Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I grew up in a little town in Colombia called Ibagué, and even though isn’t a coffee town, it is very close to Colombia’s coffee region, that made me familiar with the coffee culture. I became an avid reader of classic novels at a very young age thanks to my dad, who used to share one story after another in the table, always at lunch time and he used to do it in such an emotional, fascinating way. It was like he was telling us about a movie or a tv show, he was very good at it.
That made me rush to my dad’s book stand to pick the novel he was talking about in the table, and that was how I got hooked. So, when I was 10, while my friends were reading comics, I was devouring The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The count of Montecristo and 100 years of solitude.
A fun fact about my youthhood is that I started practicing Target Shooting and I became national champion in “Moving Target Shooting” an Olympic discipline which in fact, gave to Colombia its very first Olympic medal in 1972. I love that sport and I still practice it as up today.
It’s been 20 years since I moved to the US which I now consider my home. I live in Miami, FL with my wife Paola, the most amazing woman that has ever walked on this planet. I also have a daughter from my previous marriage called Fiorella, a 14 years old ice-skater, cello player and manga illustrator who is my inspiration and the reason I want to be a better man every day.
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
My very first writing work was when I was 13 years old. My Spanish teacher separated the class in groups of 4 students and gave us the assignment to come up with some sort of theatrical performance, to be played in the classroom. I decided to make a very short adaptation of “The ILiad”. The teacher loved it so much that immediately asked me to adapt the whole story, using almost 30 students as actors in order to present the play in front of the entire school.
I took the task very seriously and I wrote the whole script of The ILiad, without having any knowledge about writing scripts at all. I simply figured out how to write the scene descriptions and dialogs of every character, as I was directing the whole play by myself. All my classmates were excited about it and turned very creative which it helped a lot. I remember that we even built a giant horse out of cardboard boxes and designed all the wardrobe and scenery. Obviously, I made sure to reserve the role of “Achilles” to myself since he was my favorite character in Homer’s poem. The play was a big success, with plenty of funny situations that happened during the performance, making it an unforgettable experience of my pre-adolescence that I treasure since then. (so bad that we didn’t have smartphones in 1982)
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Never Play with Death” is the title of my latest book, and it is inspired by the amazing stories told by my grandfather who was a great storyteller. He used to gather all his grandsons together to tell us amazing stories that happened to him during his youthhood in the little coffee town embedded in Colombian’s mountains where he grew up. Part of his stories were truth; part were fantasy but all of them were greatly entertaining. My father who inheriteried the same storytelling skills of my grandpa, continued to nurture each story, as he infused his own fantasy to them, making them bigger and more exciting.
One story in particular was the one that caught my attention from the beginning. It was the story of the man who brought the amazing art of photography to my grandpa’s town in the late 40’s, and how that event changed the fate of the town and its inhabitants forever. Every time that I heard that story, either from my grandpa or my dad, I always imagined it as a movie. I always used to thought “that story would be great for a movie” and that idea remained on the back of my head for several years, until one day, when I heard the calling I guess, and when I had the right set of tools and knowledge, I sat down and wrote it.
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
It took me exactly one year to write the whole novel. I’m not quite a fast writer, I like to take my time and I rewrite a lot. Also, it doesn’t help that I don’t make a living out of writing books; I would love to though but right now isn’t the case. I have a very demanding and time-consuming job, so I have to be very disciplined and time-efficient when I write. Usually, when I’m in “writing mode” I create a habit to write very early in the morning every day. Then, I review/rewrite at night. When I’m motivated and focused enough, I could write up to 1,000 words per day.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Well, I don’t know how unusual this habit could be, maybe it’s very common among writers but I have to be in complete silence when writing. So, you will never see me writing at a Starbucks for instance.
Also, I have to program my brain to write. In other words, if I know that I only have a 20-minute window to write I prefer not to do so. When I sit down to write, I have to set up myself for at least one hour without any interruptions. If it’s more than an hour even better. I just can’t speed writing.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I work as a creative at an advertising agency, so I do creativity for a living. Every single day I have to come up with a new idea or concept to catch people’s attention about a product or service. It’s an exciting yet demanding job that requires to keep your mind and all your senses open, capturing as much information as possible about what’s happening out there.
Due to my profession, I’ve been exposed to many creative disciplines that have taught me different things throughout my career; specially in the audiovisual production field. I’ve used that knowledge to create different audiovisual pieces, from tv commercials to music videos for well known artists. I’ve also written and directed two short films and collaborated in the writing of a long format script. And I wrote the script adaptation of my latest novel “Never Play with Death” which is currently under review in different production houses and studios.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
The biggest influencer in my writing is our Nobel prize Gabriel García Marquez. His narrative, creativity and characters development has greatly impacted my writing style. I’ve read almost all of his novels and I simply love his magical realism, which is definitely my favorite genre. I do believe magical realism will always be present somehow in my work.
