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.

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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.

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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.

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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?


Twitter: @GValjan


Where can we find your book?

Amazon Author page:


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:


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:
Please visit Eleanor at her website:


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.


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.


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.


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?

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:


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:
Please visit Eleanor at her website:







Rejection and Bad Reviews: What’s to Be Done?

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“What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work.” – C. S. Lewis

Negative book reviews certainly aren’t a walk in the park for an author. Yes, the book that took you years to research and write; the one that was finally, finally published was rejected and trashed by a reader, and they couldn’t leave it well alone. They wrote, in excruciating detail, mind you, how much they hated your book, and how no one should read it for many reasons that you find awfully unfair.

Okay, breathe. First of all, the reader isn’t rejecting you personally, unless perhaps the review was written by your disgruntled neighbor with the precariously leaning tree that you’ve complained about to everyone and anyone who will listen. Or maybe the negative review was written by your ex under another name. Well, that’s another story.

Let’s take a look at negative reviews. In truth, most authors will receive one or more negative reviews for each of their books. Rejection and negative reviews can sting and feel unfair, and sometimes what the reader says in their review might really tick you off. I’ve read some pretty mean-spirited book reviews about other books that raised my eyebrows, elicited a quiet “damn”, and reminded me of Thumper’s father’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” If you dislike a book that much, stop reading, put the book down, and say nothing. That’s what I do. Wouldn’t that be kinder to the author? Of what possible value is a negative review?

There is value in every book review. No, I haven’t lost my marbles. I know experiencing rejection through a negative review can hurt and sting, but at the same time, the experience can be helpful to a writer–if the writer chooses to view and understand it from another angle.

My debut novel garnered a few negative reviews; they’re part of the writing life. We writers put ourselves out there with every book, so buck up; it’s going to happen. Did I like reading those less-than-glowing reviews of my book? No, I didn’t; I’m human, but deep down I knew I could learn something from them. And besides, my sage writing mentor told me to in so many words to quit whining, ignore all reviews, and keep writing because I am a good writer. He was right. I never whined again.

What did I learn and remember as an exhibiting artist of nearly 30 years, before I discovered my passion for writing books?

Art is subjective. The same is true with books. In a group of 10 book club members, five readers might come away with a similar reaction to a book, but be sure that each reader will filter your story through their life lens, their life experiences. The story will mean different things to different readers. Keep writing.

Accept that not everyone will love your book. You won’t appeal to the masses and that’s okay–that’s not your job. Your job is to write the best book you can possibly write, and to write an even better book next time with what you’ve learned. Keep writing.

For goodness sake, don’t write what you believe will sell! Write the story that’s in your heart. Keep writing.

If two or more reviewers touch on the same or similar issues with your story, take a serious look at what they are saying. I don’t care how many editors or advanced readers have read at your book–the reader(s) may be right. Or not. Be open to explore the possibility, and consider the reader may have a point. Keep writing.

Use all feedback to improve your writing. Be grateful to readers who’ve bought your book, read it, and took the time to write an honest review. Reviews are gold. Keep writing.

Whether your book is your debut or seventh novel,  learn from your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up, especially if it’s your first book. Major kudos to you for doing what most people will never do–you wrote and published a book. Keep writing and learning.

Don’t obsess over reviews–good or bad. That’s easier said than done; I know. My writing mentor encouraged me early on to not read my reviews…I still find that difficult. I checked my Amazon reviews this morning. I am #stillwriting.

Lastly, I humbly offer this one bit of writerly advice:

Never. Never ever, challenge, argue, or discuss a negative review with the reviewer. Don’t blog about it or out the reviewer on social media. Save yourself the grief, negative publicity, and possible public embarrassment and social media backlash (hey, it happens). Remain mute when it comes to receiving negative reviews or negative comments. Grit your teeth, cry for a couple hours max, and then focus all your attention on your work in progress, improving your writing skills, and growing your readership. Develop thicker skin and accept the negative reviews as constructive criticism. Learn from them. Keep writing.

Always remember to thank and interract with your wonderful readers on social media.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear readers, for buying and for sharing your honest reviews of my book.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for dealing with a negative review? If so, please share.



