Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Henry Mosquera, author of Status Quo.
FQ: I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions with the plot of this story. Without presenting too much of a spoiler, could you share some of your personal writing experiences before your work clearly began to gain traction (i.e., what, if any deals did you make with the “writing devil” in your journey before publishing what you wanted to publish)?
MOSQUERA: I’m glad to hear that. Humor is a big part of life and I like using it in my writing. And no, no spoilers. I hate ruining the journey for my readers. I’m an indie author, so I’m the only devil with whom I make deals. I don’t think my writing would appeal to traditional publishers because it doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-determined box. So I don’t waste my time going after the “great book deal” anymore. I write because I love creating and enjoy telling stories. If the industry—for whatever reason—ever sees dollar signs attached to me they’ll come running. So, I write what I feel like. I guess it’s a way for me to try to make sense of life, humanity, the world, and everything else.
With that said, a lot of my experiences as a writer and designer ended-up in Status Quo. From conversations with clients, to people I worked with; even to getting a paranormal comic book turned down by a publisher of supernatural stories because it didn’t fit the publisher’s profile.
FQ: I have to say (as I did in my review), you have a very similar style to the great, departed Gabriel Marquez. Has anyone ever eluded this to you and what is your response to such a comparison?
MOSQUERA: No, never. And my response was to turn all shades of red. That’s an incredibly flattering comparison. The kind that fills you with pride and happiness, but at the same time, makes you very uncomfortable. People have compared my writing to other established authors, but never to a Nobel laureate. I guess the use of humor, not getting fixed in a particular style with every book, and coercing my readers to become co-storytellers is something that we have in common. But that’s as a far as I feel comfortable drawing any comparisons between us.
FQ: I spent a portion of my life living in South Florida. It has become such a multi-faceted, international playground. What are some of your favorite ‘haunts’ in Miami and did any of your experiences provide inspiration for the writing of Status Quo? If so, could you site a few and why them?
MOSQUERA: I used to frequent this sushi restaurant in Coral Gables, Sushi Chef that was the kind of place Japanese patrons would go to (not the hipster sushi enthusiast crowd). I once even bumped into my old Karate sensei from Venezuela after so many years, which was a great treat for me. He still remembered me. I used to go there a lot and got to know Chef Aenomoto, the owner. Whenever my father was in town we would go to Casa Juancho in Little Havana for Spanish food (we still go there if we find ourselves in Miami), or Hereford Grill in LeJeune Blvd. for some great Venezuelan steak cuts. There’s also an amazing Venezuelan-style bakery in North Miami Beach, Moises Bakery of Miami. Thank God it was too far away for me to be a regular. Otherwise I’d be 300 pounds of blissful happiness. I frequented this Venezuelan arepas place with my brother after hours in Miami Beach, but I think it is no longer there. And of course, Versailles in Calle Ocho for Cuban food. I also used to love roller-skating to Coconut Grove and pass by the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and Kennedy Park. This is beginning to sound like a Yelp review.
Some of those places (and others I didn’t mention) made their way into my first novel, Sleeper’s Run. Part of the story takes place in Miami. Status Quo takes place mainly in a non-descript American city, so there was no Miami influence in it that I can think of.
FQ: What a coincidence Lemat’s character is a Graphic Designer. Did you also work as a Graphic Designer at some point and was it a positive experience?
MOSQUERA: I’m a graphic designer by trade. That has been my day job since I graduated college. I sort of have this love/hate relationship with the profession. I fell in love with it when I was a teenager. I used to cut class and make my way to a shopping mall where they had this amazing bookstore that sold books in English. I’d go there and browse all of these cool, hardcover books dealing with graphic design. I was particularly taken by the use of the airbrush. Then, when I finally made my way to college, I got caught in the transitional period between the old school graphic design with brushes, water colors, oils, etc. and the introduction of the computer as the main designing tool. I felt cheated. I wanted to be an artist like the ones that had inspired me. Instead, I ended up in a yet-to-be-defined art program that was leaving the old, but not too sure on how to embrace the new, surrounded by a bunch of people that would struggle in a basic drawing class. As time went by, it was more computers and less everything else. I wanted to be a print designer, but the web became more prevalent. Now we’re talking coding and things with which I have no clue or interest for that matter. It’s like signing on to be an astronaut and ending up becoming a miner. You stand there looking around thinking, “How the hell did I get here?”
