Creative Grit with Author Raymond Villareal

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This week's episode of Creative Grit is with author Raymond Villareal of A People's History of the Vampire Uprising.  The novel was written in a unique format, with legal documents, interviews, multiple POV’s, even magazine articles, all documenting the rise of gloamings – the name given to someone with a vampiric blood disease. Similar to World War Z, there are many shifting POV's that make up this narrative. This made for a fun and entertaining read.

Why was this novel different than other vampire books? Raymond offered a unique take by focusing on the gloaming's infiltration of political and celebrity culture. Whether it was a TMZ article about pro-gloaming concert headlined by Justin Bieber, or an excerpt from the Harvard Theological Review, or MommyBlogsGalore.com, there was a wide variety of mediums that Raymond used to retell the uprising.  I also loved seeing it from a legal perspective, and how our judicious system might deal with a growing vampire-esc population, especially when there’s mainstream support. I’m sure Raymond’s background as a lawyer gave him valuable insight into how the law would deal with this uprising.

As far as his own publishing journey, what fascinated me the most was how Raymond’s agent and editor worked with him to produce the copy that you see today. Many writers imagine that agents sign writers after reading and falling in love with the manuscript. For Raymond’s agent, Dan Lazar, although he recognized the incredible potential of the book, he wanted to make sure that Raymond would be able to handle the edits. Therefore, they went back and forth for months before the contract ever came. 

It was also interesting to know that the first draft had a different ending. Raymond’s first title was, “A People’s History of the Gloaming Civil War,” which ended with an actual account of the war between humans and gloamings. During the editor process, Raymond’s editor suggested that they stay with the characters, and not derail the plot by focusing on the war. Raymond agreed with the decision and believes it is a better book for it. The lesson - Your manuscript is not done until the thing goes to print!

Here were some of the other highlights from our talk. 

What inspired you to write this book?

I had it in my mind that I wanted to write a vampire book based on reality-- Focusing on the humans and not the vampires. I thought the easiest way to do it would be an oral history with different perspectives. How would the law handle people who had this sort of disease? That’s how the idea started.

How difficult was it to finish the first draft?

I’ve always been the king of starting books but never finishing.  But this book was different. I’ve never written a book with so many different perspectives. Each character was like writing a mini-novel, which made the work much less daunting. I also like having prompts. For instance, I would do research on the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and that would prompt me to sit down and get to work. That first draft took me about eleven months. Pretty short amount of time for me given that I like to procrastinate.

How did you go about querying the book?

I intended to query as many as agents as I could in batches. Dan Lazar was actually part of the original 10-15 I sent out. Once he responded, I stopped querying. I didn’t think I could get a better agent than him.

Did he sign you right away?

It actually took him a couple months to see if we could work together. He would give me some notes and then he wanted me to re-write based off those notes. It wasn’t like he said, “This is the greatest book ever.” It was a process. The back and forth was tough. I was so close to being with a great agent, and I didn’t want to screw it up. Thankfully, after a couple of months of back and forth, he sent over a contract.

What is the best part of this whole publishing process?

The best part was when the book went to auction and I was waiting to hear which publisher would buy it. By then, you know it’s going to be published.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My editor, Joshua Kendall, taught me a lot about writing. Showing emotions in characters isn’t my strong suit. He gave me great advice on how to reveal these emotions -- What their mood is, did they feel apathetic, displeased. He taught me how to show more of what each character is feeling.

Do you have any advice for other writers trying to bring their creations to life?

Don’t try to make it perfect. For 1% of writers out there, it all comes naturally. Others have to work at it.  Just keep writing and get through that first draft. Even if it’s terrible. You’re going to change it anyway. I’m not someone who comes from a writing background. I don’t have a masters in fine arts or have any short stories published. But I was able to get a publisher’s attention because I had a high concept manuscript. The other thing I would say is play to your strengths. I think my unique legal perspective helped me with the hook.

Bonus Question: How did you come up with the name gloaming?

I knew right away that I didn’t want to use the word vampire, though it did end up in the title. The word actually came from a poem I had read from the 1800s entitled, “In the Gloaming.”  

Why Every Artist Needs One Person Who Believes in Them

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There's nothing more cliche´ than a self-doubting artist.

It's all part of the process. We pour our hearts and souls into our creations, and the world can be. . . Well, the world can we indifferent. The market can be cruel. Especially early on when you are trying to make a dent.

As a result, self-doubt can leak into your creative process. 

