Thursday, August 29, 2013

Novel on the Shelf

  We've all come across pep talks about writing and how to get your book out there. I haven't come across too many accounts of what happens after.
   By after, I mean after initial reviews come in, after you run a few giveaways, after you've shocked people who "know" you when you tell them you've written a novel. After your novel is on the shelf, then what?
   Easy, write the next one.
   Too much? Okay, then blog.
   Tired of the social networking gig? Okay, read.
   Stop checking your numbers every single day. Fight the utter frustration of the dozens of readers who fail to post a review. Keep writing.
   Shakespeare once wrote "Expectation is the root of all heartache", and broken hearts fail to produce.
   Of course none of us is made of stone...okay, maybe most of us aren't made of stone and the creative ego is as fragile as gossamer in a hurricane. We all start out expecting everyone to like our stories but when those copies sit on the shelf for a few weeks, doubt inevitably sets in. It's okay.
   Don't blend expectation with belief.
   Believe in your voice and trust your writing instincts. Nothing can crush belief except for you.
   Expectation paints scenarios that get you giggling from the pure joy you'll experience but when that expectation is dashed, the anger, the agony, the resentment, the utter sense of defeat makes your voice as audible as a scream in outer space.
   Success in writing depends on an insane amount of luck, another person with an audience you manage to impress, but realistically time and talent. I'm not looking for an agreement, but it's what I feel.
   So write the next novel. Make it better. Learn more. Read more. Create more. Bleed your soul onto the page and be patient. Just think, by the time you become the next great American novelist, your adoring audience will reap the benefits of your belief by having three, four, maybe ten novels to delve into, and all written by you.
   Believe, don't expect.
   And don't believe in gaining fame and riches from your writing.
   Just believe in yourself and all the tales and characters you create.

