Saturday, April 27, 2013

Adventure, Writing and Putting Life into Perspective

Greetings from the picturesque Romanian town of Brasov! As many times as my family was stationed in Europe, we never had the opportunity to visit Romania, big mistake! If you're planning a European adventure, please add this beautiful country to your list of must see's. I advise you to fly from Vienna to Bucharest if you're a skittish driver, however...it's a tough route in that you will be following and passing truck after truck on two lane roads! It's 200 km from Bucharest to Brasov which might be for you.

My very good friend and I drove from Vienna, Austria to Gyor, Hungary and spent the night with her gracious American friends who hosted us. The next morning, we rented a car and began our ten hour drive to Brasov, Romania after a stop for breakfast and coffee at the fanciest McCafe I've seen!

The route from Hungary to the Romanian border was along the Autoroute which was pretty uneventful with views of vast farmland and beautiful mountains in the distance. As soon as we crossed the border into Romania, our uneventful drive was no longer. We passed village after village, followed horse-drawn carts and myriad trucks from all over Europe while enjoying the scenery and daily Romanian life  that sped by us. We did stop for photos of Orthodox churches with onion tops and I enjoyed peeking into rural backyards with chickens, little garden plots and lovely ladies sharing conversation with neighbors.

My wonderful friend did a stellar job driving and passed trucks like a champ, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't gripping the door handle every time she passed a truck, a car or a cart with oncoming traffic! By the time we were just outside of Brasov, the largest moon peeked over the snow-covered mountain range and we yelled! We're both moon lovers and it was quite a sight. We stopped the car to take photos and cruised into the center of Brasov after getting lost one time.

Our hotel is in Union Square and the views from this location are wonderful. We had a Romanian dinner of stuffed cabbage, boiled potatoes with sour cream and the hottest pepper ever, washed down with Romanian wine. We slept very well and woke up to a beautiful day. Neither of us had ever been to Romania and we felt blessed to share this experience together.

Yesterday, we had a driver take us to Bran, home of Bran Castle of Dracula fame. Mario, our driver, told us that the vampire shtick is just that - shtick. Vlad the Impaler did live in the castle and he was no Romanian hero. Vlad was into impaling his enemies apparently and Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, Dracula, from stories told of a woman who was actually a living vampire. The Castle is moody and the views from the top of the castle are unparalleled. My friend and I took 100 photographs each!

We also visited the Rasnov Citadel which was awesome, as well. We had lunch in a spa/hotel up in the mountains where I tried Radler for the first time - beer with lemon. Excellent! My friend fell asleep in the car and I continued to enjoy the views of the countryside, pinching myself that I am really here.

Today we're touring Brasov with its beautiful gothic churches and gorgeous town square. It's another beautiful day with cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the high 70's. Our cameras and iPhones are charged and we're ready.

One sad note, however...the agent with the exclusive read has passed on representing me and A Decent Woman. I received his email yesterday and I was SO bummed. Sigh. He thinks I'm a wonderful writer and wishes me luck, but had to pass. The agent said that midway through the novel, his interest waned. I wondered if the fact that it's a women's fiction/historical novel was the reason. I know the exact moment he's talking about - Serafina's wedding. Hmmm. Well, I was majorly disappointed, but let's be honest (I tell myself), he asked for the complete manuscript which was a coup in and of itself. I was thrilled to have him read and he sent a kind note back instead of a form letter. I've sent my manuscript to female agents and him. I know my story is a woman's story and maybe only women will 'get it'.

I will continue to enjoy beautiful Romania, my friend's company and our drive back to Gyor where we turn in our rental car and head back to Vienna. Hey, how many people can visit Dracula's castle during a full moon?? That's awesome, actually. I will continue pinching myself and will not miss a second of this amazing adventure.

When I get back home, I will pull out my manuscript and read it from beginning to end and see where the momentum is missing the mark.  But, then again...maybe it's fine and dandy as it is. Off to light more candles in more churches for my family, my friend's and my writing future. I will also light a candle for my best friend who is in hospice at this time. I received an email from her daughter two days ago. My friend of nearly 40 years is losing her fight with a stroke she had ten months ago. Now, she's left the nursing home for hospice.

