Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: CRISTINA by Jake Parent

Driven by a desperate need to escape her past, Cristina Rodriguez moves into a picturesque hilltop home with an ocean view. The same place where, four years earlier, a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. 

At first, both the house and the scenic California beach town seem perfect. Fresh air. Fresh faces. And the ocean is just ten minutes away. But as Cristina and her daughter set about rebuilding their lives, they soon discover that the past is not about to let go so easily. 

A gripping psychological suspense mystery by a #1 Amazon bestselling author, Cristina will grab you from the first page and keep you guessing until the very end.

Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 4 stars

Review: “It had been four years since the little girl’s body was found, mutilated and buried in a quarry near her home in Pleasure Point, California. The same home Cristina Rodriguez now wanted to buy.” (7)

I don’t know if I’d be willing to live in a house were a lot of deaths took place. But, then again, people die everywhere.

Having led a poor life, battling drugs and low-life scumbags, and escaping an abusive relationship, Cristina is a character that is both rough around the edges and nurturing at the same time. She’s a tattooed recovering addict with a young daughter and only wants to make a life for herself in a new home.  She is a feisty Latina! The best thing about her was that she comes from a long line of tough Mexicans, which made her as resilient as they come. Like her abuela always said: “quit crying and do what you need to do, because the only two choices you have in life are to fight or to give up.” Yes, Cristina’s past isn’t pretty and she’s had her problems, but her trying to make up for it and wipe the slate clean makes her an endearing character, especially when it came to her daughter. Her story is written with a raw, richly urban, and destitute Hispanic voice. Being Hispanic myself, I definitely related to this aspect.

“Cristina had always been a magnet for the eccentric people of the world.”  (81) And you can’t get any more eccentric than ghosts!

The story started off slow, at first, but it becomes easier and more interesting once you get into it. It was well-written with a cast of well-defined and relatable characters. I must admit that some of the characters are pretty kooky and just plain weird. Of course, once the ghostly brick-a-bracs started happening, that’s when it started getting better. A troubled history, a strange disappearance, and the wandering spirits that linger in that house—that mixed with Cristina’s bold, snarky attitude and her fight to survive made for a compelling read.

Readers will root for Cristina as she learns to face her fears, fight for her daughter, bury the past, and tries to put the demons to rest.

A great read!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Q&A with Jake Parent

Jake Parent is the author of Only the Devil Tells the Truth, a novel about a young man growing up in poverty and dealing with addiction. He has used storytelling as a tool for advocacy on several humanitarian projects, most notably his work founding an orphanage and school in Kabul, Afghanistan with Omeid International. He grew up in San Jose, CA but now lives in the Washington, DC area.

    1.       What inspired you to write Cristina?

As the father of a new daughter, I wanted to celebrate the strength and courage I’ve seen in so many women throughout my life. The book is dedicated to single moms, of which Cristina is one. It was a challenge to write a female main character, but my hope is I did women everywhere some justice.

    2.       In a few words, how would you describe this book?

It’s a suspenseful psychological thriller that takes place in a California beach town. There’s a murder mystery and a ton of intrigue. All within a setting and story that explores some of the larger ills of the world we live in.

3.       How would you describe Cristina’s journey in the story?

Cristina has been through a lot. She’s a single mother who comes from poverty. By no means is she perfect, but she has learned a lot on the path she’s traveled, and it’s given her an inner strength most people can only dream of achieving.

4.       What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

Cristina dives deep into drug addiction, domestic abuse, poverty, gentrification, love, trust, and purpose. These are all issues I’ve personally witnessed or dealt with, as a kid and as an adult. I did my best to weave them into a rip-roaring story that will not only entertain people but make them think at the same time.

5.       What was the hardest part about writing this book?

With an infant daughter, time is always hard to come by. In fact, most of the book was written with my little girl sleeping on my chest. And actually I found looking at that sweet face incredibly motivating when it came to getting my work done. When I wanted to quit for the day, I just looked at her, put my head down, and kept moving forward.

6.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

First off, I hope people will be entertained. I try to write books that I want to read. Second, I hope people will learn a few things about the difficult journey that is being a single mom. And lastly, I hope people enjoy reading a somewhat atypical main character for the genre in a California Latina.

