Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Sit with Your Story, Don’t Rush the Process!

Have you ever felt rushed, pushed, or encouraged to publish your book before you felt ready and more importantly before the story was the best it could be? Are you feeling internal or external pressures to put out a book a year, every two years?

If you’re not a writer, you might have a project in the works that you feel unsure about or hesitant that it’s ready for public consumption. If this feels true for you, this might be the blog post for you. Allow me to share my experiences (and humble two cents).

By 2014, I’d been hard at work on my first novel, A Decent Woman, for over five years and had finally found a publisher. I was more than ready to become an author and with that contract came a fair amount of immediate pressure to publish the book in a timely manner. Along with my new publishing team, I decided on what I thought was a feasible and realistic publication date…despite a nagging feeling that my story wasn’t quite ready. Was it true the story wasn’t ready for publication or was I fearful of the unknown? Since I’d never published a book before, I felt my fears were valid. On the other hand, how could this story not be ready after more than five years of writing and research?

The nagging feeling persisted. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly where the issues lay in the story, I knew it in my gut. If only I’d given myself more time, I agonized. Was I being too much of a perfectionist? It was a stressful and confusing experience, and I was faced with the momentum I’d created and didn’t know how to stop—I had a set publication date. I felt I couldn’t back out and didn’t want to let my publishing team down but deep down, I knew moving forward would be a huge mistake for me and for my book.

Then I met Ally, a godsend, who’d joined the team after it hadn’t worked out with my first editor. Ally agreed to work with the original pub date and a few weeks later, we spoke—it was as I’d felt in my gut, the book wasn’t ready. She suggested adding a few chapters for clarity and a new ending as she felt the original ending would let readers down. I agreed with her.

Finally, I had a clear road map to follow. Now I had to inform the publishing team that the original pub date had to be scrubbed, which caused loathing and stress in my mind, body, and soul. But it had to be done. I realized then (and now because these patterns of behavior tend to repeat themselves) that if I’d spoken honestly with my team early on, the stressful situation might have been avoided. But then again, we only know what we know at the time and I hadn’t met Ally yet, right?

Ultimately, I stuck to my guns, knowing I might piss someone off and would mess up the existing publishing schedule. Ally supported me in her brilliant way and I’m forever grateful to her. I learned to speak my truths and protect/honor my writing process and my book. By being honest, I gifted myself a few extra months to edit, to rewrite, and to put out the best possible book. The newly-edited A Decent Woman was finally published in 2015 and went on to win two international Latino book awards, garnering close to 90 positive and lovely book reviews on Amazon. I gained hundreds of new readers, which was amazing. I learned that timing is everything in life, and working with a great editor, who gets you and your story is crucial.

So please, take all the time you need and don’t rush your project or book; it won’t be in vain. I can’t overstate how important it is to honor your writing process; don’t underestimate it. I’m not saying you should analyze the hell out of the story and your characters until you’re paralyzed in fear and afraid to turn in your manuscript. Not at all, though that has happened to me with poetry! I’m talking about giving yourself the necessary time to reread, to think, and if necessary, to rewrite portions of your book. Most importantly, work with a great editor to help you mine or add the gold to your story. Then read your work in progress with new reader’s eyes and do share the story with beta readers before publication.

At this time, I’m at the same place with my second novel, The Laments–sitting with the story and with my characters. I’m further exploring their darker sides and how that could affect their journey and their relationships with the other characters. I no longer rush the creative process. Sadly, Ally doesn’t offer editing services at the moment but happily, I’ve connected with a fantastic editor who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. There’s not much that tops doing what we love.

In the next few days, I’ll be posting several blogs as I head to Thailand next month with my daughter to visit my son and his girlfriend who’ve made Bangkok their home. We are very excited and ready for a new, exotic adventure!

My next blog post explores where ideas for books and characters come from, which came up during Marsha Casper Cook’s fun and informative Blog Talk Radio podcast that aired in early October. I was honored Marsha asked me back and as always, I loved chatting with her and my good friend and brilliant writer, Jack Remick. So do check back and if you’re interested in listening to the archived podcast, please click this link:

http://bit.ly/2oG6Q3W

Thank you for your visit. Happy writing and reading to you!

Eleanor

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Her best-selling 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 proud to be featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico. When Eleanor is not writing, she tends to her garden, travels, reads, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing adult children and currently lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

BUY A DECENT WOMAN:

https://amzn.to/2WjgXuC

Back to writing!

Hello, friends of this blog!

I hope you enjoyed your summer with your loved ones! I packed away my WIP and all the research material to set off for visits with family and friends in mid-July. I usually try to take July and August off in search of rest, rejuvenation, and inspiration, and this year was no different. I’ve discovered the harder I work at writing and research throughout the year (and I worked hard!), the better the summer break. This summer was great fun, so I thought it would be easy to get organized and to return to the writing desk–not the case! I found it difficult despite getting to a place in the novel in late June where I felt good despite knowing it was not ready for an editor’s eyes just yet.

So, after unpacking and giving my home a thorough cleaning, I unpacked the manuscript, pulled out the bulging research notebooks, and bought new pens, highlighters, and sticky tabs. I bought a new calendar, moved my writing desk to a quiet corner of my living room and fired up the laptop. I did what I do every September after vacation, I tried to psych myself up to write again by rereading where I left off. I liked what I read. I edited a few pages while reminding myself not to edit too much (I am guilty of this during the writing process) because I believe it’s better to allow the writing to flow without editing. But…the words didn’t come as they usually do.

I just needed more inspiration, I told myself. So, since I hadn’t read a single book over the summer and hadn’t watched many movies, I turned to Amazon and Netflix. I searched for books and films with the topics and themes of The Laments. Of course, I found a book along with films starring Catherine Deneuve and Audrey Tautou–two of my favorite actresses. I ordered the book and unsubscribed from The Rachel Maddow Show blog to keep me focused and on task.

Did I find the perfect inspiration to finish my novel? While I enjoyed the book, I’d broken my writing “rule” to stay away from reading when I’m writing. I know nothing these days is 100% original, but reading other’s words is not helpful for me during the writing process. So, I caught up with The Handmaid’s Tale. I know, I know, but I love that series.

When I finally got fed up and remembered that nothing is promised to us, my dear friend and master writer Jack’s words came to mind, “Quit whining. Write.”

