My literary education has been primarily self-taught. I never took a writing class or workshop (unless you count a creative writing class I took in high school, which I don’t) nor do I have an MFA or even applied to the program. I’ve learned what I have learned up to this point through reading and advice and recommendations from others. There were two writers in particular that pushed me towards wanting to write a novel: Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. I always loved these two writers and count them as two of my major early influences. Reading them lead to others, and those lead to others, and so on and so on. My reading, in essence, was trial by error, picking up books from writers that other writers mentioned and admired. I imagine a lot of writers have done just this. I didn’t get my recommendations from professors or writing instructors, so it’s not that much of a surprise that some of what is “essential reading” for writers, I’ve never read or just haven’t gotten around to yet (although I intend to correct this at some point.) The point is, whether it be reading writers other writers admired or simple “trial and error” while spending time at The Strand or any other bookstore around New York, that’s how I came to all this and in a way, I like it. It was exactly how I came to discover my favorite musicians over my lifetime. So I do not come from the typical literary background that most writers who have aspired to do this since birth normally come from. I’m learning as I go. I have my thoughts and opinions on literary matters (such as they are) but I do not claim to be an expert. There is still a hell of a lot I don’t know and in a way, that’s what makes it all very exciting and inspiring to me. You just never know what’s around the corner or behind any new door that presents itself to you along the journey.
My starting point was 20th century literature, George Orwell being a very early favorite, then came Milan Kundera, Tadeusz Konwicki and Kurt Vonnegut. But it was the Beat writers that really opened it all up to me. The Beats and the Moderns. There was something about these books that really spoke to me in a way the “classics” did not. I’ve read some of the classics, of course, and enjoyed many of them but they didn’t resonate with me in the same way Kerouac and Miller did, or Céline, or Hemingway, or Cortázar. The Moderns, the Post-Moderns, these were the authors I gravitated towards, both novelists and poets. I can’t really explain why but the works from these authors really spoke to me and the best thing is that there were and are others who I’ve yet to discover. Each year I come across more of these wonderful books and authors who I find incredibly inspiring and educational. If I had to give an answer as to why they did, it was because they were writers willing to do something different, who bucked convention and did things their own way, the way they wanted. Not that their work wasn’t grounded in the classics (most, if not all of them, were) but whatever was there was pushed far in the background and what you had was something unique, something daring or at the very least, interesting. At least to me.
So I suppose it would come as no surprise that my first attempt at a novel would be to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading. That novel (“November Rust”) took me 7 years to complete and in the end I didn’t quite know what it was I had there. To make a long story short, I basically shelved the thing for a couple of years before deciding to release it in early 2007. In the meantime, I had begun another novel, mainly to see if I had another in me, and that one, too, (“Nadería”) took about the same length of time to write and that was because at that point, I was struggling with the idea of what kind of writer I wanted to be. For most of the last decade I struggled with this and I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to step back and reassess what I was trying to do. What was my goal? What did I want to achieve? What was truly in my heart? “Nadería” was the novel that answered that question for me and once I figured it out, I was able to complete it.
All of the above is in reaction to a lot of internet browsing the past year or so, surfing many writer’s sites, blogs, forums, etc and the one thing I noticed above all else is that everyone has an opinion on literature and literary matters and each and every one of them is different. Some will insist that their view is the correct one that everyone must follow, while others take the exact opposite view, insisting their view is the correct way to go. For any writer who is learning - or even those who are just beginning - it can be a very overwhelming endeavor. Just what is the “correct” way to go about it?
Well, after years of soul searching and reading and trying to learn, I’ve come to the conclusion that one must simply go with what’s in them. Keep open minded, of course, and learn as much as you can but ultimately whatever vision you have, whatever goal you want to achieve, set your sights on it and get down to it. I had my own creative epiphany about two years ago when I decided to take a step back and reassess what it was I was trying to do and since then I’ve been able to unclog the drain so to speak and I’ve been able to write more, experiment with different ideas and actually enjoy it, rather than feeling I was knocking my head against the wall each time I sat down to write. In the end, it all depends on what your goals are and for me, personally, it’s trying to find the middle ground between writing something interesting while at the same time trying to get whatever ideas I want to get across in an entertaining way - to write a story that will make people think about it for a while without being “too heavy” about it. I want what I do to be as good as my abilities allow me to be, with always an eye looking towards expanding and improving with each new project. I’m not trying to be the next David Foster Wallace. I’m trying to be myself - for better or for worse.
There’s a lot out there about all matters literary - to what’s great about it to what’s wrong with it all and there’s no dearth of opinions on the matter and the differing camps aren’t in short supply, that’s for sure. It does interest me to read about it all but in the end it just gives me a headache - especially when writers begin sniping at one another, trying to ignite literary feuds and all the rest of it. None of that interests me nor do I want any part of that. I simply don’t care. Each writer is someone different (that is if they are actually being true to themselves and not just aping what’s “popular” or catering to a certain sensibility.) Yes, there are better writers than others. That’s no surprise. There’s always someone better than you and always someone you’re better than (rendering the concept of “best” sort of irrelevant if you ask me) and we all have differing opinions on what’s worth reading and what isn’t. In other words there’s a hell of a lot of noise out there and from my point of view the best thing to do is ignore the noise and keep focused on what you are trying to accomplish. Some will come along, others will not. But those that do come along, it makes it all even more worthwhile knowing that you connected to them in some way, that what you created resonated, had an effect, and that only enhances the creative fulfillment which makes us do this in the first place.
Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”