About the books that have influenced me the most, I must say that The ILiad obviously, The Odyssey, 100 years of solitude, The Canterville Ghost, Perfume: The story of a murderer, The Raven, Hopscotch (Rayuela) and The Immortal. Just to name a few.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Yes, I’m working on a couple of projects right now. I just signed a contract with Fonolibro, an audiobook production/distribution house to write a compilation of 12 short stories that will be released as audiobooks. That project will be ready before the year ends.
I’m also setting up what it will be my second fictional novel, which I’m planning to start writing this fall. Lastly, my daughter and I are working on a script for an animated film. This is a very cool project not only because of my collaborator, but also because of the story itself. It’s an original tale about the things that only could happen in my native Colombia. Let’s see how it goes but I’m very excited about it.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
To be honest, I didn’t write my first novel with a specific reader profile in mind. I just wanted to tell a story that I had very clear in my head and I just sat down and let it flow. Once I finished it, I thought that my primary target would be Colombian readers, but soon I realized that the story had a universal insight that was suitable for every single person that was looking for just a good, easy-to-read, entertaining story.
Nevertheless, I got a lot of learnings about my first experience and now, for the new projects that I’m developing I’m taking in consideration the profile of the readers I want to tackle. I would say that my target is young readers 18+ that love fictional tales.
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Even though my experience is limited since I’ve published just one novel so far, I truly believe that the art of writing comprises of 50% talent, and 50% commitment. You have to treat your writing as a project, that means you should set up certain hours to write daily and commit to it. Discipline is key. Then, you have to self-impose a deadline, do research, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. Writing for me is a lifestyle, you must take it with you whenever you go and commit with your project until it sees the light.
If you seat down one entire Sunday for ten hours, and then you drop the project only to retake it two months later, most likely that book will never be finished. So, my first advice for new writers is: “Treat your upcoming book as a project, not as a hobby”.
When I was writing Never Play with Death I self-imposed daily writing hours. From 6am to 8:30am every day. Then I used to take one hour at night to review what I’ve written in the morning. Sometimes I just wasn’t inspired to write at all, but I sat down anyways, and I used that time to do research, or do brainstorming about next chapters. So, here’s my second advice: “You don’t always need to write, in order to do writing”
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
The best advice I’ve heard probably came from my agent and dear friend Amanda Garay, when we were discussing about how to make my story less local and more universal for the publishing companies. She told me something that she heard from a Russian literature professor who said: “If you want your story to be universal, start by telling the story of your town”.
How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I usually read up to three books per year, along with several short stories, scripts and other readings. Right now, I’m reading “The Scandal of the Century” from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a compilation of articles and columns he wrote during his years as journalist; his very true passion. Even though isn’t fiction, it’s a true reader’s delight.
My favorite literary genre is magical realism and fiction. I love to read creative, intriguing, original stories. You will never see me reading anything else.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
I want my readers remember my books for the cleverness of the stories, the unexpected twists and most of all, for the memorable characters they may find in them. My ultimate goal will always be to surprise the reader at some point, and give them something in either a character, a moment or a twist that stays with them for a long time after they finish the book.
What has been the greatest satisfaction that writing a book has given you?
For me, the biggest satisfaction has been realizing how many lives you can impact with your work. In my case it’s been amazing. Every single person that has read my book has been impacted by it one way or the other. Some with the story, others with certain characters, but every person that I know that has read the novel, have had a very positive experience and that’s very rewarding.
You know, something very cool happened to me when I launched the Spanish version of the book. My relatives, friends, co-workers and acquaintances started looking at me differently. Suddenly they all get a different impression of you. It’s like if becoming a published author gives you certain status that you didn’t have.
Another satisfaction is when you see that you inspire more friends to write. I would say more than 3 friends have started some writing projects just because they saw my book published. And I’m trying to help them with their projects as much as I can because somehow, I feel that I provoked it, and I want their books to see the light too.
Lastly, it’s very satisfying when your book wins at a festival. Never Play with Death won the “Excellence Award” in the Stroud Arts Book Festival in New Orleans. Then, the Spanish version won “Best First Book” at the International Latino Book Awards in Los Angeles. Both awards filled me with joy because it’s not your family member or your friend who tells you that the book is good; It’s a jury that doesn’t know you at all and is judging many works like yours. That’s where you realize that you should have done something right.
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
For me the publishing industry is the same as how it has always been, only now there’s new channels of distribution. But at the end of the day if a book is good there will always be someone who wants to publish it. I think if Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde or Jorge Luis Borges lived today, they would still find a way to publish their work.
For me, nowadays authors have new options to publish their books, and they don’t have to stick with the conventional publishing company. But that also brings new challenges like self-promoting and other nuances. Amazon changed the industry for good and everybody has had to adapt. But again, if the story is good, sooner or later it will be discovered.