Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Writing Life by Bob Sanchez, Guest Blogger

My guest today is Bob Sanchez, a most congenial writer I met through Dani Greer's online blog book tour class. When I hollered for Help because I couldn't figure out how to get Blogger links to open in a new window, Bob was the first one to respond. I don't know if I ever properly thanked him. Just in case...Thanks, Bob!

In addition to being a writer, blogger, and helper to newbie's in distress, Bob is also a web master and reviewer for Internet Review of Books. He is visiting with us today to describe his own path to publication:


My Writing Life by Bob Sanchez

Back in the 1980s my family and I came to know a family of Cambodian refugees very well. They were among the first of thousands of Cambodians to settle in Lowell, Massachusetts, and I wanted to write about them—in particular, what happens when two sharply different cultures meet. That project quickly turned from non-fiction into my first attempt at a novel. Ultimately it was lame, because it required so much knowledge of Cambodia that I couldn’t get from books or interviews, and I was unwilling to go to Cambodia to do research. Oh yes, and I didn’t know how to write.

But that project changed my life just as much as did my career change into technical writing. I attended several fiction workshops and read books on the craft. Just as importantly, I joined a writers’ group and stayed with it for about 17 years. Those wonderful people, some who were published and some who were not, taught me about writing, persistence, rejection, and acceptance. Many weeks when I might otherwise have felt discouraged, I’d sit down and write six more pages to have something to read at “group.” Their suggestions frequently turned into grist for entirely new scenes or more-layered characters.

Over the years, I signed with three agents for various novels, mostly mysteries. Alas, none sold. One small publisher called me to say he wanted to publish one of my novels, but he went out of business instead. Through it all, my writers’ group not only kept me from giving up, but they helped me re-focus. My work had tended to be serious, but often I found it hard to resist injecting humor somewhere. While it didn’t always fit, my friends’ reactions encouraged me to lean more and more toward the wacky and unserious. Once I’d written thirty pages of a serious mystery, became stumped, then put it aside. Years later, I started over with a different tack. The concept of a friend’s ashes arriving by FedEx at the hero’s door became the basis for When Pigs Fly, easily my lightest novel ever.

My life in the last few years can be an object lesson to serious writers, perhaps because I moved two thousand miles from my crutch—er, writers’ group. The non-family part of my life still revolves around writing (I’m retired, by the way), but I haven’t maintained the focus needed to finish a novel. So I’m critiquing, proofreading, producing chapbooks, writing and editing book reviews, and maintaining a website, my eyes constantly flitting from one short project to the next. That’s not a complaint, because it’s what I want to be doing—but if you want to write a novel you’ll do well to wear blinders and simply get the job done.

I also learned one of the non-monetary satisfactions of writing. A few years ago, a woman emailed me to say that when her mom died, the woman read When Pigs Fly to her father to console him. They sat together and laughed.


Thanks, Bob, for sharing with us today. I've been amazed at the number of non-writing jobs that come our way once we jump into writer world, and the enormous bite they take out of our writing time. A pair of blinders (and a set of ear plugs) sounds like a great idea.

For more information about Bob and his works and travels, follow his blog. There you'll find a fun mix of travel adventures, publishing and self-publishing experiences, interviews and book reviews. He is on Twitter as @Desertwriter.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree - there's a lot of distractions and other opportunities when trying to write a novel.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patricia - Thanks for hosting Bob.

Bob - Thanks for this advice. I think my favorite is, "wear blinders and get the job done." Writing a novel really does require a lot of focus...

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks again, Bob, for being here today. I have a lot of trouble focusing, even with an ongoing writers' group. Too many interests, I guess. Sometimes I wish I had the one-track mind of a dedicated athlete or dancer or, well, prolific writer.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Thank you Patricia for hosting Bob.

And Bob, sage advice all of it may be, but the one line that leapt out for me was the one about the two sitting together and laughing. Anyone who can make another laugh more than earns their place in the world!

Mary said...

Hadn't thought of blinders but I've got a large closet with a light that is hanging a Welcome sign.
Focus is most difficult for me.
Thanks to Bob for the advice and Patricia for inviting him.

Holly Jahangiri said...

I'll have to revisit the idea of joining a writing group. I just need to find the RIGHT group.

I wonder which works best for a fiction writer: a writing career, like technical writing, or a non-writing career, something more physical? Sometimes, after a long day at work, I'm not really in the mood to write more - and my brain's still stuck in the non-fiction world. Did you ever wonder, Bob, why so many technical writers don't seem to want to write ANYTHING outside of the job? Some days, that's just unfathomable - other days, I totally get it.

KK Brees said...

My computer faces the wall. Not blinders, but I have to turn around to gaze out the window. So I bought a swivel chair. Sigh.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks Patricia for this weeks. guest

Bob I found this so interesting and was so enjoyable to read, Laughter is an essential part of life, thanks for being such a wonderful guest.


Bob Sanchez said...

Thanks for all the comments. If I'm a little slow in replying, it's because my wife and I are traveling in an RV for a couple of days--talk about distractions. But we writers have to get out and see the world to collect all that grist, don't we?

Holly, when I was a tech writer I learned that first and foremost you wrote for the company, using their standards. The first few years, I felt hogtied by rules, and that spurred me to write fiction. In a fiction-writing workshop I said I was there because while I knew the rules of writing, I wanted to be free to disregard them when I felt like it. The workshop facilitator said something like, "not in my workshop you won't." You really need to judge when the rules work for you and when they don't.

Helen Ginger said...

So many things can pull us away from things we want to do. I think sometimes that things pull me away too easily and perhaps that means I'm letting them interfere.

I love the story about the woman who read your book to her father!


Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. I really enjoyed your interview, and your attitude to distractions.

Patricia Stoltey said...

As you know, Bob will check in when he can since he's on the road.

As for me, I'm shutting down my computer now to go finish my packing, and I won't be back until Sunday afternoon. I have a blog post that hopefully publishes tomorrow morning to tell you what exciting posts will be here Sunday and Monday. I hope you have a great weekend.

Bob Sanchez said...

Have a good trip, Pat, and thanks so much for inviting me to post.

One more thought: My pay was good when I was a tech writer; the work was fine, but I can't say I loved it. Then once I sold a short story for $40 and was thrilled. Since then, writing has been a source of great pleasure despite earning the occasional pittance. So I'd like to posit what can be called "Bob's Hypothesis": The more satisfying the writing, the lower the pay.

What do you think? Is there anything to it?

Name: Luana Krause said...

Bob: I enjoyed reading about your journey. You're an inspiration. And I have to agree with your hypothesis. Although for financially successful writers like Stephen King, etc. I'm pretty sure they would write whether they got paid or not. I'm a King fan and from what I've read, he loves to write and loves to read.

Cricket McRae said...

Thanks for hosting Bob today, Pat. Bob, your story of persistence and learning is an inspiration! I, too, moved away from my critique group -- and now we meet on Skype once a week.
Hearth Cricket

Clarissa Draper said...

It's difficult to stay focused. I get opportunities all the time and I hate turning them down but I do want my books to be written.