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.