So with this first blog post of September 2019, I’m back to writing.

Happy writing and reading to you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Her best-selling 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 proud to be featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and poet, Eleanor is currently working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1926 Puerto Rico. When Eleanor is not writing, she tends to her garden, travels, reads, and tells herself she will walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is the mother of two amazing adult children and currently lives in her adopted state of West Virginia.

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Gabriel Valjan

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with my fellow authors across genres, which is always interesting. Today I’m happy to welcome Gabriel Valjan.

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing, as well as numerous short stories. He lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

G Valjan

Welcome, Gabriel.

What is the genre of the book you’d like to discuss?

Corporate Citizen is the fifth book in the suspense/thriller Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing.

G Valjan book

Briefly describe what Corporate Citizen is about.

Bianca, our former analyst for the covert agency Rendition, is called to Boston to help clear a friend framed for a double homicide. All her Italian friends except for her boyfriend come with her. The murder investigation uncovers a drug ring for synthetic heroin, which Rendition may or may not have an interest in. Bianca continues to receive help from inside Rendition through a mysterious agent named Loki. There’s a troubled vet and a love interest and a criminal mastermind, unlike any Bianca and her gang have ever encountered.

How did you come up with the title and what inspired you to write this series?

The title is a buzzword from the business world. Corporations, like people, have ethical, legal, and social responsibilities. I am intrigued as to who is responsible when corporations commit crimes. A CEO might be the face to an organization, but decisions are far more complex when there is an obligation to shareholders and the ultimate objective is profit. What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? Bianca left Rendition because of the necessary evils she witnessed. She learns that one can never leave Rendition.

G Valjan books

 

What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? This is a question many Americans are asking themselves right about now.

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

Yes and No. Bianca may resemble my younger self, when I was more logical than Mr. Spock. Like her, I acted that way as a coping and defense mechanism. With age, I allowed myself to relax. Where we differ is gender and I do hope that I was successful in putting across a woman’s perspective.

Is Bianca in all five novels?

Bianca is in all 5 novels. The graphic above depicts the book in chronological order.

1: Roma, Underground takes place in Rome. Bianca is enticed to participate in a sting to capture thieves stealing cultural artifacts from the city’s underground. A real group of amateur archaeologists are mapping the city beneath Rome and I let my imagination run with that idea.

2: Wasp’s Nest. Bianca returns to Boston under the pretense of helping a contact within Rendition, but she is fearful of the growing intimacy between her and Dante. I tried to showcase lesser known parts of Boston. The inspiration behind this outing was what if someone disrupted the pharmaceutical industry, particularly cancer research, with an invention that did away with chemotherapy and radiation.

3: Threading the Needle. Bianca and her gang tackle political terrorism in Milan. The inspiration here was what the Italians call The Years of Lead, which was a series of terrorist attacks from 1969 to 1984. The height of terror culminated in the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Speculation exists as to who funded and directed far-right groups to destroy the Communist Party in Italy.

4: Turning To Stone. Bianca is caught between the Camorra and the Sicilian mafia in Naples. The Sicilians are hatching a plan to destabilize the world currency market to their advantage. The Fiscal Crisis of 2007 provided the basis for this novel.

5: Corporate Citizen. Bianca is back in Boston to help a friend framed for murder.

Each of my novels includes the first chapter of the next one in the The Roma Series. Book 6, Crunch City, is situated in London and it will explore (or explode) the extent of surveillance. Bianca has a new and formidable nemesis at Rendition, but she also has an unexpected ally at her side. She’ll have to make a decision on her relationship with Dante.

Thanks for including the brief synopses. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I worry whether I have seeded the story with just enough clues so that it is not predictable. Am I too obvious? Was I too obscure? The reader is a god, who must be appeased, and yet should still be surprised with the creation. It’s kind of like looking at a platypus and scratching your head. There’s logic to the design.

Great questions to ask during the writing process. Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

My characters have a life of their own. When I write it is like meeting old friends. I’ve been fortunate to have a collaborative relationship with my publisher. I have a say in the editing process and in cover-art design. I believe the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities describes today’s authors and publishers. Indie publishers have proven they can put quality out there in the market. The Big Five and literary agents are not necessarily gatekeepers for taste and talent. Self-publishing, while not new, is a hit or miss. Amazon has created both the markets and the platform. Readers are feasting and authors are like matchstick children hoping for a kind soul and a sale.

I found myself nodding at your answers above. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird. In a post-apocalyptic future where machines do everything and reading is illegal, an android named Bob Spofforth runs the world — and he is suicidal. Another character, Paul, is a conformist who teaches himself how to read. He falls in love with Mary Lou, a rebel who lives in a zoo. This is not Humanity versus the Machines story. Knowledge has slipped away. Watching Paul learn and then teach Mary Lou how to read is a reminder of why we read and why we are human. Tevis will reduce you to tears.

Another book for my reading list, thank you. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Tough question. Margaret Atwood. Jane Austen. Louise Brooks. Raymond Chandler. Eduardo Galeano. William Faulkner. Dashiell Hammett. Dorothy Johnson. E.J. Levy. Gabriel García Márquez. William Maxwell. Carson McCullers. Flannery O’ Connor. Victor Hugo. E.B. White. Richard Yates.

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

Dashiell Hammett and William Faulkner. Though these two writers polar opposites in style, they worked language in ways I envy. If you research Gertrude Stein, you’ll discover that it was Hammett — not Hemingway — who was responsible for the spare minimalistic style. Hemingway learned his craft from journalism (being shot at is excellent motivation for brevity) and reading Hammett. Faulkner – read his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (557 words) – and ask yourself this, Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? His novels are challenging but rewarding.

Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? Great question. For me, the answer is yes. I’m off to Google Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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

I have an MA in Medieval Studies. 

Gabriel, what is your favorite part of writing?

The beauty of a series is I have a cast of characters and each one has a personality and quirks. Corporate is a long, hard look at Bianca and what makes her tick. I enjoyed those moments when she surprised me with something she said or did. Bianca is guarded and she allows herself some vulnerability when she meets Nick.

G Valjan book

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

I write in my bedroom, where one or two cats stare at me and count keystrokes. I like reading in bed.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

The Roma Series is classified as genre fiction, but I hope that readers see each novel as an exploration of friendship and love, that what matters most in life is how we treat each other. Each novel takes place in a different city because I want readers to see how Europeans see the world, and how an American deals with a different mindset. I ask questions about culture and society throughout the Series. Do you work to live, or live to work?

