Realities and the Rearview Mirror

Two realities about book writing and publishing have been on my mind lately: (1) There’s a first book in everyone, but a second one in a very few; and (2) 98% of all books published don’t sell 200 copies.

So to celebrate this Friday’s release of my first novel, The Precariousness of Done, which, if reality is truth, will be my only book and sell miserably, I’m going to pull back the curtain on myself, my writing, etc., and fully answer a few questions posed to me last fall by my publisher.

Self-promotion does not come easily to me, nor does talking about myself, but I stepped outside my comfort zone the moment I sent out that first round of query letters–all of which went unanswered. My comfort zone is now far in the rearview mirror, and book number two and the elusive 2% may actually lie ahead of me, so I’m going to keep my eyes on the road and get back to writing. I hope you find something entertaining, informative, or useful in the following interview:

1. What was it about the Spanish language that drew you in? What is it about Spain (and specifically Spanish culture) that interests you?

Life and the world are larger than what fits in the palm of your hand, and what took me to Spain for the first time (during high school) was the desire to experience what was beyond the reach of my fingers. What has kept me going back to Spain during the thirty years since high school are the sound of Castilian Spanish to my ears, the tastes and smells of Spanish food and drink, and the firmness of the embraces of the Spanish friends I have made over the years.

2. How does being fluent in Spanish change your writing? How does it affect you and your view of the world? (You can speak about how knowing a second language in general affects these things.)

Studying a second language makes you more proficient at your first one, increases your vocabulary, and opens your eyes to the world beyond your borders. Stereotypes are eroded or destroyed altogether. Every Spaniard isn’t a bullfighter. Spanish and Mexican cultures are distinct; the word taco in Spain means “cussword.” The translations of other Spanish words and phrases enhance my writing and provide a richer and fuller cultural experience for my readers: There’s nothing wrong with using the American expression “when pigs fly,” but in Spain an unlikely event happens “when frogs grow fur.”

3. What is your writing routine like?

I am an obsessive-compulsive night owl whose creativity waxes as daylight wanes. I rarely write during the day, but use that time instead for research and brainstorming. I also edit as I write, and most—if not all—of the sentences in my upcoming novel were rewritten in excess of one hundred times before anyone else set eyes on my manuscript. That comment brings me to this one: Don’t fall in love with a sentence, and never ever marry one. Cast aside any and everything that isn’t working and don’t consider the time you spent as “wasted.” Time is never wasted if you learn something along the way. And as someone for whom writing well is exceedingly difficult and unnatural, I must exercise my writing muscles every day. Easier to stay in the groove than get in one.

4. What does writing mean to you? What does it do for you? Can you also answer this question as it pertains to having OCD (In what ways does this make it more challenging or otherwise)?

I began writing twenty years ago, and when I did, I had only one goal in mind: to write something I wanted to read. I never intended to write for anyone else, and I wrote about what I knew, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (from which I have suffered my entire life) and the Spanish language (having lived in Spain after graduating from high school). My first novel grew out of a personal challenge to see if I could write something someone else wanted to read. Having achieved that goal (fingers crossed), what keeps me motivated is trying to repeat my success while growing as a writer. Speaking honestly, I marvel at those writers for whom writing is easy. For me, it’s often a tedious, soul-sucking process that leaves me riddled with self-doubt. My obsessive-compulsive disorder, which manifests itself in “checking, locking, rattling—generally, being ‘done’ with anything,” further complicates the process and slows my pace. But as is often the case with a disorder, tendency, etc., there are significant “positives” that come with having OCD, especially as a writer: attention to large and small details in storytelling, manuscripts with clean grammar and punctuation, and the essential need to read a sentence or paragraph for clarity’s sake just one more time.

5. What is something you want people to know about the Spanish language and/or culture?

Spaniards are addicted to tradition.

Generally, native speakers of European Spanish and Latin American Spanish understand each other, but the many Spanish dialects and accents and the pace of conversational speech can present significant challenges for even advanced learners.

In Spain, it’s not unusual for grown children—even 30-year-olds— to still be living at home.

6. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

If writing is your hobby or emotional therapy, beware of turning your avocation into your vocation.

Hire a professional editor. And if you’re pleasantly or smugly surprised by the small number of edits he or she suggests, consider hiring a different editor.

Be genuine, emotional, and fearless. Draw from your personal experiences, changing the names of persons and places as necessary. If the folks in your life are offended, they can write their own books.

The publishing world owes you nothing, and your manuscript, whether solicited or unsolicited, is only your baby. Agents and publishers are overwhelmed by the heaps of manuscripts they receive (on a daily/weekly/monthly basis), and they are often looking for any reason to reject you. Don’t submit anything (even a query) until its perfect.

Book publishing is a business, and a book, much like a new burger at McDonald’s, is a product created and submitted for public consumption. No matter how brilliant or creative or famous the chef is, there’s no guarantee that the consumer will eat the sandwich.

I find several world-beating authors to be nearly unreadable, including Hemingway and Kerouac. Fight the urge or need to be someone else. Find your own voice.

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