Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed L. Santiago Calero about his writing and his soon-to-be released novel, A Hell Uncertain, a gripping exploration of friendship, dreams, aspirations, and finding oneself. (Read the review here.)
L. Santiago Calero was born of Puerto Rican (Boricua) parents and raised in New York City, but has lived in the Southeastern United States for several decades. While embarking on his career as a writer, he enjoyed a distinguished health care career.
He studied Molecular Biology and English at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where he received his B.A. degree.
After studying the novel for fifteen years and because of his love for the creative arts and humanities, he pursued additional postgraduate education in these areas, beginning in 2005. He went on to earn an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.F.A. in Digital Cinema. He also earned an M.Phil. in English and Comparative Literature, and a Ph.D. in American Literature and Creative Writing. He is a fellow and professor in creative writing at European-American University.
While learning his craft, he studied with Professor Stephen Gill, an Indo-Canadian, internationally renowned literary scholar-critic, literary fiction novelist, short story writer and poet, whose creative works embody multicultural themes. He has also studied critical and creative writing with Professor Graeme Harper, an international renowned Australian scholar and a novelist of genre fiction.
In past years he attended the national conferences of the American Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C.; the largest writers’ conference in the United States of America. He has also attended numerous literary author readings and discourses at the AWP conferences, regional writers meetings, and literary symposiums by educational institutions that have presented writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Russo, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward P. Jones, Sandra Cisneros, Michael Chabon, Luis Alberto Urrea, Colson Whitehead, Ron Rash and others. Moreover, he has also attended the induction ceremonies for the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
Recently, he was honored as a fellow of the Institute of Arts and Letters, London.
He is a bibliophile, a connoisseur of cinematic films, and a student of history. He enjoys fresh and saltwater fishing, working with horses, sheep, goats, and chickens on a farm. He also enjoys gardening and raising Anatolian Shepherds. In the past, he has participated in showing Alaskan Malamutes in the show ring.
A Hell Uncertain is his debut novel. It will be released in December 2022.
The sequel to his debut novel, titled: Bound to Perdition will be published in June 2023.
Author Website: https://lsantiagocalero.com/
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I visited the public library and read a few books.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
I try not to, but I am certain that certain attributes are borrowed.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Six more unpublished and half-finished books, and three others in the planning stage.
What does literary success look like to you?
Recognition and appreciation of my literary works, my ideas, and the message that they bring to bear.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I research texts, periodicals, the internet. I spend three to six months researching before embarking on beginning a book, but I continue to research even during the writing.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
It is quite therapeutic for it allows the expression of my thoughts, knowledge, emotions, etc.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
The Step-Sheet (Outline), and revision.
How many hours a day do you write?
Six hours per day.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing is energizing initially, but it is exhausting by the end.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
A big ego can hurt. In my opinion, the writer must remain humble throughout the process.
How often you read?
I try to read everyday.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I attempt to be original.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. One can still be a writer without feeling strong emotions. However, emotions are essential when describing the actions by the characters in the novel.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Stay true to your convictions regarding your intentions and work product. Deliver the best performance possible.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It did not effect my convictions regarding the process. It simply made me more committed to the work.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Purchasing resources, ie. books, software, computers, etc.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
I write and read literary fiction. Sometimes, I am disappointed with the novels that are produced in the discipline of literary fiction and that are being offered to the marketplace. I still hold literary fiction to the high standards that I witnessed and experienced through the masters of the craft, such as: Victor Hugo, etc. Unfortunately, we have been inundated with genre/commercial fiction to the detriment of substantive literature.
Although there is a place for this commercial product, unfortunately literary fiction has suffered and taken a back seat. It seems that commercialism has contributed to the lessening emphasis because of the focus on profit.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I pay most attention to the name of the protagonist and the antagonist. All the others are secondary in the time that I spend on the their name.
Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?
I read them, but I am not consumed by them. There is always room for learning about one’s work through criticism.
Do you Google yourself?
I don’t, but perhaps this may change over time.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Tasks, demands and obligations that occur on our property and business.
What are your favorite books?
The Old Man and The Sea; The Grapes of Wrath; The Great Gatsby, The Razor’s Edge; The Count of Monte Cristo; Les Miserables; The Prince of Tides; All the Pretty Horses; Miracle at St. Anna.
What is your favorite childhood book?
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Deciding on a worthy topic for the story. The selection of the literary expression, syntax and diction and revision.
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
The great novelists of the modernist and post-modernist period. My wife’s understanding of my literary background and desires. Ultimately, she challenged me to embark on writing and a literary career.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
Literary Fiction; I wanted my stories to have an impact on society for many years to come.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I would have met novelists, and asked questions.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
One to two years.
Is writer’s block real?
I don’t suffer from it.