I like the idea of offering readers an opportunity to see the world through different lenses. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

It depends on the definition of success. Sales have not made me a household name, but I have developed a small following. Social media has allowed me to meet other writers and for them to know me. If ‘success’ is word of mouth, then I would say other writers, established and struggling, know that I am a supportive and encouraging person. It costs nothing to be kind and positive. I think what I have done ‘right’ is be myself and let my name stand for something. I go to readings to support others, I tweet to get the word out on writers I know, and I’ll write reviews. The best community for me has been other writers.

I agree with your definition of success. I met you through your generous tweets of my book, so I can attest to your support of other writers.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped with your books?

It’s hard to tell because I believe everything is cumulative. The problem is you don’t know what will work. I have had mixed feelings about PR firms. They are expensive and I think they are figuring it out along with the rest of us. It’s been a learning experience.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Read and learn from the writers you enjoy. Take apart; analyze what you admire. Be consistent, persistent, and tenacious about improving your skills. Set aside your ego and write because you have a story to tell. Respect your reader’s emotions, intellect, and their time. To paraphrase Carver, your job is to capture the heartbeat and the ‘human noise.’

Well said. Website and social media links?

Web: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Twitter: @GValjan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gabriel-Valjan-291400997547203/ 

Where can we find your book?

Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/2pORYMH

WGP: http://wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/gabriel-valjan/

What’s next for you, Gabriel?

Winter Goose Publishing will release the first book of another series in late 2017. The Company Files: The Good Man is what I would call historical noir. The story takes place in 1948 Vienna and it’s the early days of the American intelligence community. Jack Marshall is asked to find former Nazis in Germany’s atomic program before the Russians do. Someone is killing them and Jack has to put a stop to it. For touchstones for the writing, think of Joseph Kanon, Phillip Kerr or John Le Carré, and yet different.

Vienna and the American intelligence community. We will have to chat about that another time! Thank you for visiting today, Gabriel. All the best to 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. 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

 

Author Interview: Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I’m very pleased to welcome fellow Puerto Rican writer, Yadhira Gonzalez, who celebrates a birthday today!

Yadhira Gonzalez

Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor was born in Bronx, New York in 1973 to Puerto Rican parents. She is a graduate of the New York City public school system and also attended elementary school in Caguas, Puerto Rico. She served her country as a Military Police Officer in the US Army Reserve, assigned to the 812th MP Co., 800th MP Brigade in New York State between 1992 and 2000. 

 She received her B.S., magna cum laude and M.A., in Criminal Justice in 1999 from the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A graduate of New York Law School, she received her J.D. in 2002. Upon graduating law school, Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor served as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County where she prosecuted economic crime cases until 2006. Her career path led to an appointment as an internal prosecutor for the NYC Police Department between 2006 and 2009. Currently, she is an administrative law judge for the NYC Department of Education. An attorney by day and a writer by night, she is inspired to write by her three daughters and her own upbringing, traveling between New York and Puerto Rico. Presently, she is working on more adventures for the Martina series and other literary projects and workshops.

Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor is published in Bronx Memoir Part I as an essay contributor. She is a member of the Full Circle Ensemble and has performed spoken word at the National Black Theater with her writing circle. She is also a contributor to the Anthology, Mujeres, the Magic, the Movement, a poetry collection written by fierce warrior women resulting from a women’s literary workshop facilitated by the poet Peggy Robles-Alvarado. The anthology book launch will be occurring soon and the book will become available within the next few weeks on Amazon.

Bienvenida, Yadhira.

Please describe what your books are about.

The published books are within the folk / fable family in children’s literature genre. Martina Finds a Shiny Coin is an offshoot of La Cucarachita Martina, an old Caribbean folktale first put to print by New York City’s first Puerto Rican Librarian, Pura Belpre. In the story, a little roach finds a coin and goes on a shopping spree. She ends up buying make up, and what follows is a journey of self-discovery, courtship, randomness, and the meaning of true love.

Martina 1

Once the first story was published, I got an idea to do a spinoff using the same character. In Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, Martina goes on a musical journey with all her friends from the Barrio.

Martina 2

How did you come up with the titles?

Martina Finds a Shiny Coin was inspired by the main character finding the coin. This sets off La Cucarachita on her journey, not only on her shopping trip, but that of her meeting many suitors on the road to discovering her true worth. Hence, Martina Finds a Shiny Coin.

The second title, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, came about because the main concept of the story is the journey to a magical, wondrous waterfall that Martina and all her friends go on.

They’re lovely books. I’m saving my signed copies for future grandchildren 🙂

What inspired you to write children’s books?

As a mother, I was always tasked as the sleep time storyteller. I kept repeating the same fairy tales that were not representative of my own culture, i.e., Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs, etc. One day, my husband asked if I had any stories from Puerto Rico. Immediately I remembered La Cucarachita! The rest is history. We adapted the story with different things and interests for the main character and a new illustrated version of the story emerged.

The second book, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, was inspired by a trip I took with friends to a majestic waterfall in my hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

I tell new writers to write what they’d like to read. Looks like it worked beautifully for you and your children.

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

I think my lifelong struggle with weight had a part to play in how I wrote the story. I have struggled with self-esteem, so I know what it’s like to people please or change one’s appearance to satisfy others. For example, I once had a boyfriend who criticized me every time I wore my hair in a bob. He preferred long hair, I guess. So I kept my hair long for a while just to satisfy this relationship, which eventually ended. Probably because I wasn’t being my true self. So in that way, I can relate at an intimate level with the main character. I have grown so much since then.

Today, despite all my professional and personal successes, I still struggle. And who doesn’t? It’s part of being a human being, I think. The difference now is that today, I look at myself in the mirror and I remind myself that I am made by the universe to be alive, to love, to live, to educate, to nurture, and to be of service to my fellow humans. None of those responsibilities are affected by the way I look, unless I let it, so I affirm that I am a human first and everything else is gravy.

