Thoughts on Writing Novels in the Trump Era

In the summer of 2015, after the publication of my debut novel, A Decent Woman, a comment on a writing blog got my attention. It encouraged writers to focus on writing and marketing their books and refrain from sharing strong opinions and political views on social media platforms. The reasoning? So as to not alienate readers and potential readers; in essence, to limit their opinions and dialogue to discussions with friends and family. Good to know, I thought. The advice made sense to me at the time–nothing can turn a lovely dinner party into a school food fight quicker than heated debates about religion, politics, or other family members–but what about that business of writers potentially courting disaster with future book sales and alienating readers by speaking out on public forums? Was there any truth to that? I tucked that nugget away.

I kept my focus on learning the ropes of marketing a book. Little did I know marketing my novel would turn into an intense year of written interviews, podcast interviews, writing blog posts, participating in book fairs, and encouraging readers to post book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. That same year, I set up an author page on Facebook, opened a Goodreads author page and set up a Twitter account–lots of moving parts in addition to keeping up with a writing blog, interviewing fellow authors, and paying attention to my author website! And of course, I was thinking about writing a second book. A brief text exchange with my friend Wayne sparked an idea and I ran with it.

In early 2016, I began the preliminary research for my second book, as yet untitled. On June 16, 2016, Donald Trump officially announced his plan to seek the presidency. I started writing The Laments of Sister Maria Immaculada, now titled, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. From June to November October 2016, I watched the presidential campaign/sideshow on my laptop (I haven’t had cable TV since 2011). I kept writing and diligently researching the lives of nuns in 1927 Puerto Rico, the history of Old San Juan, and the little known (to me) islet of Isla de Cabras, five miles off the coast of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the ruins of a Spanish-built leprosarium remain. I kept writing and became increasingly distracted by politics. How could anyone possibly avoid it? I began to think about a writing retreat, away from home where I was buying the Washington Post on a daily basis and New York Times, when I could find a copy in my adopted West Virginia town.

In January 2017, I licked my wounds along with millions of Americans and participated in the now-historic Women’s March in Washington, DC. The political attacks and distractions from the White House began immediately and were unrelenting. I kept up with Rachel Maddow’s informative and timely blog posts for political analysis and information and watched MSNBC videos on Youtube. I learned a lot from Maddow, and for the first time in my life, I knew the names of all the key players in Washington, DC and their positions. I was paying attention. It also occurred to me how much my antagonist reminded me of Trump. A light bulb moment. What a strange and interesting twist. I zoomed in on Trump’s behavior and mannerisms, the way he speaks, and what his base sees in him.

I kept up with Twitter, Facebook, and I wrote a blog post about my experience at the Women’s March, always thinking about the advice to writers I’d read the year before: keep your opinions off social media. But how? I mused that might have been a popular opinion before the last Presidential election campaign. Before Trump became President. Before the march in Charlottesville. Before the brutal attacks on the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island of my birth, and Trump callously threw paper towel rolls at Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Before 20 shootings took place on American school campuses. Before Trump brought us to the brink of nuclear war by antagonizing Kim Jong-un. Before Trump ordered the barbaric directive to separate children from their asylum-seeking parents at US borders. Before our planet was threatened by Trump directives and decisions. Before, before, before. I’ve left out dozens and dozens of events, I know. My apologies, this is what immediately comes to mind as I write this blog post. Fill in the blanks, please.

The attacks from the Trump White House seemed endless, unrelenting, and more cruel with each passing day. Then I remembered–our country, Americans, have suffered and endured cruel directives that go back to the founding fathers. Our history is full of racism, white privilege, misogyny, bad decisions, and crazy makers. Had we learned anything? Apparently not. I was reminded of the old French saying, “The more things changes, the more they stay the same.” But I was changing–as a woman, as a proud Puerto Rican, and as an American who’d lived overseas for over 25 years. As a novelist, I was wide awake. History was repeating itself before my very eyes and I was outraged.

You see, before January 2017, I’d never marched in protest, never held a placard, and had never called my elected officials. I had voted, of course, and in my previous jobs as a refugee caseworker, Spanish language Family Support Worker, and as a counselor working in Brussels, Belgium, I’d worked with and tried my best to assist and support those less fortunate in my community. To walk hand in hand with those who were hurting and needed help—that came easily to me. I was a mom. But to be a vocal activist? To be outraged and shocked enough to say what I felt in a public forum, on social media? That didn’t come easy. I was raised to be polite, fair, and to be diplomatic, whenever possible. But I found it increasingly difficult to remain silent. I kept writing and in my continuing research, I kept digging deeper into the dark corners of religion, faith, and humanity. World events were certainly changing my work in progress. How could the story not be affected? How could I remain unchanged? As I saw it, it was imperative to remain informed, but to also strike a balance–I needed to turn away from the news in the evening and force myself to remain in my writing chair. I was losing discipline and valuable time, but with each new event in the US and abroad, I gleaned valuable research material. I felt like a literary vampire.

