Debut Novelists: Why Persistence is as Important as Talent

Q & A with Charles Rice-Gonzalez, author of the novel Chulito

By Marcela Landres
Published on LatinoLA: October 5, 2011

Debut Novelists: Why Persistence is as Important as Talent

Debut novels sometimes follow a circuitous path before finding a home. Publishing a book requires persistence as much as talent. Read this month's Q&A with Charles Rice-Gonzalez, author of the novel Chulito, and a writer who is as persistent as he is talented.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez is the author of the novel Chulito and the co-editor of From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction. His work has appeared in The Pitkin Review, Best Gay Stories 2008, and Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing. A graduate of Goddard College's MFA program, he has attended The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Macondo Writing Workshop. He lives in New York City where he is the Executive Director of BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance.

Q: Which author or book inspires you, and why?

A: This answer is ever expanding as I read and discover more writers and books, but there are several authors who inspire me in different ways. This crew has been consistently inspiring: Jaime Manrique for his bold text and ability to make the epic personal and the personal epic; Sarah Schulman for how seamlessly she brings together social issues in a story, and how each of her books is like taking a writing workshop in structure and pacing (she was also my MFA professor and is a master teacher); Audre Lorde because her essays light a political/social fire in me and her poems leave me with images that are branded into my mind's eye; James Baldwin for his storytelling structure(s), lush prose, and his fearlessness as far as subject matter is concerned; Truman Capote for finding the heart in the matter even in In Cold Blood, and his stories always make me sigh; Junot Diaz for being able to masterfully write on one level and speak to, and reach, people on just about every level; Sandra Cisneros for the clarity of her voice and verve of her characters; and Abraham Rodriguez for writing so vibrantly and lovingly about the Bronx.

Q: Why do you love to write?

A: I love to write for personal and public reasons. What I mean by personal is that the actual act of creating and writing, to bring that creativity forth, gives me a personal pleasure and thrill that I get no other way. I physically feel joy, pleasure, fear, lust, frustration, passion, and freedom when I am alone and writing. Some people might say, "Oh, the good stuff yeah, but the fear, and all that I don't get." But those feelings are just as visceral and they get created in the writing process. I love that state. Then, I write because it's a way to connect to other people and it's a way to give a voice to my community.

Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet him/her? If you don't have an agent, how did you come to be published by Magnus Books?

A: This is a long story because I was supposed to be published by Alyson Books last year, but they decided to go e-books only so I got out of the contract and they were very glad to let me (and the other writers who didn't want to comply) go. But the way it all started was when I was looking for an agent. In December of 2008, I felt I had a manuscript that was ready to send out. I started sending it to several agents who I'd met at writers' conferences and events here in NY. Even though I had met them, had conversations with them, and I'd kept in touch with them, I got rejections. I was running out of agents and thought, "Don Weise is an editor, he must know lots of agents." I had met Don Weise in 2005 at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and stayed in touch with him throughout the years. Back then, he was the editor at Carroll and Graf, an imprint of Avalon books, which had been closed by 2008. I knew at that time that he was freelancing, but I didn't know that he had become the publisher at Alyson.

So, I sent him an e-mail saying my book was ready and asking him if he could recommend any agents. He asked to read the book. I had my original e-mail to his personal account, but when he responded he did so from Regent Media. I didn't know Regent Media so I looked it up and discovered that it had taken over Alyson Books and Don had become its publisher. I had heard nightmare stories about the house from other writers, but since Don had a great reputation and Alyson was now owned by Regent who owns The Advocate, Out Magazine, Here!TV, and the Planet Out website. I decided to send him the book. I thought, "At the very least he could let me know if it was ready or not." So, I sent him the book and he responded with three e-mails. The first said, "I am enjoying your book and if this continues I will be making you an offer." The second said, "I'm about 60 pages or something to go. Let me drop a note to you in the next couple of days. I don't see why I can't do this one." And the third one said, "I'm running out the door but wanted to let you know that I'd like to publish your novel. In fact, I'd be very proud to publish it."

After the deal with Alyson came apart, Don knew that I was going to begin shopping Chulito around again and asked me to stay connected because he was working on something. The something was Magnus Books. Since he believed in the book and we invested lots of time editing it, I went with Don Weise and Magnus.

What was also helpful was that I stayed in touch with you throughout this process and received sound and grounded advice

Q: What is your writing ritual?

A: I am most creative in the morning. So, I can get up as early as 4 a.m. when I'm under deadlines or in a "writing zone," but 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. is more like it. I start with a shower. On some days, I light some incense (the resin on charcoal kind), frankincense, myrrh, or copal to create a sacred space. I spend some time thinking about what I am going to write, meditating about it a bit, and then I go to it. I have a small statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, remover of obstacles and the patron saint for writers and artists. I like having his spirit in the room.

I don't get to write every day (unless I have deadlines) but write several times a week. On workdays, I write for about 3 to 4 hours before heading out for the day. I sometimes write more on weekends, 5-6 hours, but when I am in the "writing zone" or away at a residency or up in the Catskills for the weekend, I can write from 6 a.m. until about 6 p.m. (with breaks to eat and stretch), then I'm done for the day.

Q: In addition to honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino writers looking to land a book deal?

A: I think Latino writers should connect with other writers, Latino and non-Latino. By connecting, I mean attend readings, join or form writers groups, but essentially develop a supportive community. Also, attend writing conferences and festivals where you can not only relish in your craft but also meet other writers--if there are editors or agents in attendance, even better.

I have been connecting with a group of queer Latino writers. We're developing a support network to share information and experiences with getting published, planning book tours, connecting to Latino and/or LGBT studies departments across the nation and sharing many other resources. We don't have an official name but I've proposed we call ourselves The Lorcas, since Lorca was a poet, writer, playwright, and gay. Some accounts of his death state that his killers made remarks about his sexual orientation, suggesting that it played a role in his death. So, we are in a sense Lorca's revenge. But it really is about forming a supportive community for the development of our writing and a network for our advancement as writers.

Excerpted from Latinidad?« ?® 2003 by Marcela Landres

About Marcela Landres:
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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