Exactly, everyone struggles with one thing or another. When I stopped the people pleasing, a few toxic relationships ended soon afterward, which was a good/sad thing and probably inevitable. Looking back, the experience made me stronger and opened new doors.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is having the ability to purge feelings, positive and negative, into an artistic medium. I journal, write poetry,  and perform my poems (sometimes), and I write stories. It’s a form of positive escapism. If you are going to have a vice, I would say writing is a healthy one, unless you forget to bathe, then you are running into potential problems if you share space with other humans 🙂

Too funny. I live alone, so I don’t bother anyone with my late night writing sessions, but my Chihuahua complains when I leave the light on.

Yadhira, what do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Procrastination. I can write almost anything. It’s the editing that gets me stuck. I use verbal prompts, images, and writing workshops to crank up the writing. It’s what happens next that I find tedious. However, it is necessary to produce quality work that someone is going to be willing to pay for, or even trek to the library to borrow my book. I believe a writer’s success is measured by the quality of their work. It’s one of those things where word travels and reputations can hurt your ability to market yourself. Especially in the world of self-publishing.

Very true. Most writers I know have unique ways of dealing with procrastination. I show up at the writing desk every day and force myself to write, no matter what. If the writing doesn’t move me that day, I switch to doing research for the book I’m working on or reading, which usually gets me motivated and reinspired. But I remain at the writing desk.

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

I am currently reading a few books on writing as I am working on editing a manuscript. This one is not a children’s story. The last book I read for fun was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How could I not like a story written by a genius? I loved it. The sad tragic story of the main character coupled with his undying love for the love for a woman who abandoned him and his undying need to punish himself with self-destructive behavior is a reminder that sometimes we just have to let go; that love is not supposed to hurt.

Definitely one of my favorite books. Marquez was a genius and a masterful storyteller. I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera in Spanish and loving it even more than the English translation.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Isabel Allende is a favorite. I love magic realism and she does it fabulously well in her books.

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

I enjoy authors who show their own defects and spiritual struggles in their writing. Isabel Allende is one of those authors. She is unafraid to embrace the dysfunctions and sadness of life and it shines through in her writing.

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

Writing, no. I have to adapt as an urban dweller who spends a lot of time outside. So sometimes, I write in a journal and sometimes on my laptop when I have a lunch hour to spare at work. Reading however is a different story.

I have an old winged back chair in a corner, by the large windows at the front of my home. There, I have set up a nice cotton area rug for my feet to be warmed, I’ve placed many of my (70-plus) plants in that area, and I have a space to place my coffee mug. That is where I do my best reading. It is also,where I sit to quietly meditate and read the paper on Sunday mornings.

Yadhira reading nook

Looks like a great place to read. I think everyone should have a sacred space in the home.

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

I once ran after a moving tractor-trailer truck. I was about 20, crazy, and still in the Army. I still had a lot of recklessness in me. The truck hit my mom’s car and kept going, but we were in heavy traffic so the truck wasn’t going that fast. I ran after it, climbed on the step and banged on the window to make the driver stop. Looking back now I realize it wasn’t very good idea.

Wow, the hit and run driver must have been shocked to see you on his truck! Now, I want to know the ending of that story.

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

The writing process reminds me of my propensity for procrastination, the writer’s worst enemy. It’s easier for me to create content than it is to edit and re-write. I struggle with that issue. I try to carve out time. However, writing though my passion, is not my full time employment, so I have to squeeze in writing and editing time when I can.

I learned a lot during the self-publishing process. I tried traditional agents and publishing houses, but I was unsuccessful. I had to do all the work myself. I hired illustrators, editors (of all stages), even the guy who produced the trailer for my first book. So I became well versed in the lingo of the industry, which I believe adds to my credibility as a self-published author. Many people out there are discovering createspace or other self-publishing platforms. They are buying ISBNs or using the createspace ISBN, and putting work out there that is not edited by anyone. Oftentimes, the first draft is published and we, self-published authors, have to compete against the presumption that self-published is of a lesser quality than a traditionally published book.

To your last comment, that’s a common complaint among self-published authors. Self-publishing is a lot of work!

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

Both stories involve a journey of self-discovery. There is also the underlying theme of self-reflection and personal improvement woven within the story. It is never too late to change your perspective. A positive perspective in any situation can lead to positive changes and therefore, genuine happiness.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market your books?

I was blessed to meet so many people because of writing the first book. When I first published Martina Finds a Shiny Coin, I participated in the Brooklyn Book Fair. It was there that I met Maria Aponte, a fellow author, who is very involved in the Latino writing community. She was my shiny coin! After meeting her, I met countless others that shared the same desire to produce quality written content as well as people willing to share resources and information and that is how a natural marketing process began. Today I have so many new friends, including you, Eleanor, whom I have met through my adventurous development as a writer.

Maria is a shiny coin! I was very happy to finally meet you, Maria Aponte, Bobby Gonzalez, Theresa Varela, and Manuel Melendez at the Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Author Book Expo last year. It’s a great Boricua event, and I hope to participate again this year. My son lives in NYC, so it’s looking good.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped in the writing or marketing of your books?

I stay away from paying Facebook for ads. I don’t have an exuberant budget and I found that the amount of money I was paying for highlighting my main character’s Facebook posts was not paying a dividend.

I’ve thought about Facebook ads, and heard the same feedback from many authors. I find book blasts, book tours, and Thunderclap campaigns are good ways to introduce new books.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to be published?

Editing is an important part that cannot be skipped or minimized. I am not going to buy any subsequent books you publish if your first one is riddled with errors. Editing, editing, and more editing is the bulk of our writing. Also, don’t go straight to self-publishing. Try the traditional way first. Publishing houses have far more resources than an indie author could ever dream of having. You’ll still have to market yourself as an author, writer, etc., but you will have more support in the background.

I completely agree with you on editing and trying for traditional publishing. I recommend checking out smaller publishing houses; that’s how I got my foot in the publishing door.

Website and social media links?

You can follow me on twitter @gothamesq

Martina has her own Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/martinafindsashinycoin/

And my author page can be found on the net at: www.ygtbooks.net

Where can we find your books?

You can find both titles on Amazon.com and of course, directly from me by emailing ygonzaleztaylor@yahoo.com. I can mail a signed copy right to reader’s doors, or to their gift recipient’s door.

What’s next for you?

I am attending workshops to hone my craft as well as writing and reading as much as I can. I am hoping to finish editing a manuscript and will begin the process of finding agents to represent me in that endeavor.