What I came to understand was that in many ways, art and the making of art and literature is a political act.

Among the early reviews of my first published novel, A Decent Woman, two respected writer friends called my first novel a political statement, a feminist novel. After my initial surprise and feeling so grateful for their generous book reviews, I realized the two men were absolutely correct. In the early stages of writing A Decent Woman, (and in my newbie writing mind), I’d simply set about to tell a story about the lives of women in 1900 Puerto Rico. Then I remembered. Just before the manuscript went in for the final edits, I came across documents and a book about the rounding up of prostitutes in Ponce, Puerto Rico (the setting of the novel) and about the forced sterilization of thousands of Puerto Rican women by the US government. The book had to change. I had to change. It was necessary to grow a thicker skin in the public arena and speak my truths, instead of opting to remain in the shallow end of the pool. So I wrote that book.

Interestingly enough, the same thing is happening with my second book, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, which explores faith, religion, and the Catholic Church in 1927 Puerto Rico, with all its’ ugliness and scandals, community works and good intentions. Once again, I’ve had to dig deep, record history, and speak my truths as I discover them in my research and from my memory. I’m still reading several online newspapers and calling my elected officials. I buy newspapers and still watch Rachel Maddow during the day. I write at night like I always did, with less fear than before. The balancing act of being ‘woke’ and finishing this book is easier these days; I’m not as reactive to the news. I use it all.

In the telling of a story, writers stand, exposed and raw, for all to see. So be it.

Will President Trump and this White House stop the unrelenting attacks on Americans, on the poor and the marginalized, on our democracy? Will Trump be impeached? All that remains to be seen. We have no choice but to soldier on, persist, and resist when the need arises. And as writers, we must keep writing. Lord knows there’s a plethora of material out there for novelists these days.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

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

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

 

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Author Interview: Daniel Cubias

Welcome to our Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I am pleased to welcome Daniel Cubias, and zombies.

Daniel Cubias is a writer whose award-winning fiction has been published in numerous literary journals. He is also the author of the novel “Barrio Imbroglio,” and he contributes frequently to the Huffington Post.

Daniel’s latest novel, “Zombie President,” is a black comedy about the twisted conflux of politics, journalism, and American culture.

Cubias author pic

Welcome, Daniel.

What is your book’s genre?

Horror-comedy

Please describe what your black comedy Zombie President is about.

A defeated presidential candidate comes back from the dead to take the White House by force — and to win the country’s heart in the process.

Samuel Tilden never won the presidency when he was alive, but now that he’s a rampaging ghoul, the American people are enthralled with the power and tenacity of his undead army. Fawning media coverage ensures that the zombies’ bloody march to Washington D.C. goes unchecked. Meanwhile, an ambitious television reporter, a small-town sheriff, and a scientist with a dark secret join forces with a trio of backbiting teenagers to fight for their country.

zombie_president_full_web

Sounds like a intriguing, wild ride. How did you come up with the title?

Let’s just say that the title lent itself.

What inspired you to write this book?

My co-author, Kristan Ginther, asked me, “Has there every been a story about a zombie running for president?” I had to admit that, no, there had never been a story quite like that.

Does your main character resemble you?

I am not a zombie, so I’m going to say no.

Good point. What do you hope readers will gain from Zombie President?

First, my hope is that readers find it funny. But there are more than a few references to our political process, which will provoke, enlighten or infuriate the reader, depending on his/her viewpoint.

It sounds intriguing and timely.

What is your favorite part of writing?

The second draft. The tyranny of the blank page (i.e., the first draft) is behind you, and now you can concentrate on what the story is really about. Successive drafts aren’t as enjoyable because you begin seeing the flaws that eat away at your very soul.

Great description of successive drafts. I’m at that point with my second book–the eating away at my soul part–where I have to battle doubt.

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

If you don’t rewrite a passage, it most likely is not as good as it could be. If you rewrite it too much, you most likely sap all its energy and kill whatever made it interesting in the first place. Finding that balance is crucial.

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

“The Langoliers” by Stephen King. I’m a big King fan, but I had missed that one. I’m very happy that I dug it out, because it has all the elements of what he does best.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Leyner, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King.

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

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Leyner, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. Each possesses a unique voice, which I find inspiring.

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

I write in one place (at my computer) and read everywhere. So favoritism doesn’t come into it.

