Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Cover Story

   Whoever said not to judge a book by its cover, obviously never tried to interest anyone in a book.
   The cover is the first contact a potential reader has so it's in the authors' best interest to employ something eye-catching, alluring, an image that will keep the person from seeing anything else but their book.
   For my latest novel, My Two Flags, I wanted a simple, yet telling canvas to start. After several weeks of examining designs, I looked down at one of the surviving notebooks from my high school years where I wrote Flags in its earliest form. It felt apt. The simple spiral bound notebook's pages were filled with my handwriting, dating back to when I first made it a goal to write a novel. Canvas problem solved.
   Next came the quest for images. 
   The idea of the American and Ecuadorian flags together was a no brainer, but I didn't want them to become the cover for fear of suggesting a political theme. I wanted them to subtly iconize the title (yes, I might've made up  the word "iconize" but there it is.)
   The boy on the picture, the idea of Antonio Amaya on the Polaroid, is actually my twelve year old nephew Danny, who was a good sport about posing for the camera. 
   Why Polaroids? I was ten years old when my uncle visited Ecuador. The first time I witnessed the innovation of the instant camera, I thought I was living in the future. It made me wonder what else the US was capable of.
   The other two images embody each of Antonio's nations. La Virgen del Panecillo is the only winged representation of Saint Mary and to most QuiteƱos,she is our own icon of freedom. 
   And as for Lady Liberty? Other than the bald eagle and the Star Spangled Banner, no other icon in existence screams United States of America like the Statue of Liberty.
   What does this all mean? I honestly don't know, but when I look at the cover of My Two Flags, I see a timeline in the Polaroids. Above, the past: Ecuador. Below, the future: America. And in the middle, the present, where a young boy struggles to understand where he belongs as he stares at his two flags, as though he's thinking in his mind: I pledge allegiance...
   Someone even mentioned conflict.
   "What do you mean?" I was perplexed as I stared at the cover.
   "See how the US flag is next to La Virgen and the Ecuadorian flag is next to the Statue of Liberty? Conflict!" my friend said.
   At first, I thought of rearranging the Polaroids, but I liked what he got out of it, and maybe that's what it's really about.
   Perhaps every book cover should tell its own story. It should invite closer scrutiny and evoke more than mere curiosity. It should speak in its own way.
   I won't speak for everyone else, and I must take into account that as the author, I'm as close to the story as anyone will ever get. 
   In fact, I have very little concept of graphic design and as an advertiser I'd probably starve, but the first time I looked at the finished cover of Flags, I couldn't say a word.
   It spoke to me and evoked emotions that went beyond the elation of finishing my novel. 
   Despite the fact that I'm intimately familiar with My Two Flags, the cover captivated me. I can only hope it speaks to readers as well.

   Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, March 28, 2013


   "It's 3am."
   Solitude is an old friend, one who likes to open the doors in the hallways of my mind. Some doors lead to the past while others are no more than an empty canvas awaiting the strokes of a brush.
   One or two lead nowhere. In fact, they are mirrors upon which I see today. This moment. Right now. 3am.
   "Aren't you afraid?"

