1. When did you take the plunge into writing? Was there something that pushed you into it or was it a slow process over time.
I’ve worked in advertising since the late 70s, first as a graphic designer and later as a writer. About five years ago, I decided to start writing about subjects that mattered to me personally. Thankfully, I’d done well enough in my ad career that I could afford to do this. So I launched a public television documentary titled “Two Americas: The Legacy of Our Hemisphere,” a comparative look at the political and racial traditions of the U.S. and . I recruited an amazing collection of scholars and had drafted a script but getting financing for the film was proving very difficult. While waiting for the funding, I began work on a fiction piece inspired by the content of the documentary. Pretty soon, the characters and story took on a life of their own and AMERICA LIBRE was born. The story that was unfolding as I wrote had so much material, I realized it would be more than one book. So I broke up the story into a trilogy. I haven’t given up on the film, by the way. I hope the exposure of AMERICA LIBRE will help get some attention of financial backers for “Two Americas.” (Hint, hint, film funding foundations)
2. How do you write? Please explain the process for you as an author.
I’m one of those writers who plots out the entire story ahead of time—probably as a result of all those years in advertising where I wrote with a very specific purpose. After developing a plot outline, I break the story down into scenes. When, the story is written in third person, I select the character who will serve as the point of view for that scene. I think that’s really important. To me, it’s much more dramatic to tell the story through the eyes of a single character in any given scene. It builds more suspense and drama when the reader is following the thoughts of only one character who does not know what’s coming next. Once I’ve decided which character’s point of view to use in a scene, I begin the actual writing. One other adage I try to follow: Get into a scene and out of a scene as fast as possible. If something I write does not propel the plot, I will leave it out when I go back and edit my drafts. Some reviewers have said AMERICA LIBRE is suspenseful and fast paced. I think these are the reason why.
3. The protagonists of America Libre are essentially leftist guerillas. Did you encounter any moral contradictions within yourself while writing this story?
That’s a great question, Nilki – although I would not characterize all the revolutionary leaders in AMERICA LIBRE as “leftists” per se. One of the things I learned through my research into the politics of Latin America is that revolutions and coups in the region have been carried out by both the left and the right. That said, AMERICA LIBRE is a cautionary tale. It’s a future I would never want to see happen and I hope we can avoid. But to make the story compelling to readers, I had to give depth and humanity to the characters leading the Hispanic liberation movement. From personal experience I know revolutionaries are often well-intentioned idealists who let their certitude in the righteousness of their cause lead them into violence. Many of my relatives still in Cuba, including my father, fit this mold. So it’s not difficult for me to have compassion for the insurgents in the story, even though I disagree with their cause. In the final analysis, though, the biggest danger we face is extremism itself. Unfortunately, that type of mentality exists on both sides of any conflict, including today’s immigration debate.
4. In your eyes is Manolo Suarez a hero or a villain? Is it possible for a main character to be both? Do you struggle with your feelings for Manolo?
At the beginning of AMERICA LIBRE, Mano is a guy who wants nothing to do with politics and causes. Like most of us, he wants to take care of his own and live in peace. He’s hard working, loyal to his country, respectful, honest, and gentle—and he’s also strong and protective. How could you not like the guy? Yet Mano winds up as a military leader in a violent uprising against the country of his birth. That transformation from loyal citizen to insurgent is the key to AMERICA LIBRE. If readers can understand and believe Mano’s radical conversion, then they can begin to understand the danger the U.S. faces from the extremist elements on both sides of this issue that are growing more strident every day.
5. This story is ripe for controversy. Did you set out to open this discussion, or were you simply writing a story which took on a life of its own?
There’s a saying in the TV news business: If it bleeds, it leads. Sadly, the national media pays little attention to an issue until there’s blood on the streets. In AMERICA LIBRE, I put the blood on the streets in fictional form, hoping to avoid it in real life. The U.S. desperately needs to address the issue of immigration reform – and we need a better understanding of the complex group of people labeled “Hispanic.” The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. The hostility directed toward Latinos today is part of a long history of enmity against recent arrivals. However, no other immigrant group in U.S. could ever lay claim to U.S. soil. This poses the potential for a violent ethnic conflict of the kind that is all too common throughout the world: the Basques in Spain, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Chechens in Russia, the Palestinians in , and the centuries-old turmoil in the Balkans. And these are just a few examples. I thought a thriller-style novel with action, romance and compelling characters would do more to engage the public imagination about the potential dangers of this situation than a dry-academic treatise.
6. Tell us a little bit about El Nuevo Alamo, the sequel to America Libre?
EL NUEVO ALAMO begins the day after AMERICA LIBRE ends. The characters and storyline are a direct continuation. But I wrote the sequel as a standalone novel. I wanted a reader to understand and enjoy EL NUEVO ALAMO without the need to read AMERICA LIBRE. That made it pretty challenging and a lot of work. I hope it’s worthwhile—and hope readers agree.
Be persistent. That’s the key to getting published. John Grisham was rejected by 30 publishers. ’s first novel was self-published. J.K. Rowlins’ original Harry Potter manuscript was rescued from the by a junior editor who was attracted by its binding. Publishing is full of rags to riches stories. If you want to get published, you’ll need skin like a rhino and an unshakable belief in your work. At the same time, don’t assume you’ve already written The . Another common theme in writing success is the willingness to accept criticism and improve your work. I know it’s hard to accept, but constructive criticism is like the friction that makes metal shine. My agent and I worked for nearly a year polishing the AMERICA LIBRE manuscript. Then I hired a professional editor to give it a final once-over. After my self-published edition of AMERICA LIBRE was picked up by Grand Central Publishing, we edited the novel again, adding another 10,000 words of character development. The AMERICA LIBRE readers see today is not a very different story than the one I began writing in 2004. It’s simply a much better read.
Thank you so much Raul, for sharing your thoughts and insights with the readers at Musings.
Thanks for the chance to appear on “Musings,” Nilki. I’ve really enjoyed your questions and the opportunity to share some of the inside scoop on AMERICA LIBRE. I look forward to seeing your work continue to grow and prosper. Con mucho gusto! – Raul