Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview with Michael Jaime Becerra



LH: Michael, how did you get interested in writing?

MJB: My mother fostered my love of books with weekly trips to the library. It didn't matter what we were reading, so long as we were reading something. Left on my own, my childhood reading diet consisted of science fiction, comic books (Frank Miller's Daredevil runs were a favorite), movie-adaptation novels, and Mad Magazine. When I was in the fourth grade, I started emulating the kind of stuff I loved to read through a contest called The Book Fair that my elementary school would hold every year. When I was in junior high, my Book Fair entry was a story about a skateboard contest in outer space. It was a poor combination of influences--Thrasher magazine, Douglas Adams, and The Last Starfighter as I recall it--but through a fortunate series of events the book placed at the County Fair that year. Seeing my book, outside of my immediate world, in a glass case with a ribbon on it, had an immediate and lasting impression on me.

LH: Was that your first success?

MJB: While the junior-high skateboard book certainly qualifies, my first published work was a poem in Mosaic, the journal edited by the undergrads at UC Riverside. That poem was about a small moment--the narrator getting a beer for his father during a football game--but the publication gave me the confidence to continue writing about the world I knew: working-class families, Southern California, the meeting of Mexican and American cultures.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

MJB: I write literary fiction primarily, sotries set in my native El Monte, California, though I've been known to branch out into Mexico onoccasion. I feel most comfortable when the story has a start in reality and then quickly takes on a fictional life of its own. Those are the most enjoyable moments for me, using a real-life setting in a completely fictional context.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.

MJB: My agent took a look at my manuscript at the suggestion of a client, and I feel quite lucky that she saw the promise of my work. Arriving at the point was difficult, in some ways the most difficult part of the process because so much of it was beyond my control. I always tell people that the agents will always be there, and that they shouldn't be approached until the work is truly ready to be published. It also seems crucial that one research the agent(s) to whom they are sending work. Who else does this person represent? What sort of work do they sell on a regular basis?

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?

MJB: I think the best martketing occurs in person, meaning that an audience may be more likely to connect with a writer and that writer's work if they have a sense of honesty, approachability, and understanding from the writer. I genuinely enjoy doing public readings, meeting with reading groups, visiting classrooms, etc. From a marketing standpoint, each of these appearances is an opportunity to build one's audience, to build one's brand as well.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.

MJB: With my novel, I would have started out with a better sense of direction than I originally did. My first year of so was spent starting and retreating, and restarting and retreaing again. Had I sat down and outlined the opening chapters of the book, as well as doing some more defining of my characters, I feel that I could have saved myself plenty of time and trouble. For me, such planning gives me the sense of having a road map into the book.

At the same time, I think one should remain open to the unforeseeable. If the characters and their story demand something that the author did not envision for them, the author has to be open to elling the story as truly as possible.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

MJB: Character is king, or queen, as the case may be.

Here is a sample of a novella I wrote: http://atlengthmag.com/?p=75

Here is an interview I did with Willow Springs a few years back:

http://www.ewu.edu/willowsprings/interview/becerra.html

LH: Thanks for letting us have your thoughts about writing, Michael.