Javier has caught not only my attention, but that of many of my best author friends who have all written glowing reports of both his wonderfully sensitive writing and the intriguing, genuine character of the man.
JVB: Welcome, Javier! I certainly look forward to the day I can say, “I knew him when! I even had a conversation with him!” I’d like to begin with this. Since your writing is so intimately insightful and personal, I have to wonder how much of you and your life experience infuse one of your stories or novels?
JAR: So much for the warm up questions, lol. The majority of situations that my readers will find on the page are things I lived directly or indirectly. The Gaze is infused with a good forty percent of my own life. A lot of it has distinct parallels to my life since I came to the US.
JVB: I have a feeling I know the answer to this: Who are your heroes?
JAR: Mom and Dad. Most courageous people I’ve ever known. They both gave up so much for my sister and me to have a chance at climbing a few rungs in this Land of Opportunity. I’m not sure I could have made those same sacrifices, although I’m faced with a similar situation now, but I’m not facing those same challenges they faced head on. I have a lot of advantages, the main one being that I speak English now. When we first came to the US we might have known ten words between all four of us.
JVB: You are so lucky to still have your parents in your life. They sound like wonderful people! Now, will you tell us about your books in as much detail as you want and also the inspiration for them?
JAR: The Gaze, was almost more demanded than inspired. The story centers around a placemat this kid used to write the pain of his heartbreak over a girl he loved. Samantha, the main character, is so affected by the writing on the placemat that it becomes an anchor, a grounding point as she struggles through her life and her choices. The placemat actually exists. I wrote it while nursing a broken heart after leaving Sheri behind while I tried to put myself together. I left it at the diner and this girl found it and kept it. Some 12 years later, thanks to Facebook, she contacted me. At the time, Kaycee was working as an editor in New York City. She urged me to write, but I didn’t feel I had the time or the skill. She became friends with my wife and kept in touch even after moving to London. For six months, she kept after me to write a story. Finally, to sort of shut her up, I wrote a prologue, which I hated because it was written in third person. I changed it to first person, male perspective and she didn’t particularly love it. Hoping to once and for all end this nonsense about me writing a novel, I wrote the prologue from a girl’s point of view. When I polished it and went back to read it, I suddenly saw potential and in a way, I wanted to know what would happen with this girl. I never stopped writing until it was done some ten months later.
I found that there was so much I wanted to write and Samantha allowed me to infuse the story with different elements. I set out to write a romance, but little by little it became so much more. I didn’t have an outline so I was free to add anything I wanted. There are several historical components within Gaze and they weaved so well that it surprised my advance readers.
My goal was to make this novel rich with emotion, yet balanced enough to keep a reader interested. I wanted the emotions of each character to be the driving force behind the story.
It was a joy to write Gaze, something I’ll never forget.
JVB: You have said that finding a proper cover for The Gaze was somewhat an involved process. Can you tell us how that began and progressed?
JAR: It all started with the title. I was writing the very last pages of a novel without a title. It had to be something that jumped out at me. When it did, it seemed a little obvious to choose a physical depiction of a gaze, so it had to be unique.
When I met my Sheri, it took some time to get past her eyes. Back when we started dating, she came to visit me at school. I had to finish a paper and she sat on the couch, patiently waiting for me to get done. At one point, I looked at her and she gave me this look… I knew I was in love with her. I knew that’s the look I wanted on the cover, that particular gaze.
I followed her around, camera in hand, trying to make her look at me like that again. There were at least fifty shots of her face, from smiling pleasantly to royally annoyed glares and everything in between. We finally agreed on the shot then it was a question of how to use it. The final product came out when my graphic designer (Dad) filtered the shot in black and white and lettered it for the Kindle cover. It looked like a real book then.
After correcting Gaze for the final time, I matched the Kindle cover to the print, and I’m so happy with the results. Sheri is still a little bashful about it. She’s even gotten the opportunity to autograph a few copies because they found the cover so alluring. By the way, they only asked for her autograph.