Life is all about perspective for me. I am grieving for my dear friend and praying for her and for her family. I cannot believe that this impromptu trip to Europe comes at the end of her fight and I'm not there. I never dreamed I would be in Europe at her passing and she was stable when I left. I pray that my soul sister hangs on until I return, BUT I want peace for her. She has suffered enough.

Not having a positive reply from the agent isn't suffering. I'm okay and my children are well, thank God. I don't have a thing to complain about. Disappointed, but not suffering.

Peace and love,
Ellie




Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Author Platforms and the Russian Connection??

I was thinking of author platforms this morning as I perused my Facebook list. I didn't even know what an author platform was until after I printed out the final copy of my manuscript! Do I have a strong enough platform? Where will future of my debut novel, A Decent Woman, come from? And, why do I have a strong blog following in RUSSIA? What's all that about??

Back to author platforms and where they may come from in my new experience: My father has always called me the family cheerleader. I'm a doting aunt to my nieces and nephews and I'm the only adult that some of my nieces and nephews include as friends on their Facebook pages. Several of my children's friends have included me, as well. I know that's an honor and I treat it as such. Kids of all ages smell bull crap a mile away, so I take the friendship add as a compliment.  Kids like me and I like kids.

Okay, so I might have some young readers. Who else? What's the Russian following about? I've checked out my blog page views and traffic sources and would love to know why there is a high percentage of Russian readers. They are #2 on my list, preceded by the US and followed by Germany, Belgium and Austria. My friend seems to think that maybe Moscow University has writing students reading American blogs. I immediately thought someone was trying to steal my identity! Both Virgos and how we differ! Ha ha!

So, back to author platform. I am Puerto Rican by birth and speak fluent Spanish. I graduated from high school in Puerto Rico, I've lived overseas several times in my life, and I've worked as a Spanish language refugee case worker in Belgium and as a Family Support Worker in Northern Virginia. It makes sense that I have a lot of Spanish speaking and non-Spanish speaking friends in the US, the Caribbean and abroad. I've joined Latina blog sites and I follow Latina bloggers. I joined The 100 Best Latina Blogs and I've been interviewed by a Latina blog site.

I'm on Twitter as a Latina author and have friended nearly 400 Latina(o) fellow tweeters which leads readers to my blog. As much as I dislike tweeting on a regular basis, it seems to work in adding numbers to my readership. I also have an inspiration board on my Pinterest page for my novel, A Decent Woman and a board where I pin photos, books, and interesting pins about Puerto Rico. Am I doing enough to build an author platform?

I might join the library reading or poetry reading circuits...reading excerpts of my novel and my poetry. That might be interesting, actually. Note to Self: find a Shakespeare & Co in or near WV and start visiting coffee houses near me.

I read historical fiction and have begun following blogs of historical fiction and women's fiction authors. This will continue before, during and after the publication of my debut novel...but, what's the deal with the Russian connection? I just can't let that go because it's such a mystery to me! Has any other blogger looked at their page views and traffic sources and discovered a high percentage of page views from Russia? Inquiring minds wanna know!

Off to Demel, the oldest kaffee haus in Wien and to light candles at Stephansdom and Karlskirche, two amazing churches in downtown Vienna.  One candle will be lit for my children, another for my friend and her family, and the third for me and my novel...I think I'll light one for my agent, as well :)

Peace and love,
Ellie






Monday, April 22, 2013

Bran Castle, Garlic and Blessed Water

Good morning from Vienna, Austria!

My friend graciously invited me to visit her in Vienna before her husband's tour of duty ends this June. This trip came at the best possible time for both of us and I'm thrilled to be back in Europe and to see my friend! My ex-husband, my kids and I lived in Vienna 25 years ago and I haven't been back in the continent since 2007.

