Meet the Gypsies of Spain

Susan-with-lace-cropped-31-222x300I’m excited to introduce you to a new friend of mine, Susan Nadathur, whose debut novel, City of Sorrows, was just released. You’re one of the first to learn about this beautiful new story set in the Gypsy communities of Spain, and this might just be the first interview posted publicly regarding the book.

JC: Susan, You have a fascinating life. You grew up in a quaint New England community but after graduate school became an ex-Pat and relocated to Spain. There, you fell in love with a man from India, and together, after years of some pretty amazing adventures, you decided to move among the Gypsies of Spain whom you describe as some of the most generous, humble people you’ve ever met. Tell us briefly how you ended up “running away with the Gypsies.”

SN: I often wonder where this journey began. I think God always knew, even though He was not so good about sharing the details with me. But, looking back on my life, the road seems clear. For example, if as a child I had not been bullied, picked on and humiliated, I would not have developed the keen sense of empathy I have for people who are marginalized. And without that compassion, I would not have been profoundly affected by a racist remark targeted at my Indian friend in Spain who was confused for a Gypsy way back when I was a twenty-two-year-old expat living in Seville.

“Gypsies and Moors are not served here,” a Spaniard said before refusing my friend a cup of coffee. That one statement, spat out decades ago in a bar in Seville, became the catalyst for a story of love and loss in the vibrant world of Gypsy Spain—a world I would never have penetrated if I had not felt the sting of isolation, humiliation, and rejection that gave me the unique, unspoken connection to this group of persecuted people.

Several years later, that story finally germinated. I started to write the novel which has become CITY OF SORROWS. But, in order to do justice to the project, I had to return to Spain. And this time, I had to meet and get to know the people whose culture I was writing about. Spanish Gypsies.

The only problem was, I knew that most of the Gypsies in Seville lived in poor, dangerous sectors of the city. My husband knew that too. As well as my pastor. The only way I was going to convince both my husband and pastor that I would be safe in these marginalized areas was by connecting with a Christian church that had ministries in the Gypsy community. Well, to make a long story short, I ended up in a  Pentecostal Gypsy church called Dios Con Nosotros (God with Us), in one of the most sordid sectors of the city (Las Tres Mil Viviendas). And not once did I ever feel unsafe. The congregation embraced me, though kept me at a distance whenever I asked questions about their culture. Too many years of marginalization and oppression had made them wary of foreigners.

But as the weeks went by, and they began to trust me, my experiences began to change. I was invited into homes, into people’s lives. Finally, I was asked to leave the apartment I had rented in Seville and invited to live with Pastor Pepe Serrano and his family in their home on the outskirts of Seville. Once I moved into Pastor Pepe’s home, I no longer had to ask questions. I only had to live as part of a family to understand the people I had been led to write about.

Pepe-Pura-and-Susan-Cropped1-300x242Looking back now, I remember what Pastor Pepe said to me that day I first entered his church.

“God has not brought you here to research your book,” Pastor Pepe said. “He has brought you here to work on you.”

I guess God always knew the plans he had for me. There was a reason I was me.

JC: You are not only fluent in Spanish, you have created a successful business teaching Spanish to medical professionals and have published several books on this topic. It’s clear you have spent your life working to promote cross-cultural understanding. What do you consider the most positive aspect of modern Gypsy life in Spain? What are their struggles?

SN: I think the most positive aspect of modern Gypsy life in Spain right now is the transformation that is occurring because of Spanish Gypsy evangelism. Negative behaviors historically associated with Gypsies, such as vagrancy, theft, violence, revenge and tribal feuding, are being modified and corrected with conversions to Christ.

From “gypping” someone out of their money, to truancy and laziness, to admonishment for being unhygienic, to retaliation and revenge, the standard image of the Spanish Gypsy is cloaked in negative stereotyping. The Gypsy has come to symbolize everything that modern-day, industrialized societies reject as immoral and inefficient. But that image is changing from the only place where change is meaningful – from within.

