By Friday, the news was that Erica was starting to fizzle out and we headed to downtown Ponce to shop for souvenirs to take home, with stops at a few botánicas, botanical shops, in town. We took photos of the Plaza and had coconut ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop, Helados Los Chinos, which specializes in tropical fruit ice cream. Their ice cream recipes haven’t changed since I was a baby–still incredible and still melt quicker than you can imagine in the heat, giving you a brain freeze quicker than you say, “cóco“!

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Late Thursday afternoon, cousin Mari took us to a local healer, Doña Chencha, who is one of the oldest healers on the island. I’ve written about my experience with her in a previous blog called “Healing with Medicinal Plants and Herbs in Puerto Rico“.

At ten that evening, Elaine and I put on our bathing suits, grabbed cold beers and headed to the patio to welcome Tropical Storm Erica, which was due to pass over Ponce at midnight. We joked that we’d do a rain dance and at exactly midnight, the rain started falling and the high winds began. We lasted about thirty minutes, enjoying the cool rain on our bodies, and chilly air. The power went off as we listened to the howling winds around the house, and the rain pounded the roof. When we woke up, there was no damage to my aunt’s house, but our towels were blown from the patio out back to the front of the garage.

Papa at the farm 1961

Saturday was perfect for a drive in the country and we chose the mountain towns of Villalba, Jayuya, and Orocóvis, which is the setting of my third novel, Mistress of Coffee and the location of my grandparents coffee farm. What a treat. Erica did some major damage to the mountain towns with dozens of downed plantain trees and debris across the mountain road we climbed on our way to Toro Negro Nature Reserve, which in my opinion, rivals El Yunque Rain Forest in the north. My cousin did a great job dodging branches strewn across the roads and we ended up at Doña Juana’s waterfall, which is splendid! As we passed beautiful cement homes, humble wooden abodes, rushing rivers, and the lush tropical surroundings, again, I thought, “Could this be my forever home?” I could envision myself writing my historical novels from a lovely home nestled in the mountains with a view of a pristine river along with Oshún, the goddess of rivers.

Note: The goddesses Yemaya and Oshún are featured in my novel, A Decent Woman, as my protagonist, Ana Belén, has a special connection and reverence to the Yoruba goddesses.

ADW in Puerto Rico July 2015

On Sunday, we decided to drive to the mountains again. This time we’d visit a few rivers for bathing and communing with nature–right up my alley! As we bought supplies, we met two older gentlemen who said they were on their way to a birthday party in Villalba, which was exactly where we were headed. We joined the fun party at an amazing, rustic restaurant/bar high in the mountains with a perfect river flowing below. There is nothing better than sharing good times and dancing with friends, holding cold Coronas and hearing the sound of rushing water nearby. We didn’t get the opportunity to bathe in the river and I was hoping we’d get to before Tuesday.

I loved Villalba as much as I did as a kid and thoughts of selling my river place and my home in West Virginia continued peeking into my consciousness all day and on our drive home. My cousin Josefina is a real estate broker, so I decided I’d tell her about my idea. My sister was on board, as well. Could we do this?

Monday found us driving along the southern coast to join our new friends from Juana Díaz at the Guayama Yacht Club. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of red snapper, lobster in mofongo, plantain mash with plenty of garlic (get the idea Puerto Rican’s love garlic?!) with great red wine, which was not a good choice for a hot day!

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By Tuesday afternoon, we were saying teary goodbyes to my cousins and my aunt at the airport. Time just ran out and I realized I wouldn’t see Isla de Cabras on this trip. I will have to rely on my research and on the aerial videos I found on YouTube. We were very sad to leave Puerto Rico and hope to return in March 2016 for a family reunion. Elaine and I felt our mother and grandparents’ spirits strongly during this trip and leaving seemed to reopen emotional scabs I thought we’d dealt with. We miss our mother and dearly departed family members, more so when we’re on the island, and that will never change.

Note: As for finding a home in Puerto Rico. I am on the search and have contacted my cousin and another local realtor for properties in Cabo Rojo and Villalba, which we will visit in March 2016. It makes sense–I am Puerto Rican-born, I love every inch of my island, I write novels set on the island, extreme weather doesn’t freak me out, and…

A writer can dream, can’t she? Time to make a vision board for my forever home, which I’ve done before and my dream came true.

ellie

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

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 social worker, and a refugee caseworker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, garnered 2016 and 2017 International Latino Book Awards. Eleanor is featured in Mayra Calvani’s anthology, Latina Author and Their Muses. A Decent Woman was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Laments.