Please welcome Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia. Raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe, Eleanor has worked as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker, all of which have inspired her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. A Decent Woman is Parker Sapia’s debut novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, A Decent Woman. When did you start writing and what got you into historical fiction?
Thank you very much for your good wishes. I wrote poetry and short stories as a teenager, and I wrote in a journal for over ten years while I raised my kids in the US and abroad. In 2000, when the kids were in high school, I began writing poetry again, and five years later, I wrote the first manuscript of A Decent Woman.
I grew up reading and loving Jane Austen’s novels, classic Puerto Rican novels, such as La Charca, La Llamarada, and El Jibaro, and when I secretly read Erica Jong’s racy and brilliant novel, Fanny: Being the True Adventures of Fanny Hackabout Jones in high school, I knew I’d write historical fiction.
What is your book about?
A Decent Woman, set in Ponce, Puerto Rico at the turn of the century, is the story of Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery, who must battle to preserve her twenty-five year midwifery career, when male doctors enter the birthing room for the first time. When Ana’s friend, Serafina, a young widow who marries a wealthy merchant, is assaulted, an ill-conceived plan to preserve Serafina’s marriage and honor bonds the two women forever.
In a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.
What was your inspiration for A Decent Woman?
A tribute I wrote for my maternal grandmother’s ninetieth birthday inspired the novel when I realized how well I knew my grandmother’s stories of growing up in La Playa, Puerto Rico. Further inspiration came from the stories that same grandmother told me about her midwife, Doña Ana, who was an Afro-Caribbean woman, and that not many novels were written in English about the women of colonial Puerto Rico.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, indeed! Despite having an active imagination and knowing my grandmother’s stories by heart, quite a lot of research went into A Decent Woman. I read books on Puerto Rican and Cuban history written by Puerto Rican and Cuban authors, books on the San Ciriaco hurricane, the earthquake of 1918 which hit Ponce, and I reread the classic Puerto Rican novels of my childhood. I interviewed many Puerto Rican daughters of women born at the turn of the century, in addition to healers, mediums, Yoruba practitioners, and psychics. I read books on midwifery, granny midwives of the American South, slavery in the Caribbean, and I researched our Puerto Rican culture, food, customs, and African roots.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Great question. Since I came to writing in my late forties, my muse is highly motivated! We have many books to write together. I live alone and am able to write every day, and the first time my muse dragged her feet, was just after my debut novel was published. My writing mentor advised me to immediately start writing my second novel, or I’d suffer from ‘Firstitis’, which can manifest as writer’s block for the newly published writer. The cure? Get writing. With the marketing and publicity necessary for a first time book, I gave myself ten days of no writing, but that was it. I’m back at it, and my motivated book manager has taken over the marketing and publicity.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
I can definitely relate. As I explained in my reply to the previous question, I gave myself ten days to market my book in earnest (my book manager took over from there), and when I sat down to write my second book, I experienced the vague anxiety you mention. I wondered if I could write a second historical novel, knowing how much research went into the first, but lucky for me — I love research. I gave myself a daily word count and small goals, and so far, so good.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I wake up around 8 in the morning, make a pot of tea, write in my journal, and I tackle social media from 10-11 am. After lunch, I write for five or six hours, take a dinner break, walk my dog, and do my best writing from 9 pm until 2 or 3 am. I am disciplined. I rarely take off from writing during the weekends, and no, I don’t have a life other than writing and thinking up new stories. As a single woman, I should probably date…but there isn’t much time for that these days.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
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