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

I stopped listening to the radio years ago. That’s because my phone’s music library contains almost 8,000 songs, so I just listen to that.

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

The writing process is a constant surprise, and not always in a good way, because every story is different. As for the publishing process, this is only my second novel, so I’m still learning, and as such, everything about it surprises me.

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

My best choice was working with my co-author. She’s brilliant.

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

I gave myself an overly aggressive deadline. This didn’t inspire me to write faster. All it did was stress me out. So I’m going to lighten up on the self-imposed timelines in the future.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

At some point in your writing career, you need third-party validation. If you’re convinced that you’re a genius, but the only people who agree with you are your spouse and your mom, you might be overestimating yourself. Get feedback from impartial readers, fellow writers, and editors. It’s the best way to learn what’s working and what’s not.

Good advice. Website and social media links?

I’m at:

http://www.danielcubias.com

http://hispanicfanatic.com

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-cubias/

https://www.facebook.com/daniel.cubias

Twitter: @DanCubias

Email: hispanicf@gmail.com

Where can we find your book?

“Zombie President” is now available: http://amzn.to/2nzJJFG

Daniel, what’s next for you?

I’m working on the sequel to my first novel “Barrio Imbroglio.” So far I have a title, a basic plot, and the first sentence. That’s a good place to start.

Indeed it is. I wish you the best with your books and work in progress. Thanks for chatting with me today, David.

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. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

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

Guest Post: Boricua Freedom Writer Speaks

I am very happy to welcome fellow Borinqueña, Norma Burgos to The Writing Life Blog. I hope you will enjoy Norma’s heartfelt and informative piece on what is most dear to Puerto Ricans–our homeland–la Isla del Encanto. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted during the next two weeks, so please check in again.

Norma Burgos Vazquez

Norma Burgos Vázquez is a DiaspoRican returnee residing in Puerto Rico since 1999.  The forty-year veteran of the wars on poverty in NY, the SF/Bay Area and Comunidades Especiales (PR) has worked for federal, state and municipal island governments.  She’s a Writer’s Well Literary Competition Winner, former public affairs writer at KCBS News Radio (SF), and her personal vignettes and essays appear in The Rebeldes Anthology: Bolder (e-book), Border-Lines Journal, Latino Research Center, La Respuesta, Mujeres Talk, Latina Lista News, Somos Primos.  The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC) and education courses, Universidad Interamericana, Guayama. She currently lives in Vega Alta with her daughter where she is retired and editing her first back-to-roots memoir.

Give Us Our Mandela Moment: Free Oscar Now! So the World Can Witness ‘Invictus’ of Puerto Ricans by the Power of One

“If I am standing here today, it is not because I lack the courage to fight, but rather because I have the courage to fight. I am certain, and will reaffirm, that Puerto Rico will be a free and sovereign nation.” 

– Oscar López Rivera, at his trial for seditious conspiracy, 1981

Oscar-López-Rivera

Every year, for 35 years, on May 29th, the face of “The Last Prisoner” has symbolized “Unity” in the ongoing struggle to liberate the last colony standing of the Americas, before the world community of free sovereign nations, on the floor of the United Nations. That, sadly, has been a painful reminder, much as, an army of compatriotas and worldwide supporters, 5 Nobel Peace Prize winners among them, UN delegates, illustrious journalists, scholars, lawmakers, celebrities, athletes, civic leaders and human rights and legal advocates of the Free Oscar Campaign, have been relentless in demanding his presidential pardon and release, Puerto Rico’s National Hero Oscar López Rivera, the victim of a miscarriage of (Empire) justice, still remains behind bars. At 73 years of age, his yearning for his homeland in the letter “Where the Sea Breathes,” written from prison to Karina, his granddaughter (he’s only seen through iron bars) is a heart-wrenching sign of the urgenthumanitarian imperative to bring Oscar home, sooner than later:

“…It has been 35 years since the last time I saw it. But I have painted it many times, both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the smiling foam in Cabo Rojo, which is made of light mixed with salt…Here in prison I have often felt nostalgic for the sea; filling my lungs with its smell; touching it and wetting my lips, but right away I realize that many years may have to pass before I can give myself that simple pleasure… I always miss the sea, but I think I never needed it as much as when they transferred me from Marion prison in Illinois, to Florence, in Colorado. In Marion, I went out into the yard once a week, and from there I could see the trees, the birds… I heard the sounds of the train and the song of the cicadas. I would run over the earth and smell it. I could grab the grass and let the butterflies surround me. But in Florence all that came to an end… Did you know that ADX, which is the maximum-security prison in Florence, is designed for the worst criminals in the United States and is considered the hardest and most impenetrable in the country? There the prisoners have no contact with each other, it’s a labyrinth of steel and concrete built to isolate and incapacitate. I was among the first men in this prison (…) (source:Global Voices) read more