7.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love being able to do what I love. Writing isn’t just a job for me. It’s a calling. A passion. And one of the few things in life that makes me consistently happy every time I sit down and do it. But it’s not without its challenges as well. You spend 6-10 months working on a project and can never be sure what people will think until it’s out there. And it can also be really hard to get up every day and start typing, especially when no one is saying you have to. But I guess it’s those times that separate the tinkerers from those who end up finding success at what they do.

8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

I try to read a wide variety of writers, but a few of my favorites are Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Honoré de Balzac, John Sanford, Junot Díaz, and Ernest Hemingway.

9.       Are you working on anything new right now?

Oh yah. I’ve got another completed manuscript in the editing process right now, as well as another one that’s currently in process. I wish I could say more, but I’m kind of superstitious about discussing works-in-progress until they are finished.

10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

Growing up in California, I was fortunate enough to experience the richness of Latino\a culture and the vast contributions people from all over the hemisphere have made to the world and to the United States. I think at the moment, it’s a terribly underrepresented perspective in literature and a story that is ignored to the detriment of us all. However, I also believe there are some great storytellers out there just waiting to have their voices heard. I think we should all do everything we can to make sure they do. 

Find out more about Jake Parent at

Up next: A review of Cristina

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Q&A with Magnus Stanke

Magnus Stanke came to fiction writing relatively late in life, and via literary detours in song-writing, film scripts and film criticism. He has worked professionally as bank clerk, shiatsu practitioner and language teacher. In his twenties he spent a lot of time backpacking and he has now settled in Spain. 
He sincerely wishes there were more hours in the day to pursue his other hobbies, now, that the writing is increasingly taking over.

1.       What inspired you to write Falling in Death and Love?
‘Falling in Death and Love’ started with the memory of the scent of pine that I had enjoyed at lot in the summer months before I started to write. That and a certain sense of nostalgia for the 1970s when I grew up were the decisive factors in the genesis of the book.
I wanted to try my hand at a genre piece rather than emulating my favourite writers Haruki Murakami or Mario Vargas Llosa – which in itself would have ended disastrously, I know…
Crime and thriller fiction is timeless because our lives are always going to be precious. People will always try to preserve their own at all cost. That’s what makes suspense fiction simultaneously universal and existentialist.

2.       How would you describe the relationship between David and Aurora?
When Aurora and David meet they experience an emotional explosion, a ‘coup de foudre’ as the French say. It’s love at first sight, the crazy, overwhelming kind of love that paralyses all sense of reason and logic. The surrealists call it ‘amour fou’, ‘crazy love’, an emotion that doesn’t necessarily lead to stable, lasting relationships but is highly exploitable for cinematic or literary purposes. It’s bipolar love, can take you from Seventh Heaven straight down to purgatory in the blink of an eye, or the absence thereof.
Since Aurora and David meet while she is on holiday, they have to take drastic steps to find out whether their love is just a passing fad or something more serious.
The great thing about ‘amour fou’ is that it gives you the energy to try out things out of the ordinary. It take you out of your comfort zone and facilitates the opportunities for real change.

3.       What were the ultimate goals of each of the two main characters?
I have to quickly explain the historic context of ‘Falling in Death and Love’.
After the death of General Franco in 1975, Spain’s last fascist dictator, the years of transition began. The powers that be and the powers that wanted to be fought over the future of the country. The military and the conservatives strove to maintain the status quo while the progressive forces went against them, towards democracy.
You have to understand that in Spain of the 1970’s divorce was not allowed. Period. Women couldn’t even get a passport without their husband’s permission.
Aurora, my Aurora if you like, is a very independent, strong-willed woman who gained her freedom from an unhappy marriage by a stroke of ‘luck’. Her husband died in a drunk-drive accident after she had started the unlikely proceedings of an annulment. For the first time in her life she is free to enjoy the things she only ever read about. Like sushi. When she travelled to Mallorca she was certainly not prepared to meet her soul mate.
But that’s exactly what David is, her soul mate as well as the island’s first sushi chef. He is also a globetrotter who is slowly but surely growing weary of the endless sea miles he’s been accumulating. More than Aurora he is instantly willing and ready to commit to a relationship that promises lasting stability beyond the initial rush.
David is a romantic at heart while Aurora is a quiet rebel.

