ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

ON WRITING: CULTURAL HERITAGE AND DIVERSE AUTHORS

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Tell me where you were born, where you’ve lived and about your travels, and most probably, I’ll intuit a bit about you. Of course, I don’t know specific details about your life, your favorite color or song, or everything about your culture, but I’ll feel a kinship with you.

Now if you tell me you are bi-cultural, a third culture kid like me or you love to travel, and you’re a writer, from my experience there will be a whole lot of nodding and smiling between us after we meet. And I’ll have a million questions for you; it’s natural to gravitate towards people with similar life experiences and sensitivities.

“Third culture kids are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.” Wikipedia

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Luckily for me, I’m still curious and love learning about different cultures, languages, and traditions. I’m a bona fide sponge (I’m learning Latin phases for my second book and my second tattoo). I adore ancient history and research (vital for a writer of historical fiction); I love meeting new people; and I still travel, which is a huge blessing. My children live in the Washington, DC area and in Thailand (where I hope to visit for the first time this fall), and I have many good friends around the world I’d love to visit with again. Among many things that can enrich a writer’s writing “kit”, travel and experiencing life abroad, whether in person or through books, are right up there in my humble opinion.

As an Army brat, a bi-cultural and bilingual (Spanish) kid, my childhood was spent in the United States, Puerto Rico (my love, my birthplace), and in many capitals of Europe. My father is of Polish and Russian ancestry and my mother, born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was of French, Catalonian, Canarian, and Italian ancestry. I married an Army officer and enjoyed posts in the US and in Europe with many summer vacations spent in Puerto Rico with our children, and after enjoying 13 years living in Belgium and France, I returned to the US in 2006 with my children. I continued to travel throughout Europe and returned to Puerto Rico to visit friends and family each summer. In 2010, I made a solitary move to Berkeley County, West Virginia (nearly a foreign country to me at first and I’ve been happy here), where I’d hoped to write full-time. I am happy to report I’m still writing full-time in 2019, which is not without sacrifices and many challenges, believe me. I make it work because I can’t imagine not living a creative life.

At times, I think I’ve lived the life of five or six people. But, oh the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met through travel, reading, and writing!

If you were to ask me about my favorite authors and books, I would say I love reading novels primarily written by diverse authors with diverse characters in their homeland settings, and authors whose novels are flavored by their experiences of having lived in or of traveling abroad. Makes sense, doesn’t it? To me, the language is rich, lyrical, familiar, and there’s nothing like being an armchair traveler while I save up for that next trip.

Happy Spring to you!

Eleanor x

Thoughts On Travel and Amsterdam

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

November 27, 2015

A mid-November telephone call from my son yielded a huge surprise: he’d booked an airline ticket for me and one for my daughter, who would join us in Amsterdam on Thanksgiving Day. I’d last visited Europe in 2013 with a two-week visit to Vienna, Austria with my best friend. I was anxious to pack my bags, and return to the continent where I’d spent thirteen years with my children, and to Amsterdam, where my son currently lives.

As my departure date approached, the excitement of seeing my son after six months was close to deliriously happy, but there was huge glitch: my son hadn’t known that my daughter’s passport had expired and although she’d applied for a renewed passport, it was possible it wouldn’t arrive in time for her departure…not good.

Days later, a Russian airliner was blown out of the sky, and shortly afterward, Paris was brutally attacked. Like most everyone I know, I was glued to the horrifying news and subsequent updates. Frantic, we contacted my son, hoping he hadn’t traveled to Paris during the attacks. He was home in Amsterdam. For days, we watched news broadcasts and breaking news, worried for all the victims and their families. We asked my son about Dutch television coverage, and what his Dutch friends were saying. He replied that from what he’d heard, Holland had done a good job integrating Muslims into society, and that ISIS probably didn’t have a beef with the very tolerant country. I was convinced and satisfied, but my daughter wasn’t as convinced.

When her passport didn’t arrive on my departure date (we were on separate flights, different airlines), we spoke about Plan B: rescheduling her ticket to the following weekend since I would still be in country. But it was a big gamble on top of the $400 fee to change the date on an already high cost ticket seemed too steep. After long talks, my daughter’s ticket was cancelled, which was a damn shame, but we knew my daughter was dreading the flight in light of bombings in Syria, Mali, Paris, and worldwide threats that week. No judgement on our part for her cancelling her ticket despite feeling badly about not spending Thanksgiving as a family in Amsterdam. I know she felt worse than we did about our first holiday apart. We would miss my daughter, and thankful she would spend the holiday with my sister and her family as we’d done since 2007 when we returned from Europe.

