Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I’m very pleased to welcome fellow Puerto Rican writer, Yadhira Gonzalez, who celebrates a birthday today!
Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor was born in Bronx, New York in 1973 to Puerto Rican parents. She is a graduate of the New York City public school system and also attended elementary school in Caguas, Puerto Rico. She served her country as a Military Police Officer in the US Army Reserve, assigned to the 812th MP Co., 800th MP Brigade in New York State between 1992 and 2000.
She received her B.S., magna cum laude and M.A., in Criminal Justice in 1999 from the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A graduate of New York Law School, she received her J.D. in 2002. Upon graduating law school, Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor served as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County where she prosecuted economic crime cases until 2006. Her career path led to an appointment as an internal prosecutor for the NYC Police Department between 2006 and 2009. Currently, she is an administrative law judge for the NYC Department of Education. An attorney by day and a writer by night, she is inspired to write by her three daughters and her own upbringing, traveling between New York and Puerto Rico. Presently, she is working on more adventures for the Martina series and other literary projects and workshops.
Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor is published in Bronx Memoir Part I as an essay contributor. She is a member of the Full Circle Ensemble and has performed spoken word at the National Black Theater with her writing circle. She is also a contributor to the Anthology, Mujeres, the Magic, the Movement, a poetry collection written by fierce warrior women resulting from a women’s literary workshop facilitated by the poet Peggy Robles-Alvarado. The anthology book launch will be occurring soon and the book will become available within the next few weeks on Amazon.
Please describe what your books are about.
The published books are within the folk / fable family in children’s literature genre. Martina Finds a Shiny Coin is an offshoot of La Cucarachita Martina, an old Caribbean folktale first put to print by New York City’s first Puerto Rican Librarian, Pura Belpre. In the story, a little roach finds a coin and goes on a shopping spree. She ends up buying make up, and what follows is a journey of self-discovery, courtship, randomness, and the meaning of true love.
Once the first story was published, I got an idea to do a spinoff using the same character. In Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, Martina goes on a musical journey with all her friends from the Barrio.
How did you come up with the titles?
Martina Finds a Shiny Coin was inspired by the main character finding the coin. This sets off La Cucarachita on her journey, not only on her shopping trip, but that of her meeting many suitors on the road to discovering her true worth. Hence, Martina Finds a Shiny Coin.
The second title, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, came about because the main concept of the story is the journey to a magical, wondrous waterfall that Martina and all her friends go on.
They’re lovely books. I’m saving my signed copies for future grandchildren 🙂
What inspired you to write children’s books?
As a mother, I was always tasked as the sleep time storyteller. I kept repeating the same fairy tales that were not representative of my own culture, i.e., Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs, etc. One day, my husband asked if I had any stories from Puerto Rico. Immediately I remembered La Cucarachita! The rest is history. We adapted the story with different things and interests for the main character and a new illustrated version of the story emerged.
The second book, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, was inspired by a trip I took with friends to a majestic waterfall in my hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
I tell new writers to write what they’d like to read. Looks like it worked beautifully for you and your children.
Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?
I think my lifelong struggle with weight had a part to play in how I wrote the story. I have struggled with self-esteem, so I know what it’s like to people please or change one’s appearance to satisfy others. For example, I once had a boyfriend who criticized me every time I wore my hair in a bob. He preferred long hair, I guess. So I kept my hair long for a while just to satisfy this relationship, which eventually ended. Probably because I wasn’t being my true self. So in that way, I can relate at an intimate level with the main character. I have grown so much since then.
Today, despite all my professional and personal successes, I still struggle. And who doesn’t? It’s part of being a human being, I think. The difference now is that today, I look at myself in the mirror and I remind myself that I am made by the universe to be alive, to love, to live, to educate, to nurture, and to be of service to my fellow humans. None of those responsibilities are affected by the way I look, unless I let it, so I affirm that I am a human first and everything else is gravy.
Exactly, everyone struggles with one thing or another. When I stopped the people pleasing, a few toxic relationships ended soon afterward, which was a good/sad thing and probably inevitable. Looking back, the experience made me stronger and opened new doors.
What is your favorite part of writing?
My favorite part of writing is having the ability to purge feelings, positive and negative, into an artistic medium. I journal, write poetry, and perform my poems (sometimes), and I write stories. It’s a form of positive escapism. If you are going to have a vice, I would say writing is a healthy one, unless you forget to bathe, then you are running into potential problems if you share space with other humans 🙂
Too funny. I live alone, so I don’t bother anyone with my late night writing sessions, but my Chihuahua complains when I leave the light on.
Yadhira, what do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Procrastination. I can write almost anything. It’s the editing that gets me stuck. I use verbal prompts, images, and writing workshops to crank up the writing. It’s what happens next that I find tedious. However, it is necessary to produce quality work that someone is going to be willing to pay for, or even trek to the library to borrow my book. I believe a writer’s success is measured by the quality of their work. It’s one of those things where word travels and reputations can hurt your ability to market yourself. Especially in the world of self-publishing.
Very true. Most writers I know have unique ways of dealing with procrastination. I show up at the writing desk every day and force myself to write, no matter what. If the writing doesn’t move me that day, I switch to doing research for the book I’m working on or reading, which usually gets me motivated and reinspired. But I remain at the writing desk.
What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?