4.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
Mallorca is a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. In the 50’s and 60’s flights were still prohibitively expensive for most Europeans, but by the last 70’s some 5 million visitors flocked there annually. However, once in Spain most tourists found their dollars, marks, pounds and francs went a lot further than at home. And the weather left nothing to be desired.
From the point of view of the islanders this is a mixed blessing. Urban development has been rampant at times and threatened to obliterate everything that was original and quaint. Still, tourism brought prosperity and somehow the locals have managed to maintain a certain level of dignity to the changes. Today Mallorca is still booming when the rest of mainland Spain is in a deep economic crisis.

5.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
Well, since it’s a thriller I hope people will be thrilled and entertained. It’s a chase narrative with twists and turns. It’s also a trip back in time. There was no internet or mobile phones in 1977 but that doesn’t necessarily make it more innocent as eras go.

6.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
I like the actual writing the best, creating stories and character out of nothing, but I don’t like the selling which takes up a lot of my time and I know I’m not very good at it.

7.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve already mentioned Vargas Llosa and Murakami but I mustn’t forget about thriller authors. I dig (in no particular order) Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, James Lee Burke, Jim Thompson, Carl Hiaason, Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters and many others.

8.       If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main characters? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
If the movie would be in English I’d go for Emily Blunt for Aurora and Jake Gyllenhaal for David. It’d be a totally different story if it was shot in Spanish, or course.

9.       Are you working on anything right now?
Yes. ‘Falling in Death and Love’ is the first book in a cycle of Retro-thrillers. While the second and third book aren’t direct sequels, they do echo and rhyme with the first one, and some of the characters re-appear. Since I’m currently between drafts of ‘Time Lies’, the second book, I have started plotting the third which is called ‘Murder in the Comfort Zone’ at the moment.

‘Time Lies’ should be ready for publication later this year if all works out well. Just watch this space

10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I hope it’ll grow and prosper of course, however I don’t claim to be an expert. My wife is Latina and I’m but a humble German living in Spain and writing in English. I seem to have a better understanding of the past than the present or the future. Still I’m willing to learn…

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: THINGS LATINOS LOVE OR HATE by Lilliana Rios

Latinos are extremely passionate souls who can love something as much as they can hate it. This book will give you a glimpse of the Latino culture with descriptions of the things they favor or abhor. Do they believe in superstitions? Which foods they love to eat? What are their likes and dislikes? The author will take you through an amusing journey as she shares her personal funny experiences and how they relate to her Latin roots.

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3 stars

Review:  Why do Latinas tuck money in their bras?

“Too many pillos and bandits around in downtown and we’re tired of people stealing our wallets so we put the money inside our bras. It’s safe there. Trust us. You try to steal our plata, you may be more successful at snatching one breast before we let you take our money.” (15)

“We find all things costly! If it’s not practically free, it’s too pricey. The dilemma here is that good deals aren’t good enough for us.” (16) Too true!

“No, we did not burst out of our mother’s vagina with Salsa shoes on.” (122) =D

“If I had a dollar for every time my mom asks me for grandchildren, I’d be richer than Bill Gates.” (129)

And what’s with our fascination with Walter Mercado and Sábado Gigante?

Like the title suggests, this is a book of what Latinos love and hate. Rather than being a stereotypical account of la raza (in fact, there’s a whole section on stereotypes,) this book is more endearing as Rios adds her own humorous flare and sass. The best thing about these observations was the personal anecdotes provided by the author. For example, in LATINOS LOVE PIERCING EARS, the author recounts how, at 5-years old, her abuela pierced her ear with a hot needle and a cork and how she repeatedly stabbed her as if she were auditioning for Psycho. Ouch!

Latinas will be especially proud of the author’s stats and analysis in regards to Latinas helping the economy. It’s true: Latinos are hard workers. And, yes, Latinos LOVE overfeeding you! People will also be entertained by the frightening myths of La Llorana and el cuco.

