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: Dane Cobain

Welcome to the Author Interview series at The Writing Life blog. Each Tuesday, it’s a pleasure to share my talented writer friends with readers. We have a a great line up of fabulous authors scheduled until June 2017. Please do check back in and meet a new author next week.

Today, I’m pleased to chat with multigenre writer, Dane Cobain. Dane, who hails from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK, is an independent poet, musician and storyteller with a passion for language and learning. When he’s not in front of a screen writing stories and poetry, he can be found working on his book review blog or developing his website, www.danecobain.com. His debut novella, No Rest for the Wicked, was released in the summer of 2015.

He started writing at fourteen, and progressed from lyrics and music to journals, short stories and poetry before writing the first draft of an early novel whilst in lectures. He studied creative writing at London’s Roehampton University, earning a 2:1 bachelor’s degree before starting a career as a social media marketing.

dane-cobain

Welcome, Dane.

What is your book’s genre/category?

I have a number of them on the market:

  • No Rest for the Wicked (supernatural thriller)
  • Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home (poetry)
  • Former.ly: The Rise and Fall of a Social Network (literary fiction)
  • Social Paranoia: How Consumers and Brands Can Stay Safe in a Connected World (non-fiction)

dane-cobain-former-ly

Dane, please describe what Former.ly  is about. 

I’ll use Former.ly, my most recent fiction release, to answer these ones. The novel follows a fledgling social networking site as the team tries to scale upwards and to take over the world. But it’s not a smooth journey – the site’s two founders share a dark secret, a secret that someone is willing to kill for. 

How did you come up with the title?

Former.ly is the name of the fictitious social network in the book, and it takes its name because it’s a social networking site for the dead – you sign up, post updates that are hidden from view, and then after you die, the updates go live for the rest of the world. They call themselves Former.ly because that’s their domain name, and it refers to the fact that their users were formerly alive. That’s not actually explained anywhere in the book, and you’re the first person to ask about it!

What inspired you to write this book?

They say that you should write what you know, and I work in social media marketing. It seemed like a good idea to write about my very own fictitious social network. I think it helps to capture the zeitgeist of the times we live in.

What is your favorite part of writing? 

I just find it therapeutic. I’m compelled to write, and I start to get uncomfortable if I’m not able to write much. It’s a bit like scratching an itch.

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

He does resemble me to some extent; he’s sort of a mixture of myself and some other people that I know. We have a similar outlook on the world, and as the book is written in first person, it was only natural that certain elements of my personality would filter through to Dan. 

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

Finding the time! It takes a lot of time to write a book, and you need to force yourself to stick at it until you’re finished. Plus, there are plenty of potential distractions!

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

I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and the last book that I read was The Wind Through the Keyhole, which was written and released after the rest of the books in the series but which is set somewhere in the middle. It was alright, but not as good as the rest of them, mainly because it didn’t really focus on the same characters. Still good, though. 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

There are too many to name individually, but the list includes Graham Greene, Philip Pullman, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway and Terry Pratchett.

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

I think that we’re all influenced by each other, so again – the list is too long for me to mention them all. But it’s the contemporary writers that I’ve met and befriended along the way who really have the biggest influence of all. I think we’re all learning from each other, and that’s a good thing – one of the main advantages of the internet. 

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

I’ll write pretty much anywhere – I carry a notebook around and jot stuff down on my phone. But my favourite place to write is in my living room, because I can sit back and relax while doing it. As for reading, I mostly read on the bus to and from work, chilling on the sofa in the office on my lunch break, or when nipping out for cigarettes at home. 

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

I have anxiety disorder. My closer friends tend to know about it, but a lot of people don’t, and it often surprises them when they find out.

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

I think you’re always learning from everything that you do, even if you’re just reading someone else’s work. The main thing that I’ve learned along the way has been the importance of having a good editor and a decent cover designer. People always seem to think that they’ve done an amazing job by editing themselves, but that’s usually not the case.

dane-cobain-former-ly

What do you hope readers will gain from Former.ly?

I just hope that they enjoy it. I think that it’s important to have fun when you’re reading; if they want to draw their own conclusions and find a lesson in there then that’s their call. 

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

I think that hitting the zeitgeist – by which, I mean writing about social networking when social networking is all over the news and a new and exciting part of our day-to-day lives – has helped to get readers interested in the first place. Hopefully the writing does the rest.

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

Nothing in particular – I suppose the main challenge was to make sure that the book wasn’t outdated before it was released. That’s the problem with writing about social networking sites – they move quickly!

So true! Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Just stick at it and keep on trying. It’s also important to work on building up a social media following – potential publishers will want to know that you have a potential readership before they invest time and resources to release your work. Starting a blog site can be a good way to do that.

Please share your website and social media links.

You can find me at www.danecobain.com or follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/danecobainmusic) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/danecobain). 

Where can we find your book?