On my departure date, I won’t lie, I was scared spitless about the prospect of hanging around the Dulles Airport, waiting for my flight, and even more frightened of take off and landing in Frankfurt, and then again to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. I said my prayers, wrote out my will–yes a will–and handed it to my sister as she parked at the Metro for me to start my journey to Dulles Airport. It was a hand-written will because my printer had conked out, and like I told my sister, “It’s better than nothing!’.

Well, going through security at Dulles is always challenge, and it was no different when I went through, and flying Lufthansa is always a dream. I sat with a British university student, a lovely Tunisian mother and her four children seated behind us, and a Sikh with blue eyes. A global aisle–beautiful.

All three airports were packed with passengers rushing to their flights and greeting their loved ones after collecting their baggage. Everything seemed ‘normal’ during my flights and when I saw my son after six months, my fear and anxiety disappeared. He was a sight for sore eyes and I know my trip meant a lot to him. I patted myself on the back for overcoming my own fear of flying and traveling during this troubling time, and I smiled inside: no way in hell anyone is keeping this mother from seeing her kids!

Amsterdam, always one of my favorite European cities, was much like I’d left it–a crowded, rush-rush, bicycle-crazy, a gorgeous canal city with friendly people, too much fried food, great beers and cheeses, loud tourists, and pungent-smelling coffee shops. Sipping a cappuccino at a charming outdoor cafe after our market run for the ingredients of our Thanksgiving meal, I smiled and turned my face to the sun. Pure bliss.

To date, my daughter’s passport has yet to arrive. That’s life. She even paid extra to expedite the passport; it just didn’t happen for us. Only God knows why. As for me, I can now picture my son’s new life in Amsterdam. In future emails when he says he went to the movies, I know where that theater is. I know which market he likes, and which market stand carries his favorite thing to order in a bakery–Ollieballen with powdered sugar. I’m happy I mustered all the necessary courage to fly. Will I muster the courage to travel to Brussels to visit with long-time friends and to visit Paris before I fly home, which I planned to do? No idea yet…

but for today, I thank lovely, peaceful, charming Amsterdam. Thank you for not changing too much since my last visit, and for offering us a safe place during a turbulent time.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Blessings.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s best selling debut historical novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Book club members across the United States have enjoyed the story, as well. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is the mother of two awesome adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Served: On the rocks; poured over ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADW in Puerto Rico July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

ellie

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker, and a refugee caseworker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

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

 

Author Interview: Judith Works

The Writing Life is pleased to chat with author, Judith Works.

Judith Works, a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, is retired from the United Nations, Rome, Italy. She is the author of a memoir about Rome, Coins in the Fountain, available as an e-book, and City of Illusions, published by Booktrope. She is currently on the steering committee for the literary conference, Write on the Sound, and is also on the board for Edmonds Center for the Arts and EPIC Group Writers. She is a member of several other writer’s groups.

City of Illusions

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Welcome, Judith!

What is your book’s genre/category?

City of Illusions is best described as women’s contemporary fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Laura’s milestone 30th birthday is fast approaching and she sees her life as stalled. No children and a marriage settled into a routine far too early. Wanting more from her life, she finds a one-year job in Rome and talks husband Jake into taking a leave of absence. But while Laura is learning to live (and later to love) in Rome, Jake becomes a trailing spouse, adrift with nothing to do. Rome offers myriad opportunities to get into trouble for the unwary and Jake falls in with a gang of antiquity thieves. As his life spirals downward, Laura moves forward. After several missteps she finally achieves her own goal of fulfillment with a new life in Italy.

How did you come up with the title?

I had an earlier title which I didn’t like. I searched for quotations about Rome for an inspiration for a new title and came across this quote written by Giotto, a pre-Renaissance painter: “Rome the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” This was written around 1300 and is still a perfect description of what it is like to live in Rome for many of the expats who come for la dolce vita and find a different path.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wrote a memoir, Coins in the Fountain, about my happy and fraught experience of living in Rome for ten years but there was more to tell. I knew many expats who ran into difficulties, trailing spouses who could not work, who did things that they should not have, and those who never wanted to leave Italy. A novel was the opportunity to fictionalize some of the opportunities and challenges of living aboad.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Since much of my writing is centered on Rome, I love doing the research, especially if it involves “field research.” Sadly that doesn’t happen all that frequently, so I have to say the best part of writing is sitting down with a cup of coffee and putting down words to see how they come together.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

The generation of viable ideas – what works for a short story, for a post about my travels, for flash fiction, and for a novel.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Hemingway, Faulkner, Sarah Dunant, Anthony Doerr, Marguerite Yourcenar.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. Several non-Italian authors have influenced me to think more deeply about Italy in all its variety: Frances Mayes, Elizabeth Bowen, Eleanor Clark, Iris Origo, and Tim Parks. The Italian author that I find captured the essence of southern Italy and also Rome was Carlo Levi.

Favorite place to write?