Of course, at times, some of the attributes were contradicting. For example, she goes on saying that Latinos love spending money, but then she goes on to say that Latinos love being thrifty. How can that be? A thrifty person doesn’t like to spend money. 

Readers will enjoy the candid and witty repartee from the author and will be able to relate. Of course, you won’t find every, little tid-bit fascinating. In fact, some of it is just pure fluffery. Still, I’d say this was an insightful and comical overview of what makes Latinos tick. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Q&A with author Lilliana Rios

Lilliana Rios was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New Jersey. She is a Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and Rutgers University graduate.

  1. What inspired you to write Things Latinos Love or Hate?

Things Latinos Love or Hate stemmed from the blog.  There was nothing like it on the web so I gave it a shot with the intent of only writing a few things, but with my experiences and surroundings I gathered so much material that I now have over 700 posts. I decided to write a book version.

  1. In a few words, how would you describe this book?

Funny, real, and entertaining!

  1. Do you feel this book stereotypes Latinos with clichés?

TLLOH is based on my personal experiences and I encourage people to read it with an open mind.  Surely, two people can look at the same object and see totally different things. If you look for the bad in something, you’ll find it and if you seek the good in it, you will find it as well. If one feels their culture is embarrassing, they may see this book as stereotyping Latinos, but for those who are comfortable in their skin they may relate to it in some way.

  1. What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

TLLOH is a humor book, but I did touch up lightly on some serious topics affecting Latinos from systemic racism to people thinking we depend on public assistance. This is something I elaborate on in the book. I thought it was worthy of exploring since we’re portrayed so unfairly in the media. Latinos are constantly being targeted because people refuse to acknowledge things such as facts and stats.

  1. What was the hardest part about writing this book?

I’d say the toughest part was length, deciding which things to omit and which ones made the cut.

  1. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I’d like for readers to focus on the positive things about Latinos and learn a little about us.

  1. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

What I like about being a writer is having the ability to connect with my readers, to engage and awaken something in them. What I dislike? Writer’s block! There are days that everything comes to you at once, whether you’re driving or getting ready to go to sleep and there are times that the inspiration and ideas become dormant. It can take time to get it back.

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have so many, but I’d say strong Latina writers truly inspire me such as Sandra Cisneros, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. As for male writers, I love Elie Wiesel, Miguel Piñero, Justin Torres and Paulo Coelho’s work.

  1. Are you working on anything new right now?

I started working on a fiction book series, but I’d like to perfect it. It can take anywhere from a few months to years for its completion.

  1. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I think there’s a brighter future for Latino literature and for more Hispanic authors to be included in the literary canon. I don’t think we’re seeing rapid change, but America’s slightly catching up. They’re just warming up to us now.

Up Next: A review of Things Latinos Love and Hate

Friday, July 22, 2016

New Book: BLACK WIDOW BITCHES by Victor Cass

Victor Cass is the author of a new novel that is garnering attention because of its timeliness and relevance to our changing American military policies regarding the role of women in combat.  It is the first war novel that details how women infantry develop from rookies to brave, skillful warriors in defense of democracy and our nation.  And who are these heroes? The “Black Widows,” the world’s first all-female, full-combat U.S. soldiers to be sent into battle against tens of thousands of unified Jihadist terrorists, including ISIS and Boko Haram, in the not-too-distant World War III.

This is Victor’s fourth book and third novel, but this book has been in the making for almost 10 years, requiring 5 years of research--including extensive interviews with American veterans of various wars --to create a realistic, fictional world that, in hindsight, is amazingly prophetic. Victor has drawn upon his Master’s degree in Military History and over 30 years of pursuing military research on his own, as well as his extensive writing experience in various genres.

Q:  What about your new novel might be considered prophetic?
A:   Two aspects. First, our nation recently removed all the barriers to women in the U.S. military being in full combat. Our Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, announced this major change in December 2015. Before that, our previous Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, had declared that military positions were now more fully open to women. But more than four years ago, I was writing about this being a reality, showing what this looked like, with our American women being transformed from “green recruits” to full-blown warriors. Second, my novel depicts a world where terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are able to take over large amounts of territory in regions of the world, like parts of Europe and Africa. When I began writing it, such terrorist groups weren’t on the public radar as they are now.