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

Eleanor’s book:

Please visit Eleanor at her website:



Prolong the Creative Journey; Don’t Give Up

“Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way. – E. L. Doctorow

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When I think of writing and painting, I am reminded of the above quote. The same feelings are evoked by facing the blank screen at the laptop or staring at an untouched canvas or pristine sheet of art paper. I tell myself it’s okay not to know everything. I must trust the process and jump in. I have nothing to lose.

Whether I have a theme, an idea, a detailed outline, or an available model for painting, the creative process produces the same fascination, exhilaration, and anxiety-producing emotions. I know my days will be filled with ups and downs, questions and discoveries, and twists and turns. I’ll experience plenty of aha moments, self-doubt, debilitating fear, and I will hang on with hope that even if I don’t know exactly where I’m headed, or if I get lost along the path, I’m embraced by the gods of creativity. I’m cheered on by anyone who has had the nerve and courage to pursue a creative project and life, even if only once.

In my opinion, getting lost is the most interesting, fun part of the creative process, which allows for discovery, if I let go of the end result and if I trust the journey.

Here are some questions I ask of myself while writing and painting:

  • Is this a place where I should exercise control or release control?
  • Should I slow down, stop, or rush through here?
  • Is it best to skim the surface or go deep at this time?
  • Can I sit with this mystery or question? How long?
  • Am I heading toward caving in prematurely because it’s easier?
  • Is it wise to prolong this journey, or is it best to end where I’m at?
  • Will this decision or direction hinder or help the story or painting?
  • How do I feel right about now? Do I need a break?
  • Am I open and paying attention?

I encourage you to embrace the entire creative process, the good with the bad, the roadblocks and detours, whether you’re writing or painting. Not embracing the process might end up with producing a shallow, trite, staged, and not fully believable story or painting. The fact that you rushed through will show.

Do we really want a neat, tidy experience for our readers and viewers? Is the quick, easy route from A to Z the best course of action?

A viewing experience that allows for thought and discussion, discourse and personal growth is what I’m after; for myself and my audience. I lean toward the untidy, raw, transformative experience every time in story telling because that’s more like real life. Of course, I’ve always done things the hard way, but life is more exciting and rewarding when we trust that we’re headed is for our highest good. We should want that for our characters, as well.

Trusting ourselves and the process have the potential of positively affecting our creative lives and to me, that is a win-win situation.



Award winning novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani.

When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is at work on her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and thinking about the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ titled, ‘Mistress of Coffee’.




by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Over the weekend, you watched the umpteenth YouTube video under the guise of researching for your work in progress. Congratulations, you now know more than anyone about the history of toilets, the sketchy death of Marilyn Monroe, and about the bedroom activities of the British monarchs.

In a 36-hour period, you managed to walk by your writing desk and not actually look at it, or the contents on top, namely your laptop, the lamp, assorted pencils and pens, notebooks full of research material and important research links. Twice you’ve straightened the stack of books at the left-hand corner of your writing desk, which includes how-to writing books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Hell, you even bought ‘The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression’, and made a special trip to the dollar store for new highlighters and more notebooks in snazzy colors and designs. You can never have enough highlighters and notebooks. I know this. Everything is perfect and lined up, yet you aren’t writing.

Your calendar is clear, the house is cleaner than its’ been in months, and the laundry is caught up. You’ve said ‘no’ to invitations for lunch, drinks, and catching up with friends over the weekend, and you alerted family and neighbors that you’re writing. The ‘Please do not disturb’ sign is taped to your front door. The conditions for writing couldn’t be more ideal, there’s no time like the present and all that jazz, yet it is now late Sunday evening and you haven’t written a word all weekend. Why?

This type of dry spell is especially troublesome when our homes and relationships are in turmoil, when bills and taxes are due, or when we can’t see a way forward. It doesn’t matter what’s happening: we can’t write, but we wish like hell we could to alleviate the guilt.

Yes, this has happened to me, more than once, and probably to most writers; it happens to the best of writers. But what’s going on? Is it a case of writer’s block? Does writer’s block really exist?