Yadhira G

I just love this photograph of you! This is the happiest way to end a great interview. Best of luck on your writing journey, Yadhira. I look forward to the release of the anthology.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Linda DeFruscio

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Writing books is a solitary endeavor, so it’s a pleasure to meet fellow writers through these interviews. By interviewing authors across genres, I discover new books and authors, and I’m happy to bring their talents to my readers.

We are nearing the end of the 2017 Author Interview series at The Writing Life, so enjoy the few remaining interviews as I focus on finishing my second book, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. If you’ve missed a few interviews, or are just now “tuning in”, we had a great year! Happy Spring to you.

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Today’s author is Linda DeFruscio, 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, was published in 2015 by Twilight Times Books.

NOTE: A week before Linda’s scheduled interview, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a Harvard-educated, millionaire, cross-dressing doctor who’d shot and killed his wife. As I put this interview together, I realized it was the same Dr. Sharpe we would be speaking about today. Talk about a strange case of synchronicity.

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Welcome, Linda. Please tell us how you met Dr. Richard J. Sharpe, and what inspired you to write this memoir.

Richard Sharpe was my business mentor, long before he committed his crime. He was a dermatologist and I was (and am) an electrologist, so we had in common that we were both interested in people’s skin. When lasers for hair removal came out in 1998, he was one of the first to realize their potential. He bought two (they were absurdly expensive back then) and “leased” them to me and other electrologists and skincare professionals he knew. I started taking notes about my interactions with him almost from the day I met him, because I am a compulsive note taker and he was unique in so many ways. And he only became more notable (and not always in a good way) over time. By the time I decided to write about him, I had boxes of notes. And because of the notoriety surrounding his trial, eventually I had boxes of newspaper clippings and Court TV tapes and tapes from various TV interview shows as well.

I find it fascinating that you listened to your gut and began taking notes on Richard Sharpe from day one. I can imagine how incredibly difficult it was to write about your friend and business associate, but to find yourself in the middle of this murder case must have been harrowing.

In the year 2000, I was forced to make an unthinkable decision. Dr. Richard Sharpe, a man who was my business associate and friend, committed a terrible crime. I went through many stages of emotion when I learned about it, beginning with shock, then grief, then a kind of numbness. I was in the numb stage when he reached out to me, from prison, asking me to remain his friend. I knew being his friend would cost me dearly; I would lose friends, clients, and some peace of mind. But I agreed to maintain some kind of relationship with him, because someone had to. He was utterly broken and very sorry for what he did. My memoir tells his story—how he went from being a medical and business genius, and, it goes without saying, a millionaire, to being a broken man in a prison cell—within the context of my own.

Writing Cornered must have required a lot of courage, stamina, and self-reflection. What did you learn and ultimately, sacrifice in the process of writing this memoir?

Since I appear as the narrator, I sacrificed anonymity in order to tell the truest story I could. In Cornered it required much more of me. I had to really reveal myself—all my many warts included—so that the reader would understand how I came to make the decisions I did. But it was worth it. A lot of people who read the book commented on my “unfailing honesty.” I think their trust in me enabled them to better see Richard Sharpe through my eyes. Yes, he was a despicable criminal, but he was also a man who tried, and ultimately failed, to deal with his physical, emotional and spiritual burdens.

How did you come up with the title? I think it’s perfect for this book.

I was adding to my list of possible titles the entire time I was working on my memoir. But in the end Cornered, with its subtitle, seemed the most appropriate. Richard Sharpe liked to be in the limelight—and often he was, because of the many contributions he made in the medical field. But when he felt himself threatened in any way he drifted into the corner, both literally and figuratively. And frankly, I felt cornered by him sometimes, because he was so needy. So the word worked on several levels.

After watching one video about this troubled, brilliant man and the murder of his wife, I would have felt cornered by him, as well as torn by the idea of remaining friends. Human nature is fascinating.

My decision to remain friends with Richard Sharpe impacted my life in ways that were unimaginable to me at the time. I learned a lot about myself and about human nature generally because of our association. I suffered a great deal of loss too. I think any reader who has experienced shifts in their life as a result of an association with a difficult or strong-willed or mentally-ill person—whether it is a child or a spouse or a friend—will identify with Cornered.

You’ve published children’s books and this memoir. How did you come to 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 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.

Has the writing process uncovered surprises or learning experiences for you?

Yes! I learned so much about myself through the writing of books. Loyalty is not something I ever gave much thought to before, but as it happens, it became a major theme in Cornered. 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, 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.

I can fully relate to getting out of bed in the middle of the night to jot down great thoughts! 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.

Who influenced you as a writer?

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 from 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. 

It sounds like Marissa was a tough, but necessary mentor in your writing journey. 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.

Tell us something personal about you 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.

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

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.

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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. 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.

Well said, Linda.

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.

Thank you, Linda, for a most interesting interview. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your memoir. I wish you the best of luck with your timely book on the trans community and the memoir with your sister.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Rev. Judith Laxer

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life blog. I am very pleased to welcome back, Rev. Judith Laxer, the author of Along the Wheel of Time: Sacred Stories for Nature Lovers.

Rev. Judith was Ordained as a SHES (Spiritual Healers and Earth Stewards) Minister in 1992. Since then, she has officiated at countless rite of passage ceremonies. She has taught classes and workshops on the Goddess, Women’s Mysteries, and psychic development locally and nationally since 1993, and was the Ceremonial Director for the Seattle-based Women of Wisdom Conference for five years.

Her collection of short stories Along the Wheel of Time: Sacred Stories for Nature Lovers was published in June 2014.

Judith enjoys her successful private practice of Spiritual Counseling, Psychic Tarot readings, Certified Hypnotherapy, Reiki and Shamanic practices. In September of 2000, she began offering Goddess Worship Services to an ever-growing congregation. Her soul has found home in Gaia’s Temple, where she is Founder and Director.

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Welcome back to The Writing Life, Judith!

Book Cover (1)

What is your book’s genre?

My book is a collection of short stories in the genre of magical realism.

Please describe what your book is about. 

Along the Wheel of Time: Sacred Stories for Nature Lovers comprises eight short fictional stories that accompany the sabbats, or natural earth holy days, on the Pagan Wheel of the Year: the solstices, the equinoxes and the cross quarter days in between. They help the reader deepen their connection to nature within a spiritual context.

How did you come up with the title?