A remarkable phenomenon is occurring that is changing the face of the Spanish Gypsy: Pentecostal evangelism. As thousands of Gypsies convert to Christ, their slogan has become:


Antes los gitanos iban con cuchillos y quimeras.

Ahora llevamos la Biblia, la palabra verdadera.

Before the Gypsies went with knives and quarrels into battle.

Now we take the Bible, God’s True and Holy Word.

For more on this subject, here’s a link to an article I wrote for EMQ Online titled “Waiting on Dibel: The Growth of Pentecostalism among Spanish Gypsies.”

  • “Waiting on Dibel: The Growth of Pentecostalism among Spanish Gypsies” was originally published in the April 2011 issue of EMQ ( Reprinted with permission. Not to be reproduced or republished without permission.

As far as their struggles, Spanish Gypsies have much to overcome. Poverty is rampant, Work inconsistent (A large number of Spanish Gypsies make their living as itinerant street vendors, a way of life that has been severely affected by the economic crisis that has plagued Spain since 2008). Drugs and crime threaten the world in which many Gypsies live. And attitudes toward education sometimes limit them from exploring options outside of what is familiar to them as a group of people living as part of, while at the same time separated from Spanish culture. And of course, there still exists a subtle level of (sometimes self-imposed) social marginalization from mainstream Spanish society as well as the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. You will still see the beggar sitting in front of a church, or the fortune teller stalking the outside of the Cathedral for unsuspecting foreigners ready to part with their money for a Tarot spread or palm reading. But, the positive news is that change is coming, slowly but surely to the Spanish Gypsies.

CITYofSORROWSfinaldigitalCOVER-660x1024JC: Because you are a writer, you have documented some of the stories you’ve witnessed during your adventures. Tell us a bit about this project and how your real life influences your fiction.

SN: CITY OF SORROWS (release date December 2012) is the story of a young Spanish Gypsy, Diego Vargas, and his journey from the shackles of grief to the obsession of revenge, to the miracle that is love after loss. Young Diego lives with his family on the Southside of Seville, in what is basically a Gypsy ghetto. Just turned nineteen, he is recently married, madly in love, expecting his first child, and completely unaware that his life is about to come crashing down around him. On a dark road outside the city of Seville, Diego must find the courage to face death, the strength to survive it, and the power to hold onto his humanity while both his mind and his will scream against it.

The seeds for this novel were sown many years ago, when I first lived in Spain. But for a long time, those seeds remained dormant. When I finally sat down to write the book, I was all revved up and ready to whip this story into shape. Just “write what you know,” I thought. Well, yes and no. I had NO idea what I had gotten myself into. Surprise, surprise, sitting down to write a novel actually meant acquiring some new skills. Like characterization, plotting, pacing and so many other things I had simply taken for granted.

After writing what was basically a fictionalized account of my life with my Indian friend in Seville, I soon realized that if I wanted this story be of interest to anyone except my immediate family, I had better start studying the craft, and then, start rewriting. As I went through the process of a second draft, I started seeing some subtle changes. My protagonist, who had some pretty obvious character traits of that Indian friend I had met in Spain, started taking a back seat to his fictional best friend, Diego Vargas. And then it seemed as if Diego wanted to write his own story. When that happened, I convinced a lot of people that I needed to abandon my home for a while and go live with the Gypsies in Seville. There was no way Diego was going to hijack the story without me doing my research.

Many of the scenes in the novel are based on my experiences living among the Gypsies. I have tried to be faithful to the reality of their world without either glamorizing it or condemning it. Like in real life, my novel has both good and bad Gypsies. Good and bad Spaniards. And yes, there is a strong Indian presence offered through one of the supporting characters, Rajiv Kumaran. Rajiv is Diego’s philosophical friend from India, the man who helps him to work his way out of the darkness of despair and into the light. And yes, I admit it, Rajiv does have a strong likeness to that Indian friend from Spain who later became my husband.