What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Alexandre Dumas; Victor Hugo; Edgar Allen Poe; Charles Dickens; John Steinbeck; Ernest Hemingway; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Pearl S. Buck; W. Somerset Maugham; Saul Bellow; Bernard Malamud; N. Scott Momaday; Cormac McCarthy; Wendel Berry; Pat Conroy; James Harrison; A.S. Byatt; James McBride.
After the writing’s finished, how do you judge the quality of your work?
Did it communicate the message intended within the context of literary fiction. Does it meet the criteria expected of interpretive literature. Does the language in the narrative fulfill what is expected of a novel of literary fiction? Is the novel well balanced in all the areas of its composition, ie. narrative, pace, diction, syntax, suspense, dialogue, settings, etc.
How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
It is difficult given the posture of the Big Five to down grade the compensation of writers.
Were your parents interested in literature? Did they read a lot? What books did you have in the house?
My parents were not interested in literature as they were too busy eking out a less than average living. However, my mother took me to the public library often during elementary school. She stressed the importance of learning. I read a good bit in middle school, high school, college, and beyond. I would purchase books constantly, mostly used books from stores that sold them in downtown NYC.
What in particular attracted you to this genre?
Interpretative Literature in the form of literary fiction; sometimes the concealed message and hidden truths. Its longevity and impact on society, now and in the future. Its ability to change society by making them think and hopefully act.
How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
I would imagine that it is very difficult. Most novelist are not making enough to sustain themselves. There is hard core data to support this contention.
How do you begin a book?
Step Sheet (Outline). A general overview of the primary scene in the first chapter. Inevitably the story question must be raised.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
Characters develop the story in literary fiction. They add texture, fiber, and meaning to the story.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Producing a worthy income to make it possible to write full time, and balancing life’s demands while allowing a schedule to write. Getting published is the biggest challenge.
If asked, what would your friends and family say about you?
A thinker. A hard worker. And one who strives for perfectionism.
Would you rather read a book or watch television?
Read a book, but I enjoy film. Much can be garnered for writing through viewing film.
If you could only change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Make more time to write.
Are you a feeler or a thinker?
A thinker, but feelings come into play.
How different was your life one year ago?
Discovering how to extricate myself from my previous career obligations. I’ve created more time to write now by retiring from my previous career.
Is there anything you want to unlearn?
Nothing. I will continue to learn for life. I enjoy learning; the more the better.
What inspired the premise of your book?
This is a story that has not been written and shared in general, especially one regarding young Puerto Rican adults who were a part of this type of situation.
How many rewrites did you do for this book?
Ten or better.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
The story was based on a concept, situations that one observed in the barrio. I saw the story unfold as if it were a work of cinema.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
The names of the major characters are based on the role they serve.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
There was not any one character that was most challenging to create.
Are any of your characters based on real people you know?
Perhaps certain attributes from real characters were infused into the characters in the novel.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
I don’t really have a favorite scene or chapter, but there are a few memorable ones. I will note a few hereafter. There is a scene with an x-Marine that is an assistant manager at a second shoe store that the main character is now employed at. The scene after training in martial arts that takes place at Chinese restaurant is very memorable. The scene that takes place at Coney Island is very memorable.
Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
The final scene in the book was perhaps the most difficult one because it required the expression of profound emotion.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
How young men from the U.S., especially those from the inner city like Puerto Ricans, both stateside and in the island, were vulnerable to the draft and the military-industrial complex. Yet, they gave all they had for this nation as American citizens serving.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
It gives it meaning and relevance, and creates a true measuring device by which I can assess our world and determine what requires attention and correction.
What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
Growing up in the inner city of New York, especially in the barrio of the South Bronx. I’ve seen and lived in poverty, and have experienced its effects. I have also experienced the infliction of prejudice, ethnocentrism, discrimination, but have learned not to allow them to overtake me and have emerged triumphant. I attribute this success in large part to the rectitude of my mother and paternal grandmother; extraordinary women.
What makes this book important right now?
War, and the understanding of what our young people must face in their future, and what poor young adults confront in such times. Regardless, they must attempt to triumph in the end.
Where do your ideas for this story come from?
From experience. They also come from considerations given to issues that have occurred in the South Bronx, America and the world.
What sort of a relationship exists between you and the characters you created in this book?
I manipulate them within the settings established. They conform to my wishes and yield their actions.
Has this novel changed drastically as you created it?
It has undergone a transformation in its development. It has yielded several versions as it evolved into its final rendition. However, it is essentially true to the Step Sheet (Outline) that was initially constructed.
How did you decide on this title?
In a sense, the main setting where the characters are from may be considered A Hell Uncertain. Also, where the characters are destined to deploy to may be considered A Hell Uncertain.
How crucial is it to have a working title before you begin a project? (answer this if you decide on your title very early in the writing process)
It is not crucial. The title always comes to me in the middle of writing the book or at the end, but sometimes it can comes in the beginning; a point from where I can pivot from.
What’s next for you?
The sequel: Bound to Perdition; to be released in 2023.
Categories: BookView Review Interview