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Meet Eleanor Parker Sapia, author of 'A Decent Woman'

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, 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 is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. A Decent Woman is her debut novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

Q: Please tell us about A Decent Woman, and what inspired you to write it.

A: Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. Set against the combustive backdrop of 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.

A Decent Woman is my love letter to the island of my birth, Puerto Rico. I was inspired to write the book by my Puerto Rican grandmother’s stories about her Afro-Caribbean midwife, who caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, and by my grandmother’s stores of growing up poor in La Playa de Ponce, the setting of my novel. The lack of information about the history of Puerto Rican women in American textbooks also inspired me to write this book. I researched non-fiction books written about the complex lives of women in colonial Puerto Rico, and learned a lot by interviewing ordinary Puerto Rican women born in that era.

Q: What themes do you explore in A Decent Woman?

A: I believe themes arise organically as the story is written. It wasn’t until I’d finished the first draft that I began to ask, “What is this story about?” The answers to that question helped me with the rewrites, and there were many rewrites, as I zeroed in on the themes of the story, which are: the quest for self-reliance and respect from others, overcoming adversity, the high cost of living with secrets, love, and loyalty in friendship and marriage.

Q: Why do you write?

A: I love to paint and take photographs, but I write because I’m obsessed and feel compelled to tell stories. I came to writing when I turned fifty, so I feel the urgency to hurry up! I love introducing readers to little known corners of women’s history and to Caribbean characters and settings. I don’t want to do anything else but write and travel.

Q: How picky are you with language?

A: I’m extremely selective of my words. One sentence can drive me to distraction, but if the prose doesn’t flow and spark the imagination, I rework it until it does. I incorporate all the senses into descriptions of people, places, and things.

Q: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?

A: My hand was most definitely manipulated when I wrote A Decent Woman. I wrote the first manuscript in six months, and even then, I said spirits were whispering the story and dialogue in my ear. Quite often, I dream about my stories and the characters.

Q: What was your worst time as a writer?

A: The worst time for me as a writer was the first rejection letter I received for A Decent Woman. The agent was kind enough to take the time to write me back, and offered great advice on the storyline. I appreciated her insights, and she was actually correct--I took her advice to heart and reworked that section of the novel. So the worst day turned out to be quite fortuitous.

Q: Your best?

A: The best time was meeting and working with my editor and proofreader. Working with Ally and Audrey on A Decent Woman was a dream. I’m pleased to say we are working together again on my second novel, The Island of Goats. They got me and my story 100%, which is imperative in an author-editor-proofreader relationship.

Q: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?

A: Nothing! I write every day and on the weekends. My adult children are out of my nest, and I’m single, so I have a lot of free time these days. The only time I’m not writing is the week of Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner with my family. When I travel, I write in my journal every morning as a writing exercise and to keep me present with my surroundings and experiences.

Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve experienced as an author?

A: Two very happy moments—when I held my book for the first time was an unbelievably happy moment, and just before the manuscript went to layout, when I knew the story had worked. The story I’d worked on for nearly five years was the best I could imagine with my writing experience at that time and with my life experiences to date. I hesitated submitting the manuscript to the layout department, but I finally clicked Send. I felt satisfied and pleased until I read a passage twenty minutes later and wanted to improve the sentence. That happy moment was short-lived!

Q: Is writing an obsession with you?

A: Most definitely; it would be impossible to stop writing at this point in my life. When I was married and raising children, I exhibited my paintings and photography for over twenty five years, but writing is different—it pulls and tugs at me all the time. If I can’t write every day, I’m not happy. I see my kids and select friends once a month for a weekend, but I do find my mind wandering toward writing during conversations. After raising my kids, working as a social worker and as a counselor, it’s time for me to focus on myself...until grandkids come, of course, I can’t wait for that!

Q: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?

A: I’m very connected to my debut novel, as my protagonist, Ana Belen is loosely based on my grandmother’s midwife, an Afro-Caribbean woman who smoked cigars after every birth, and liked her rum. The character Serafina is loosely based on my Puerto Rican grandmother, who grew up poor in La Playa de Ponce, and married well. Many of my mother and grandmother’s stories found their way into the novel, so it is impossible to think of A Decent Woman and not remember the women in my family, my lineage. I never met my grandmother’s midwife, but I still think of Ana as family and a good friend.

My work in progress is another historical novel set in colonial Puerto Rico called, The Island of Goats. This story isn’t based on anyone I know, but I am connected to Puerto Rico, and I walked El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Way of St. James, with my kids, which is the second setting in the book. I already feel connected to the characters, Alta Gracia and India Meath, and I adore this story.

Q: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?

A: I absolutely agree. I’ve always loved this Bradbury quote, and never did it hit home as much as after my debut novel was published. The drunken high I’d been on for five years, living and breathing A Decent Woman every day came to a halt, as I began marketing the book locally and on social media. I did interviews, wrote articles to publicize the book, and I felt disoriented and aimless for two weeks; much like a hangover! My writing mentor advised me to immediately begin writing the second book. He as right! I feel more like myself again, and Lord knows I’m much happier back in my element.

Q: Where is your book available?

A: A DECENT WOMAN is on available now on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle –http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

At Barnes and Noble in paperback and NOOK - http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-decent-woman-eleanor-parker-sapia...

Q: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?

A: Yes, I do. You can find me at:

Website: http://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com

Blog: http://www.thewritinglifeeparker.wordpress.com

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