Up Close & Personal is one of The Writer’s Life newest features. Here we feature authors who don't mind spilling the beans and telling what it's really like to write, get published and sell that book. Today's guest is Colin Falconer, author of the romantic suspense, Naked in Havana. Visit his website at www.colinfalconer.org.
My primary school teacher’s name was Mrs Boyne.
She told my mother at a parent interview: “Your son is a complete dreamer. He’ll never amount to anything in this life.”
I still think that was a pretty harsh judgment on a seven year old. But she was right, of course, I was a dreamer.
It was my greatest asset.
It was about the time I first read Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff. To get my hands on it, I had to endure a slobbery wet kiss from my Aunty Ivy, but I considered it well worth it.
By the end of that first afternoon, I was hooked on stories, broad canvas, epic stories.
Every week my Aunty Ivy took the train down from London to visit with us in (what was then) rural Essex, bringing with her a collection of Classics Illustrated comics. She must have picked them up in the flea markets in London.
There were some Beanos and Victors mixed in, but I threw them out. My treasure was the cartoon versions of some of the world’s greatest literature.
I read all of Jules Verne in an afternoon.
And so began my love affair with stories. By the time I was eight I had read Moby Dick, Doctor Jekyl and Mister Hyde, The Moonstone, The Black Tulip and Ivanhoe, was familiar with most of the major works of Alexandre Dumas (Père), Mark Twain and William Wilkie Collins and had even read most of Homer’s Odyssey (although I never found out how it ended because the last page had been ripped out.)
I don’t think that back then Aunty Ivy knew she was giving me primers for my future career, for no one in my family had ever used their hands for doing anything other than making pies or fixing corner cupboards.
But those comic books were vital to me. I was an only child and though not particularly bookish – I wanted to play for Manchester United when I grew up, an ambition only narrowly foiled when it turned out I was a crap soccer player - Classics Illustrated stirred my nascent imagination and gave me a thirst for big stories.
My first story was also in a magazine! I was about 19, I had a short story published in a particularly grubby men’s magazine. I didn’t care, they paid me! My mother found out about it and went into the local store and asked for a copy. She got a hell of a shock.
It was another ten years before I had my first novel published, a crime thriller based on my experiences traveling rough in South East Asia. It was called VENOM and was based on the life of an French-Indian serial killer called Charles Sobrajh.
I guess it did okay; I have now published over 40 books and been translated into 22 countries. Thanks Aunty Ivy!
On Being Published…I wish I could say it was about the money and the fame but then I would be getting mixed up with being an actor. I always wanted to be commercially successful; I figured if I wasn’t earning enough to live on then I just hadn’t learned to write well enough. My writing heroes were all megasellers; Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett those guys.
There has always been this voice inside me that insisted that I write. I cannot turn off story ideas; they’re at me the whole time and I have a compulsion not only to write them, but write them well. After thirty years I still read how-to books on novel structure, or on screenplay writing, looking to learn more about the art of storytelling.
It means a lot to me to get feedback from readers. That’s the part of writing that I love the most. In fact that’s how the NAKED series was born; I got a letter from one of my readers wanting me to write about that whole era, about Kennedy and Castro and Monroe and the nightclubs and the boleristas and the gangsters. That’s what started it.
On Publishing Industry…I love eBooks and I love the freedom to write more than the traditional one book a year, I love being able to write what I want to write instead of being hemmed in by what editors think I should write - and there are some really great editors out there, and some who are really not so great - and I have a brilliant online publisher who has designed fantastic covers and promotional campaigns. But I remain a hybrid author, and the problems of publishing eBooks is the same as publishing in print - discoverability.
Mistakes Along the Way…
Mistake #1: I thought about me first before I thought about the reader (you know, that poor benighted soul paying money to buy the book!) It was all about what I wanted to express so consequently it took a while to get published.
Mistake #2: Was Mistake #1 all over again. After I did get published I started experimenting with different styles and genres so the reader never knew what they were getting. Some writers call it artistic freedom. These days I call it professional suicide. Fortunately I learned my lesson in time.
Mistake #3: Having my life fall apart. Well, I didn’t do it deliberately - but it was my fault it happened, so it counts as a mistake. When the dust cleared, writer’s block rapidly set in, and as it was no ordinary meltdown, I didn’t write at all for about four years. That badly interrupted my career but taught me who my real friends in the business are because I had to start all over again. The downside was a number of people I knew well had already written me off and didn’t answer my calls or emails. The upside was that I came back with a new attitude and different perspective and started enjoying writing more than I had ever done. I wrote faster and better. It worked out in the end but I wouldn’t recommend having your life implode as a way of revitalizing your career!
Discoverability is always a problem, whether it’s a print book or an eBook. In print, unless you’re way up the food chain, chances are your book will sink without a trace unless you get very creative and don’t do anything else for six months but promote it yourself. The publishers just aren’t going to do it for you, and that surprises many new writers, who think that once they’re published, it’s all champagne and talk shows. In fact, unless your book performs, it’s the beginning of the end. Or midlist, which is much worse.
When I published NAKED IN HAVANA I decided on a blog tour, backed up with some online promotions. My online publisher handles most promotions for me, but they can’t do it all; especially as I have a backlist of almost thirty books.
On Goals and Dreams…
I guess I have already gone further than I thought I would; when my mother came home clutching that men’s magazine with my story in it, she said: ‘Son, if the Conservatives get in, you’re going to jail.’ So a life time career of 40 or so books and traveling round the world has just about topped the dream. It sure beats sharing a cell with a tattooed biker.
Tips? I would say that in my experience determination and persistence trumps talent much of the time, as does a real willingness to learn. And remember what Bob Mayer says: ‘the Reader is God.’ Don’t ever forget it.
18 year old Magdalena Fuentes is lying naked next to her perfect lover when he tells her he is marrying someone else. It is soon clear her destiny lies with another man, even though she says she doesn’t believe in fate.
But fate doesn’t care whether we believe in it or not...
Havana, 1958. Magdalena Fuentes knows that Angel Macheda is the only man for her, even after he takes her virginity and then tells her he is engaged to someone else. She knows they are meant to be.
So why can she not stop thinking about Reyes Garcia? From the moment I saw you, he says, I knew there would be no one else.
From the moment I saw you, she tells him, I knew you were arrogant, conceited and rude.
Magdalena is a girl who will not let sentiment stand between her and love. But as Fidel Castro’s rebels tighten their grip around the city and she watches her family and her whole life come apart, she learns hard lessons about love abd about life.
Against the backdrop of the boleristas and the gangsters, the music and the guns, Magdalena discovers just how dangerous love can be.
Naked in Havana is the first in a three part series, a sprawling epic of passion and destiny, stretching across three decades and two continents.