The Wheel of the Year is a metaphoric model for our souls’ journey. I wanted a title that speaks to the ongoing cycles of life. The use of the word Wheel in the title addresses this metaphor because like circles, wheels have no beginning and no ending. Also, I have always been fascinated with the concept of time and how our perception of it shifts with our awareness of living.

What inspired you to write this book?

Nature inspires me. My personal experience of living a devotional life is so richly connected to the natural world and is so satisfying, I wanted to share the beauty and significance of a life lived this way. Especially in our era of ubiquitous technology that engages us in superficiality and keeps us disconnected.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is how it makes my experience of time disappear. When I am on a roll and the words are flowing, I love the feeling of being transported from ordinary reality when time seems to stop. I also love when I finish the first draft and then get to go back and begin carefully crafting it. I love polishing a story.

Do your characters resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Well, each story has its’ own set of characters. There are aspects of me in all of them, I suppose. My life experience has greatly informed the tales, although I wouldn’t say any one of the characters resembles my personality specifically. I tried to listen to each one and portray them as they revealed themselves to me.

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

Intellectually I know there are going to be days when I write and write and don’t like what I end up with. But emotionally, if I end up not liking what I have spent time writing, doubt sets in. Often I feel I am in competition with myself, like I must outdo myself each time I sit down to write. Once I get that inner competitor under lock and key, I have a much easier time.

I like the idea of keeping the inner competitor under lock and key. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  I enjoyed the story and the tears it brought to my eyes. I loved how life kept interrupting his plans, but I won’t say more so I don’t spoil it for others. The author made good use of revealing the backstory a piece at a time. It elicited compassion for the title character in me, despite his being an exasperating curmudgeon.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Barbara Kingsolver, Joan Didion, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Cunningham, Colum McCann and Lidia Yuknavitch.

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

Jean Huston has had an enormous influence on me. I strive to have her command of language, but it’s more how she thinks that is so impressive. I find her understanding of the possible human to be endlessly inspiring. More recently, I’ve found Lidia Yuknavitch’s courage to speak her truth unflinchingly on the page, and her originality to be rather contagious.

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

I like to write best on my desktop computer in my home office. I sit in the room I have designed to my liking, surrounded by my colors, my art, my Goddess statues, looking out my window onto my prolific garden. Visual beauty is crucial to me for inspiration and creativity and my sense of myself as an artist. I like to read on the living room couch sipping a cup of tea with my favorite fleece blanket over my knees.

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

I am an ordained minister and have a private practice as a psychic, spiritual counselor, hypnotherapist, shamanic practitioner, and teacher of women’s mysteries. I once accompanied a hypnotherapy client into the operating room for her breast cancer surgery. She was allergic to anesthetic and we used hypnosis to get her through it! The next thing I know, I am wearing scrubs sitting on a stool at her head in the freezing operating room for close to eight hours. To this day, it is still one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.

Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience, Judith.

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

The writing process showed me where I needed work specifically on craft. It propelled me into classes which have helped me up my game with wordsmithing.

I’ve learned many things about the publishing process and here are two that are most important to me.

  1. Be bold. Take risks. Promote yourself like you are promoting someone you adore. (You should adore yourself anyway, right?) Sometimes it’s easier to take risks if you imagine they are for someone else. We have the courage to do and say things for others we often have trouble doing and saying for ourselves.
  2. Follow your intuition. Shortly after the company that first published my book went under, I got a notice that a publisher was now following me on twitter. Hmmm, I thought. Who are they? I checked out their website and even though it said they don’t publish short story collections, my gut said to write them anyway and see.  The publisher responded within twenty four hours, picked me up and got my book back out there within a month. If I had second guessed my impetus to reach out, my book might have gone the way of obscurity.

What do you hope readers will gain from Along the Wheel of Time: Sacred Stories for Nature Lovers?

These stories inform readers how reverence for nature is also a viable spiritual path. I hope this gives them the courage to explore something alternative. I also hope the stories debunk a few unsavory myths and much negative press about Paganism.

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

Being in a writing group was so helpful with encouragement, feedback and accountability. The support kept me going, even when my doubts seemed to overthrow my inspiration.

About a year before my book was published, I finally cried ‘uncle’ and joined social media-which I had resisted with all my might- because I knew those are the best tools for marketing. Then I threw myself a big launch party which was a blast. I sold many books that night.

The marketing of one’s book(s) never ends. What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

Having unrealistic expectations. I thought it would be easier to get my warm market to write reviews, share the book with others, etc. And although some did, many more did not. My strategy and task now is to write essays on related topics and get them published to get my name and work out there beyond my warm market.

Great plan. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Make sure your writing is as good as you can get it before submitting it to an agent of publisher. The old adage ‘you only get one shot at making a first impression’ applies here for sure. I am not an expert on getting publishing by any means, but I can see that developing relationships with other writers leads to support, introductions, and opportunities one wouldn’t get on their own.

Website and social media links?

www.judithlaxer.com, www.gaiastemple.org 

Twitter: @judithlaxer

Facebook: Judith Laxer and Rev. Judith Laxer

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Where can we find your book?

AMAZON US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HC4OEIA

BARNES & NOBLE: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/along-the-wheel-of-time-rev-judith-laxer/1123953263;jsessionid=DD1A8CE26242A839A39FF219CF064AC0.prodny_store02-atgap10?ean=2940153239224

KOBO: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/along-the-wheel-of-time-sacred-stories-for-nature-lovers

GOOGLE PLAY: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Rev_Judith_Laxer_Along_the_Wheel_of_Time?id=WVtuDAAAQBAJ&hl=en

iBOOKS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1125895996 

What’s next for you, Judith?

I just finished the first draft of my m-m-m-m-memoir. (Did I write that out loud?) I am revising it now after some feedback before I begin to shop it around.

Yes, you did, and your memoir is now out in the Universe!

Thanks, Ellie, for featuring me on your blog! 

It’s always a pleasure to catch up with you, Judith. Best of luck with your books.

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

Author Interview: Caroline Allen

Welcome to our first author interview of 2017! Here at The Writing Life blog, I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres every Tuesday. Today, I’m happy to chat with talented artist and award-winning author, Caroline Allen.

