Friday, December 27, 2013

Writer Wisdom

Denver's Mutiny Now Bookstore - Immortality for Writers

Periodically here on La Bloga I offer writing tips from writers - advice like "cut your beautiful sentences" (Georges Simenon) or Elmore Leonard's "leave out the part the readers will skip." For my end-of-year post I've collected helpful advice from a variety of writers that is either something they've learned through their own experience or something they picked up from someone else that they now want to pass on to help other writers -- exclusively on La Bloga! These eleven authors have proven track records -- best-sellers, awards, reader popularity -- and they are all friends of La Bloga. Many have been interviewed or spotlighted by La Bloga and several have contributed their own thoughts to La Bloga articles. I appreciate the great cooperation and honest advice and guidance these writers have contributed by taking time out from busy holiday schedules to offer a bit of wisdom to newer, less experienced or soon-to-be writers. Actually, I think any writer, of any experience level, can benefit from the insights of colleagues and friends. It never hurts to take stock, as they say. This is a terrific way to start 2014.

You might think about saving this column on a flash drive or, if you're in a retro mood, printing and sticking it on your bulletin board for future reference. Especially for those late nights or early mornings when the words refuse to cooperate.  Just sayin' ...

Manuel Ramos

Mario Acevedo

"This is a football." That's what Vince Lombardi said in his famous speech when tasked to turn the Green Bay Packers from losers into winners. Lombardi was emphasizing the need to get back to basics and in doing so, he wasn't telling his players anything they hadn't heard before. With my advice I'm not telling you anything new but with all the noise surrounding writing and publishing it's important to reflect on the fundamentals. Nobody knows nothin'. For every hard and fast rule the writing pundits throw at you, there is always a successful exception. And most of these pundits have never published anything. Write the kind of stories that invigorate your juices and don't apologize about them. Steampunk zombies? Dinosaur erotica? Inspirational space poetry? Go for it.

Read a lot. Write a lot.

Don't get discouraged. Success has its own schedule. I've seen many stories sit unloved for years and then wham! -- the magic happens. But if you don't write, nothing will happen. Stop making excuses. If writing is important to you, then do what it takes to finish your stories.

Mario Acevedo is the bestselling author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, The Undead Kama Sutra and other titles in his popular Felix Gomez private eye series. A former infantry and aviation officer, engineer, and art teacher to incarcerated felons, he also has published short stories and graphic novels.


Kathleen Alcalá

Save the baby! Don’t throw it out with the bathwater. Often when I write, part of my brain is saying “This is the worst thing I have ever written…” over and over again. Don’t throw it away. Put it away until the next day, when you will find a word here, a phrase there, that can be salvaged and worked into something new. Same with longer pieces: put them away for a week or so, then go back and edit them into shape.

Kathleen Alcalá is the author of five books set in the Southwest and Mexico. She will be an honoree of Con Tinta along with Jesus M. Maldonado in 2014 at the AWP Annual Conference.


Rudolfo Anaya 

Write! Write! Write! And support our Chicana/o writers. 

Rudolfo Anaya is best known for his 1972 novel Bless Me, Ultima. He is considered one of the founders of the canon of contemporary Chicano literature.


Lucha Corpi

I was 24 and going through a very painful divorce. I weighed 93 lbs. The nurse at my doctor's office gave me a priority card to display on my refrigerator door. It said: "When all else fails, eat." Three years and 25 lbs. later, I felt it was time to put away the card. By then I had been writing poetry and short narrative for awhile and knew that I was, and would forever be and want to be, a poet and a writer. A few months later, I replaced it with a new priority card, with my own advice on it: "No pretexts. Don't get to your deathbed saying, 'I could have written.'" It still greets me from its place on the wall I face every day as I sit down to write. 

Lucha Corpi: "Although this confession is written exclusively for La Bloga, look for other stories and personal essays in my new book, Confessions of a Book Burner, available March 31, 2014, from Arte Público Press."


Don't get caught in the trap of thinking your writing is good because your friends and/or spouse think it is good. Unless your friends are professional writers and/or editors, their opinions don't count. Be professional and don't rely on biased feedback.

Sarah Cortez is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and the author/editor of nine books, ranging from lyric poetry to crime fiction to memoir. She has published and edited for Akashic Press, Arte Público Press, and Texas Review Press. She writes for the young adult market and the adult market.

Don't take yourself seriously as a writer, take yourself sincerely.

Tim Z. Hernandez is a poet, novelist, and performance artist whose awards include the 2006 American Book Award, the 2010 Premio Aztlán Prize in Fiction, and the James Duval Phelan Award. His latest book is Mañana Means Heaven.