I am currently reading a few books on writing as I am working on editing a manuscript. This one is not a children’s story. The last book I read for fun was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How could I not like a story written by a genius? I loved it. The sad tragic story of the main character coupled with his undying love for the love for a woman who abandoned him and his undying need to punish himself with self-destructive behavior is a reminder that sometimes we just have to let go; that love is not supposed to hurt.
Definitely one of my favorite books. Marquez was a genius and a masterful storyteller. I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera in Spanish and loving it even more than the English translation.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Isabel Allende is a favorite. I love magic realism and she does it fabulously well in her books.
Another favorite. What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?
I enjoy authors who show their own defects and spiritual struggles in their writing. Isabel Allende is one of those authors. She is unafraid to embrace the dysfunctions and sadness of life and it shines through in her writing.
Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?
Writing, no. I have to adapt as an urban dweller who spends a lot of time outside. So sometimes, I write in a journal and sometimes on my laptop when I have a lunch hour to spare at work. Reading however is a different story.
I have an old winged back chair in a corner, by the large windows at the front of my home. There, I have set up a nice cotton area rug for my feet to be warmed, I’ve placed many of my (70-plus) plants in that area, and I have a space to place my coffee mug. That is where I do my best reading. It is also,where I sit to quietly meditate and read the paper on Sunday mornings.
Looks like a great place to read. I think everyone should have a sacred space in the home.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I once ran after a moving tractor-trailer truck. I was about 20, crazy, and still in the Army. I still had a lot of recklessness in me. The truck hit my mom’s car and kept going, but we were in heavy traffic so the truck wasn’t going that fast. I ran after it, climbed on the step and banged on the window to make the driver stop. Looking back now I realize it wasn’t very good idea.
Wow, the hit and run driver must have been shocked to see you on his truck! Now, I want to know the ending of that story.
Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?
The writing process reminds me of my propensity for procrastination, the writer’s worst enemy. It’s easier for me to create content than it is to edit and re-write. I struggle with that issue. I try to carve out time. However, writing though my passion, is not my full time employment, so I have to squeeze in writing and editing time when I can.
I learned a lot during the self-publishing process. I tried traditional agents and publishing houses, but I was unsuccessful. I had to do all the work myself. I hired illustrators, editors (of all stages), even the guy who produced the trailer for my first book. So I became well versed in the lingo of the industry, which I believe adds to my credibility as a self-published author. Many people out there are discovering createspace or other self-publishing platforms. They are buying ISBNs or using the createspace ISBN, and putting work out there that is not edited by anyone. Oftentimes, the first draft is published and we, self-published authors, have to compete against the presumption that self-published is of a lesser quality than a traditionally published book.
To your last comment, that’s a common complaint among self-published authors. Self-publishing is a lot of work!
What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
Both stories involve a journey of self-discovery. There is also the underlying theme of self-reflection and personal improvement woven within the story. It is never too late to change your perspective. A positive perspective in any situation can lead to positive changes and therefore, genuine happiness.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market your books?
I was blessed to meet so many people because of writing the first book. When I first published Martina Finds a Shiny Coin, I participated in the Brooklyn Book Fair. It was there that I met Maria Aponte, a fellow author, who is very involved in the Latino writing community. She was my shiny coin! After meeting her, I met countless others that shared the same desire to produce quality written content as well as people willing to share resources and information and that is how a natural marketing process began. Today I have so many new friends, including you, Eleanor, whom I have met through my adventurous development as a writer.
Maria is a shiny coin! I was very happy to finally meet you, Maria Aponte, Bobby Gonzalez, Theresa Varela, and Manuel Melendez at the Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Author Book Expo last year. It’s a great Boricua event, and I hope to participate again this year. My son lives in NYC, so it’s looking good.
What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped in the writing or marketing of your books?
I stay away from paying Facebook for ads. I don’t have an exuberant budget and I found that the amount of money I was paying for highlighting my main character’s Facebook posts was not paying a dividend.
I’ve thought about Facebook ads, and heard the same feedback from many authors. I find book blasts, book tours, and Thunderclap campaigns are good ways to introduce new books.
Any advice or tips for writers looking to be published?
Editing is an important part that cannot be skipped or minimized. I am not going to buy any subsequent books you publish if your first one is riddled with errors. Editing, editing, and more editing is the bulk of our writing. Also, don’t go straight to self-publishing. Try the traditional way first. Publishing houses have far more resources than an indie author could ever dream of having. You’ll still have to market yourself as an author, writer, etc., but you will have more support in the background.
I completely agree with you on editing and trying for traditional publishing. I recommend checking out smaller publishing houses; that’s how I got my foot in the publishing door.
Website and social media links?
You can follow me on twitter @gothamesq
Martina has her own Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/martinafindsashinycoin/
And my author page can be found on the net at: www.ygtbooks.net
Where can we find your books?
You can find both titles on Amazon.com and of course, directly from me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I can mail a signed copy right to reader’s doors, or to their gift recipient’s door.
What’s next for you?
I am attending workshops to hone my craft as well as writing and reading as much as I can. I am hoping to finish editing a manuscript and will begin the process of finding agents to represent me in that endeavor.
I just love this photograph of you! This is the happiest way to end a great interview. Best of luck on your writing journey, Yadhira. I look forward to the release of the anthology.
Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.