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Caroline Allen is the author of EARTH and AIR, part of the 5-book Elemental Journey Series. Both novels were published in 2015 by Booktrope Editions of Seattle. Each won Independent Publisher awards soon after publication, a gold medal for regional fiction for EARTH, and a silver medal for visionary fiction for AIR. Prior to becoming a fiction writer, she worked as a journalist all over the world, as a reporter and editor in Tokyo, London and Seattle, and as a travel writer throughout SE Asia. She now lives in rural Oregon and is a book coach and a visual artist.

Welcome, Caroline!

What are your book’s genres?

Literary, visionary fiction.

Please describe what your books are about.

I’m writing a series of five books, The Elemental Journey Series, which includes EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER, and ETHER.

EARTH and AIR were published by Seattle’s Booktrope Editions in 2015. I’m currently at work on the third novel. All five books follow one protagonist on a hero’s journey around the globe as she finds herself in a world rocked by climate change and growing chaos. What does a person’s journey look like in such an unstable world? Is there a greater spiritual call to be answered by each person in a world on the edge?

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EARTH looks at our protagonist as she is rooted in place, in the rural farmland of her ancestors. Pearl Swinton, the protagonist, has mystical visions. She wants nothing to do with these visions, her family and teachers think she’s crazy. She can find nowhere where she “fits.” When she hears her aunt in another town has the same “curse”, she goes on a bicycle journey to find her. In the end, she learns she must uproot from this rural bedrock of tradition and forge a new path for herself.

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In AIR, Pearl lands in Tokyo, where she hopes to float above the culture and find perspective. She meets a Japanese missionary who makes himself homeless, in his despair over his brother’s death in a culture that overworks its people. As he lives beneath a bridge folding origami cranes, he tells Pearl he is now homeless, just as she has made herself in leaving her rural American hometown. What are the uses of disconnection? He asks her: Where truly is home? He urges her to study her visions to find her purpose and help the world.

You ask great life questions. How did you come up with the titles?

I was a short story writer, living in Washington state, more than a decade ago now. I was sleeping in Seattle when I awoke from a dream and sat up, and I was “given” the message that my short stories would fit together into a novel, and there would be a series, EARTH (connection to our place of birth), AIR (leaving our traditions and floating above the culture), FIRE (the burning of the ego in London), WATER (personal healing in the Pacific Northwest), and ETHER (being of spiritual service to others).

I was “given” the general story for each book. The task after the dream, of course, is developing the characters, writing all of the plot twists, revising and editing and getting the books to market. It’s a lifetime task.   

Fascinating. What inspired you to write this series?

I was an international journalist for a decade, working in newsrooms in Tokyo and London. I was at the London dailies when I had a huge spiritual opening. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I was able to read everyone’s mind, no, more than that, I could see the bigger truths affecting them. It hit me all at once, and was extremely overwhelming. I moved back to the States as part of the process of figuring out what was going on with me. When I finally integrated this side of myself by doing metaphysical healing work in Seattle for years, I was inspired to include “visions” in the novels. What if there was a character who all of her life had spiritual visions? How would everyone react? What purpose would her visions ultimately fulfill?

My path in understanding my visionary side inspired me to write all five books.

I look forward to reading your books, Caroline! What is your favorite part of writing?

When I created Usui, the Japanese missionary, in AIR, I fully and completely fictionalized him. My books are semi-autobiographical in that sometimes a scene or a place or a character is based on either real life, or an amalgamation of different lives. But Usui was totally fictionalized. And I fell in love with him. I’m still in love with him. He is like the greatest love of my life. I dream of him, and talk to him and feel his presence. He’s depressive and weak and shy, but also so spiritually evolved. It’s just this love. I cannot explain it any other way.

His spirit has come back in FIRE, the novel I’m writing now, and he shows up and speaks every once in a while to my protagonist. My favorite part of writing is this falling in love. It’s as real as any love I’ve ever known.

What’s really exciting is that apparently I’m not the only one who fell in love with him. A Massachusetts artist fell for Usui too, did a painting of a scene in the novel where Usui is folding origami cranes beneath a foot bridge as a homeless person. The painting was accepted into a major juried show called Alienation in the fall of 2016.

The character Usui is intriguing as I practice Usui Reiki. The strong connection most authors have to their character(s) is quite fascinating. It happens to me, as well.

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

Pearl Elizabeth Swinton is a semi-autobiographical version of me. Like me, she grew up on a subsistence farm in Missouri, flew to Tokyo to live and work, traveled through SE Asia, lived in London and ended up in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike me, she has had visions since she hit puberty, and this fact in itself changed how closely the story could follow my life. Pearl is much more excitable than I ever was, much more dramatic, and much less intellectual.

As she travels the world, she meets many characters who do not exist in real life, people I never met.

I’m a book coach, as well, helping people all over the world write novels and memoir. Just this morning, I was speaking to a fiction client about how important it is to disconnect from thinking the protagonist is you. You need the freedom to truly create a work of art. I have been able to see Pearl as separate from me, even though sometimes our paths run side-by-side.

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

Writing envelopes me. It swallows me. It takes me over like a whirlwind romance. I have to figure out a way to go into that phase and to come out of it, or, as has happened in the past, I look up and it’s the first of the month and I didn’t make enough money to pay the bills.

There were bigger challenges in the beginning of my fiction-writing life. When I gave up journalism, I couldn’t seem to get into the next phase of creative writing. I wasn’t writing. Anything. I was so shut down and didn’t know why. I came to a dangerous edge in my life. In therapy, a counselor told me, “You need to write every day. Every single day.”

I burst out sobbing. “I can’t. I can’t.” I just kept repeating those two words. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” wailing into my hands.

“Why?” she asked again and again.

“The monsters will come out. If I open that door, the monsters will get loose.”

She sat pondering, while I rocked on the sofa.

She didn’t even ask me to explain the monsters. I would’ve had no words for what I meant. Instead, she said: “OK, you like to build things, right? Here’s the plan. Go home and build a cage. Put it beneath your writing desk. Keep the monsters in the cage. You’ll need them for writing, so open the cage every morning to start your writing session, let them out, write, then put them back in and close the cage door. Can you do that?”

I looked up, sniffed, and nodded. For some reason, I loved the idea.

I built the cage. It sat under my desk for 13 years.

I understand the need of a visual and even a literal cage when dealing with monsters after a creative period. Artists and writers need their dark sides, as they are part of the whole.

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

Incarnations by Susan Barker. Loved it. Written by a British author, well-researched and beautifully written. It deals with the past lives of a Chinese taxi driver. I dig past lives and think the whole subject is rich fodder for fiction.