JC: Finally, I’m intrigued by your efforts to help young adults cope with bullying by celebrating their differences. You even offer a blogsite for such teens. Tell us about these efforts.

SN: I have always enjoyed young people, especially those who don’t quite “fit in.” I currently volunteer at the local high school in Lajas, Puerto Rico, where I live. I work with the students both individually and in a group setting, where I encourage them to express themselves in writing. Many of these students feel isolated or “different” from their more popular peers. They all have been labeled something, from “Goth” to “Nerd” to other more offensive titles. And up until recently, they have, for the most part, kept silent. I have been working with them to help them find their voices.

The students and I have formed a group called Vox Occulta which translates to “hidden voice.” The students have written poems, stories, and rap songs about their lives, learning about themselves in the process. Many of these stories are posted on my blog

These young people have made a mark on my life. And like the Gypsies, they have influenced my writing. My next novel-in-progress is for young adults. You can’t spend so much time with young people without being influenced by them. They are a wonderful addition to my life.


SUSAN NADATHUR is a widely-traveled writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed “outsider” from Connecticut who lives on-and-off in Spain with an extended family of Gypsies in Seville. A registered nurse with a Masters degree in Spanish, Susan teaches language and cultural diversity workshops to childbirth and healthcare professionals, and has authored several books on Spanish language acquisition and cross-cultural communication. City of Sorrows (Azahar Books, 2012) is her debut novel. She lives with her husband, a philosophical scientist from India, and their daughter in Lajas, Puerto  Rico. Visit the author online at

How to Write a Bestseller (even if you never took a writing class)

Thanks for joining us for the Write Now workshop on HOW TO WRITE A BESTSELLER (even if you never took a writing class). I enjoyed your questions during the workshop and have appreciated the feedback I’ve received from many of you since the call.

If you missed the free teleconference, a complete recording is available (and it’s FREE, too!) I hope you’ll enjoy this and many more of the free Write Now workshops available for writers.

As mentioned in the workshop, I relied heavily on two books to help me pen my New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling novel, Into the Free.

1. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

2. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (a book geared toward screenwriting, but you can find free online beat sheet  calculators to determine the suggested page numbers for a novel – just google Blake Snyder Beat Sheet Calculators to find one that suits your needs.)

I also recommend:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

On Writing by Stephen King

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland (I don’t outline, but I use this tool after I’ve written a novel to go back through and fill in any gaps.)

Write-a-Thon: Write your book in 26 days and live to tell about it by Rochelle Melander

I encourage you to share your favoritetricks-of-the-trade with all of us. Feel free to comment on this post, or share tips on my facebook page. You can also tweet your thoughts @JulieCantrell (#Bestseller).

Happy Writing!


The Christian Left: Yes, We Do Exist

More than 700 attendees enjoyed the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference 2012

I just returned from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas, TX. I admit, I was a little worried about what I might find at my very first ACFW event. Would everyone be eating a certain franchise’s chicken sandwiches with or without a pickle? Would I be expected to donate stacks of cash to some gilded offering plate? Would I have to walk to a stage and let some shiny man in a purple suit touch my head and bless me?

In a world of spray-tanned, bleached-teeth televangelists selling credit-card salvation, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Not to mention the onslaught of angry Facebook missives and vicious talk-radio chatter that sadly shines a hateful spotlight on the Christian worldview.

So…after boarding a plane and bulleting myself through the atmosphere (in what amounts to not much more than a metal sleeve with pretty wings and a drink cart)…I am happy to report…all the Christians I met at ACFW were wonderful, compassionate, fun folks! Better yet, I was reminded that liberal-minded Christians aren’t such a slim minority after all.

I’m VERY lucky to have the most wonderful literary agent, Greg Johnson (Left) and the most amazing acquisitions editor, John Blase (Right) who dared to take a chance on Into the Free. I can’t imagine two better guys to have at my side for this journey.