I personally believe writer’s block is a real thing, but I call it my ‘dry spell’, as the word ‘block’ denotes a complete and utter blockage that I might need several sticks of dynamite to get through. I can get through a dry spell.

When a dry spell manifests in my writing life, it often comes at the heel of one thing: FEAR. Most writers have experienced the paralyzing fear of failure, fear of rejection and ridicule, and the fear of the unknown, which can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem, and confidence at the time of the dry spell—a real vicious cycle.

Here are few ways to combat the writing dry spell, while keeping your story at the back of your mind:

  • Do something else for twenty minutes.
  • Take a walk or short drive.
  • Thumb through a magazine, searching for the perfect book cover idea, story idea, or new character.
  • Write a blog post or article on a completely different topic.
  • Go to a coffee shop or diner to journal about what the heck is going in your life and interior life.
  • Call a trusted fellow writer or good friend that you can commiserate with on the dreaded dry spell.
  • Read a good book by one of your writing heroes and heroines.
  • Read a bad book and write down ways you’d improve that book.

Don’t give in to the dry spell for too long. Take a break if you need it, but come back to it. Slow and steady will win that race. Try these suggestions:

  • Consider that you might need an outline rather than writing by the seat of your pants;
  • Rewrite your outline; flesh it out;
  • Write a short biography of each character in order to get to know them better;
  • Write three synopses: the elevator ‘one-liner’, the short synopsis, and the 4-5 synopsis (this worked for me not too long ago);
  • Avoid negative people (always!) until you feel stronger;
  • Keep writing.

Good luck!


Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, an alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s bestselling historical novel, is described as “…a true work of historical depth and artistry.” Eleanor has two adventurous, grown children and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.


Don’t Rush the Story: Remain in the Mystery with Your Characters

when writing a character...hemingwayWhen I trained to become a counselor, we were taught to enter the therapy room and check our emotional baggage at the door by visualizing the placement of a suitcase filled with ‘our stuff’ high on a shelf for the duration of the session. We were asked to come in clear-headed, open to receive, and instructed to create a safe place for our client. I learned to do that with all my clients, who walked in with diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and opinions.

I paid attention to the reasons why and how the client reacted to ‘stuff’ in the counseling sessions, while paying close attention to their body language, tone of voice, mannerisms, and what they chose to share or not share. It was a privilege to sit with clients and walk by their sides as they took their journeys, and I was conscious to never rush them along or lead the sessions. I found that with enough patience, trust was built, and the sessions progressed…but only as far as they wanted to go at a particular time.

While writing my first novel, ‘A Decent Woman’, I had a light bulb moment—I realized it was important to offer the characters in my stories the same courtesy, support, and patient attention I’d paid my counseling clients.

With the first novel, I wrote a brief outline and filled out 3×5 index cards for each character, with their physical description, age, and a bit about their personalities. I didn’t write a detailed synopsis or in-depth character study until my second editor asked me to rewrite several chapters and add two chapters to the draft manuscript. With my work in progress, I followed the same technique: I outlined the story, wrote a quick character study of each character, but I didn’t write a long synopsis until I’d written ten chapters; certainly much earlier than with book one. Then I wrote an eight-page synopsis that grew to ten pages the following week. The week after that, I tackled the new outline and believe me, the character studies of each character grew immensely. I gave them a proper life. A waste of writing time; a cock-eyed approach? Not for many writers. Let me explain.

Creating characters for a work of fiction is a fascinating process. I might have an idea of who they are, what their jobs are, and what they look like physically, but initially I don’t know how they’ll react to the other characters in the story, or how they’ll fare in the complicated, complex world I have built for them. Are they strong-willed, jealous-types, haughty and arrogant, or empathic and kind-hearted? Are they good listeners, deep thinkers, or shallow individuals who can’t be counted on in a pinch? A character’s deeper, more personal qualities aren’t always apparent until I begin writing the story. Sometimes, more time and digging are required to really know my character inside out.