Q:  Will the readers of your novel be convinced that women can fight in battles, especially women in all-female combat units? Against men?
A:  Yes. In the first part of the book, the reader is introduced to the women and follows them throughout their trials in basic and advanced training as well as their introduction to combat. People who read various drafts of my novel in the past two years--including military veterans, women, and anti-war advocates--have said the novel was very believable. You get to know these women well and witness their gradual transformation from naive “kids” to trained combat professionals. I conducted careful research to accurately depict the transformation that anyone in our military must undergo, men and women alike.

Q:  Tell us about your book’s heroes, these “Black Widows” who broke the proverbial “glass ceiling.”
A:  The feedback I get constantly from readers is how authentic, how believable, the characters are. The women are vastly diverse, representing every ethnic and socioeconomic group, every cultural group, in our society. The top “stars” of the book, for example are a Latina graduate of West Point, a lieutenant who hailed from the “barrio” and who had gang connections in East Los Angeles; a young Black woman who grew up rich and privileged in Chicago’s Gold Coast; a virginal, mousy Midwestern, ultra-religious White girl; a dirt-poor, young White woman from Alabama who was domestically abused; an Iranian-American  devout Muslim, who saved the lives of many of her comrades; a brave, beloved Asian officer, and so on. These women face discrimination from the military high command who are opposed to their presence, as well as challenges amongst themselves. For example, some LGBT soldiers are bullied by other women in their unit. Some face gang issues, race issues, and so on. I show these women warriors on and off the fields of battle, so you’ll get to really know them. The focus of my novel is their huge transformation from fearful rookies to brave warriors. You’ll be able to believe these Black Widows are genuine heroes.

Q:  The book’s main character is a Latino officer. Tell us more about him, since having such a hero in an American war novel is rare.
A:  It is. To my understanding, there are very few American combat novels in our nation’s history with a Latino protagonist.  Elias Marin, my book’s male hero, is symbolic of a leader who falls from grace due to his own failings, and who then has the choice to redeem himself or be undone by his own pride. At the beginning of my book, before the Black Widows unit is established, Elias makes a choice that ultimately costs many human lives. He sticks to facts that are actually on his side, but his pride gets the better of him. Disgraced, humiliated, his dreams destroyed, he is punished. But soon he is given a chance to step into an unknown and untested arena to train the new, all-female army division, a job no male soldier wants. Elias, as readers will see, is a complex character: incredibly strong, but we see him breaking down and weeping in several parts of the novel. He is cold yet sensitive, not the conventional hero, but more akin to what real heroes are probably like: good, conflicted, afraid, and strong. An authentic hero and role model.

Q:  Why was it necessary to create all-female fighting units? Why not just integrate the women with their male comrades?
A:  The answer, sadly, is based on reality, not fiction. Despite the fact that America’s military has admitted women in certain areas for a number of years now, including military academies, physical and sexual assaults on women are still a major concern. Women can’t rise through the ranks as the men can, because of tremendous prejudice regarding their abilities. Women in the military academies are harassed, and rape is not uncommon. In my book, these facts are used by the male opponents of the Black Widows to prevent women getting into combat. But the proponents of creating the Black Widows point out that, with all-female units, these obstacles and abuses will not be an issue. Similar to research that shows how students in all-girl schools develop greater leadership abilities and achieve more highly than in heterogeneous schools, this all-female model seemed reasonable.

Q:  So who are the Black Widows’ leaders trying to get this historic division off the ground? Women?
A:  Absolutely! Another top star in the book is its highest-ranking woman officer, General Jennifer Reed. She’s a visionary but a tough realist as well. She fights hard to get the U.S. Congress to approve the Black Widows division, to approve having, for the first time in the history of the world, an all-female combat unit. Now, get this: These Black Widows are an airborne division--paratroopers. They must not only get trained in regular ground combat but as airborne troops as well. They will be warriors dropping from the sky! Luckily for them, Elias Marin is a war hero with airborne combat experience.