   Javier A. Robayo  

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Frank Conversation

   I'm a website builder.
   I can do enough graphic design to offer it as a service.
   I'm training as a receiving clerk at a local hardware store.
   I'm a chimney technician doing everything I can to grow a business.
   I'm a father to two terrific young ladies.
   I'm a husband to the girl of my dreams.
   I'm also the author of three novels currently in circulation.
  At first impression, you would assume I'm awash in cash but that image is so far removed from reality. It really is a struggle just to make payments on rent and utilities each month. It's an uphill climb.
At present, I've failed to compensate my editor on a timely manner. I did not set out to take advantage of her understanding, but it angers me that I haven't been able to come through with my part of the deal after all the work she put into it. 
   I'm cashing in bottle deposits and watching every mile I have to drive. I'm adamant of shutting off lights and the occasional pizza is a major luxury.
   I'm not crying out or throwing this out to feel sorry for myself. It's just the reality of my life at present and I'm merely sharing so much just to set the scene if you will.
   I left a job that paid well and gave us quite the comfortable life precisely because it was no life at all. I have little regrets on that front.
   Truthfully I left to regain the love and support of family and lifelong friends. I left only because after writing The Gaze, I truly felt like I could accomplish anything.
   Perhaps most of you out there heard the speech from Chris Ashton Kutcher, the one he delivered after receiving an award. The most striking quote to me was "Opportunity looks like a lot of hard work."
   It resonated with much of my life now.
   I learned long ago that realizing a dream does not always mean credits rolling to a nostalgic theme song. The sense of triumph fades quickly, especially when what you love to do is threatened by struggle.
   I will not go into how much time and practice it takes to understand the whims of software and graphics. Obviously, there are facets of this endeavor I enjoy otherwise, I wouldn't do them. I won't go into how confusing the world of retail really is or how mundane it quickly becomes. I won't tell you how frustrating it is to compete with thieves and scam artists that make tatters out of the image you try to build as a business. How difficult it is to get enough people to notice and understand you're trying so hard to do a job worthy of becoming a lasting relationship with a customer.
   I will go into the writing because it most parallels life in every aspect. 
   If you speak to any real novelist out there, they'll tell you writing is in their blood. We're unable to stop the plot from unfolding. We're bound to each and every one of our characters, and the emotional investment is far more than what Mr. Trump could claim on his biggest business venture. 
   The committed will be on an endless quest to improve their voice; to hone their writing skills to produce the kind of prose that can stop a heart or shock every brain cell in a reader. It's the Holy Grail for every courageous man and woman who penned a piece of writing and threw it out there for everyone to take a shot at a piece of their souls. 
   The mediocre will be happy to claim they wrote something and anxiously expect to be hailed as the next Stephen King.
   The ignorant...well, they'll probably just remain in the dark for readers are not stupid people. Their time is sacred and we should feel so lucky they find it in them to devote those hours to the pages we write.
   Opportunity looks like a lot of hard work.
   You think you've written the next great novel and the masses will shower you with acclaim until you walk into a bookstore and you see an entire table filled with the works of Raymond Berry, Suzanne Collins or whole shelves teeming with John Grisham novels. You think you've written something no one else has written until that review shows up telling you that they thought they were reading Twilight or Hunger Games
   It's at that point when you feel the walls of your illusions crash down around you, leaving you to drown in a sea of doubt. 
   You let your baby into the light and suddenly, like the expanding circles in a pond from where the pebble sank, a small group of people reads your work and asks for more. The highs of that roller coaster allow you a glimpse into everything you've wanted, everything that until then, was only on the other side of your own fears.
   The lows, the bad reviews, the dozen people that received a copy of your book at your promotional giveaway who never even let you know if they even got the bloody novel, let alone post the review they were supposed to do in exchange. The friends who tell you they have no interest in reading because they have no time, and those who mean well, but are ultimately false in their praise, you know. The ones who give you the appropriate ooh's and aah's and promise to read your book because they find you "so interesting" but who quickly forget, making the next time you see them infallibly awkward. Those are major tests of character.
   Sometimes it's tough to fight that sense of indignation. After all, we spent however many months composing, fixing, adding, deleting, and pulling every available trick out of our arsenal to evoke a reaction to our characters. The least the world can do is read it! Right?
   But this is the path we chose and if we haven't gotten a huge response, we can't waste our time wondering why or what's the point. We just haven' written our best work yet. We've got to accept it. Get back to the keyboard. Dream big. Create. Compose. Write. It's what we do. It's in our blood.
   Writing cannot flourish if it's done for fame and wealth. It's a self-imposed challenge and one of the loneliest professions a human being can ever choose. It's not meant for just anyone.
   It's a struggle. It's a lot of hard work .
   I imagine that if I had gotten paid one penny for each word I've written, I'd be a wealthy man. Not only does that mean that I've had a prolific enough run to produce three novels, but it also means I have worked ceaselessly for fractions of pennies on the hour.
   Perception is everything in the world of writers. I've met one or two authors that by all appearances were making it and making it big. What a strange disappointment to discover I've been blessed with more effusive reviews on one book than one of them has in all nine together. Stranger still to rank higher than the other one, and I'm talking a good 120,000 spots higher. I was stunned.
   Perception is everything.
   I haven't done anything. The day I feel otherwise is the day I stop composing another sentence. I'll share the messages I receive from readers or the one or two reviews I'm lucky to get, but it's difficult to define a measure of success in writing.
   The best authors out there will tell you they wrote for themselves. They wrote out of their hearts for the enjoyment of no one else but themselves. They adore their characters and are often shocked and fascinated by the way they fleshed out. It's the only way really. I had to fall head-over-heels in love with a British girl who took me on one hell of a ride. I found a hero in a man-another Brit-who found his way in the end and helped me find mine. I recreated my past though taking liberties to edit at will and in so doing, I surrounded a kid in a new country with all the people he'll need on his journey to that last epilogue.
   Where will it go? I wonder often.
   What is all this writing for?
   And why keep doing it when I should work more, firmly plant both feet on the ground and spend more time doing and less time at the keyboard building images and emotions that may go largely ignored?
   Why do we write?
   Why take on the struggle and the upstream swim in the rough waters of competition?
   Why hope for a stranger to devote their time to reading and coming to enjoy the story?
   Because writing is in our blood. It cannot be shut off. And speaking for myself, as long as I have breath, I'll take on those journeys and accept the accusations of escaping reality or dreaming my life away. I'll respect the efforts of those who make it and praise the works of those of us, jacks of all trades, masters of none, doing whatever it takes for shelter and a bite, devoting a few minutes to their stories in those lonely hours of the night when stress bites hardest.
   Maybe there's little point to this blog post. I've wondered where it's going much like you are at this moment. 
   It's just something I had to write because it's in me.
   Now, fresh after venting, I can go back to tweaking a website with more tricky graphics. I can wash my red shirts and go over the receiving clerk duties for the store. I can go over my list of preparation for upcoming jobs and hoping for more phone calls from new customers. I can read a book to my little one and hear the latest jam my soon-to-be-tween deems cool. I can worry about bills and school shopping with my wife, oh, how our conversations have evolved since those days when we both felt we could conquer the world...
   And when they escape into their own dreams, I'll be back at the keyboard. I'll thank God for giving me enough opportunity to keep a roof over our heads, a yummy bite of something in the fridge, a comfortable chair, and I'll even thank SeƱorita Linares for teaching me how to type back in eighth grade. 
   And then...
   I'll write for me.