Rolando Hinojosa 

Read. Read. Read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. This isn't mine; it's Faulkner's. I always pass this on to beginning writers.

Rolando Hinojosa is the acclaimed author of the seminal Chicano novels known as the Klail City Death Trip Series. He says this about his current project: "Am working on what may be the final novel in the Klail City Death Trip Series. It will involve graft on both sides of the Rio Grande with no preaching on my part. A straightforward tale involving a crooked governor on the Mexican side and the help furnished by Buenrostro and his crew who investigate the doings by elected officials in Belken County."

R. Narvaez

If you didn't write today, don't feel bad. There's always next lifetime to be a successful writer, right? Or, the more you write, the more you write. Which may sounds ridiculous but which makes sense when you do it.

R. Narvaez's book, Roachkiller and Other Stories, received the 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology/Short Story Collection and the 2013 International Latino Book Award for Best eBook/Fiction.


Two quotations:  the first, from Doris Lessing, has guided me whenever I felt overwhelmed by the empty page or blank screen in front of me. She wrote in The Golden Notebook, "What does it matter if you fail?  Why are you so arrogant? Just begin."  The other is attributed to Gandhi and helps me through those moments when I wonder why I bother to write books that almost no one will read.  He said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but its is very important that you do it."

 Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of seven novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios that won seven Lambda Literary Awards. His forthcoming novel, The City of Palaces, is set in Mexico City in the years just before and at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. It will be published this spring by the University of Wisconsin Press. He can be reached though his Facebook page, “Michael Nava, Writer” or his website:


Emma Pérez

In 1997, my writing buddy, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, recommended a book that became vital for my writing process--A Writer's Time:  Making the Time to Write, by Kenneth Atchity. He offers a number of tidbits including: churn out the first draft without stopping to revise; when you begin the revision process, cut off the fish head, meaning, about the first 30 pages are background, hence a slow start. Cut them! The key advice, however, is: DISCIPLINE, not a muse and not talent, but sustaining a schedule and showing up daily to write. Finally, remember that writing is a craft to be learned. I believe that if you work at the craft, you'll see the rewards in your final draft. I also believe in emotional truths, excavating your psyche to unravel things that you ordinarily wouldn't want to share. Those are the emotional truths that resonate for us as writers and readers and will contribute to your own unique voice.

Emma Pérez, author of Gulf Dreams; Forgetting the Alamo, Or, Blood Memory; and forthcoming, Electra's Complex: An Erotic Mystery, with Bella Books, fall 2014.


Sergio Troncoso

Write about your community, but dig deep, dig into taboos, dig into the unsaid. The biggest fight you will have will be against self-censorship, and if any writer criticizes you for not being an 'authentic Latino or Latina' or an 'authentic Chicano or Chicana,' they are simply trying to control you and censor you. There is no such thing as an authentic Latino/a or an authentic Chicano/a, and our community needs and demands a variety of voices. Work on your craft first by reading widely, reading poetry if you are not a poet, or reading fiction if you are not a fiction writer, or reading Russian literature after you have read Latino literature. Work on your craft by understanding your weaknesses, and focusing on them. Work on your craft by experimenting with your prose and sentence structure (the micro), and by trying out different modes of storytelling (the macro). Finally, writing is not about becoming a personality, or getting a lucrative book deal, or acquiring groupies. That's the power going to your head. Writing is about exploring ideas, psyches, ways of being. Writing is about opening up a space that has never been opened before.

Sergio Troncoso is the author of five books. From This Wicked Patch of Dust was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews, and Crossing Borders: Personal Essays won the Bronze Award for Essays from ForeWord Reviews. A new, revised version of his novel, The Nature of Truth, will be published in 2014. He is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference.


Mario Acevedo said...

Sergio, where can I find these writing groupies?

ggwritespoetry said...

WOW! Some fantastic advice here! Sergio's truly resonated with me! Thank you, hermanos y hermanas for taking the time to inspire us back onto the page...Feliz y Prospero Ano nuevo to all!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Ramos for your blog.
Conferences and extension creative writing courses can pinch a pretty penny or two or three, so I appreciate reading La Bloga and all the great insight and advice!
Blessings for holiday happiness and the new year.

Manuel Ramos said...

Glad you liked the column, Diana. Happy holidays to you.

jjmendez007 said...

Digging your advice, Sergio!

sramosobriant said...

All helpful. And quite a diverse group in terms of genre. Which is how I read. And write.

Latino Heritage said...

Great advice and several books to add to my "need to read" list. Gracias.