JVB: That’s funny! How do you manage to find balance with family life, your own reading and pursuits, etc.? Do you, like many of us, get flack from family for spending too much time writing?
JAR: Are you kidding? My daughters would often come into the computer room just to roll their eyes, shake their heads sadly, and utter little comments like “you’re writing again?” In the beginning, I was even accused of letting the family ties vanish.
From then on, I always asked what the plans were and I left the computer to play with the girls. I did a lot of writing at work. There were many times when the steel mill shut down and I’d use those precious hours to write Gaze. I’ve never been a big sleeper, so as soon as everyone went to bed, I’d write into the morning. It was the only way. I think it all became much more demanding after writing the novel. The tweeting, the promoting, the blogging, seemed to take much more time than writing the novel, but it’s necessary. By then, Sheri and the girls understood and were great about giving me the time to do it. Let’s just say I learned a lot about using my Smartphone.
JVB: What goes into developing and naming your amazing characters, Javier?
JAR: Naming a character is a huge responsibility, but in this case, the name Samantha was an easy choice. I wanted to name my daughter Samantha. The name is just so poetic. I’ve always loved it, but despite my heavy campaigning for it, Sheri shut me down twice. She didn’t want people calling her daughter “Sam”. She said it made her think of a bold man with a mustache. When I wrote the prologue from a girl’s point of view, I knew right away Samantha would be her name.
Of course, I had to come up with middle names and surnames, and that proved much more difficult than I thought.
I believe names carry a personality, otherwise people wouldn’t say things like, “He doesn’t look like a Charlie...”
I based my characters on mixtures of real people’s traits, and the names slowly floated to the surface. Once I had a name and a face, the personalities created themselves and at one point, it was these characters telling me what to write, much more than me manipulating the prose. I was their instrument.
JVB: What authors have impressed you over the years and have had an influence on your writing and outlook?
JAR: Dean Koontz and Tami Hoag fascinated me. Greg Isle blows my mind. They create characters with heart and as a reader, you can’t not connect with them. As I was writing Gaze, I came across John W. Huffman and later on the one and only Bert Carson. Talk about authors who write from the heart! I still think of their characters, long after reading their books. I wanted that. I wanted to create characters that would stay in the mind of a reader even when the story itself began to fade in their mind.
JVB: I agree about Bert. His books are absolutely soulful and wonderful! Speaking of characters, have you ever made a character out of someone close to you?
JAR: My Fiction professor was a huge believer in writing what you know, and who you know. Part of being a writer involves the subtle study of the people around us, so of course I’ve based many of my characters on people that have touched my life somehow. In The Gaze, it’s pretty easy to connect the dots. I loosely modeled Tony Amaya after myself, though he is much, much cooler. It doesn’t get closer than that.
JVB: In writing stories or novels, do you endow your work with a moral underpinning or do you let other authors tend to the teaching and preaching?
I’ve been floored at the way readers have connected with the novel, claiming they’ve learned something valuable from Samantha’s struggles, from Lewis’s friendship, from Gwen’s strength, and others.
Most notable, a 17 year old girl sent me a message that said: “You’ve changed my life and I’m going to be a better person because of it.” I know if I had set out to teach something, it would’ve never happened that way. I think it’s presumptuous to attempt to make our readers see something specific in our work. Our life experience has a lot to do with how we absorb a story and what we draw from it. I let my characters tell their story, and I will happily let readers take from it anything they want. It’s still so surreal to know that my novel impacted someone so deeply. It’s incredibly humbling.
JVB: It is humbling, indeed. What a great experience for you! Is accessibility something you strive for in writing? Or is it more fun to challenge the reader?
JAR: Are you sure you’re not a full-fledged Literature professor? Wow! I’ll say that if I was writing a non-fiction book, I’d make it a point to make the work accessible by keeping it fairly straight forward. If I was writing poetry, I’d love to challenge the reader to look for the real meaning between the verses. But in writing a novel, you invite readers to lose themselves into someone else’s story. You provide them with a little escape into the lives of other people, so it’s your duty to keep them engaged, not just mentally, but emotionally. Some of the best books make everything disappear around you and you don’t even hear the phone! The story is so consuming that for those precious hours, you forget about your own stresses. I may challenge my readers, but always careful never to insult them either. Readers are very smart people and they know quickly whether your writing deserves their attention.
