NICK PADRON, Author of SOULS IN EXILE
1. Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
My new book, as you know, is called Souls in Exile, a theme I know something about. I became a political exile as a boy. My mother and I had to flee our homeland and settle in NYC. One of the short stories in this collection, Dreaming in America, is based on my mother’s experience during the early days. It wasn’t easy for her. Me, I felt like a New Yorker from day one. I never really missed the old country. Adapting to the day to day in the early 1960s was challenging, though. We came from a family of means; I went to the most expensive school in the country. Yet, downgrading to a rented room, my mother and I sharing one bed, wasn’t the worse part for me. Living in in New York’s Upper West Side and going to school in Harlem—Amsterdam Ave. and 123 St.—that took some getting used to. Wanting to fit wasn’t enough. Luckily, in time we moved to Queens where the streets were less problematic. Then at fourteen, I met Lourdes and The Beatles came out on Ed Sullivan, and that was it. Lourdes and I have been together since and I became a professional rock & roller. For the next twenty years or so I played in groups, toured, wrote songs and recorded, including a rock opera based on Carlos Castaneda’s books. In 1985, RCA Victor signed me to make records in Spanish. That led me to Spain where television was undergoing a renaissance after Franco’s demise. The entire country and Madrid in particular were a perpetual Fiesta in those days. I worked on major TV shows as bandleader and musical director. I also got involved with scripts, wrote a handful of sketches, did interviews, performed on camera.
The same way The Beatles were the catalyst to my becoming a musician, so was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude to my writing. I found even more inspiration reading and studying every book Hemingway ever wrote. After the turn of the century, I transitioned from music to writing fiction as a personal decision.
My first beginner’s mistake was to attempt to write an epic novel for starters. I had just finished reading War and Peace and set myself to rewrite the Cuban Revolution through the eyes of three friends, each following a different destiny. Some quarter of a million words later, I wisely abandoned the project. In the long run, I don’t regret it. It was a learning experience I couldn’t have obtained any other way. I learned important things in the process besides modesty, such as the thrill of writing one good paragraph. It also brought me my first published story.
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
My first published story, which is included in the Souls in Exile collection, was taken from a scene in my unfinished Cuban epic. As it turns out, the sequence stands wonderfully on its own. The narrative involves two characters, a young university student and a blind street vendor who sells lottery bills in 1950s Havana. It was first published in 2003, and it’s been published under the titles of “The Numbers Vendor” and “Thirteen” around fourteen times since. The last time this year, 2020.
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
Souls in Exile is my first short fiction collection. The title sounds a bit darker than the stories in it. Although they are poignant narratives with plenty of pathos, there is also a good share of humor in them. What inspired this collection was its pedigree. Most of the titles in this book have been successfully published in literary journals and anthologies, some multiple times. It’s a collection that deserved to be available to the public as a single package and thanks to Adelaide Books it is now a reality. There are new stories featured in this book as well, a novella, a flash short, and a favorite of mine about a dishwasher who meets John Lennon.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
How long does it take to write a story, a novella, a novel? A week that could last years, perhaps. Hemingway used to count the number of words he wrote at each sitting. A habit that came from his days as a journalist. Me, I’ve never been able to do that. I think it’s because I work with a computer and because my artistic training comes from a different medium. My approach is to shape the text into a narrative like a sculptor chips away at a stone. I subtract words mostly. Reshape sentences. One lesson I learned from being a recording artist is a song’s not finished until it’s pressed into a product and out in the world. The same with prose writing: a work of fiction is not truly finished until it’s published (or sent out as a submission).
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Writing is an unusual habit in itself, I think. At least for those of us who write for the need and love of it. In a world where no one needs another book, too much gets in the way of any writer. Creating prose requires an unusual amount of dedication and alone time. That need brands you as an eccentric in many circles. The desire to be read might not be unusual in itself, but the struggle for it is. Authors need a quiet place to work, no two ways about it. For most people, choosing a solitary life is not normal.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
As a professional musician, I’ve probably done just about everything you can do in the music business. Composed words and music, TV and film soundtracks, made records, road tours, produced recordings for others. I’ve also tried my hand at video editing, even worked with photoshop and created book covers for my first two novels. I’m a natural DIY, given the chance. I was lucky in that, since my early twenties, I never had to get a day job. I’ve always been involved in some kind of creative endeavor.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
Consciously, not too many outside of Hemingway, Garcia Marquez, and Don DeLillo, writers I have read their entire oeuvre. Unconsciously, probably more than I can name. Many books have left their mark on my writing during certain periods of my life. Kerouac’s On the Road, Bukowski’s novels, the classic Russians, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky. Joseph Conrad was/is of special interest because we have one thing in common: we don’t write in our mother tongue. A big number of novels have left strong impressions on me—The Great Gatsby, Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, Camus’s The Stranger, too many to count. I’m a fan of many Latin American novelists: Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier, Isabel Allende, Reynaldo Arenas, the list is long. I read lots of nonfiction as well, History, biographies, Harari’s Sapiens was a great read. I’m not much for commercial writing but bestsellers like The Godfather back when, The Mambo Kings, The Kite Runner and others have been important reads.