Let me give you an example. You’ve been introduced to a new neighbor, and soon you  discover many shared experiences. The friendship develops quicker than most of the friendships in your life. She seems to be the ying to your yang. Then, a blizzard paralyzes your town with over 35 inches of snow. It’s impossible to shovel the snow fast enough, and hard as you may try, there is nowhere to put the snow. You and new neighbor commiserate with each other, and make plans for coffee as soon as the snow melts.

A day later, you’re sitting at your kitchen table and notice that you can’t see out the bay window for the mountain of snow in front of it. You step outside and catch new neighbor shoveling snow as fast as she can…and she’s heaving the white stuff into your small front yard. You’re stunned beyond belief. Why would she do that? You struggle to understand her actions, which are not only rude, but unconscionable. You would have never done that to her…not to anyone. Who is this woman? Who is she, indeed? You thought you knew her.

This example is similar to writing a new character—we don’t always know a character well enough when we begin writing, and even if we do think we’ve ‘pegged’ them at the start, new, interesting facts can develop. Some facts might be downright distasteful or wonderfully surprising and both can be helpful to the story.

As a writer, I strive to honor each of my characters and their story with my undivided time, attention, and patience. My goal is to create well-fleshed out, complex characters, but I can’t do that if I accept what is first apparent about a character. If I don’t dig deeper into the who, why, how, where, and backstory, of a character, the story will seem flat and uninteresting.

I dig deeper by creating mini bios for each main character, including where they were born, who raised them, a bit about their childhood, and their personalities traits. I write a detailed physical description of each character, and since I’m a visual person, I often find photographs to accompany the descriptions from magazines and the Internet. I find unique mannerisms, dislikes and likes: what makes them tick, and I jot down their strengths and weaknesses as that helps with natural dialogue, inner conflicts, and the resolutions, if any.

This technique works for me, in addition to walking side by side and getting to know my characters while writing a few chapters to get comfortable. I don’t rush this process. After that, I’m ready to tell their story from their unique perspective, which I can’t know about without actually writing.

You may have a different technique for creating interesting, memorable characters, and in that case, vive la différence!

Happy writing to you!

About Eleanor


Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories.

‘A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and a collection of short stories.



Author Interview: Neal Roberts

The Writing Life is pleased to welcome Neal Roberts, author of the historical novel, A Second Daniel.

Neal's Photo

Neal Roberts and his wife live on Long Island, New York, where they have two grown children. Neal is a practicing attorney and adjunct law professor, and spends as much time as possible researching his next novel while enhancing his lawyer’s pallor. When he’s not writing Elizabethan politico-legal novels, practicing law, or teaching, he’s an editor of an international peer-reviewed publication in the field of intellectual property law. Neal is also an avid student of Elizabethan literature and politics, which subjects form the basis of his first novel, A Second Daniel. His analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121 has been extensively cited by some of the most important authorities seeking to identify the true author of the poems and plays attributed to William Shakespeare.

What is your book’s genre/category?

Historical Fiction/Tudor/Elizabethan.

A Second Daniel 3D Book

Neal, please describe what ‘A Second Daniel’ is about.

It’s about Noah Ames, an orphan who came to England from a foreign land and was given every advantage the Crown could bestow. When he becomes a barrister, he’s appointed to defend Queen Elizabeth’s Jewish physician against false accusations of attempting to poison her. (This was a real case.) In the course of the prosecution, Noah’s adversary threatens to expose Noah himself as a secret Jew, which could destroy his career and cost him his life.

How did you come up with the title?

“A Second Daniel” is a line from the famous courtroom scene in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (where the phrase “a pound of flesh” comes from). “A second Daniel” is shouted by each side of the dispute to laud the judge when she makes an observation helpful to that side’s cause. It’s especially pertinent to my story because the central figure in both my book and Shakespeare’s play (as well as its courtroom scene) is a Jew making his way in Christendom.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always wanted to write, but I felt I just didn’t know enough about life and work to have an adult story to tell. After I began practicing law, I fidgeted with fiction writing for years. I even wrote a couple of novels that wound up in a shoebox, because I thought they weren’t good enough to go out in the world to represent me. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized that I’ve earned the experience necessary to create characters in full, whether young or old, and I’ve honed the skills to express myself fully. The death of my father gave writing a new urgency. 