   Javier A. Robayo

Monday, August 5, 2013

Teaser for Requiem

  An old friend from high school contacted me via Facebook to congratulate me on my writing. Barely two weeks after that exchange, he passed away. 
   Few events in our existence give us a fresh perspective like the loss of a young life. I raged and questioned the usual questions that come with anything difficult to accept.
   As it happened, I had finished drafting Requiem, a story that showcases a darker side of my writing about a man who loses a friend and decides life is nothing but a pointless abyss. 
   I had first intended to write the story to cope with my own sense of mortality, the way I wrote John & Ezekiel to regain the spiritual ground I once had.
   Somehow, much of my writing runs parallel to my own life, and I will only divulge that the last three years have been by far some of the hardest parts of my entire life.
   It's easy to lose faith when you fight tooth and nail to climb one hill only to reach the skirts of a much more daunting, jagged mountain of challenges. 
   Besides the incredible support from my family and my closest friends, it was my writing that has helped me keep it together.
   Even a fleeting glimmer can be a tremendous comfort when you sit in perfect darkness. 
   Just as it happened with The Gaze and The Next Chapter, one character in Requiem came to life and dueled with me over every little word pertaining to him. I let go and simply sat back to see what would happen. I may have written Requiem for me and me alone and I can only wonder if the story will forge a connection with one of you out there. I wonder if one of you will find the message I found within its pages that helped me realign my own perspective and attitudes towards the challenges of life.
   What follows is a dialogue between Ken Glass and Morty. I could not choose an excerpt, I chose several, but I like this one because honest to goodness, it truly wrote itself.

  “Why did you bring me here?”
   “Yous tell me. Yous be the one afraid.”
  I can't deny that. Any normal person would grab his coat and run out of the dank place, but a strange calm prompts me to stay.
  “Yes…” Morty sighs. “Now you’s comin’ round.”
  “What’s going on? What is this?” Fear coils in the pit of my stomach.
  Morty smiles. “Spit it out, son. What’s eatin’ at you? What yous think of dying?”
  “Wait a minute. Why are your clothes dry?”
  Morty only continues to smile. “What yous think of dying?” 
  A silvery flash dances over his eyes. It’s so fleeting I almost think I imagined it. Almost. 
   I need to get out of here.
  “Not befo’ yous tell me,” he says sternly when I glance at the door.
   I’m at a loss. “ not fair.”
  The man laughs so hard he ends up with a coughing fit but recovers quickly. “Don’t think so? Why?”
   “It just causes a lot of pain.”
   “Sho' do, sho' do. But pain’s life. Dying? Hell, that’s well deserved rest.”
   “Dying is becoming nothing. I don’t want to die.”
   “Well,” Morty says, clasping his arthritic hands. “Now that be the first time yous lied today.”
 The epiphany crushes over me like a rogue wave on an unsuspecting raft but somehow I manage not to lose my voice. “What about you? What do you think of dying?”
   After a long moment, Morty grins. “Which time?”

   Javier A. Robayo