   Jack Canfield once wrote: Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Fear evokes one of two responses. Fight or flight.
   Too often I consider fleeing like one of my characters did. She drowned her fears in a bottle of vodka, and some grapefruit juice while she rode her personal roller coaster of a life. What I learned from her is what keeps me strong. At least, I'd like to think so.
   "More than you know," I replied though I might have missed exactly what they thought I should fear.
   "It's only four months at most. They'll be back and start over."
   Sometimes the temptation to flee is too great and it keeps us from reaching our goals, whatever they may be. "I'm just really going to miss them."
   "Yeah," they said, their expression guarded except for the ephemeral torn look in their eyes.
   "Life is like one those mystery workouts in an elliptical. Just when your muscles stop burning and your breathing slowly becomes normal wheezing, the infernal machine raises the track and suddenly you're pushing, bearing down with everything you have to reach your goal."
   They smiled. "So life is a work out?"
   "Each time I feel I'm one step closer to getting us out of this, the slope becomes ridiculously steep. So much so that the light at the end of the tunnel is obscured."
   "So you're afraid." 
   Fight or flight.
   How easy would it be to let it all go? How easy would it be to shut down every link, delete every blog, forget all about getting a story out of my head and into a page?
   "A choice you'll have to make."
   "I will." 
   My once ideal sandcastle of a life succumbed to the tides of poor decisions. I built walls too close to the water, ignored its whims, and lamented my stupidity when only a perfectly flat surface without a trace of what once was showed me that zero is in fact a very real number.
   Fight of flight.
   I've rolled the boulders for the foundation of a new home away from the shores and up to the high ground. It's a painstakingly slow process I'm ill prepared to do at 38. I have three people (and a big-hearted dog) who depend on me, who have bravely hung their hopes on this dreamer, this slave to the muses in his mind. Despite the fact my ship is poorly moored with gossamer lines as storms approach, they see me as a lighthouse daring the waters to extinguish its light. 
   I wonder whether they know fear is my first thought each morning and the last, and most consuming one, each and every night.
   Fight of flight, right?
   Today, or rather yesterday, I took a step in an unexpected direction by returning to New England. Like the beginning of every human endeavor, only time will reveal a genius or a fool. Until then, I have to keep in mind that even the darkest of nights meets an end at dawn, and no rain falls forever. A second step has already followed. 
   Let fear and time know they've been served notice and the choice has already been made.
   When I took that second step, I chose to fight.

   Javier A. Robayo

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


    My friend,

   While reading a page is crossing a portal into a new universe, writing is creating it.
   It's a lonely endeavor but if it's inside of you, if the first thing that comes to your mind when you wake is to write then you're the instrument of untold characters who want to be brought to life.
   Writing is a skill that demands constant improvement. You may not write your words in blood, but you will inevitably add pieces of your very soul into each line you ink. 
   If you're a poet at heart, you're more than half way there.
Poetry is singing on the page, and few are those who can masterfully compose a melody of words full of meaning, taking the very best language has to offer, and evoking a broad spectrum of emotions.
   If you're on your way, don't settle for being a writer. A writer writes, but a novelist creates. Create an adventure, create a romance, create emotion, inspiration, whole new worlds risen out of your imagination, and let your voice stay true all the way to that last page.
   Strive to create characters your readers will think about long after closing that back cover. Touch another's heart and soul, and take them along on the climbs and falls of your stories.
   I started writing when I was a kid and I never stopped, but it took most of my life to draw the audacity and courage to package it all into a novel, and lay it at the hands of someone else.
   Suffering the critique and judgment of others, who may have never lived what inspired you to write, will leave you in tatters, but don't let one opinion, one harsh review or one stinging insult hang your head. Follow your instincts, and let your characters tell their story.
   If the naysayers and the obligations of life force you to drop your gaze, let it be upon a blank page, and keep doing what you were meant to do. Create a universe, and invite readers to walk through the portal, and lose themselves.

   Javier A. Robayo

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pure Writer

“Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” 
― Stephen KingOn Writing