Q:  Women advocates might argue that having a male leader as the main hero dilutes the “women’s empowerment” that might otherwise distinguish your book. Are they right?
A:  I’ve heard this expressed already. I can understand why women feel this way and I respect that perspective. But I was trying to reflect reality. When our military first integrated Black soldiers over 100 years ago, there were not enough Black officers to train new recruits, as was also the case in the Civil War with our Black soldiers. So, until there could be a critical mass of Black officers, White officers were used for training. In my novel, women volunteers sign up in droves for the Black Widows, defying expectations. Because of  WWIII’s intensity, our military is being drained, so the U.S. needs all these recruits, but there simply aren’t enough airborne-trained women soldiers, especially at the officer level, to train them. So male officers have to be practically bribed to take on this unconventional assignment.

Q:  And do these women warriors turn into cold-hearted killers? How does their experience in war differ from men’s experiences, if at all?
A:  Great question. There are actually many scenes in my book where the Black Widows fight alongside men, as their battles cross paths, so it’s easy to see similarities in their combat experiences. Yes, our Black Widows turn into killers, because their lives depend upon this. But war is the most horrifying event in civilization. No book, no movie, no real-life retellings of war can escape this. War is not glorious. It is sheer hell. Our Black Widows are courageous, tough, sacrificing themselves, as men do, to save their buddies’ lives. Our Black Widows include bona fide war heroes, Medal of Honor winners, as you’ll see. But no war novel can evade the fact that war is terrible, and our Black Widows are hardened, and many have to fight to hold onto their humanity, or whatever femininity they once had.

Q:  Your depictions of death are gut-wrenchingly realistic, whether on a mass scale, or in describing the individual deaths of heroes or villains. Was it hard for you to create these?
A:  Very important question, since war equals death. I have been an urban police officer in Southern California for almost 23 years.  I recall how I felt as a rookie in a profession that involves guns, threats, all manner of violence, dangerous people, and death. Even now, with all my years in law enforcement, witnessing death and its after-effects doesn’t get any easier.  There are physical, physiological aspects to it--which I capture as necessary in my book--as well as the heartbreaking sadness of it, which I also depict.  My research in preparation for this book, as well as my interviews with war veterans in different combat jobs, also enlightened me regarding death.

Q:  Have you received any blowback from the book’s title, Black Widow Bitches? Last I looked, the “b-word” is still much reviled, especially by women.
A:  Yes! Starting with my editor, and my family. My novel is a tribute to the strength and resilience of women from all walks of life. It celebrates how ordinary people, even downtrodden, disempowered women, can rise to great heroism, can do amazing things they never dreamed they were capable of. It celebrates how women can enter into a “man’s world,” a place they were excluded from and told they could never earn entrance into--and succeed! My Black Widows are models of inner strengths rising to the surface. I know that the title might appear to diminish that. But the title is meant to be ironic. The title comes from the snarling, hate-filled villains in the book, who battled the Black Widows and were battered by them. The terrorists in South Africa, in Greece and the Balkans, the terrorists in Europe who had never seen strong women take control, who hated the persistence and skills of the Black Widows. To them, through much of the book, these American women are “Black Widow Bitches”--a shallow, monotone, cliché depiction of women that reflects the denigration women have always experienced. Hearing themselves called this, my women soldiers are energized to crush the monsters these men are.

Victor Cass is the author of the novels Love, Death, and Other War Stories (2005) and Telenovela (2009), which was a "Top 10 Best Reviewed Books" on Living La Vida He is also the author of the nonfiction book, Pasadena Police Department: A Photohistory, 1877-2000 (2001). His poetry has appeared in Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2015 and Spectrum 3 Anthology: Love Love Love. His stories, essays, and other nonfiction have appeared in Arroyo Monthly Magazine, Pasadena Weekly, Pasadena Star-News, If & When Literary Journal, Mexican War Journal, and other publications. He lives in Pasadena, CA. Though Victor has never served in the military, he holds a Master of Arts degree in Military History, with a specialty in Land Warfare, from the American Military University in Manassas, VA. He has researched military history as an avocation for over 30 years. The book can be purchased through and .

