Welcome to our Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I am very pleased to welcome Manuel A. Meléndez.
Manuel A. Meléndez is a Puerto Rican writer, who was born on the island and raised in East Harlem, N.Y. He is the author of two mystery/supernatural novels, WHEN ANGELS FALL, and BATTLE FOR A SOUL, five poetry books, OBSERVATIONS THROUGH POETRY, VOICES FROM MY SOUL, THE BEAUTY AFTER THE STORM, MEDITATING WITH POETRY, and SEARCHING FOR MYSELF. Two collection of Christmas short stories, NEW YORK CHRISTMAS TALES, VOL. I and II, and IN THE SHADOWS OF NEW YORK: TWO NOVELETTES. The novel WHEN ANGELS FALL, was voted by The LatinoAuthors.com as the Best Novel of 2013, while BATTLE FOR A SOUL was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards for Mystery Novels. His short story A KILLER AMONG US was published by Akashi Books in SAN JUAN NOIR anthology.
Which book are we chatting about today, and what is the genre?
The book I would like to talk about is a collection of supernatural/mystery short stories I’m currently working on called “Wicked Remains”. The supernatural genre is one of my favorite genres not only to write, but to read, as well.
Please describe what “Wicked Remains” is about.
The collection is an assortment of tales, from the typical old fashioned werewolf and vampires stories, to the demons who invade your dreams, turning them into nightmares. And then, to the twisted, criminally insane killers.
Thanks for sending the illustration by Henry Simon, which will appear in your short story collection.
How did you come up with the title?
I played with many different angles to come up with a title I felt was able to capture the many themes of the book and its eclectic collection of stories. “Wicked Remnants” is what haunts you after the nightmare.
Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?
Yes, many of my characters have some of my DNA twisted somewhere in their personalities. You can’t help it. I’m sure many writers use their own experiences, pain, laughter, and tears to blend into their fictional creations.
So true; it’s hard for most writers to not weave something personal into their character or story. What inspired you to write this collection?
Even though the majority of my writing involves poetry and novels, short stories have always been the format I’m most drawn to. The challenge of creating rich tales complete with conflicts has always fascinated me. I believe to quickly deliver the full arc of the story to the reader makes you a better novelist…and poet, as well.
I agree with you. What is your favorite part of writing?
Taking a deep breath, having an idea that will launch a story and give it flight, and then allowing the voices to take over your creativity. Then just let it flow. Forget the basic concepts of grammar, spelling, run-on sentences—just write and write non-stop. Those voices are not going to stop because you want to refer to your reference books…that comes later. At the beginning it is all freestyle. It’s like a street fight with no rules or referee!
That’s a great description! I research my book idea for a few months, write furiously for six months, and then the rewrites and deeper research begin, which can take up to two years. The first few months are very exciting.
What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Coming up with something new, something that has never been done or written about. Which seems impossible, but creatively makes you dig deeper, or soar higher, it’s there you just have to find it or expose it.
What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?
Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes”, the first of a trilogy. I’m a big Stephen King’s fan, and the interesting thing about this book is that it is unlike most of his books, which are supernatural. This one is strictly a detective story with a team of three very diverse characters. Very enjoyable, not one of his best, but still a good read.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Too many to put on paper, but obviously Edgar Allan Poe must lead the parade. Followed by Stephen King, Piri Thomas, Pete Hamill, James Clavell, Frank Herbert, Vicente Blasco Ibañez, to name a few.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?
Edgar Allan Poe for introducing to me the short story format. Stephen King for teaching me how to developedbelievable characters, and Piri Thomas for allowing me to dream at the age of 13 that Puerto Ricans from El Barrio could be writers, as well.
Puerto Rican writer Esmeralda Santiago inspired me to try my hand at writing after I read the now-classic memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican”. Like you, I love Stephen King’s book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”.
Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?
Any place I get inspired, but my favorite places are the subway trains, parks, and a place that I discovered to be a beacon to my creativity, underneath the elevated tracks of the subway line in my neighborhood. I need the chaos and noises of the city. If you put me in a quiet place, like up in the country, my voices refused to speak!
I find it so interesting where people write and find inspiration. I need total silence in the country for my voices to be heard.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Two of my favorite things are drawing/painting and cooking. The activities allow me to relax and think about the plots or characters I’m working on, and it’s a form of meditation.
Very true. Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?
Writing can be very liberated. Through my writing, I have an outlet for my emotions; regardless if they are happy, sad, angry, or even mean-spirited. The publishing process is too much of a business that I’d rather not get involved in, but it’s also part of the game. I need to work a bit more on the publishing process. One thing for sure, do your research before signing anything, and especially do your work before agreeing with promises, that may be broken and not fulfilled.
What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
To be entertained. To be moved, to be afraid, and sometimes to be informed about things they never knew. Lessons may be learned through stories.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?
The writing part is actually the easiest. Somehow the plots, characters and situations come pretty easy and are extremely rewarding. The marketing aspect is what I need to work on, especially being a shy person who’d rather let his words on paper be his voice.
What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?
Well, it’s not so much what didn’t work, but more of what I need to do to make it work, and that’s to be more involved and let people know I’m here with a lot of stories and poems to share.
Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
First work on that story, and don’t be lazy. Revise that book as much as it needs to be revised. Get an excellent editor, not a friend, but a real editor, who is not afraid to tell you what works on the story and what doesn’t. If you write 400 pages, don’t be afraid to cut down as many pages as you need to cut. Don’t fall in love with a whole paragraph or even a sentence, or a character because if it doesn’t move the story, but rather slows it down, you need to delete it. After your book went through every cycle, and it’s the best thing you have written, then it’s time get it out there.
Website and social media links?
Manuel A. Melendez’s Books on Facebook
Where can we find your book, Manuel?
Amazon.com, or feel free to contact me if you’d like an autographed copy.
What’s next for you?
For the second time, I’m doing the 30-30 Poetry challenge.
I’m also working on two novels, one is a supernatural tale and the other one a more crime/human drama. And, I have two other stories, which I wrote about 20 years ago that must be revisited.
Thanks for chatting with me today, Manuel. I wish you continued success with your writing!
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. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.
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. Eleanor’s adult children are out in the world doing amazing things.