JVB: Absolutely true, Javier! Where do you get your ideas for a piece? Do they strike like a thief in the night or work their way slowly into your thoughts over a period of time?
JAR: Not too long ago, I was adding chemicals to our pool when a line formed in my head. “Small towns are cradles of secrets…” By the time I ran into the house to write it down, I had a new idea for a story.
My dad was worried I totally emptied the tank after writing Gaze. When I told him my ideas for a possible nine novels, I made him feel much better.
JVB: Nine novels? Astounding!! So, walk us through a typical writing day in Javier’s world.
JAR: I have to be in that mood. It usually happens in the wee hours of the morning when everything is quiet. Starting a novel is my favorite part, but if I’m adding to a work in progress, I’ll read the last two chapters I wrote to put myself back into the minds of my characters and pick up where I left off. If I run into a block, I’ll switch manuscripts and add to that one. Currently, I’m working on four different scripts. My Two Flags is nearing completion, so I try to concentrate on that one more.
JVB: Do you have any hobbies or fanatical pursuits outside of writing?
JAR: My Sheri would say the NFL and the NHL, and she wouldn’t be wrong, but she wouldn’t be quite right either. I love shooting. I won’t go fanatical enough to buy every gun every made, but I love taking a Remington 700 to the range and clearing my mind in order to make that elusive 400 yard bull’s eye. I love working on cars too, but only if time and money allow.
JVB: What advice would you give to new authors just starting out? What mistakes have you made that they could avoid?
JAR: Be patient and trust your instincts. I could have avoided so many embarrassing pitfalls if I’d been just a little more patient. I think I’ve made all the mistakes. I initially picked a poor cover design, I submitted a file that was ridden with flaws, I used two different trim sizes, I didn’t have a clue as to what entailed the promoting of a novel. I had no Twitter account, no blog, no website, nothing! I had to learn so much in so little time.
You wouldn’t believe the difference in the experience between releasing The Gaze versus releasing The Next Chapter. Night and day!
Above all, go to extremes to ensure that you are putting out a high quality product. Spend some time in creating the cover. It’s the first thing a potential reader judges. Make your blurb attractive, but don’t offer more than what your story delivers.
Help promote other authors and don’t shake someone’s hand as you shove your book in their face with the other. Be patient. As my professor often said, “If your work is good, it will float. But if your work stinks, it will sink.”
Lastly, the best advice I was given, encompasses every aspect of the writing experience. Respect your readers. It really says it all.
JVB: And I can tell that you do that. That’s the key to success! It’s been so exciting to be able to grill you, Javier! I thank you very much for taking valuable time to give us a peek into your mind…it’s been a distinct pleasure. So here’s an opportunity for you to say anything about yourself or your work that you wish, impart whatever wisdom you think would be useful, or send your personal message to the world. Don’t hold back!
JAR: First off, your poetry is absolutely captivating, Jo. I could never in a million years write like that.
I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity. I had the best time racking my brains to answer your excellent questions!
Like many authors out there, I set out to offer something worth reading and it’s my sincere hope to see a lot of people take a chance on my stories. I have more than a few readers that will say no one will be disappointed.
JVB: Thanks so much, Javier! And thank you, lovely reader, for faithfully reading along and supporting this blog. I hope that you will keep an eye on Javier and his writing career and I’m sure that you join me in putting your arms around this wonderful family as they move to Connecticut and go through some uncertain times. Haven’t we all been there? Yeah, baby! We’re with you all the way, Javier. Wishing you tons of success and safe journeys always…
Here are a few links to where you can find Javier and his writing:
The Gaze on Amazon
The Next Chapter, a sequel to The Gaze, on Amazon
Out of the Mind of Javier A. Robayo
Letters to my Daughters