In the days leading up to the final Congressional approval of the PROMESA Act (HR 5278) on June 29, 2016 that purports to “rescue” Puerto Rico from total economic collapse, and falls dismally short of island expectations, analyzed the locally-vested Center for a New Economy.  position paper As I was writing this blog, deeply disturbed by the catastrophic prognosis: that our beloved Borinquen is a dying colonial nation hooked to US life support, La Junta-Fiscal Control Board of the Republican Congress would administer lethal austerity transfusions, I marveled that Oscar Rivera, the political prisoner for far too long, was in the eye of the Perfect Storm of anti-colonial forces and island and Diaspora events that would vindicate him before the entire world.

And it all happened between the dates May 27 (my birthday) and June 29, 2016. These fast-moving chain of events compelled me to put my life on pause, to document, eat, sleep and pray the night away.  Inspired, as I was, to capture the living history unfolding at my laptop.  To share with my readers this cruel dichotomy, how it feels to be, at once, a “colonized subject” and an American born in the USA, on the receiving end of the Anglo Supremacist message:  Puerto Ricans are incapable of governing themselves, as if the US government had no culpability whatsoever in the debt crisis debacle, and could get away with blaming the victim, for being the victim of colonial abuse.
Not while journalist educator Ed Morales is on the case, breaking down the debt crisis en arroz y habichuelas. America’s colony was set up to fail by the very hand that feeds us:  YouTube.

Adding insult to injury, on the day the US Congressional House Speaker Paul Ryan reaches PROMESA bill bipartisan approval, the US Department of Natural Resources, that profits from total jurisdiction over Puerto Rico’s national treasures, posts a racist and offensive tweet that ridicules and humiliates Puerto Ricans online, reported Caribbean Business News.  read more
Now, I’m no political pundit. I’m a chronicler of events on a quest to make well-informed decisions about Puerto Rico’s future. Your everyday news junkie hooked on CNN, ABC, Univision, Telenoticias, El Nuevo Dia, Primera Hora, NotiUno Radio, the weekly local newspaper regionals (and even, the pro-statehood propagandist freebie, El Vocero daily). The various blogs worth reading of progressive-thinking and like-minded individuals of good conscience. I’m also an avid follower of NiLP National Institute for Latino Policy in New York. And, as of 2014, I am connected to the San Juan-based DiaspoRicans l DiaspoRiqueños network that’s a Who’s Who in the Puerto Rican progressive movement. In essence, the view (for the wizened me) is a split screen of happenings, both here and there.

The United States of America is trampling on the human rights and collective pride of our Puerto Rican people, “El Orgullo Boricua.”  The immense pride we all share in our  long trajectory of notable achievements. Harnessing the exceptional talent, capability, creativity, ingenuity, generosity, dignity and humanitarian passionthat originates from a tiny Caribbean island in the center of God’s green earth and is a force of nature in the world.  read here.

Yet…we have been brought to our knees.

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“El Orgullo Boricua

Boricuas have climbed the steepest steps to the highest court in the land in the person of the Honorable Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx. We have flown on the NASA Discovery Space Shuttle and walked in Space with the daring astronaut Joseph M. Acabá, from Inglewood, California. We have had the first Latino to serve as Surgeon General of the USA in Dr. Antonia Coello Novello, born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Produced the most beautiful women in the world (second to Venezuela) boasting five (5) winners in the history of the “Miss Universe” Pageant, and the People Magazine “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” distinction bestowed upon Jennifer López, the diva from the Bronx.  We have fought America’s battles in the Borinqueneers65th Infantry, President Obama decorated with the Congressional Gold Medal for bravery.  We can win MVPs sports championships, Presidential Medals of Honor and Freedom, Oscars, Tonys and Grammys, rise to the top of the music charts and crossover; show theatrical, literary, philosophical, environmental, business, hi-tech and STEM scientific genius; lead armies, set laws in Congress, rise out of poverty and rise to the exalted status of Sainthood in the Vatican (which is no walk in the park). And have recently taken Broadway by storm in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Hamilton” sensation Lin Manuel Miranda.

And STILL…Puerto Ricans get no respect from the US Congress, the US Supreme Court or the US Executive Branch, for that matter.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Follow Norma:

Blog Op-Eds:      http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/

Blog Memoir:     http://boricuafreedomwriter.blogspot.com/

Facebook:           norma burgos

Twitter:                @BoricuaFreedom

Contact:               boricua.freedom.writer@gmail.com