My experiences in the profession have varied. My best gig was working as a digital painter for Disney. That came closer to what I always wanted to do. The rest is essentially a service occupation. You work to bring your client’s vision to fruition. The problem is most clients have no clue about what they want, or they want the wrong thing for the image of their business, or they believe because they can copy and paste that they are designers themselves. People think you get to do all of this crazy, creative stuff all day long but that cannot be farther from the truth. I guess, in the end, it’s no different than any other job.
FQ: Knowing what you know now about the journey toward publication, what words of wisdom would you share with a first-time author with a burning passion to publish?
MOSQUERA: I’m not a fan of giving out advice. Each one of us should find our own individual path. No two people will have the same exact experience. But I can offer a few reality checks.
Being turned down by an agent means absolutely nothing. Rejection has nothing to do with your talent. People get published (or represented) for all kinds of reasons: whatever is hot at the time, fitting a publisher’s profile, how commercial your work is, and so on. I know this woman who used to be an editor for one of the big houses and she quit after they refused to publish an author for being too good at his craft; beautiful writing, but not commercial enough. We tend to forget that publishing is a business.
If you’re looking to make money, go somewhere else. Making a living in the arts is as certain as winning the lottery.
Getting attention for your work is tough. That’s the hardest thing you’ll face as an author, independent or otherwise. Marketing is 90% of the work. Writing is easy. Selling is a whole different beast.
Getting bad reviews from readers and critics is part of the job. It doesn’t matter how many people rave about your work, or how many awards you receive, sooner or latter someone is going to take your novel to the wood chipper. It sucks and it will always sting, but don’t get hung up on them. Art is subjective; where someone sees genius, another sees garbage. It’s just human nature. Move on.
Write because you love to do so. Do it for yourself. Be professional and take it seriously (no one else will). There’s no such thing as a wannabe writer. You either write or you don’t. Drive and discipline are your greatest weapons.
Work on your craft. The myth some people like to believe that you can produce a perfect novel—whatever that means—on the first draft, is right up there with dragons and unicorns. Writing is a lot of work. If you truly love it, you won’t mind.
Find an editor and listen to him/her. That doesn’t mean to follow them blindly. But you’ll have to learn the delicate balance between checking your ego at the door and being true to your vision. You’re too close to your work and you’ll lose perspective. You should always do what’s right for the story, not what makes you be in the right.
I know none of these are sexy, but I have found them incredibly useful so far.
FQ: Do you visit your native country often? What is one of your fondest memories of growing up in Caracas?
MOSQUERA: No, I haven’t visited Venezuela in almost twenty years. Things have changed too much for the worse. It’s a very different country from the one I grew up in. So much so, I feel completely alienated from it. Virtually everyone I know has moved away and my family went back to Spain. Maybe one day things will get better so I can take my wife and show here where I’m from. That aside, there’s no other reason for me to visit.
My fondest memory? Wow, there are so many. I used to cruise around the city at night with a friend of mine. We called it “patrolling.” As dangerous as it was (the fearlessness of youth), it was so calm and beautiful at night driving through the hills, the streets, and freeways with no traffic. We would just drive aimlessly, shooting the breeze, listening to music, and making random house calls to whatever friend lived close by at the time. Inevitably we would end up on a street where food trucks would gather to have a late night snack. It’s such an asinine, trivial thing, but the memory always brings a smile to my face. The kind of slacker’s delight you only get to experience when you’re a kid.
FQ: What made you select the premise of the plot you chose to write about in Status Quo?