Vienna hasn't changed dramatically in 25 years. I'm happy about that, actually. Places still look familiar and German words are coming to the forefront of my jet-lagged brain. My friend and I have already taken a brief walking tour of the downtown area, watched the sunset from a nearby castle, visited the gothic Rathaus (town hall) and saw the Saul Leiter exhibit at the Hundertwasser Haus, the highly creative renovation of an old furniture factory. We had lunch in my old stomping ground of the 19th district of Grinzing (wine region) at a famous heurigen I used to frequent and yesterday, we took a cruise down the canals of the Danube River. We sipped white wine spritzers among tourists and locals, taking photographs along our cruise - such a civilized thing to do on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon! We almost fell asleep on back of the boat as we've hit the ground running after my arrival. A combination of jet lag, white wine spritzers and the sun on my face had me nodding off as we cruised.

Despite awesome Viennese public transportation, there is still quite a bit of walking in Vienna and Lord knows, I'm not used to it.  I shall lose weight on this vacation :) This is a very good thing as I gained weight finishing up my first novel this fall and winter...lots of sitting time.

Today is a day of rest as we gear up for some road trips this week and the next - Dresden to visit two Vermeer paintings on permanent exhibit (there's one in Vienna, as well) and Brasov, Transylvania to tour Bran Castle of Dracula, Vlad the Impaler fame. Both of us are well-traveled, have been to most European capitals and important cities, and neither of us has ever been to Romania. Kind of off the beaten track, but we're both excited about that adventure/road trip! When my girlfriend asked me what I thought about a trip to Transylvania, I jumped at the chance. Who goes to Transylvania? We do! I just might have the creative urge and inspiration to write a vampire novel after our Romanian jaunt! Hey, you never know! I journal when I travel and the camera is never far away, so I'm paying GOOD attention on that trip.

Hey...I could even write an historical novel about the gypsy aka traveler's life. The sky's the limit and I'm always alert to new sights, smells, places, people and things. You must pay attention when you write and I do. Never rely fully on memory. I've learned this from first-hand experience.

I'm thrilled to be back in Vienna with my friend and her children and revisiting my first posting as a young Army wife and new mother is exciting. My children were three and one years old when we arrived in Vienna, such babies. My beautiful children are now 28 and 25, wow.

You just never know where life will and can take you. I HIGHLY recommend that you always, always, go with the flow! Have the experience, take the roads less traveled, stop to smell the roses and other wonderful phrases are what I encourage you to do today and every day. Don't miss out on an experience whether it makes you nervous or not...and vampires thrill and terrify me!

My friend and I are taking blessed water from Lourdes, France to Romania and we're considering  a small bag of garlic heads...hey, better safe than sorry :)

Peace and love,
Ellie











Sunday, April 14, 2013

What a Seven-Year Old Knows

My friend took this photograph of me the morning I learned to kayak. I'm in the last red kayak next to the log, holding on for dear life with my paddle.

I'd wanted to learn to kayak for quite a while and one day, I met a man at the local hardware store. We struck up a conversation and he invited me to join a kayak group that doubles as a conservation group for the creek. I'm all for living green and I was very curious, so I accepted his invitation. I drove out and met the group and had nice conversations before it was time to put our kayaks in the water.

Actually, I didn't learn to kayak, I take that back. There were no instructions beforehand. The group leader pointed to a red kayak, handed me a life vest and told me to follow the group to the creek. Then, he smiled. "This is your first time, isn't it?" to which I said yes. He told me not to worry, adding that kayaking is as easy as walking. I laughed that I hoped it would be and he went ahead of the group, leaving me to drag my kayak to the edge of the creek. I'd hoped that there would be someone at the mouth of the creek helping people into their kayaks, but there was no one. They'd all gone ahead and I was the last woman standing. I was on my own and I noticed that my pulse had quickened. I could already tell that I was in for one helluva workout just from pulling the kayak!

I donned the life vest, slid down the muddy embankment and stepped into my rocking kayak. It soon became apparent to me that this would be a learning experience. A hands-on training of the solo variety. So, I copied what everyone else did and soon, I was at that log in the photograph, listening to the group leader welcome us all and wish us a great ride. A great ride? Were there rapids on this trip that no one had bothered to tell me about?! It was obvious everyone but me had kayaked before, but I was up for the challenge! And besides, there were children kayaking for goodness sake. If a seven-year old could kayak, I was going to be okay, I told myself. These parents wouldn't allow children to kayak if this was dangerous. Right?

