This week, The Latino Author is grateful and pleased to present you an interview with author Manuel A. Meléndez. Mr. Meléndez gives us an insightful view into the literary world alongside some great advice to becoming a successful writer.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself; where you grew up, where you currently reside, or what you would like our readers to know about you?
I was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico in 1957. It is a small town where everyone knows each other. Sadly I have not seen it for over 46 years, but the love and the memories often fuel my creative juices and in my short story titled ‘Christmas Snow Over El Barrio’ from the book “New York Christmas Tales” I use it as the background. At the age of 10 we moved to New York, East Harlem, and that’s where I discovered libraries and a certain fellow named Edgar Allan Poe. He planted the seed in my head and made me fall in love with reading, which obviously led to my love of writing. Now I live in Sunnyside, NY, which again, I use its streets as the background in my novel “When Angels Fall” (Published by Aignos Publishing, Inc). You could say my surroundings and my memories have a large influence on my writing.
You have written several novels and a collection of short stories. Of the two types of writing, did you find one style more difficult to write than the other? If so, please explain why.
The challenging part of writing short stories is that the short story is actually a novel condensed into a few pages rather than 300 plus pages, or if you are Stephen King a few thousand! Both formats must have a plot, the conflict, and the viewpoint with a conclusion that ties everything into a nice bow. However, in a short story you don’t have the luxury to elaborate into deep thinking or philosophy. You need to hit that nail on the head and hammer it with one shot. A novel gives you more room to create, to develop the characters in depth, which to me is the equivalent of a month-long vacation – the novel, to a quick weekend getaway – the short story.
In addition, with novels and short stories, you’ve also written some poetry. What do you find the most challenging when writing poetry? What is your approach when writing poetry versus novels or short stories?
I have two poetry books, “Observations Through Poetry” and “Voices From My Soul” and I’m working on my third. I feel that poetry is a scary format because in my novels and short stories I have the comfort to hide behind the ‘fiction’ label; therefore, anything goes. Poetry are words that come from the soul. The words are raw, the emotions are real, and you stand there naked in front of your readers bearing your soul. When your heart is broken you let them see you shed your tears. When you are happy you let them hear the songs in your heart, and when you are moved you let them see life’s wonders; taking a stroll, the whisper of a leaf falling into an autumn dawn, or the sadness of a homeless person trying to keep his dignity intact. Poetry, to me, is opening your true spirit with no reservations. It’s honesty in its truest form and one of the most enjoyable forms of literature that I love to write. Actually poetry was the first thing I wrote as a kid – before I even attempted writing fiction.
Where do you get your material for writing? Is this done more from personal experience, observations, or researching an idea and then moving forward?
It varies. I have woken up in the middle of the night after having a dream that was actually a movie in my head and soon that becomes some form of a story or poem. Other times something as simple as the eavesdropped conversation on the train. My ideas come to me like stations on a radio picking up strong signals of everything that surrounds me. And of course, my real life, my own conflicts and how I deal with them or how I wished to have dealt with them…that’s excellent material for a novel, short story, or a poem.
Your more recent novel “When Angels Fall” was first self published, and then you had it published under Aignos Publishing. What made you switch over to a publisher? Can you give our readers some insight as to your experience on these two types of publishing?
First, the book was titled “Letters To My Father” and the cover was a nice street shot from my Sunnyside neighborhood during an autumn season. A nice-looking book cover, which begged to be picked up and taken home. It seemed that inside that beautiful cover, the reader was going to be rewarded with this lovely human drama of a story. Hallmark all the way…wrong!
You see, last year I was part of a book show, and I witnessed people’s reaction to both the cover and title of the book. I thought people were going to beat me up because in their happy faces I could see that they were thinking that my book was about my father. But those smiles quickly turned into frowns when I told them the context of the book. The novel is about a serial killer, and if you squeeze my book with enough strength I actually believe it’s going to drip blood.
Don’t get me wrong, the novel is a very good mystery/supernatural tale and not for the weak of heart. Yet, the cover and title was a bit misleading. Afterwards, I came across Aignos Publishing and I sent the manuscript to Jonathan Marcantoni, the Chief-Editor at the time and a hell of a writer in his own right. He contacted me right away and very plainly stated that my book did not belong in the self-publishing arena. I listened, I asked questions, maybe even became a bit of a pain in the ass, but at the end of the day I signed a contract with them. I’m glad that I did. The difference between both types of publishing is wearing all the hats when you do it alone or having others carry your bags along the way. Having Aignos was becoming part of a family and the pluses are this: Self-publishing—you do everything or hire others to do it for you; editing, book cover, promoting, which means money out of your pocket. As a struggling writer that cannot even put a down payment on a pretzel that means a lot! With a publisher behind you, like Aignos, there are many talented people in your corner and they all have one thing in mind – that is to make your book shine! Now, this is not throwing self-publishing under the bus because my two poetry books and my Christmas short stories’ book were both self-published and I’m proud of them as well.
From a writing structural perspective, what challenges did you face to completing this novel and how did you resolve some of these challenges?