I liken self-doubt to debt and belly fat. It creeps on you slowly, building and building, until eventually, you are crippled by indecision. There are times when I can't even write a simple Instagram post without having five people check for spelling errors. 

On the surface, I know that the publishing world, just like the music world, the art world, they are all businesses. It doesn't have time to coddle the feelings of the thousands of artists trying to break down its doors. But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow rejection.

Here are a few recent rejections of my own:

While I can see what **** saw in your writing, the format isn't quite right for my list. I wish you the best with your work.

Many thanks for sending me your submission, which I read with interest. I'm afraid, however, that I didn't feel passionately enough about it to offer representation, but our business is subjective by nature and another agent may well feel differently. I wish you...

I'm sorry I don't have better news. As you might know, I have been very particular about taking on new projects and it's entirely possible you'll find another agent able to prove me wrong.

 

One or two. Fine. It's subjective. But once these bad boys start piling up, shit can get dark! Real dark. Suddenly, your life's work is called into question. Oh my gosh, I spent years working on this novel. Shit. What have I done? Is this not my calling? What am I put here to do if not this? NOOOOOO!!! Glass case of emotion.

This is why every artist needs one person to believe in them.

Just one person who can pick them off the floor.

One person who can shine light through the cloud of self-doubt.

A voice of truth.

For me, that's my wife. She knows how to handle me after a big rejection. She puts up with me watching creepy stuff on Netflix when I'm writing thrillers, and Harry Potter when I'm writing middle grade fantasy . She has never treated me like a struggling author. She reads my 300-page novels, even though she prefers the books with big pictures and twenty pages or less. 

She knows when I need tough love or an encouraging word. 

She knows when I'm lost in one of my worlds.

But most of all, she has never let me quit. 

Honestly, self-doubt will never go away. It's a cruel mistress that has been torturing artists since the beginning of time. But somewhere deep down, even when self-doubt is screaming bloody murder in my ear, I have a second voice that is pushing me onward. Every artist deserves someone like that --  a partner, a friend, a parent, God, someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself. 

 

My 5-Year Hiatus

The year was 2013, and I was fresh on the heels of publishing my second novel, A Life Told from the Cloud. Creatively, I was feeling confident – two published novels in two years felt like a solid accomplishment. Momentum was on my side. As long as I showed up to the blank page, there was nothing that could stop me. Oh, I had it all figured out...

Anxious to keep the ball rolling, I got to work on my new project– a psychological thriller inspired by society’s obsession with social media and celebrity culture. The subject matter was relevant. The genre was sellable. It would have the shock value of Gone Girl. The grittiness of A Million Little Pieces. It would be mind-blowing. Amazing. A piece of cake. A bestseller. A perfect third novel for my budding career. Let's do this!

And so the journey began.

First draft to second.

Third to fourth. 

Edit after edit.

Year after year.

Roadblock.

Frustration.

Slamming my head on the keyboard.

Another year passed.

My characters needed more agency.

Plot holes needed filling. 

Another year passed.

Dust settled on my Amazon author page.

Beta readers are confused. 

I scrapped chapters.

Wrote new chapters. 

Tightened chapters.

90,000 words went to 80,000. 

80,000 words went to 70,000.

Things started to come together. 

Beta testers loved.

FIVE YEARS LATER, I have a manuscript that I’m proud of.

Five years! Man, oh man. Looking back, I think the problem was painstakingly obvious. It wasn't the agency of my protagonist, or POV, or anything technical for that matter. It was simply that my personal craft did not align with my vision for the book. To transform the novel, I had to undergoe a transformation as a writer. I had to be willing to put in the time. To stretch my imagination. To be inspired, rejected, slammed, and pulverized. I had to prove that I was committed to refining my craft.

I’ll be honest; the process wasn’t always fun. During those five years, I went to some pretty dark places -- both on and off the page. There were times that I almost walked away. I wondered if this thing had the legs to make it to the world. It forced me to answer big questions:  What if it's not good enough?  What if I’m not enough? But the journey is alchemy. Metal into gold. I had to commit to growth. I had to be vulnerable. I had to find my voice.  I had to have faith in the process.  And when the dust finally settled, I was left standing with a piece of art that I’m proud of. 

Through this experience, I’ve also become very curious about the creative journey of other artists. How do others endure and persevere?  What are the habits they create to build resilience? How do they face the blank page, the self-doubt, and the million other trials and tribulations that keep them from bringing their creations to life? These are the questions I will be asking in my new blog series entitled, Creative Grit.

Thank you to my wife for your patience and your belief in me.

Thank you to the process. 

Stay tuned for more.