This interview originally appeared at Rogue’s Angels
I don’t know who or what inspired me to write. I was a voracious reader as a little kid and loved westerns. I was eight or nine when I wrote my first novel, a western called David Patterson, El Temerario. I wrote it by hand, and an uncle typed it for me. I remember thinking in my ignorant youth that I could write better than many Western authors, which motivated me to write the novel. My favorite western authors were Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L’Amour. I still have all of Max Brand’s books.
2. How did you come up with your idea for THE WALL?
I owe this novel idea to my students. During the past fourteen years, I have taught English to thousands of students from all over the world. They shared their usually happy, sometimes sad, but always poignant and courageous stories of coming to America. Over the years of listening to their stories, I felt the need to write a meaningful but entertaining novel that would address controversial immigration problems in our country but wouldn’t preach. THE WALL is that novel, and many of the most dramatic episodes described in the book happened.
3. What expertise did you bring to your writing?
I’m an immigrant myself, which helped me identify with the characters when writing this book. I was a penniless nineteen-year-old non-English speaker when I arrived in America, clutching my immigration papers. While that happened a long time ago, I have never forgotten those early memories. Since then, I have achieved the following: earned three college degrees, including one in English Literature; traveled worldwide to more than thirty countries, including those described in THE WALL; lived in six different countries; learned four languages, including those spoken in the book; written ten previous successful novels; won six literary awards; and continued to improve my craft as a writer. I believe all these things, plus a few others I left out, gave me enough expertise to write this book.
4. What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?
I’m a cowboy at heart. I love the cowboy ideal, whether real or not—honesty, loyalty, and courage. In my teens, I dreamed of running away to Canada and becoming a cowboy. Horses are my favorite animals. I spent years competing in equestrian events, jumped obstacles taller than Michael Jordan, rode racing camels in the Arabian desert–and broke a few bones. But what a thrill!
5. If you could be one of the characters from this book, who would it be and why?
Here my answer may shock you or sound arrogant. I don’t wish to be like any of the characters in THE WALL. I am a combination of Thomas and Alex; both of those characters are extensions of my personality. Like Thomas, I’ve been poor to the extent of going hungry at times; like Alex, I’ve been wealthy and married to a royal and hobnobbed around the world with European nobility. Like Thomas, I’m loyal and methodical; like Alex, I’m dauntless and love wine and women and danger. I am like those two characters, only at different times. I have become more like Thomas in my later years, but there’s always Alex peeking in the background, waiting.
6. Can you give us a sneak peek into this book?
Probably the best peek into this book was written by best-selling author Paul Levine when he described THE WALL as “a family saga, a border thriller, and a novel of sizzling suspense.” It’s a novel that will make you feel. It elicits different emotions from people who have read it–some have cried, others have felt fear, and others have experienced joy.
7. Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?
I don’t belong to a critique group, but I have knowledgeable friends I send my books to for comments after finishing them. I shared each chapter of THE WALL as I completed it with a friend captive at home because of the pandemic who made excellent comments. It was the first time I’ve shared a work-in-progress with anyone. I liked it so much that I’m sending her each chapter of my new novel GOLDEN as I finish it.
8. When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?
Two years after I arrived in the United States, my English teacher in college gave the class a writing assignment. To my surprise, he called my name one day and asked me to see him after class. The literary magazine was looking for stories, and he thought I should submit the one I had written. When I declined, he asked my permission to submit it himself. He did, and the story was published. It was the first time I published anything in the United States. When the literary magazine asked for submissions the following year, I submitted another story, and it was also published. After that, I started submitting stories and novels myself.
9. What is the best and worst advice you ever received?
The best writing advice I received, other than to believe in myself, was to allow my characters to tell the story. I thought it was excellent advice. In other words, the best writer is the one who interferes the least with his/her characters. I was surprised, years later, when I discovered that in horseback riding, the same principle applies: the best rider is the one who interferes the least with his/her horse
As for the worst advice, I have a pile of them. My preferred worst advice happened in college and was offered to me by an aspiring poet who wrote beautiful poetry that said nothing. I have used his words for motivation all my life. He said I would never be a good writer because English wasn’t my native language. I don’t know what happened to him, but I thank him for his motivational words every day.
10. Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I used to plot my books meticulously, but I found that an exciting part of writing is to let your characters take you to places you didn’t expect. Writing scenes where I knew exactly what my characters were going to do wasn’t much fun. I don’t plot so meticulously anymore. Instead, I develop a general idea in my head, and I know where I want to end the book, but I allow my characters to surprise me and dictate the journey.
11. How do you maintain your creativity?
I have no idea how I maintain my creativity. I’m always full of ideas. I’m writing one book, and I’m already thinking of my next one. So, I’ve been lucky with that aspect of my writing.
12. Who is your favorite character in the book? Can you tell us why?
My favorite character in the book is Nancy, the four-year-old daughter of Domingo and Blanca. In THE WALL, Nancy symbolizes hope and love and innocence and redemption. She is the character who ties the entire book together and where all the storylines converge. Nancy is like that red dot hidden in paintings that you never notice but makes you react and assimilate the entire picture.