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
There’s always something cooking or the muses go hungry. Currently, I’m working on a story inspired by a section of my abandoned epic novel. It’s about a young university student in Havana on the run from the political police, who becomes a Santeria faithful to remain under the protection of the clan where he is hiding. In time, he will go to the U.S. and become someone important. At least that’s how it looks like at this time. Also, I have two novels scheduled for publishing in 2021. The Exhumation, a story set during the Spanish Civil War, and Where Labyrinths End, an international thriller, both worthy of sequels, which I’m considering to write on the publishers’ request.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
Not at all. When you write as I do, then your mission is to create work that you convinces you. Stories you believe in. I suppose since my taste is bound by my cultural exposures, molded by the work of many different storytellers, and I like my work to be liked, all those elements combined will find a target in the marketplace. My general taste in books is not so different from that of the average reader. I think if given the chance, my stories shouldn’t have a problem finding its public. But, after all’s said and done, it’s like Ricky Nelson’s song says, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Not really. If I have anything to say is, “Don’t go about it like I did.” Writing time is golden. Read as you never read before. Keep records of why you like in another writer’s work, examples, passages, paragraphs, sentences that moved you. Learn all you can about the technical part of written language then forget it. Tell your story not only with a pen or a keyboard but with your heart. Leave writing behind that you’ll be proud of after you’re gone.
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
You probably know it already. The secret to writing is that there is no secret. You’re on your own, brothers and sisters. The best advice is love what you write. Write not to force yourself into the creation but for the love of the creation. Don’t try it if you don’t love it. That of course brings you to the following question: Do you know what true love is?
12. How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I think the literary genre is my favorite. But is not a rule. It just turns out that way. As the years pass, my reading habits have become quirky. I am a multiple book reader. Every morning I read a few pages out of four or five different books. I’m a magazine reader too, New Yorker, etc. I’m not a devourer of books. Maybe I finish a dozen books a year. There was a time in my life I read non-stop. As a teenager, I worked in a movie house in Brooklyn, it took me almost two hours of subways and busses each way. That year I read all the old classics, Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Reading is always a question of time and priority.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
I write to entertain intelligent minds. That’s one goal. To expose my reader to something different, unexpected situations, characters they would meet only in my stories. My narratives are always multi-layered. They’re consciously composed this way. On the surface, the story might appear complete at face value. But beneath it, there’s more. Sometimes it’s apparent but not always. For instance, one of the stories in Souls in Exile concerns the bastard son of a world-renowned author who remains unnamed. People familiar with this author will guess who he is by a number of clues in the read. Some won’t but that will not take away from the entertainment value of the story. Hemingway put it best by comparing an author’s work to an iceberg. What you see over the water line is but a third of its full size.
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
The same as with every other form of mass entertainment, the publishing industry is a business in transition. The internet has changed it all. It has simplified some things but it’s taken a big chunk of humanity out of it. I think in time the book business will assume a more permanent modus operandi. It’s well on its way to it now. Adelaide Books, for instance, is definitely a perfect example of a new business model in the industry. There are no geographic distances anymore in this business. Still, an author who wants to sell books must have a good idea as to what she’s getting into. Writing should and must remain an author’s priority but business is business. Personally, I haven’t been lucky in that respect. I could’ve written another book in the time I’ve spent reaching out to agents and publishers the last few years. But that’s how it goes when you’re starting out. And you’re starting out until you sell a million books. So might as well get use to it.
Fitting into new trends? There are many writers willing to do it and others who actually can do it, and that makes it look like a viable option to all authors. But that’s false. I guess if you ask E. L. James or John Grisham or Nicholas Sparks the same question, they tell you the book business is just dandy as it is. But writing prose is one thing and selling books is another, and they have nothing in common.