Let me tell you, kayaking is easy in a swollen creek or river, but it hadn't rained for quite a while. There were times when we all had to drag our kayaks across rocks and pebbles to catch the current and many times, I was ahead and other times, I was dead last. I had nice, brief conversations as people passed me, others waved to me, and after an hour, a seven-year old boy and I managed to meet up. I asked him if he'd kayaked before and he said yes. Where was his mother, I asked and he pointed up river. "She and my brother have gone ahead." I could tell the boy was tired and so, I slowed down because I knew if I went ahead, he would be alone as we were the last two at that point. Had I just been appointed his guardian for the day? This was my first rodeo for heaven's sake! I barely knew what to do myself! I couldn't be in charge of this beautiful boy!

Well, I believe things happen for a reason, so I just allowed the day to unfold. I enjoyed the present and decided that I wouldn't worry about the future...but this kid. I hadn't counted on babysitting on my first day of kayaking!

The morning was chilly and the sun was glorious. My seven-year old friend turned out to be delightful company. He graciously shared a granola bar with me and we managed to stop a couple of times to take photos and the boy remained with me. I knew he could have gone ahead, but for some reason, he stayed by my side. I thought back to my own kids and how over-protective I was and how I couldn't have fathomed leaving them behind on a creek. I wasn't judging, but in awe of his mother's total confidence in her child's abilities. I knew my kids were capable, as well, but to leave them alone? Not on my watch.

At one point, the boy and I both had to use the 'facilities' and we held each other's kayaks as we did our business. We had a good laugh about hiding from the group and poison ivy and at one point, I nearly lost his kayak as I tried to take a photograph and let go for an instant. We took our time, meandering along the creek and I saw things on the creek that only a child sees. He pointed out bird's nests and knew many of the birds that flew around us. I loved that a seven-year old was teaching me. Maybe he thought I needed assistance and didn't want to leave ME!

We shared a magical two and a half hours and I was thankful to have this curious, intelligent boy with me. He was great company and as we neared the end of the trip, the boy asked me to race him to the finish line. We paddled for our lives and of course, he beat me :) As we pulled our kayaks onto the embankment, the boy pulled his kayak up the hill and disappeared without saying goodbye. I was kinda sad that I couldn't thank him for being my travel buddy. We'd spent all morning together and he left? Just like that?

And then, the boy returned. He slid down the embankment with a huge grin on his face and took my kayak rope from me and pulled my kayak up the hill. Amazing. What a charmer :) I told him how much I'd enjoyed spending the morning with him and gave him a big hug. His mother came over with his brother and I told her what a wonderful, kind young man she'd raised, a real gentleman. She smiled and agreed as she tussled his hair.

What a beautiful morning :) I can't wait to go back. I don't know if I'll ever see the boy again, but I'll never forget him. I'd conquered creek kayaking. I felt the fear and did it anyway. I was proud of myself!

Peace and love to you,
Ellie

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One Round-trip Ticket, Please.













I'm surprised I've fallen asleep the last two nights and even more amazed that I slept through the night. I don't even want to blog about it because I'm afraid that I'll jinx myself or anger the gods in some way. But since my blog is about the writing life and my journey from novel-length manuscript to finding an agent to being published, I will. The agent who asked me for an exclusive read last month has asked for my entire manuscript two nights ago! I haven't felt that kind of happy in a very long time!

If you don't write books and aren't aware of how difficult and nearly impossible it is to have an agent reply positively to a query letter, then you might just say, "woopdidoo." I imagine an agent receives hundreds of query letters a week if not thousands, so to receive a positive response is awesome. If you DO write books and know how difficult it is to have an agent reply to a query letter and ask for sample chapters, you can still say, "woopdidoo" and I wouldn't be offended. But, I'm thrilled. The agent did reply to my query letter with three sample chapters and asked for the entire manuscript!