   It's been a year since I finished writing my first novel. I'm about to release a third, and I've never been more nervous.
  I'm excited, I'm thrilled, I'm over the moon with the knowledge that the small pile of composition notebooks is now compiled into the first novel of a series. It took only twenty-four years.  But the novel is now a reality that has not sunk in, and old and new fears haunt my mind over this achievement, as crazy as that sounds. The truth is, at some point, something started changing and that change made me afraid.
   I wondered if my biggest fear was whether the hypercritical minds like the story or not. I wondered if my biggest fear was ending up with a pile of unsold novels, mocking my efforts each time I looked at it. I wondered if I feared the first inevitable bad review. 
   Honestly, I've been told Gaze will never sell because of its length. I've been told Next Chapter is too controversial to market. I've been told stories about immigrants are a dime a dozen, just like vampire romances and zombie apocalypses. I actually sat down one night to think, hmm, let's see, what will sell? And that's when it hit me.
   My biggest fear is forgetting why I started writing.
   I was working on my new project, developing a character and considering situations, thinking more along the lines of a market when it hit me that I did not write my first novels that way. I did not browse through periodicals of the state of the book market. I did not study the latest trends, and I did not have a cover nor title in mind. I just wrote.
   Looking through the 50k odd words, I couldn't find anything that altered my breath or made me grin. Nothing. 
   I discovered I was actually conscientious of verbal mechanics, sentence tone and rhythm, active voice, generating tension on every page, and show vs. tell arguments. I put so much emphasis on those elements that I was ultimately not feeling the story. I was writing a book without a soul.
   I stopped and asked myself, "What kind of writer am I?" And I couldn't come up with an answer.
   I can't even adhere to a specific genre because as soon as I'm faced with limitations or parameters, the rebel in me says "%&#$ that," and I fill the pages with the sole purpose of not conforming to any such limits.
   I just write.
   When I wrote The Gaze, I did not do it for fame or fortune. I certainly didn't do it to impress my friends and gain new ones. I just wrote because a character named Samantha Reddick had a story to tell, and she chose me as her instrument. I just wrote.
   Samantha's story doesn't really fit any particular model other than fiction. It's fiction riding an undercurrent of drama, a dash of suspense, a bucketful of romance, a sprinkle of humor, and a twisting ride filled with scenes that evoke a laugh, a scream of sheer frustration, the stinging of unshed tears, and the blubbering sobs of those that fall. I am only expressing what Samantha's story put ME through.
   I may never write another character as deeply flawed as her. She is wrong in so many ways, evil at times, but damn if I don't feel for her, for everything she fought, for all she put herself through, for all she taught me...
   That was the reason I wrote. I did not know it at the time, but I hoped, I wanted, another person to feel what I felt upon composing the story though I do entertain goals and daydreams.
   Maybe one day, one piece I write will find its way to enough readers that will grant me a respite from the daily grind, and offer me enough to make possible some of the dreams I have. Maybe one day I'll be offered a table at a ritzy restaurant for nothing more than an autograph. Maybe one day, an establishment may recognize my efforts and allow me fifteen seconds in the spot light. We all hope for that one day. I'm no exception.
   But if that's the reason I write then I've lost sight of the kind of author I want to be, the kind of author I promised myself to be. 
   I don't want to copy someone else's style and voice because they produced the latest script for a Hollywood blockbuster. I don't want to draw from the tragedy of others and line my pockets with someone's tears. I don't want to exploit the lack of imagination our world is plagued with for the sake of making a buck.
   I want to write phrases that will inspire people to post them on Facebook. I want to write a piece that will make the reader sigh with the longing for just one more word. I want to write for someone not to remember my name and follow me on the networks; I want to write for someone who absorbs every emotion I infused in that page, and I want them to know the characters by name, to see them in their minds, and miss them when they close that cover.
  I want to be an author that writes with the hope of enriching another's life as well as his own. Like Stephen King says, I want to get happy.
  I want to be a pure writer.
  And pure writers just write.

  Javier A. Robayo

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog

I was asked to participate in this blog hop and I'm happy to do it. It sounded like fun, and of course, what author wouldn't want to take the chance to talk about their work? 

What is the working/official title of your book?

My Two Flags. It will be out this month.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from some of the experiences I lived throughout my high school years. Since I was learning English as a second language, I started keeping a journal that I'd translate in the hopes of expanding my vocabulary. By my sophomore year, I had compiled a series of plot lines that I wanted to weave into a novel. I'm not known to write with a specific goal in mind, but I did want to offer a glimpse of life as an immigrant, particularly in the beginning. 

What genre does your book come under?

I don't always write with a genre in mind so I'll call this a drama, with a heavy YA undertone.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

As much as I would love to see a movie version of FLAGS, I don't believe I should look so far ahead. But for the sake of fun, I'll answer as best as I can although I'm not really in tune with the Hollywood or TV scene.
To tell you the truth, since MY TWO FLAGS is set in the late 80's, it's difficult to imagine teen actors with long teased hair, wearing acid wash jeans. I may have an idea of who I would've liked to see play those rolls back when I was that age, but it seems impossible to do now.
I did do a little research and came up with a few characters, but not all of them. 
Once again, I wasn't too keen on casting my novel, but a few friends of mine were quick to fill my inbox with photographs and this is what we compiled, all in the name of fun and big, ginormous dreams.