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Q&A with Eleanor Parker Sapia

Award-winning Puerto Rican-born novelist and painter, Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Europe, and Puerto Rico. Eleanor is a Finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards. Her bestselling historical novel, A Decent Woman, set in colonial Puerto Rico, was selected as July 2015 Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is a favorite with book clubs around the country. A Decent Woman was selected as 'Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season' by Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, and Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor’s life experiences as a painter, 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 tells herself she is walking El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor is a proud member of PEN America, Historical Novel Society, and Las Comadres Para Las Americas. She is the mother of two adventurous, loving grown children and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, "The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada", and a collection of short stories.

1.       What inspired you to write A Decent Woman?

Thank you for inviting me to visit with your readers. I am honored to be here.
I am a Puerto Rican-born, Spanish speaking writer currently living in wild and wonderful West Virginia. I was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico to an American soldier and a Puerto Rican mother and went on to marry an army officer, which led to a rich life of travel and wonderful opportunities to meet interesting people from all walks of life, which of course means I have tons of stories swirling in my head. My heart belongs to Puerto Rico, so my initial inspiration was to write a love letter to the island of my birth and pay tribute to my kids and to the women of my family. The setting of A Decent Woman, Ponce, Puerto Rico, is my hometown.

Another strong inspiration was that I had never read a story in English about a diverse heroine living and working in colonial Puerto Rico. A diverse heroine was important to me, so I wrote what I wanted to read. I was inspired by the literary traditions of the early Puerto Rican classics I read as a child, like El jibaro and La charca, which dealt with societal issues of the day and portrayed the lives of people in the lower and higher echelons of colonial Puerto Rican society. My story is about an Afro-Cuban midwife; a young widow with small children who marries into a prominent family; and about women of all walks of life, all thrown into the mix in turn of the century Puerto Rico.

Lastly, I was inspired by the women of my family, who were amazing storytellers. I loved my grandmother’s stories of her midwife, a black Caribbean woman of unknown origin, who caught my mother, two aunts, and an uncle. It was thought Dona Aña came from the island of Martinique, but no one was sure. I was quite fascinated with her. It came as no surprise that the colorful Ana became my protagonist, though initially Serafina was the leading lady. But who can resist a rum-drinking, cigar-smoking midwife with a big attitude and a heart of gold? I couldn’t!
2.       If you could describe this book in a few sentences, what would you say?

Set against the combustive, colonial backdrop of a misogynistic society where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of two lifelong friends: a poor, illiterate Afro-Cuban midwife and a young widow with small children who marries into a prominent family, as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

3.       How would you describe the correlation between Ana and Serafina?

When the story begins, Ana the midwife delivers newly-married, sixteen-year old Serafina’s first child. Unmarried and alone, Ana is distrustful of men and authority, a loner, but she is loyal to her midwifery clients and their children. Ana’s journey is about keeping a dark secret from her past hidden while searching for love, respectability, and a family to call her own. She tries her best to live a “decent” life in a turbulent time in Puerto Rico’s history, when many single women find themselves in “indecent” lifestyles and situations to feed and protect their families because they have no male protection.

Motherless sixteen-year old Serafina pursues a friendship with Ana, which will reopen their hearts, and later, break them for a few years. Although Serafina later remarries and has the protection of men, her life is paved with heartache and much loss. Serafina’s journey is growing up and maturing into a confident wife, mother, and loyal friend. Later in life, Serafina will come face to face with her humble beginnings.

What forever bonds these two women is a fierce friendship, loyalty, and an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor after a crime is committed against her. They are mother and daughter in many ways.

4.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

Before my divorce, I worked as a counselor and a Spanish language refugee case worker, and later, as a Spanish language social worker with immigrant families in Northern Virginia. My heart and stories will always be entwined with the marginalized and overlooked members of society. I am proud to give them a voice in literature.

The initial themes of motherhood, friendship, and the sisterhood of women sprang naturally and organically, thanks to my Puerto Rican grandmother, mother, and aunt’s stories of growing up, marrying, and raising families in Puerto Rico. Misogyny, poverty, and racism against black, white, and mulatto women were issues I gleaned from their stories and from research. The atrocities committed against Puerto Ricans, with forced sterilization by the U.S. Department of Health, came to light through research, as did the mass cleansing of black and mulatto women in Ponce. Though not initially planned, I had to include these historical facts in the story. We should never turn our backs on what we discover as writers. If it is a truth, write it. You discovered the truth for a reason.