I didn't just hear back, I HEARD BACK. I had to read his email three times before it sunk in. He thinks my writing is wonderful, wished he had the entire manuscript because he enjoyed my first three chapters and he wrote the email from 37,000 feet up in the air on his way to the London Book Fair :) I think that's the most amazing thing! The first thing I did was pray and thank God. Then, I wrote back and thanked the agent! I immediately sent the agent's email to my kids who I knew would be so pleased for me. And then, of course...my computer gave me problems. All. night. long. At that moment, I would have hawked my car for a round trip ticket to London to personally hand the manuscript to the agent! I wasn't able to send my manuscript as a single file for whatever computer reason or something I was doing wrong, it just wouldn't go! But, I managed to fall asleep and in the morning, I worked at it and sent that manuscript three different ways to the agent! I wasn't leaving anything to chance. Done!

NOW the real waiting game begins and the worries, self-doubt and anxiety are back in place. Yesterday, I tried to put it out of my mind and not allow myself any negative thoughts. This will happen, I kept telling myself. I've got an interesting, original story to tell and I've done my homework for years. I've worked on my writing and the manuscript for years. What if the agent doesn't like the rest of the manuscript?? What then??

Well, I'll go right back to reading the manuscript for improvement where necessary and I'll continue writing my second novel.

I suppose the real waiting game is after you secure the agent of your dreams and you wait for a publishing company to pick up your book. More waiting, jangled nerves, nail biting, and patience required there! It's just the nature of the beast, but there isn't just one book in me, there are many. I have a series planned with novel #2 as the first installment. I'll just keep writing and tell the best story I can each and every time. I will keep on keeping on.

So, what does my best girlfriend do after she hears about the lovely email from the agent of my dreams? She congratulates me and invites me to visit her for a few weeks so that I don't wait by the phone and check my emails a dozen or more times a day. My friend is a smart cookie and such a good friend! She knows me well. Of course, I'm taking my laptop!!

 "Your writing is wonderful." That compliment had me 37,000 feet up in the air and I haven't come down since.

Peace and love,
Ellie






Thursday, April 11, 2013

All Together Now!


I took this photo with my iPhone shortly after take off as we flew along the coast of Florida on my way to Washington, DC. I am amazed at these phones and how clear the photographs are. Gotta love modern technology! 

I'm a nervous Nellie when it comes to flying. I've always been like that and I've flown all my life as an Army brat and former Army wife. You'd think I would get used to it, right?  Not. You will find me sitting with my seat upright, tray table up, my cell phone on airplane mode, eyes shut, and I'll be the woman holding the arms of her seat with a death grip. I just never have gotten used to not being in control of my life. I don't enjoy giving my life to another person aka the pilot(s) for any amount of time. Hey, what if his wife just left him or his favorite dog passed away? What if she's decided to quit flying after this flight because she'd rather continue being a barfly? Then, what? Where would we be?? In the Atlantic Ocean if it happened on my flight.

When I board any plane, I always check over the pilot(s). I check for bloodshot eyes, shaky hands, and black circles under the eyes. I do! I could lie to your face here and now and say that I don't, but I damn well do :) As I walk down the aisles, hoping my carry-on doesn't bump someone's arm or head, I'm checking out all the passengers for terrorist(s). Who looks nervous, has shifty eyes and I even check out the grandma's because no one would suspect them. The perfect cover. When I take my seat, I look around for anyone who looks ill or ready to croak. I wonder if it's their last day on earth and we're all going down with him or her. Is it you or you, I wonder as I look over the passengers near my seat.

Yes, I'm a mess when I fly. The photo I took out of the window was taken when we were at cruising altitude, I think it was 32,000 feet and the seat belt sign was turned off. It is then that I can relax and stop reciting Mother Theresa's novena and put away my rosary beads. I've already prayed for my children, my family and friends and I've promised God that I will improve on those things that I don't do well at. Yes, I bargain with God, but He knows me well :)

I don't like not being in control of my life. I just don't. Last year, I flew five times and this year, I've already flown twice. I do it, but I don't like it. I hate connecting flights and will pay for a non-stop flight any time I can.  Much like trying to find an agent or a publisher for my novel, I send out query after query, but I don't like it. I understand that's how it's done these days, but I don't have to like it. My publishing life is in the hands of so many other people and I'm not in control. I find that very annoying when I'm ready now! I've already begun writing novel #2 which I'm enjoying, but I sure would love to see novel #1 published before I finish.

