This week The Latino Author is featuring published author Richard J. Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales has been very candid in his responses to our questions, which cover a variety of topics relating to writing, marketing, and overall struggles in the business. You’ll be pleasantly pleased with the great insight, tips, and advice he has provided for writers in the industry. Enjoy!
Can you share with our readers a bit about your life and background?
Richard J. Gonzales was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Catholic Parochial schools through the 12th grade. His family moved to Texas in 1969, the birthplace of his father, Joseph Gonzales.
He attended one year of Loyola University and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, majoring in English with a History minor. He founded the Association of Mexican American Students in 1970 at UTA.
The U.S. Army drafted Richard in 1972, serving two years. He received an honorable discharge. After his service, he enrolled in UTA graduate school of social work and graduated in 1977 with an M.S.S.W. He is a licensed master social worker.
Richard has been married since 1972 and has two children.
His interests include reading, writing fiction and non-fiction and running marathons. He has published two short stories, hundreds of op-ed pieces for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other print and internet news outlets. His book Raza Rising: Chicanos in North Texas will publish on March 15, 2016. He led a successful community effort to convince the Tarrant County Commissioners to name a paid county holiday for Cesar Chavez in 2001.
He is a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Tarrant County Cesar Chavez Committee, Fort Worth Writers, Oklahoma Writers Federation, and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas.
He is bilingual (Spanish-English) and a wicked ping pong player.
Did you show a talent for writing early on, or was this something you developed later on in life?
Reading and literature were my favorite topics since elementary school. I generally did well in English classes throughout my education. In fact, I was an English major in college. I had been told by my professors that I had flair for writing but didn’t really pursue it seriously until my late 20s. Since then, I’ve concentrated on meeting and learning from other writers. I’ve attended several writing seminars, read many books on how to write well, read extensively, joined several writing clubs and spent much time writing.
Can you share some of the struggles and or difficulties you encountered with your overall writing career?
Finding the time to write has always been a challenge. Since I was married with children and a day job, I sought desperately for the time to write. I would write in the evenings, during lunch hours, weekends, on road trips, and holidays. I had to struggle with the guilt of not socializing with family and friends as often as I would like.
All writers must learn to surmount rejections. It took me some time to develop a thick skin about publishers not seeing my work as meeting their expectations.
In writing clubs with mostly Anglo writers, I found it challenging to deal with their lack of understanding of Latino culture and idioms. Although the work could be well written, I sometimes heard the comments about how they had difficulty with the names or didn’t know where I could market the story.
The other difficulty was the lack of local professional Latino writers to discuss the craft. I found many talented Latinos went into other more profitable professions such as the law, medicine, engineering or business. It would have helped if had a support group of Chicano authors.
What kind of obstacles did you encounter in writing your recent book Raza Rising?
It took about five years of writing, re-writing and marketing the drafts until I connected with the University of North Texas Press. I had pitched the work in earlier draft forms to several Chicano professors to get their take. Based on their feedback, I made some changes.
I submitted the book to TCU Press who had two independent reviewers give assessments. One liked it, but the second one said it needed much revision. The second reviewer said he or she didn’t like the metaphors or colloquial style. I had to really think about this style difference and decided not to change. Fortunately, the two UNT Press reviewers gave me most positive recommendations.
Writing a book is a tedious, time-consuming, at times frustrating project. I had to stay focused and self-motivated to keep my wits sharp and energy charged every time I sat before the laptop.
With so much to write about regarding Chicano struggles, how did you narrow down your material?
I had written six years as a freelance columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Chicano issues. When I was preparing my book, I catalogued all of my articles and discovered they fell into four major categories: Politics, Education, History and Culture. I had stored all of the extensive research from the six years of column writing. I updated the information—although, unfortunately, there had been little improvement—and used the articles as the basis of the book. Raza Rising can be used as a primer for readers unfamiliar with Chicano issues or as an analysis of current issues for politicos who haven’t had the time to research the issues. It’s also a good resource for Chicanos who want to know about their history, struggles and challenges.
What is it that you would like your readers to take away from this book, and do you believe that your goals were accomplished regarding the book Raza Rising?