I have an office where I am surrounded by reminders from my travels: a sculpture of Dante, a watercolor of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, posters from art exhibitions and items from much farther afield: a painting from Ethiopia, an icon from Bulgaria, a wood carving from Papua New Guinea. And of course loads of books.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m a Canadian citizen along with my US nationality; I’m a chocoholic; and I have been to over 100 countries, crawled inside a pyramid in Egypt, hiked in Petra, Jordan, and watched the sun set and a full moon rise in Ankor Wat.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

My memoir was self-published with assistance from a professional cover designer and others, but still mostly of my own doing. Working with an actual publisher instead of Amazon was a good experience. When you know there are professionals available to help it give you a sense of confidence. And my publisher, Booktrope, has a network of authors that communicate with each other to offer advice and solutions. I find that is very helpful.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I had several early readers who were very generous with their time and advice. I think this is a very important step for any author. Learning to accept critique is essential.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Write, write, write and then edit, edit, edit!

Website?

www.judithworks.net

Where can we find your book?

City of Illusions is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and electronic format, and on iTunes electronically.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/judith-works/id471795858?mt=11

What’s next for you?

I am in the outlining stages of another novel. It will open in Rome but then move to Seattle and nearby Vashon Island. There will be murder!

Thanks for visiting us today, Judith! I wish you much success with your books!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

Author Interview, JT Twissel

 

CSIt is a great pleasure to welcome JT Twissel, author of the novels, FLIPKA and THE GRADUATION PRESENT. Some of Jan’s blog posts have me laughing out loud in quiet public places, and I loved FLIPKA. Jan is a wonderful storyteller and a people watcher which shows in her unique characters. I’m looking forward to reading THE GRADUATION PRESENT.

JT Twissel (Jan) was born in a small town in Massachusetts and raised primarily in Reno, Nevada, leaving home at eighteen to see the world.  Eventually she more or less settled down, living with her first husband in Chicago and then in the San Francisco bay area where she obtained a degree in English from UC Berkeley.  She worked as a newsletter editor, a secretary, a process analyst, project manager and technical documentation manager before becoming a full time writer.

Aside from her children, she’s most proud of the years she spent as a Make-A-Wish volunteer, interviewing children with life-threatening conditions and helping arrange their wishes.  Her later experience as a CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate for at-risk foster children, inspired her to write FLIPKA. The necessity to take several long trips across the great state of Nevada – where wackiness is a virtue – created the setting and characters.

 

Welcome, Jan!

What is your book’s genre/category?

THE GRADUATION PRESENT is a coming of age, adventure, travel with some comedy and romance.  I believe it’s categorized on Amazon as coming of age.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

This review (which I love) pretty much sums up what the book is about: “A hapless hopeless romantic American girl called Riley O’Tannen heads for Europe to get a taste of the old world and instead encounters her drunken uncle who keeps a mistress, her randy aunt who keeps a gigolo, and a dead CIA man whose boss is a raving homosexual. On top of this she becomes an accidental fugitive hunted by the Swiss police. Oh, and she also finds love.”

How did you come up with the title?

The protagonist’s trip to Europe was a belated graduation present from an uncle she doesn’t really know very well.  To tell you the truth, we tried to come up with another title but just couldn’t think of anything.  I found out after the book came out that there’s another book with the same title.  Guess what genre?  Porn.  Whoops!

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I have so many memories of my time in Europe that I knew I had to get them down on paper in some form or another before they were all lost to time (or senility).   The hardest part was getting into the skin of a clueless, naive and overly imaginative girl.  I struggled with it for a long time, certain I’d never be able to do it.  And then a very special friend of mine was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  The last thing she said to me was “finish Oncle Boob!  The world needs to laugh” and that did it for me.  (Oncle Boob was one of the first titles the book had)

What is your favorite part of writing?

When a character really talks to me. Particularly if the person I based the character on has passed away.  I will often break down into tears over my keyboard.  It’s a miracle I haven’t been electrocuted!

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

For me, it’s plot development, time-line stuff.  The characters and scenes pop up without a lot of effort but where I put them on any particular timeline doesn’t always make sense – particularly for my editor!

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I studied Victorian lit in college so I would say: Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, Trollope.  I’ve read and enjoyed so many contemporary writers that it would take all day to list them.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

The most influential person in my life was a lady by the name of Joellen Hawkins.  She was the model for the Fi Butters character in FLIPKA.  She opened my mind to so many things.

Favorite place to write?

I write in a slide rocker next to a window from where I can see the foggy, coastal hills.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I was once a department store living mannequin.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Oh golly, everything has been a big surprise and learning lesson!  I guess the importance of social media was the biggest surprise.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Luckily I was already familiar with blogging and web designer.  Having that knowledge saved me a lot of work, agony and probably money.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

A lot of writers I know who tried, but couldn’t find a traditional publisher have begun self-publishing and it seems to working out well for them.  One of them has even won a couple of awards!  Often they will self-publish a first book and then it is picked up by one of the hybrid publishers. Another piece of advice – don’t expect to become an overnight hit!