Caroline, who are some of your favorite authors?

Mostly my favorite writers are poets. Mary Oliver and Adrienne Rich top the list. Women who live their lives with integrity, outside the mainstream, who speak with poetry and love about their lives.

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

Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills and The Unconsoled were profoundly strong influences on me. He plays with time in both books, where forward is backward and now is then and people exist and do not exist, and he writes about these subjects within a well-told plotted story. This appeals deeply to my metaphysical side. I do not think life is linear, and an understanding of the nonlinear life can help expand our excitement of it. Authors who go to that place seem expansive and exciting to me.

Camus and Dostoyevski are two other influences. Any author who sees the dark side and absurdity of what it called “normal” society appeals to me. To me what we call normal is absurdist at best.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

My yurt! When I finished AIR, I gave myself the gift of a yurt in the woods. The original yurts were and still are used by nomadic tribes in Mongolia. A modernized versions of these are becoming popular on the U.S. West Coast. When I moved to Oregon, I camped up and down the coast to get to know the state, and the state parks rent yurts as cabins. I fell in love with the round, domed structures.

Caroline Allen yurt.JPG

I purchased a kit from Pacific Yurts. Don’t let the word “kit” fool you. It was an intense full-on construction scenario and my friends and I were utterly exhausted after building it in a clearing in the woods.

Months after it was constructed, I found a desk, chair, and dresser down a rural road, at the end of a gravel driveway, placed there for free by the owners. It was the kind of furniture I would’ve loved as a little girl. Now, I had my writing desk. There is no internet connectivity or consistent electricity, so it’s just me, my laptop with its battery, and some candles. Next year, I will be able to afford a wood stove. The view is of forest. A family of deer like to hang out around it. There’s even a bear. Being that close to the wild engages my inner wild child writer.

I do love the idea of a yurt in nature!  Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m also a visual artist. That’s not the surprise. I just finished a project called Outside the Lines, one painting a day for one year. For 366 days — it was a leap year — I painted a painting every single day. That’s not the surprise either. I painted one while in the departure lounge waiting for a late United flight, my carryon as an easel, I painted one the day I had surgery for an accident that severed my foot from my leg (the morphine made the painting really really wild), and I painted one during a birthday party for me in Seattle.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows about these paintings. I’ve strung them on clothes line with pins around the inner walls of my yurt, like prayer flags.

This is the surprise and it’s happened several times: I’ll walk into the yurt and see all of the paintings, hundreds of expressions of my soul, and become so emotional. I’ll wish I could paint like that. Oh, if I could just paint like that I’d be such a fulfilled person. I’d feel so weepy. Yes, I look at my own paintings and wish I could paint like I already do paint. That reaction is a surprise even to me. I still don’t get my reaction. A healer friend told me sometimes it takes the emotional body time to catch up with the physical body. Perhaps that is it.

We are constantly peeling our emotional onion while writing and painting, aren’t we?

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

As an author and a book coach, the biggest thing that always, ALWAYS, surprises me is how far we women still have to go in speaking our soul truth. How far we have to go as writers in working through the blocks to speaking our truth, and how far the publishing industry has to go in accepting us. It surprises me again and again that people are not used to women truly speaking the depths of their truth.

If my protagonist, or me as a person, speaks in terms of her/my relationships (to the opposite sex, or to children, or to any sort of caregiving role), we are much more accepted and acceptable.

Speaking pure truth through fiction or memoir is still more rare than it should be. This affects the writing process and it affects publication. Finding a publisher who’ll take a chance on women speaking deep soul truth is better than it was, but it’s still too difficult!

I wholeheartedly agree with you; still too difficult. What do you hope readers will gain from your books?

All five books explore a paradigm shift from linear thought to a more spiritual holistic mindset, through the story of one character. The books go from sticking to the past of our ancestors to trying an entirely new way of living through a shift in our perceptions. My deepest hope is that by explaining the process, in five books that will take decades to complete, the details of the path will help others on a similar journey. I believe we all need to make this paradigm shift, but that it’s so radical that no one person or book is going to create it. I am part of a greater path of bringing this information into this time period in the world.

caroline-allen-earth

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

Tenacity. I have nothing else to add. Simple hard work, day after day, month after month, year after year. You’ll be exhausted.

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

Everything worked, even the things that didn’t because they were part of the learning process for “being” a fully fledged writer. I wouldn’t change any of it.

I landed a big New York agent with EARTH. I really connected with him. He loved my novel. We shopped the book around to all the major houses, and we got great feedback and some serious nibbles, but nobody would bite. It was a two-year process that failed. But I would not say it didn’t work. What I learned was unbelievably helpful. It helped me as a writer and as a book coach. I wouldn’t change that “failure” for the world.

Do you have any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Tenacity. Tenacity. Tenacity. It may take a decade longer than you thought. My path took 15 years longer than I thought it would. You may well be writing about subjects before your time! Maybe the world hasn’t caught up with you. But, your time will come, but you’ll miss it if you give up.

Great advice, Caroline. I love the idea of writing about subjects before our time!

Website and social media links?

www.carolineallen.com

www.artofstorytellingonline.com

www.artofstorytelling.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/carolineallenartist

www.twitter.com/artofstory

http://www.instagram.com/carolineallenartist 

Where can we find your book?

Amazon

EARTH

https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Elemental-Journey-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01GIBQIFA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405361&sr=1-1&keywords=earth+by+caroline+allen

AIR

https://www.amazon.com/Air-novel-Elemental-Journey-2/dp/1513703943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483405375&sr=1-1&keywords=air+by+caroline+allen

Barnes and Noble

EARTH

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/earth-carol-allen/1000420387?ean=9781620156513

AIR

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/air-david-allen/1000420194?ean=2940153195681

IBooks

EARTH

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/earth/id1119725900?mt=11

AIR

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/air/id1119726394?mt=11

What’s next for you?

I’m nearly finished with my third novel, FIRE, and I just landed a literary agent. In FIRE, Pearl travels throughout SE Asia and lives in London, where she meets people who lead her more and more closely to her purpose. Before she can find her purpose, though, she has to heal her lost self.

The literary agent and I will shop the book around to find a publisher this year.

Fantastic, Caroline. It was great having the chance to know more about you and your series. All the very best with your writing and painting in 2017!

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