For the Chicano reader, I want them to have a deeper understanding about the challenges of maintaining their ethnic identity. There are cultural pressures to forgo language, customs and traditions, some bordering on xenophobia. By writing about it, I want the Chicano reader to develop the emotional and mental resiliency to decide whether they should totally abandon their heritage or learn to become bilingual/bicultural. I would like them to understand that in a global economy, multiculturalism is an asset that can allow them to appreciate and accept and work with differences. I would like the Chicano reader to understand the importance of a highly educated workforce. If Chicanos are to become the future captains of the diverse work fields, then they must have the competency to excel in their chosen fields. I want Chicanos to understand the importance of engaging the political world. Chicanos must learn the importance of voting. Each passing years sees the growth of a Chicano electorate. Unfortunately, research shows that Chicanos don’t vote in commensurate numbers.
For the Anglo reader, I want them to develop a deeper appreciation of the fact that the Chicano population is growing. The Anglo-dominated world is disappearing, making way for diverse American citizenry. Anglos must dispel the Trumpian version of mythical greatness of the past and learn to work with people of different cultures, languages and national origins of today.
I think Raza Rising explicates these points well. It offers readers details and examples of how the US’s ascendancy is dependent on Chicano ascendancy.
What are some of your marketing and promotional strategies that you are following to increase your audience – techniques, approaches, etc.? Have they been successful overall?
Raza Rising will release on March 15, 2016 to the general public. It’s currently advertised for pre-sale on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble website.
I’ll have several upcoming book signings at local book stores and libraries. I’ll also speak on a local Tejano Radio station that will broadcast on Facebook. I’ll promote the book on Twitter and Reddit. I’ll participate at a local literary festival called Wildcatters Exchange and promote the book at the Texas State Historical Association annual conference.
The UNT Press publicist will offer the book at a discount to over two-hundred individuals and organizations that I’ve identified. The book will be sent to local newspaper book reviewers for comments.
I’ve lived in the DFW metroplex and know many people through my freelance writings and club memberships. I’ve already received many positive responses after the book announcements.
I would like the book to be used in high school and college classrooms. I’ve spoken to one Chicano History college classroom. The professor said he will use the book in his courses. Another instructor at a different university has invited me to speak to her political science class about my book. I’ll, of course, promote the book to interested individuals.
Have you encountered resistance to your writing either from professional or family members?
My family is supportive of my writing. We’re proponents of education and supporting one another in our careers. My wife sometimes acts as a sounding board and proof reader. She was a bilingual school teacher and understands the importance of promoting literacy, especially among Latinos. Since I’ve written some about my family in Raza Rising, they’re highly enthusiastic about the book.
I’ve found passive aggressive resistance to my writing from my fellow day job employees. Since I focus mainly on Chicano issues, many of my Anglo colleagues spoke negatively about my pieces. I’ve been ostracized from work gatherings and been treated coldly. I seldom received praise from any of my co-workers. Instead, they gossiped and painted me as malcontent and racist. Some of the emails I received during the time I wrote as a FWST columnist were offensive and threatening.
Since retiring from a regular 8-5 job, the social pressures have eased.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers regarding technique, publishing, and marketing?
I recommend aspiring writers get to know other writers who have published. They can learn quickly the art and business of writing by joining writing critique groups. New writers will get quick feedback from other writers, most of whom seek the same publishing goal. I recommend that aspiring writers read widely in several genres. They should read with a critical eye for technique and style. All writers should take writing classes or attend seminars. Finding a writing mentor who will give honest, constructive feedbackwill help improve his/her craft.
Learn from other writers how to market your work. I recommend reading Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest as helpful resources. The publications give advice on how to prepare and pitch proposals to prospective agents/editors. The aspiring writer should read their specifications carefully before sending manuscripts. At all times, the aspiring writer should write their best and communicate professionally with agents/editors.
Do you have any mentors? If so, can you elaborate on this?
In high school, an English teacher, Father Albert Gallegos, sparked excitement in me for writing. He acted as a role model of a Chicano writer who loved literature and writing. He had published stories in Chicago magazines.
As mentioned above, I participate in writing groups where I receive feedback from other writers, some who have published. Some club members have more advanced writing skills than others. I tend to pay closer attention to those individuals’ comments. In preparing Raza Rising, I had sent the book draft to two professors to read and critique. Their feedback was helpful in improving the work.