What is your favorite part of writing? 

Most of all, I enjoy getting to know my characters so well that I can put them into any situation and know in advance how each of them will react, and what they’ll say.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

To me, the most challenging part of writing is distinguishing between what the reader can be expected to know and what he/she needs (or wants) to be told. Is an arched eyebrow enough, or does the reader need (or want) a full explanation of the character’s mental process? What I’ve found is that readers are very individual, and differ so much from each other that the author never gets a really good fix on it, and so must rely on his or her own sense of empathy with the reader, which is not always a perfect guide. Still, it’s the best we’ve got.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Charles Dickens, C.J. Sansom, Stephen King, Umberto Eco, Ken Follett, William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, and William Shakespeare. (That wasn’t the playwright’s real name, by the way. The real Shakespeare is in my book, A Second Daniel, and he’s not whom you might expect. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I think if I were 20 years old that would be a fairly easy question to answer. But I’m considerably older than that, and have wide experience in fields as diverse as law, politics, law school teaching, and popular music. In terms of books, I’d have to place J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in the top tier, as they speak of the human condition in terms everyone can relate to. That’s a great talent, and something to aspire to. I’d include Eco in that tier, as well, as he not only explores elevated ideas in the context of narrative stories, but also recognizes their limitations and invites us to laugh along at them.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

Anywhere quiet. The important thing is that I’m undisturbed for 5-6 hours at a stretch. The plot ideas may come quickly, but the character’s feelings develop in real time, and they can’t be skipped or rushed. They’re central to verisimilitude and reader enjoyment.

Tell us something personal people may be surprised to know?

I met Robert Ludlum once at a party. He’d just written The Bourne Identity, and it was a huge hit. When I shook his hand, he told me he’d heard all about me, and never knew that I wanted to be, as he put it, a “scribbler.” He was as gracious as they come, and evidently had been hearing about me from my uncle for years. I was speechless and, as my friends can tell you, that’s rare. It took me another 30 years, but I finally have a book out!

What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?

It’s a huge revelation when someone working on your book tells you something about one of your characters that you yourself didn’t realize. Since each of your characters is a facet of your own personality, they’re actually telling you about yourself, which is sometimes dismaying and sometimes hilarious. It also shows that you’ve revealed more about yourself in your writing than you thought, and that’s spooky.

The actual process of publishing a book requires the efforts of so many talented, dedicated people that it’s awe-inspiring. At the same time as it’s incredibly flattering that all these talented people would deem your book worthy of such effort, it also places a lot of pressure on the author to make the whole enterprise succeed. And the author must stay involved from the editing process, through cover art and even typography, if the result is going to reflect the story the author was trying to tell in the first place.

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

I took a great deal of good advice, some express and some implied. As for taking express advice: I knew from many other endeavors that a principal in any activity is always too close to the work to be objective. If someone with a reasonable amount of patience tells you that they don’t understand something, you must assume that they’re not alone, and you have to find out why they don’t understand it and rewrite it so it is understandable. If they’re bored by something, or a line doesn’t ring right, you have to think hard about why, and fix it. My book reflects a great deal of advice.

What do I mean by implied advice? See what good writers are doing to appeal to the readers you want. For example, the idea of writing in the present tense (even though the events of the book took place 400 years ago) was suggested by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I thought about writing in the first person, as C.J. Sansom does in his Shardlake novels, but found it didn’t work for me, as it hinders the occasional shift in point of view that I think makes it possible to set up a good sense of conflict.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Yes. Don’t rely on preconceived notions of what the publishing industry is today. It’s so radically different today from what it was even 10 years ago, that it’s the first day of school for just about every author.


My website, to which everyone is invited, is:

I also have an author page on Facebook to which I keep adding items of interest. That’s at:

Where can we find your book?

A Second Daniel is available in digital form and hard copy at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and iTunes.




What’s next for you? 

Book 2 of the series, entitled The Impress of Heaven, will be out in a couple of months. Book 3 is in the works!

Thanks for your visit, Neal. Best wishes with your books!

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