I worked on this novel on and off for almost three years and both the story and the concept came pretty easy and the voices of the characters were there as well. The beauty of my day job is that I get to spend many hours during the week on the subway, which gives me more freedom to write than the average writer that is a slave for 8 hours. Plus the beauty of it all, I have a wide selection of characters to pick from inside the subway cars and all over the train stations and streets.
In your opinion, what are the most important writing tools and elements that writers should have or acquire when tackling a novel? A short story?
First, they must have a story line already in their head…a resemblance of a plot that will drive them into creating and adding more layers to build that story into a cathedral. Now I, for some reason, I try to get the ending first and then I think of the beginning. After that, I let my imagination and the voices of my characters act as the ultimate GPS…I just give it point A and point C, and I expect to see point B in no time. For short stories, I structure them the same way.
Who inspires you? Writers wise?
My hero is Edgar Allan Poe. I owe him a lot – the love to read and the love to write. Stephen King is my mentor in breaking down the suspense. Alfred Hitchcock for showing me how to reveal stuff to the readers, but not to the characters and to make sure if you mention a gun or a knife on page 25 somewhere in the story that gun or knife better be used. And of course, the people that I meet or see on the streets of New York City as they are my props and my inspirations. However, the person that inspires me the most is my mother; her encouragement, her pride, and especially when I sent her my first published book and how she told me she cried with joy. Then after a long pause asked me why do I write about killers and why do I need to curse in my books so much! Those are the people who give me the inspirations that I need.
Which do you find more challenging in the literary world, marketing or publishing? Please elaborate as to why?
Marketing!!!! Hahahaha…everyone who knows me is already aware of my shyness and uneasiness to be out there promoting myself, doing readings, selling my books, etc. That is a feat that I haven’t mastered yet, and to be truly honest, I don’t know if I ever will. But baby steps allow the baby to run so this baby is thinking of a marathon soon, and if not a marathon at least a good sprint!
Do you think being a Latino author hinders or helps you in the literary world?
At this early stage in my writing career, I still have not seen any aspect about being a Latino author. One thing I want people to see is that I am first a writer who just happens to be a Latino and most of his characters are Latinos. But to be aware that my stories and their messages are universal.
One thing I need to mention on the topic of Latinos in the literary world and in the creative world in general. There is a shortage of Latino characters in television and on movie screens, and unless we as Latinos begin to support the work of Latino writers and artists that void will always exist. So it is very important that we, as Latinos, need to buy more books about our own struggles and victories. We need to be heard loudly inside the conference rooms where stories are developed and promoted so that eventually they appear on television and movie screens and book shelves as well. And all it takes is each of us to go out there and buy a book by a Latino writer…and why not start with my book, Hahahaha!
If you had one advice to upcoming authors, what would that be?
Read and read and then read some more and do your best to find your own voice, your own style, and then, and only then let the words flow. And always write for you…impress yourself first, and I guarantee others will be impressed as well.
What impact do you want to make in the writing world? How would you like to be remembered from a literary perspective when it’s all said and done?
If I say I want to be a best seller, a well-known writer, would that sound egoistical or self-centered? I don’t think so. You see, I have seen many writers proclaim that they are not doing it for the money (myself included), yet I see them hustling the customer to try to make another sale and put another twenty spot in their pocket. And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. Every garage band wants to be the next Beatles or Rolling Stones. Every struggling actor wants to someday hold that precious Oscar. So yes, I want to be the next Stephen King. Why not? But truthfully, when everything is said and done, I would like to be remembered as a simple man that fell in love with writing regardless if I was not the best or the most assertive person in the room, and that when I sat down to write my tales, my poetry, I gave it my best. I want to be remembered that I did my best to treat the reader as a knowledgeable person who refuses to listen to clichés or be satisfied that all I wrote was just a dream. No! Everything I write did happen in my head; therefore, it’s all true.
What books or projects are you currently working on that you would like to share with our readers?
At this moment, I’m working on a novel, a collaboration effort. I cannot elaborate because it is still in its early stages, but I must add I’m having a lot of fun with it as it’s forcing me to put my ego aside. It’s totally different than what I’m used to. Also, I’m working with this incredible editor, LaShawn Pagán, editing my next novel to be published by Aignos Publishing, “Josefa’s Curse.” This is a novel that I hold very close to my heart because it deals with the history of how I was named. In addition, in this story I’m able to showcase the power, the strength, and the love of a Puerto Rican mother and what she was willing to do for her family.
I’m also working on a novel titled “In My Brother’s Footsteps” a mystery/political story, which takes place in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, NY. It deals with the gentrification going on; trying to push hard-working people out of their homes and neighborhoods because those with the right money are trying to turn bodegas into Starbucks! Plus I’m about to start on my yearly Christmas short story for my family, a tradition I’ve kept up for the past fifteen years or so, and last, but not least, I’m about to start a book about my mother’s incredible life.
As you can see writing and breathing for me go hand in hand…no other way about it! Now, before I drop my last quarter on this wonderful conversation with Corina, I need to thank her from the bottom of my heart. Corina Martinez Chaudhry, you are a superb person and the pedestal you have created to put us Latino writers on is something that needs to be commended and applauded!!! Gracias hermana del corazon for letting me share my words with everyone out there!!! Que Dios te bendiga…God bless!!
Contact: Manuel A. Meléndez’s Books