In a fiction book I’m currently completing, I had paid a professional writer to critique the work for characterization, plot, dialogue and writing style. I normally don’t pay for a review, but I found that the feedback was most helpful. I’ve revised the book based on the paid reviewer’s response.
Do you make it a point to write daily, or is it only when you are inspired? Take us into “a day in the life of Richard J. Gonzales (author) regarding your writing schedule.
When I was working at a full-time job, I tried to write every day. However, life, work and family obligations would get in the way at times. Since I’ve retired from the full-time job, I’ve found the extra time to write as many days as possible. When I was preparing Raza Rising for the final submission, my day consisted of rising at 4:30 a.m., running several miles, and writing from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. with a lunch hour break. In the evenings, I would read the New Yorker and books for their contents and writing style. I may have mentioned before I’m a student of the three Rs: reading, writing and running. I find running gets the brain juices flowing and helps me think creatively. I’ve solved writing and life problems in mid-stride. With the extra time, I need to be careful not to squander the hours with Facebook and other forms of social media.
Do you write from an outline and if so, what is your method? How did you breakdown your overall writing structure from the onset?
Before I write I do extensive pre-writing work such as research, reading other books or articles of similar topics and talking with folks about my writing ideas. I find this gets the unconscious juices flowing and avoids my duplicating other works. I then sit down and rough draft the work in an outline. I work the outline until I think it’s reasonable and creative. However, once I start writing if I find that the structure should be changed, I will do so. The outline is a guide—not an anchor—which I can change as needed.
Writing is re-writing. After the finish the first draft, I set it aside for about a week and then re-read it for structural change. I then revise to make the work more impactful. Once I have the structure completed, I then rework the writing style to ensure the writing flows well. In fact, I re-read the work several times before I’m satisfied that it’s the best I can offer. The final reading is for grammatical errors and typos. Unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of missing these errors. It helps to have someone else read your completed work.
What is some of your favorite reading that you would like to share with our readers?
I read widely, fiction and non-fiction. I subscribe to the New Yorker and read their wonderful articles and fiction. I read the daily, local newspaper for current events, op-ed articles and letters to the editor. I have a Nook and read old and new books. My favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel GarcíaMárquez, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain,Vladimir Nabakov, Saul Bellow and Malcolm Gladwell. I revel in all of their writing.
I find these writers have mastered the art of recreating worlds that reflect the complexity of life and people in artful, graceful manner. They capture the truths of our hearts that penetrate to the high and lows of our short existence. They give us hope that we can live heroic lives in the face of overwhelming odds. They tell stories well which leave the reader to ponder the thoughts, images and characters for long periods afterwards. Accomplished authors show me the heights of excellent writing to which I aspire.
All writers should read E. B. White’s The Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I also recommend having on hand Spanish and English dictionaries and a grammar book. I’ve also used the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference tool for citation and bibliography formatting.
What do you define as success as an author?
First and foremost, success is satisfying myself that I’ve written the best that I could write at that point in my life. I’m highly self-critical of my work. A writer tends to improve his/her writing over their lifetime. A writer should decide if he/she will be satisfied with writing for themselves. If so, then they should concentrate their efforts on meeting their personal goal.
However, if they seek public reception, then, the second criterion for success is getting paid for published work. This may sound commercial, but I think the dividing line between writers who write for self-enjoyment and close friends and those who write for a wider audience is payment for one’s work. I accept that some writers have been paid for poorly written works. However, I think that most editors will make payments to deserving writers. The amount paid may be meager and not the multi-million book deals that a few authors receive. Nevertheless, professional authors should be paid just as other professionals, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, expect to be paid for their work.
In the beginning, a novice writer may want to write for free to get writing credits in order to build his/her writing portfolio. However, I think a writer with time and experience should eventually expect to be paid.
Lastly, what is on the horizon regarding upcoming publications?
I’m working on two historical fiction books. I’m finishing a fiction book called Deer Dancer. The book is set in Sonora, Mexico in the 1880s and treats the conflict between the Yaquis and Mexicans. I draw on Yaqui beliefs, history and culture to dramatize the struggles that indigenous people face when confronted by a more technologically advanced people who consider themselves superior. I intend to market the book in 2016.
I’m also working on a book titled Azteca. This work depicts the defeat of the Aztecs by the conquistadores from the Aztecs’ point of view. The book requires some re-work to make it market-ready. I should finish this book in 2016.