Website?

http://www.jttwissel.com

Where can we find your book?

The usual places!

What’s next for you?

I just finished a third book, as yet untitled, and sent it to my editor.  So I’ll probably take a break and then begin on Flipka 2.

Thanks for a great interview, Jan! Best of luck with all your books!CS

The Most Well-traveled Manuscript in the World

footsteps in sand pr

 

I doubt many 300-page novel manuscripts have physically traveled as far as the original manuscript of my historical novel, A Decent Woman. See if you agree with me.

I began writing A Decent Woman in the Belgian town of Wezembeek-Oppem, a suburb of Brussels, where I lived with my husband and our young children. I traveled with my bound manuscript on several family vacations to Spain, Italy, Greece, and a ski trip to France. In our 13th year of living in that great Belgian house, I finished the manuscript and found myself separated from my husband.

The manuscript was boxed up en route the tiny Provençal village of Uchaux in the south of France, where I lived in the house that was meant to be our dream retirement home. Retiring in France wasn’t in the cards at that time. I was heartbroken to close the doors of our house and say goodbye to my French friends.

So, the manuscript was again boxed up to travel with my belongings across the Atlantic Ocean to Syracuse, New York. I’d accepted a job as a pilgrimage coordinator for pilgrims looking to visit and volunteer at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France where I’d volunteered for ten years. As a pilgrimage leader, I traveled from New York to France four times, always with my manuscript in my carry-on. Despite loving the job and the great perks of traveling to France, the harsh, long winters in New York forced me to move south after eight months. I also missed my children who were in colleges in Washington, DC and Virginia. I’d never been separated from them.

From Syracuse, I moved to Frederick, Maryland where I worked at a residential treatment center for kids and went back to school. My kids were still in college and after I graduated, I felt the need to move closer to the DC area where long-time friends lived. I would miss the children I worked with at the center who still hold a special place in my heart, but I had to go.

I moved to a two-bedroom condo in Alexandria, Virginia where my parents had retired in the 80’s and where I’d been a college student and a single woman. When my divorce came through, I was once again, a single woman in the DC area. I took a year off to clear my head and finally took  A Decent Woman out of the box. I enjoyed the DC area and being close to old and new friends, but my heart wasn’t at peace in a huge city with so much traffic, noise and air pollution. I couldn’t focus in that environment and felt out of place. I longed for solitude, nature and a big change.

The following year, I moved myself and my boxed manuscript down the road to Falls Church, VA where I lived in a large townhouse and worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker. The urge to write full time plagued me every day. I just had to finish my novel, but was exhausted at the end of the day after driving to my client’s homes every single day for two years. I’d come home and try to write, but I didn’t have the emotional and physical stamina for it. I was able to do a large portion of my research, however, which served me well. Nothing we experience is a mistake.

A week after my 50th birthday, I decided to change my life completely. That personal milestone propelled me to fulfill my dream of living a creative life.  I found a house for sale in Berkeley County, West Virginia, only an hour and a half from my children who now lived and worked in Northern Virginia. I packed up my manuscript along with cassette tapes with many hours of interviews, loose pages of historical research, and a stack of non-fiction books I devoured for the novel and I moved West.

A lot of sacrifices were made, lots of lessons learned, and in this Federal-style, 107-year old house, I finished my novel.

I am now a full-time writer and I love it. This morning, I gazed at the four manuscript versions sitting on my dining room floor.  I am amazed at the hundreds, probably thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting at my laptop, sometimes from sunup to sundown. Definitely a labor of love. I can honestly say I’ve never tired of reading A Decent Woman and my characters are more dear to my heart than when I started.

I then walked up the attic steps and retrieved the box that holds my original manuscript. I was quite nostalgic when I opened the box. That manuscript takes me back to a very happy and difficult chapter of my life. I read the first few chapters and smiled as you would smile at a child during an important event in their lives. I’ve done everything necessary to prepare my historical novel for the world. It’s time. I am excited for the book launch of A Decent Woman in Fall 2014. I’m ready to share my book with the world.

My WIP, historical fiction, Finding Gracia, is well on its way and I am certain the book will be published during my time in this old house. I hope to see my second novel published in 2015. The sequel of A Decent Woman, Mistress of Coffee, will also be written and published while I continue to live in West Virginia, hopefully in 2016.

Although I doubt West Virginia is my forever home, for the moment…I’m not moving! My dream of returning to live and write in the South of France isn’t far from my mind, however. That is still my #1 dream.