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 lives in West Virginia.
About the Book
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.
Find out more on Amazon.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, A Decent Woman. What was your inspiration for it?
A: Thanks so much for your kind words and for the opportunity for this author interview, Mayra. My historical novel, 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, Ana, who caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle. The lack of information about the history of Puerto Rican women in American history 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 was also inspired by my interviews of daughters of Puerto Rican women born in that era.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Ana is a tenacious, gritty, feisty, Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery, who mysteriously arrived on the shores of Puerto Rico in the middle of the night at age twenty. Alongside her positive characteristics, Ana is suspicious of strangers, stubborn, distrustful of men and authority, and she is hiding a secret from her past. She also practices the Yoruba traditions of her Nigerian ancestors, which involves praying to the ancestors and to gods and goddesses.
A: I wrote A Decent Woman in six months. The words came quickly, but the editing and research took nearly three years! Six months before the book was published, I met my current editor and she was incredibly helpful to me and the story. She challenged me to change the ending and remove male POV—it was a great idea.
Oh yes, I faced many bumps! Before I signed with Booktrope Publishing, I’d queried 100 agents for two years. There were many agents interested in my book, but in the end, they thought an historical novel about an Afro-Cuban midwife would be tough to sell. I wasn’t deterred; I kept at it and finally went the hybrid publisher route, which is between traditional and Indie publishing. I’m very happy where I am, and have several projects lined up with Booktrope—a happy ending for me after quite a journey.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: I live in my head, and use all the senses when I describe the sights, smells, texture, and sounds of a scene or a character. There must be momentum in a story, no stagnant places where nothing is happening, to keep the excitement moving forward, and the reader turning the pages.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: I didn’t experience any anxiety whatsoever with my debut novel, but I am experiencing a bit now with my second historical novel. I handle it by reminding myself of what I’ve accomplished, how difficult it was to get published, and how fortunate I am to have a great publisher and publishing team. I psyche myself out is what I do; I talk to myself, and calm down with prayer, meditation, and a good night’s sleep. Taking writing breaks to garden and play with my pets also helps me.
Q: What is your writing schedule like, and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: I am a single lady, and my two wonderful adult kids are out of my nest, doing wonderful things in the world, so I have a lot of free time. In 2010, I left my job and moved to West Virginia to write full time. It was a bit like falling off a cliff, but it was the best thing I’ve done post-kids.
I wake up between 8 and 9 every morning. I write in my journal and tackle social media and answer emails until noon. I take a long lunch break, walk the dog, check in with social media, and begin working on my work in progress around 2 in the afternoon until dinner time. After dinner, I get organized, turn off the phone, select favorite music to write by, and write until I can’t see any more. It’s very common for my best writing to come between 10pm-2 am.
Q: How do you define success?
A: I like this quote by Orison Swett Marden – “When a man feels throbbing within him, the power to do what he undertakes as well as it can possibly be done, this is happiness, this is success.” I feel the same way about success. I feel blessed to do what I’m passionate about—writing, and the opportunity to write full time makes me very happy, every day.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: I was a social worker and a counselor for a few years, so my advice would be to have an honest talk with the spouse or partner about personal needs and dreams. If nothing changes, a good look into the marriage or relationship would be necessary, and a realistic look at the writer’s commitment to writing. It’s a long haul for most of us. Every marriage and relationship is different, so I won’t generalize. Personally, I’d have to move on because I was a painter for 25 years and I write novels; I’ve always lived a creative life. Life is too short to live with someone who doesn’t support my dreams.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing, if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: Yes, I agree. Orwell is correct, once you’re in the process of writing a book, it’s an intense, exhausting experience. But highly satisfying at the same time! Writers must be a bit nuts. I am obsessed with writing, and there aren’t many things I love more than writing.
I started out as a painter, and I painted and exhibited for 25 years before discovering a passion for writing books. When the paint brush could no longer express all I had inside, I turned to words.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: A Decent Woman is now available on Amazon.
Thanks so much, Mayra! I’ve enjoyed my time with you today.