It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats from most major online retailers, including Amazon. Here are the links to Former.ly:

UK: www.danecobain.com/formerly

USA: www.danecobain.com/formerlyusa 

What’s next for you, Dane?

I’m keeping busy at the moment! Next up, I’m planning to release a horror novella and screenplay called Come On Up to the House, followed by an anthology I’m working on with 21 authors, called Subject Verb Object’. I’m also currently 25,000 words into the first draft of a detective novel, called ‘Driven’.

You certainly are keeping busy! Thanks for a super interview, Dane. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and your books. I wish you all the best in your writing life.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

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

new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016

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

 

 

 

 

Ellie’s Update On Her Summer Book Launch, Reviews and Kind Critiques

What a week! I say that with a big smile, mind you. I hope you’re having a terrific week and that all is well in your world.

I’m learning a lot more about myself in regard to my Summer book launch of my historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman. Mostly, I’ve learned how I deal with new pressures, new information (mostly technical) and what I must do to control stress and pressure. I’m also growing thicker skin for the book launch.Yesterday, I read two author’s accounts of hateful reviews they received after their book launch and that has stuck in my mind. It happens. I follow Bambi’s mother’s advice – If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. If you don’t like the book you’re reviewing or reading, for goodness sake, put it down and pick up another book!

Now, I’m one tough cookie. My friends will tell you that about me. Like everyone on this planet, I’ve had my share of heartache, tragedy and loss. At one point in my life, my friends called me the female Job as in the Bible Job. What didn’t happen to me during a two year period. Well, I didn’t die which was great and my children were safe and healthy, but it was a very rough time in our lives.  I wouldn’t say that I’m stoic, either. We’ve all had our moments and I’m not immune to a little crying jag every now and then and have leaned on the sturdy shoulders of good friends and family recently. I’m very fortunate to have a great support system!

My intimate support group will rally with me when my book comes out. I know and love them well. And if one (hopefully, only one!) approaches me to say that they couldn’t get through my book, c’est la vie! To each his or her own. All authors need to hear the truth, BUT BE KIND. When you write a book and launch it into the world, you are introducing the world into your small world. Small in that writers are usually pretty solitary folks who spend thousands of hours alone in their head with their books and characters. With my book launch, the doors and windows will be flung wide open for reviews, critiques, and comments-positive and negative. I’m preparing myself and just pray that the positive outweighs the negative! If I do receive a nastygram, I hope it’s constructive criticism and on point. I’m okay with that. This is my debut novel and although I want my book to be perfect, that is impossible. I’ve written the best novel with what I’ve learned thus far and continue to learn to write better prose every day. All writers improve with more experience and practice, right?

So today my emotions have run the gamut from happy to anxious to excited to self-doubt and back to happy. I have a gazillion things to do to prepare for my book launch of A DECENT WOMAN this summer and my list keeps growing. I’m not complaining, mind you. I realize that much of the promotion and marketing of a book falls on the author and Book Manager. And I’m fortunate to have a super Book Manager. Hey, if anyone points me in a new direction for marketing my book, I’m there. This morning, two friends sent me emails about online book clubs and I’m all over that, too. I am grateful for each and every piece information, advice, suggestion and ideas, people! Feel free to contact me 🙂 Any time.

I’m a list maker from way back and cannot function well without one. My author list of things to do is long and many things are new to me. I’ve decided to break down my list by week. I have to. I need bite-size pieces of information, please. I bought a huge calendar that has helped me keep track of author interview dates and future book reviews for my blog. This is my list for this week and the next:

Make corrections and additions to my website which is under construction at this time. That first impression is vital and so is the second!

Have a professional photograph taken for website, blog and media kit.

Find a venue for my Summer book launch party in Northern Virginia. I’m thinking a winery 🙂

Send out invites for the fantastic book launch party.

Order enough books for my guests who attend the book launch party.

Contact friends and family to join my book launch team as readers, reviewers and cheerleaders of the advance reader copy (ARC) of my novel. This is in bold because if you would like to be a part of my  launch team, please contact me!

I will be sending out email invitations and will post it on my Facebook Author Page, as well. I would love to have you! THANK YOU!!

Continue doing my social media bit on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, ReadWave, LinkedIn, Pinterest and groups that I’m a member of.

Learn what WATTPAD can do for me.

Continue checking Part 1 of my novel for typos and mistakes and wait patiently for my editor to send Part 2 of her edits.

Contact authors whose blurbs and reviews I would love to include on the book cover and in the book. I’ve already contacted four awesome authors who I respect and admire very much. Two more emails to write to two more awesome authors. If you are a praying person, please do 🙂 Thanks!

The last item on my list was to create an official Author Page on Facebook. I figured it out last night and that was exciting! This morning, I had 65 beautiful LIKES. My smile was huge! This has helped keep me focused on my readers and my book at this dizzy, wonderful, and exciting time in my life.

