Today, I'm very happy to have Raul Ramos y Sanchez visiting us as part of his blog tour.
Cuban-born Raul Ramos y Sanchez began writing AMERICA LIBRE in 2004, with the input of scholars from Latin America, Spain, and the United States. Besides developing a documentary for public television, Two Americas: The Legacy of our Hemisphere, he is host of MyIimmigrationStory.com — an online forum for the U.S. immigrant community. The sequel to America Libre, El Nuevo Alamo, is slated for release in 2010.
I'm excited to get the interview started, so here goes:
Julia: Most of my readers are ladies, so I’m going to ask you some of the more emotional questions to get to know the real person behind the author. But I know you can handle it.
First, Manolo is a highly passionate man. Do you consider yourself like Manolo in this aspect? What are you passionate about?
Raul: I based Mano’s character on one of my uncles named Evelio. In fact, Mano’s last name “Suarez” came from the Santos Suarez district of Havana where my uncle lived. Like Mano, Evelio was drawn into the Cuban revolution by a misplaced sense of injustice. My uncle risked his life to bring Castro into power—and I suspect he eventually regretted it. (Because of our political differences, my mother and I have had no contact with our Cuban relatives since 1961.) Anyway, I only knew Evelio as child and to me he seemed very cold and distant. Years later, I learned from my mother that her brother Evelio had written passionate, romantic poems to his wife-to-be and was very sentimental. I never forgot that. Quiet people often mask very passionate feelings. As for me, my passions are much more evident. I’m very proud of my heritage but feel the Hispanic identity is grossly misunderstood. I wrote AMERICA LIBRE in large part to broaden public perspectives on what it really means to be a Latino.
Julia: You were Cuban born, but raised in America. Did this create any identity issues for you growing up or were you pretty secure about who you were? How did the way you saw yourself play into the type of writer you became?
Raul: I think my upbringing was fundamental to the point-of-view I bring to AMERICA LIBRE. I lived in Cuba until I was seven when my mother divorced my father after he became a partisan in Castro’s revolution. My mother and I eventually wound up in Miami where we preceded the huge Cuban exile influx by several years. At that time, our neighborhood was mix of Anglos, Puerto Ricans and other Cubans. Later, Miami would become a patchwork of ethnically-segregated districts. My high school in Miami was one of the first in the South to end Jim Crow segregation. Over half the students were African-American. At seventeen, my mother married again and we moved to the U.S. Midwest where I’ve lived ever since. So my path to adulthood brought me into day-to-day contact with a wide diversity of people. Each of those transitions was a lesson in the differences in culture. But they were never difficult for me. On the contrary, my experiences growing up have given me a sense of empathy for all people—and the realization that our cultural insulation is the prime cause of ethnic tensions. As a witness to Cuba’s revolution, I’ve come to understand that in every conflict, each side is convinced they’re doing the right thing. Evil is not what someone believes. It’s the violence they’re willing to commit when they’re convinced they’re right. I tried to make the characters in AMERICA LIBRE reflect this realization.
Julia: And I think you did an awesome job reflecting that, Raul, and you're so right about each side believing they're right. My next question is about relationships. Guys really love action heroes (well, okay women do too for different reasons), but you write relationship scenes as great as you do the action scenes. Do you find writing emotional love scenes any more or less difficult than other scenes?
Raul: The moments that make us feel most alive are usually intense experiences. An action scene and a relationship scene can be equally intense. They just trigger different emotions. I think a big part of being an author is putting yourself into a scene and exploring the emotions it evokes in the characters. That empathy I mentioned earlier is important here too. You must be able to get outside yourself and imagine how someone else might feel, even when that person is very different than you. Once an author has nailed that emotional authenticity, a scene will work whether it’s crash-bang action or an intimate moment.
Julia: What do you like to do for fun when you’re not busy writing action packed, thought-provoking novels?
Raul: To me, “work” is whatever you have to do when you wish you were doing something else. I’m very fortunate in that I love what I do for a living, whether it’s writing fiction or working as creative director at the ad agency I helped found in 1992. So I spend most of my waking hours working. For exercise, I play golf. (I walk instead of ride and carry my own bag.) I won’t call golf relaxation, though. Those who play it will understand exactly what I mean. My wife Kathy and I love to travel. We’re museum junkies and love movies. Oh, yes. At any given time, I’m usually reading about three books at once. I love to jump between novels and non-fiction.
Julia: I can relate to the three books at once. The last question involves no spilling of your guts. Many self-published or small press authors dream of being picked up by the larger NYC publishers, and yet it rarely happens. But you did it! Can you share how it happened?
Raul: I didn’t start out with the idea of self-publishing. After finishing the manuscript for AMERICA LIBRE in 2004, I set out to find an agent or a publisher. After months of mailing query letters, I went to a writers conference in San Diego and had three offers of representation in a single weekend! But finding an agent was only the beginning. She and I worked for nearly a year on the manuscript. After that, I hired a professional editor to polish our efforts. However, the genre-bending nature of AMERICA LIBRE seemed to leave a lot of editors puzzled about where to market it. Was it Latino fiction? Was it an action thriller? So it was my agent who suggested self-publishing. She’d never suggested it to a client before. But with my marketing background she felt I might succeed in garnering enough attention to make the publishers take notice. Turns out her instincts were pretty good. Five months after the release of the self-published edition of AMERICA LIBRE, I had been on 14 radio and TV shows, done three book signings – and had a two book deal from Grand Central Publishing. I’m happy to say that, like you Julia, I am a GCP author. Best of luck with EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB. I wish you continued success!
Julia: What a great success story! I'm thrilled for you, because AMERICA LIBRE is amazing. It doesn't surprise me that GCP saw the potential in you and the book and made an offer. Thank you for stopping by!
Raul will be making a number of appearances in California. If like me, you live out here, stop by and pick up a copy of AMERICA LIBRE, and meet Raul in person.
Sept. 21, 2009 – 7pm
Sept. 24, 2009 – 7pm
Mysterious Galaxy Books
San Diego, CA
Southern California Writers Conference
Los Angeles, CA
Please visit his website http://www.raulramos.com/ for more information.