Kevin Aponte is broody enough to play Antonio (Tony) Amaya as long as he wears brown contacts

I think Ariel Winter would make a great Gloria Espinoza. Her role grows in the second book of the series.

Abigail Breslin comes to mind to play the part of Gabrizia, whose role also grows in the next installment.

Avan Jogia just makes me think of Rex in the story. 

The very lovely Brie Gabrielle would make an ideal Patricia Paris

Bailee Madison as Paola Amaya. She just has such a spark in this shot, just like the little girl she'd portray. 

Oscar Priego would play a perfect Carlos Arellano

Issac Reyes has a lot of the elements I'd look for in the character playing Ramon

And before my brain explodes, we'll do one more. Sara Paxton as Celestyn

Of course I'm leaving out all the grown ups in the story, but since this is a series based in high school, there will be several characters.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I've been taking forever to come up with the blurb, but I have this, and only after a lot of help from my honorary Big Sis, C.F. Winn: 

   How does a thirteen year old overcome a language barrier, racial slurs, and bullying while putting on a brave face for his parents who have given up everything to give him a better life? 

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

I'm hoping to make this the first novel for a new independent publisher. I'm still learning the ins and outs of what's involved in it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

24 years. My Two Flags is based on the journals I kept all through high school. I always wanted to turn them into something, but I lacked the skill and the courage. I still have a lot to learn, and I don't feel very courageous, but it felt right to finally create this story.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm not sure about which ones in the same genre. It's getting a little more difficult to cubby-hole a novel, especially a fictionalized memoir. However, Vladimir Nobokov's "Pnin" resonates a little bit. But FLAGS is not as tragic as "Call It Sleep" by Henry Roth. Junot Diaz wrote a novel called "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao", but my story doesn't exploit the angle of nationalism. 
My novel is more contemporary and many of the situations within, are no longer such a big issue. Racism and bullying were definitely not as prominent in the 80's as they were in earlier decades, but enough that lives were affected.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I'd say life itself, particularly the life of the kid I used to see in the mirror.


Thank you Kristi Ayers for inviting me to participate!  
Christina Fifield-Winn will be joining me in blogging "The Next Big Thing" next Friday, March 15th.  

Her blog:

Friday, March 1, 2013


  It seems life is all about numbers. I could enumerate the words I wrote. I could bore you with my battles with page count. I could lament the many nights I didn't sleep in favor of writing another chapter. I could proudly tell you how many readers keep making my dream come true. I could, but I won't. Today, it's all about the number one.
  Exactly one year ago, I self-published The Gaze. I will not lie to you, I'd hoped to hit the ground running but instead, I fell flat on my face and the momentum carried me into a full tumble over jagged ground. 
  Did the work stop at the publication? Hell, no!
  This trip had only marked its first step.
  Samantha Reddick's emotional roller coaster touched its share of hearts. The reviews and emails I received were far more than I could have possibly dreamed. 
  I constantly fight the perfectionist in me, who wants to open that file and rearrange a phrase, a cover page, a comma, and even considered republishing it in two parts...
  But any artist who abuses the brush will inevitably cover his vision in a monochromatic mess therefore, its quill will never again leave its inkwell.
  Samantha will just have to be happy with her place in the literary universe. I'm indebted to her, and all my characters who put me through every facet of the human emotional spectrum.
  The Gaze changed me by inspiring me to believe in myself again, by making a writer out of a dreamer.
  It's my first novel, one of my best accomplishments, one book that transformed me and gave me one glimpse at the life I wanted despite the thousands of writing hours, the hundreds of hours working on its promotion.
  Life is about numbers...
  But today...
  Today is all about the number one.

  Happy Anniversary, Samantha, Lewis, Gwen, and Tony. Thank you for all you've taught me.

  Javier A. Robayo