MOSQUERA: I always wanted to write an offbeat story, filled with quirky, symbolic characters. I first conceived Status Quo as a comic book I tried to get published many years ago, along with other stories. It didn’t generate any interest from the industry, but I knew I had a very special concept there. Later on, when I decided to become a novelist, I used it as the framework to channel my own experiences in the creative world into a sort of cathartic story. I was tinkering with it in my head when I went to see Roger Water’s perform The Wall. I was blown away! I think the concept of telling a personal story in such a creative way fuelled my need to put pen to paper, so to speak. I shelved the novel I was working on and jumped right into writing Status Quo.
FQ: I was captivated by your character Ink. She’s free-spirited, independent; yet there is a sublime vulnerability to her. Any insights into how you developed her? Someone you know/knew? Purely fictitious?
MOSQUERA: Oh, I love her! In everything I’ve ever written there’s always a character that comes to me fully formed. In Status Quo it was Ink. She’s purely fictitious. Ink was just there inside my mind waiting to jump out. What she represents in the story and what her relationship to Lemat means formed her (just like the rest of the characters). I’m leaving it to the reader to make up their mind about her. She’s one of those characters that speaks volumes in between the lines.
FQ: Lemat seems a tortured soul at times and others, an affable and likable guy. How much of Lemat was born out of Henry Mosquera?
MOSQUERA: A lot. Status Quo is not autobiographical, but it’s heavily nurtured by my life. That made it hard to write sometimes, because it made me feel very exposed. Some people want specifics, but I’d rather leave that unsaid. Separating the truth blended with the fiction would only bring the attention to me, not the story.
FQ: When you are in the throes of your writing project, when do you sense you’ve hit ‘pay dirt’ and does this notion become the fuel for your fire? Do you outline your project? Stream of consciousness writing? Do you dream about your characters?
MOSQUERA: It starts out with a concept. It’s always something I want to talk about or explore, like geopolitical relations with Latin America, or an examination of being creative. Then I need to find who’s going to be the protagonist, who’s going to guide us through the story? Pretty soon that core idea spawns numerous themes that I’ll touch on in the story. Some are obvious, others more implicit. That dictates the kind of book I’ll write. Then it’s all about giving a physical form to those concepts, characters become archetypes, relationships complement or contrast those ideas, and symbols begin to appear. This is all done in my head, so I spend a lot of time living with my stories and characters before I write the first word.
Status Quo was hard because I was trying to give form to very abstract concepts. How do you represent frustration, creativity, purity, etc. in a cohesive, linear narrative? How do you breathe three-dimensional life to those notions? It was a challenge, but once I worked it out, it was fantastic.
I hit pay dirt when I manage to marry the concept with a genre and a protagonist. That’s when I get excited. The mechanics change depending on the book. Something like Sleeper’s Run or the novel I’m currently working on requires a lot of research prior to writing. I’d do a loose chapter breakdown or a character timeline (notable events from birth to present time), but my preparation is largely in my head. Once I feel the story is mature enough, I start working. The only thing I worry about in my first drafts is to finish the story; get to the end. Then I can relax and focus on polishing it. There are many things that worked great in my head, but not so much on paper. Having the story out of my mind and on the page gives me perspective. A lot of writers dislike re-writes; I’m not one of them. To me the process is akin to being a sculptor, the more I chip away and polish my work, the better the results.
I’ve never dreamt of my characters. That’s an interesting question. I do use my sleep as a tool though. When I’m writing and I hit a problem, I’d go to bed thinking about it knowing full well that the solution will be there as soon as I wake up. Don’t know why, but it rarely fails.
FQ: What’s next on your radar? Is it possible for you to share? If you are working on your next project, when can we expect to see it on the stands?
MOSQUERA: I’m in the process of editing my next book; the one I shelved for Status Quo. It’s a sci-fi story based in the near future in the same vein as authors like Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, George Orwell, and Robert A. Heinlein. It’s the longest project I’ve ever worked on. I started out in 2011 after publishing Sleeper’s Run, and I hope to publish it by the end of the year (fingers crossed).
FQ: Thank you for such an exceptional read Mr. Mosquera. I am a fan and look forward to your next book.
MOSQUERA: My pleasure. I’m glad you enjoyed your journey through Status Quo, and I hope to keep submerging readers in my stories in the future.
To learn more about Status Quo please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.