I’m grateful I published Into the Free with a fabulous Christian publishing house, David C Cook. I’m thankful I got to know many wonderfully talented writers who choose to write work that inspires people. I’m excited to return home to use the skills I’ve learned, and I’m humbled by the many people who approached me about the impact Millie’s story has had on them.

I’m so impressed by the people I met this week, I’m eager to introduce them to you. So…watch for tons of fun interviews. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek.

Meet: Lisa Wingate, my friend and ACFW roommate whose brilliant novel, Dandelion Summer, earned the very first PERFECT SCORE and sent Lisa home with a Carol Award.

You’ll LOVE these two brilliant debut authors, Nicole Quigley (Left) whose YA novel Like Moonlight at Low Tide is a must read, and Jordyn Redwood (Mid) whose suspense novel Proof is one you won’t be able to put down until the end. Plus, they are absolutely the sweetest most amazing people you will ever meet. I’m very, very lucky to call them my friends.

And just in case you thought Christian parties weren’t any fun…Meet the werewolf and the robot, two speculative fiction authors who brought the Gala up a notch. (And yes…they’re both super nice guys. I promise!)

How to Start Following Your Writing Dreams TODAY!

Today, the WordServe Water Cooler, is hosting a blog parade. Twenty WordServe authors will share our personal “How We Did It” stories in hopes of encouraging YOU to follow your dreams.

We are represented by WordServe Literary Agency and encourage you to check out their website.

So, as we were discussing this parade, one of my writer friends teased me that I should tell readers how I went from being a nobody to a “New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author” overnight. (Insert blinking marquis lights. Imagine me in Hollywood. And, while you’re at it, please make me skinny….and, what the heck, add Johnny Depp.)

Well, after reminding my sweet friend that I’m still a nobody, (and that “my Johnny” has no idea I exist), I assured her the bestseller status didn’t exactly happen overnight. And secondly, if you ask me who I am, I won’t throw a crass title at you.

So let’s talk about TODAY, and how YOU will put aside every excuse and sit down to write the next bestselling novel. Here’s how.

  1. Read to Learn.  Avid readers make the best writers, so whip out that dusty old library card and immerse yourself in literature. Make reading a big part of your life, and learn from the masters. I’m always reading about seven books at a time. I leave them all around the house, in my car, in my purse, etc. Minute to spare? Story to snare.
  2. Develop a Goal. I suggest you keep it simple: write a novel. Don’t worry about a specific market, agent, publisher, word count, genre, etc. Just tap into your creative energy, finish that first draft, and then worry about the details. At least that’s what worked for me.
  3. Set a Timeline. What’s a realistic timeline for you to finish your manuscript? Set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals. Some people write outlines, others wing it. Some aim for a certain number of words a day until they reach the end, others edit as they go. (Tip: Most adult novels range from 80,000 – 100,000 words.) I gave myself three months to write a novel (first draft). It can be done.
  4. Keep a Steady Pace. The only way I was going to meet my three-month deadline was by forcing myself to put writing first. For three months, I wrote between 3 AM and 5 AM, sometimes pushing it to 6 if I was on a roll. Then, we started our busy day. Short on sleep? Yes. But it was the most beautiful personal experience I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. There’s something sacred about those silent still hours pre-dawn. Find your “sweet spot” and commit those hours to putting ink to page.
  5. Snip and Clip. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect draft at all, even after extensive edits, so take your time and edit your manuscript until it’s at least as close to perfect as it can be. Ask trusted peers to trade critiques, or join a critique group within ACFW or RWA. Study the craft until you understand the ins and outs of plot structure, pacing, character development, voice, etc. You don’t have to follow all the rules…but you should at least understand them. You may even want to hire a professional editor, just be sure to check references and don’t pay a fortune.

So now you’ve written that book. Congratulations! You are a true literary artist, and your creativity is a tremendous accomplishment. You’ve already met your goal!!! Don’t forget that…too many people get caught up with needing to reach the next milestone, and the next, and the next, never really celebrating the process. Find your joy.