I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off from all book stuff to drive to Northern Virginia to spend the weekend with my beautiful children before my son departs for Europe on May 7. We are having a family dinner at a great restaurant in Arlington and I’ve promised not to cry…too.much.

SO, please join me on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia  (If the link doesn’t work, my apologies and please let me know)

Press that nice LIKE button and make me happy!

Join me on Twitter – @eleanorparkerwv

and on Pinterest – elliepinwv

Thanks in advance! I wish you a wonderful Thursday.

Ellie

The Social Media Merry-go-round

I joined NetworkedBlogs last night and I love it. I can now view all my favorite blogs in one place and save the blogs I want to read later which will free up my email inbox. What will they come up with next? That is tongue in cheek, of course. “They” have and will come up with tons more and I would like it all to slow down a bit. Please.

Social media. Gotta love it and sometimes, it’s a royal pain. I get it, though. I’ve used it for years, building my author platform and it really works, but new sites come up all the time. New and improved. As soon as I learn a new site or app, there are ten to take its place. My adult children are computer wizards. “Mom, try this. It’s right up your alley.”  Okay, thanks! Yet another site that I have to look into. Groan. Just let me work with what I have for a little while, I want to say! It’s second nature for the younger generation, but it didn’t come easy to me.

Take my maternal grandmother for instance. She was born in 1900 in the coastal town of Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico, just outside the colonial town of Ponce. When she died in 1994, she had seen and experienced the horse and buggy, the telegraph, trains, cars, land line telephones, victrolas, radios, tape recorders, television, airplane travel and computers. My grandmother had a cell phone when she was 90 and watched me write and do research on a computer when I visited her. I remember her amazement at the information available to us by simply typing words and phrases in little Search boxes. She took it all in stride and went with the flow, as I must do.

But, you don’t understand. I still happen to think it’s pretty amazing that when I fire up my laptop, I am instantly connected to our world and beyond. No joke. I truly am. To a non-computer, tech-savvy person such as myself, I marvel that when I log on, it all works. I am instantly connected with my favorite authors, blogs I love, and I can keep up with what my favorite authors and artists are doing through their posts on Instagram, LinkedIn, NetworkedBlogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

I’m doing all that, as well and I know there are sites that I should be using and I will. Just give me time. It takes up a whole lot of time to maintain a social media presence. On good days, it’s a lot of fun. I normally tackle this blog in the mornings and then, post it onto my various sites. I read the news of the day online and midday, I post again. In the early evening, I check all the sites to see who read what and who followed or liked me. It is then that I answer emails and respond to comments. In between all this, of course, I’m writing and trying to figure out what I can eat in my pantry so that I don’t have to go out. Once a week, I read the blogs I follow and I comment. I love that day and learn so much from writers, authors, publishers and agents. I make a pot of tea, grab my afghan and away I go into someone else’s world. In the late evenings, I read books, the news online, and very often, I fall asleep after a chapter of my current book. I wonder why?

When I write, the Internet can be very distracting. I’ve been known to write a paragraph of a novel and then, stop because I’ve just written something that I must research.This happens all the time. With a very innocent sentence such as, “Isabel leaned against the palm tree…”, I am stopped dead in my tracks. Palm tree. Is that correct? I know Puerto Rico has palm trees, but what type of palm tree, what variety of palm tree? Did that variety exist in 1901 in Puerto Rico? See what I mean? It’s constant but, at times like that, I thank God for the World Wide Web and for my BFF Kristine who immediately Googled palm trees and uncovered the Royal Palm!

Social media is never far from my thoughts. I know very few authors, writers and artists who don’t “do” social media. Even Pinterest has become a place to market and sell books. I cannot get onto Pinterest if I have any chance of writing. That is my one addiction. I must have 30 boards and of course, I have a board for my novel, an inspirational board, and a board of the books I want to read, to include the ones presently on my nightstand. It’s SO addicting.

Most authors have a Facebook account for personal stuff and one for each book of their books. I love that idea and that’s what I did, as well. I don’t have a website yet, but I’m working on that. I know a woman who maintains 12 personal websites. I can’t even keep my ten usernames and passwords straight from various websites and I never remember a birthday (except for my children and immediate family) until I see it on my Facebook feed.

I just don’t have that much space left in my brain…or do I?

So, if you had the idea that writers do nothing but write and sit around in cafes, discussing the world over vino while smoking Havanas, think again. I tried that. I went to my neighborhood bakery shop that has WiFi to spend the whole day writing. It was fun, but I didn’t get a lot done. I drank way too much coffee, had way too many Zuzu cupcakes, watched the patrons come in and out, and I talked with the owners. Back home I went. I write better in the company of my animals where the coffee is basically free and I can listen to my favorite music uninterrupted. I still visit the bakery shop, but just not to write. I do, however, never leave without six mini Zuzu cupcakes.

Has anyone written a blog about how not to gain weight while writing a book? Let me know. I’d read that blog 🙂

Happy writing to you.

Ellie