On the flight home from FL, my sister and I were going home after visiting our father and his wife. I sat in the middle seat, my sister had the aisle seat and a lovely young woman sat by the window. When the turbulence hit (damn!), my sister and I linked arms. I chided myself for not drawing up a damn will before I left home! The young woman leaned forward and smiled at us and said, "I'm a nervous flyer, too." So, I did what any compassionate, scared out of my wits woman and mother would do - I took the young woman's arm and we linked arms. I didn't even ask her if she wanted to link arms! I just took her arm and we stayed just like that for about five minutes until the turbulence subsided. My sister screamed at one point during the rollercoaster ride through turbulence which surprised me and I could do nothing but laugh at her! I didn't know she was a nervous flyer, too! It made the moment lighter, but I did have to laugh at her. I didn't scream! I don't know who needed the hand holding more on that flight?

The young woman thanked me when we landed :) When I land an agent or a publisher, I'll thank them, too. It's nice to have someone in your corner, ready to hold your hand through the publishing process. Not that I need major hand holding, but it's a new business to me. It would be nice to have a champion on my side as the writer's life can be lonely and unforgiving and yes, at times, downright scary.

I've decided. I'm taking the Amtrak trains to any future book signings.

Peace and love to you,
Ellie





Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Physical and Mental Workouts

Spring is here and although I heard that our temps might drop next week, this week is heavenly with temps in the low 80's. I intend to enjoy every minute!

CARPE DIEM! The sun energizes me and I deal with wanting to play hooky from writing :)

This is the time of year I love best and it's also harder for writing and blogging because the grass needs mowing, the weeds need pulling and the young plants I've nursed inside during the winter months need repotting or planting outside.

I love playing in the dirt, so I have to wake up earlier to get my yard work done before I sit down to write. My garden is calling me! I find gardening extremely rewarding, gratifying and meditative. I'm not sure I love it as much as I love writing, but it's pretty close! I purposely planned my writing space in the dining room so that I have a view of my front garden which is what I've shared with you here. I'm inspired and soothed with the beautiful views of my garden which in turn, motivate me to keep my butt in my writing chair.

I'm not a gym rat by any stretch of the imagination and I need to lose the weight I usually put on in the winter months, so instead, I work in my yard and tend my gardens -- that's my workout and I love it. Writing and blogging are my mental workouts!

I returned from visiting my father and his wife in Florida to find that the grass had grown three inches, so it's time to mow. I also have to prune the ancient grapevines that should have been pruned in March. I kinda missed that and hope it's not too late now. After I finish writing this blog post, it'll be time to make coffee and mosey outside to brush the cobwebs off the lawn mower and find my pruning shears. I'll check on the growth of the perennials I planted last year along the front fence and have already started thinking of extending the front garden along the side fence. Some plants may need a new location in my garden and weeding is a constant. I'm sure my outdoor table will need a little face lift in the coming weeks and the wicker pieces will need more white paint. There's never a dull moment in a garden and patio, but the rewards are great. The rewards of writing are just as great; I can't imagine doing anything else.

In Spring, I must adhere to a more structured writing schedule because of the demands of maintaining a beautiful, thriving garden which is a pleasure, not a chore to me. Careful editing, pruning, weeding, and rewrites are necessary for a beautiful book. Hard work, perseverance and patience are required by both.

It's also a busy time with the river season opening up. I spend weekends at my river place and as you might guess, I also write and garden out there. I maintain two gardens in spring and summer. I garden early in the morning while it's still cool, I write during the day and enjoy river life in the evenings.

It's great to have such a portable job :) I hope your morning is as beautiful where you are.

Peace and love,
Ellie