Now for Part Two…the business side of the journey. (The part we don’t like.)

  1. Share the Story. Once you have a strong, well-edited manuscript, begin researching literary agents. Look at your favorite books and find out who represents those authors/titles. Research Publishers Weekly for action in the publishing world, and keep an eye on agents who represent key titles within your genre/market. Also subscribe to Chuck Sambuchino’s blog with Writer’s Digest.
  2. Query Agents. Make a wish list with your dream agent entered as Number One. Start at the top and query three agents at a time, following each of their specific guidelines (varies for every agency).  Keep track of responses using a spreadsheet, and if you cross one off your list, move on to another until an agent takes the bait. Here’s a free downloadable spreadsheet from Michael Seese.
  3. Plan a Proper Proposal. If agents become interested in your idea, they will ask for your manuscript. Be ready to send them a polished draft. No excuses. Many will then request a proposal (some have specific templates they will provide). Be sure to take your time with the proposal and make it SHINE. Insider’s Tip: Don’t overlook the marketing segment…many agents say this is the most important part of the proposal. Here’s what Rachelle Gardner has to say about writing the perfect proposal.
  4. Sign that Contract. Once you sign an agent to represent your work, sit back and let your agent pitch the book to editors. An experienced agent has built relationships with editors and will keep you updated on the progress of your manuscript as it moves through the various channels.  Soon, you’ll be signing a publishing contract and that’s where the REAL WORK begins.  (Steve Laube’s blog is an excellent resource for contract questions.)
  5. Hold on Tight! The publishing journey is a unique adventure, one that some folks enjoy more than others. I’m reminded of the roller coaster rides at our favorite theme park, warning riders of all the reasons they should get out of line now before it’s too late. If you watch the exit gate, you’ll see riders with a full range of reactions to the experience. There will always be an excuse, a person questioning your choices, a reason to do anything BUT what you dare to do. But I stood in that line and I took that ride. Like a teenager running from the cart, I’m here to say – “That was awesome! I’m getting in line again!” This time I hope you’ll come with me.

Comment on this post for a chance to win a signed copy of my debut novel, Into the Free. And while you’re at it…you might as well skadoodle on over to my facebook page for updates, fun contests, and behind-the-scenes confessions about my life as a bestselling author (aka overworked, sleep-deprived, mother/teacher/farmer/literacy advocate/spaz).

Best of luck with your writing journey, and if you are friends with Johnny…please tell him I’m ready to talk screenplays.

What Disney Knew That Your Teacher Didn’t: You CAN Do It!

Find me one published author who never received a single “not the right fit” letter, and I’ll show you a fish with feathery wings. Whether at the educational stage, the agent stage, or the publishing stage, most have been told their work is not worthy.

I was lucky when it came to agents and publishers, but my rejection came earlier in life, when a high school teacher read my papers aloud ridiculing me in front of my peers. She teased me relentlessly (today it would be called bullying), and on the last day of my senior year in high school, she said to me: “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold. That’s why, twenty years later, as Publishers Weekly gives me a starred review for my debut novel, I feel such tremendous excitement. Whether Into the Free sells two copies or two-hundred thousand doesn’t matter one bit to me. I now know one important thing: She was wrong.

Here’s what she didn’t teach us: God gives us each special talents, gifts, and dreams.

Who are we, if we are not of God? What are our abilities, if not God-given? I am a teacher, and I spend every bit of my energy trying to teach my children one lesson: You can do it!

I am tired of teachers telling us who we are and what we will or will not achieve. I am weary of labels and bell curves and standardized tests. I weep for this generation of children who are told you need x,y,z medications to fit into our box. And I mourn the countless souls who believed the people who said, “You’ll never…” or “You can’t…” or “You aren’t good enough…”

I say to you, today. You can. You are good enough. You were born for a purpose and only YOU know what that is. Don’t let anyone discourage you from living YOUR life to its fullest potential. And if you fail, you’re only one step closer to succeeding.