5.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I ended up writing a book about the suffering, joys, and hard lives of women of different social echelons and economic status in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. I didn’t set out to write that story, but I couldn’t turn my back or ignore what I’d discovered through research.

Readers will take away what they need from a story. As with viewing a piece of art, stories are subjective, and each person will gain something different from their unique background and life perspective. One discovery I made while writing the book was that my life, with its challenges, joys, and struggles, wasn’t that different from women of the past. Life was certainly harder for women at the turn of the century, without modern conveniences, opportunities, rights, but many women around the world today are living exactly like our foremothers—or worse—with few or no rights, limited modern conveniences, and unreachable opportunities for themselves and their children. That wasn’t a discovery—it was a painful reminder.

Maybe readers will gain a bit of knowledge about Puerto Rico’s complex history as a Spanish colony and a U.S. colony after the Spanish-American War in 1899. Puerto Rico has a rich history, culture, and fascinating traditions, thanks to our Taino Indian, African, and Spanish roots. I hope I portrayed those in the book.

I do hope that readers who normally don’t pick up historical fiction will realize the people of long ago faced much the same issues we face today. As I said in another interview, we are single and married, working mothers, and stay-at-home moms, and some of us are faced with indecent situations in order to feed our families. We are society women, educated women, and women living on the fringes of society. In my mind, we are a sisterhood. The word we use in Puerto Rico to refer to dear women friends is comadre, which literally means, “the woman who helped birth my children.” It also means “my friend for life.”

6.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love reading, writing, and I love research, which is a perfect recipe for an historical novelist. This motto, which came to me while writing A Decent Woman, sums up what I love best about writing: “This is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved.” Other than working from home, which I am blessed to do, I love creating and sharing diverse heroines with my readers. They are ordinary women who do extraordinary things while living in turbulent times, extraordinary times is how I’d describe them.

What I like least about being a writer is that I don’t have enough hours in a day to get all I want to say down on paper. I have so many stories I want to tell! I’ve also found it difficult to read books for pleasure. These days, I find myself reading books for content and style, which often takes away from the story, as I sit with a highlighter in hand! With little time, I’m now picky about what I read; if I don’t like the story by the third chapter, I close the book.

7.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

Jack Remick, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, and Milos Kundera are among my favorite contemporary authors.  I buy their new books sight unseen, every time. Of course, I love Jane Austen.

8.       If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main characters? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

I was an exhibiting painter for twenty-five years before discovering my love of writing stories. It was important for me to visualize my characters as I discovered more about them through writing. The adult Ana would be played by one of my favorite actresses, the fabulous Viola Davis. Ana Belén is strong, gentle, intelligent, and has the quiet strength and gritty courage I’ve seen in many of Viola’s roles in films and on television. I adore Viola’s grin, which reminds me of Ana, who in my mind’s eye has a great grin.

For the flashbacks of young Ana as a child born into slavery on a sugar plantation in Cuba, I’d pick the young actress and Oscar winner, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Lupita Nyong’o would be perfect to play Ana in her twenties when she first arrives in Puerto Rico.

I visualize the young actress Selena Gomez as Serafina at sixteen and the incredibly-talented Mexican actress and director Salma Hayek as the adult Serafina. Of course, I think A Decent Woman would make a great film!

9.       Are you working on anything right now?

Yes, I’m currently working on a novel called The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico. It’s the story of a young nun working at a leprosarium on a small Puerto Rican islet called Isla de Cabras, The Island of Goats, off the coast of San Juan. I didn’t think I could love another story and new characters as much as I did with my first book, but I do. I hope readers will enjoy my second book, which will come out in 2017.

10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I believe the future in Latino literature is bright with more Latinos penning books in all genres. There are still only a handful of Latino literary agents and publishing companies that cater to Latino writers, and I hope that changes in the future. What I’m most happy about is that more Latinos are active on social media, which helps everyone get their products and books out into the world.

Thank you very much for the wonderful opportunity to stop by and chat with your readers!