Watch this little video clip I found on YouTube, and you’ll see…all great minds have a few things in common: failure, rejection, and a willingness to risk it all anyway.


A Sentence a Day: Realistic Ways to Capture Important Life Moments

I love today’s WaterCooler post by fellow WordServer Joanne Kraft. She discusses her practice of keeping a journal, and I particularly appreciate her tips on maintaining memorable notes for her children.

If penning regularly overwhelms you, try what another friend does: A sentence a day. That’s it. Just one short sentence that sums up the lesson of the day for your family. Something funny, poignant, or challenging – just jot down the one thing you gained most from that particular day. You can even write it on your daily calendar for quick access wherever you may be.

Find more great ideas on Joanne’s post: My Greatest Nonfiction Tool, and check out her refreshing nonfiction book Just Too Busy: Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical.

I hope you enjoy a fabulous Thanksgiving, with tons of time unplugged, steeped in peace, and surrounded by those you love most in this world.



Marketing Part Two: F-Words

Two years ago, when I sat down to tell a simple story, I never planned on having Fans. I didn’t create a fictional town called Iti Taloa, Mississippi and plop some interesting characters there in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s so that I could become Famous (which, let’s be honest, is another F-WORD). It never occurred to me that I would need to take Author Photos or invite folks to please, please, pretty please, LIKE ME on facebook (can you say YUCK?! Double Yuck!). I just wanted to tell a story, share a little glimpse into a different world, invite people into the mind of my main character, Millie Reynolds, and hope they feel as inspired by her as I have.

Yet here I am, in the final rounds of edits on my debut novel, Into the Free, and all I can think about is finding time to finish my website (sigh). Welcome, by the way (smile)…it’s a work in progress…please be gentle.

Thankfully, a talented team of publicists will help build PR lists and get reviews. The marketing team at David C. Cook will devise an advertising budget, print galleys, ship ARCs, and work with Sales to deliver the perfect pitch to the optimal outlets. A long line of hands will touch this book between the time it’s written and the time it hits shelves, and each of them will contribute their weight in gold to the success of this book. But ultimately, it’s the readers who get to decide what they buy. You, my friend, are in control.

Thankfully, I’m not just a writer. I’m also a reader. And as a reader, I understand the importance of the “big machine.” When I’m in a bookstore or browsing my online booklist, it first takes a brilliant cover design to catch my eye. Then, I need clever copy to sum up an entire story in a paragraph or two that makes me want to know more. The price has to be right. And my mood probably plays a role in the decision.

But…aside from that…

I really enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes view of the journey. I want to know what brought that idea to the page, how did the writer find time to put it to ink, and how many rejections were delivered before the big debut?

I want to know how these characters came to be and where they were created. In a coffee shop? On a sofa? In a backyard swing? This is what makes me interested in following a particular author for the long run. Long after that first publication falls from the shelves.

And so, that’s what I hope to offer you…a behind-the-scenes look at how Millie Reynolds came to be. And a collection of tidbits about creating this story, so that Millie can literally walk off the page and into your world.

I extend my warmest welcome as you visit my humble little website. Because the book won’t be out until 2012, I’ll be adding content slowly. I do hope you’ll return so you can get to know Millie and Mississippi. In the coming months, you can visit this site not only to follow my blog, but also to learn about the:

  • Romany travelers
  • early American rodeo competitors
  • and the members of the Choctaw nation

who inspired this story. I also hope you will use this site as a source to  learn more about domestic violence and to become a proactive voice to protect innocent victims.

Be sure to sign up for the free updates, as I’ll be adding lots of content before Into the Free hits shelves in January (including freebies and sneak peeks).  And, um, (clear throat, awkward downward glance at my feet, nervous little shuffle-ball-change) will you please, please, pretty please go Like me on facebook? It’s a brand new fanpage created by my publisher, so I’ll be adding content to that as well. (Hint: Look for facebook icon on right side of homepage.)

Don’t look now, I’m on the clock tower!