Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chatting with Author Chris Hernandez

Now that my book is published, and part of my dream came true, it’s time to bring down the jubilation and reflect on my writing journey. 

For over two years, I have struggled with this task, fumbled with prose and did away with most adjectives, swallowed my pride in face of honest critique - brutal at times, and somewhat isolated myself professionally and socially to get to this point. I relied heavily on the unwavering support of my family and friends, and the genuine feedback from fellow writers. Among them, author Chris Hernandez, who allowed me to dig deeper into the mindset of an American veteran. Despite the fact that we don’t agree on many issues, and are actually at opposite ends on some, we shared a common ground when it came to writing.

Chris Hernandez’s books are military fiction, and although that’s not usually my cup-of-tea when it comes to choosing a book to read, I learned a lot from his first novel Proof of Our Resolve, and had the opportunity to read ahead of time his recently released novel Line in the Valley. Chris’s books shed a light on the world of war I am not familiar with, or let’s say the world across the isle to the side I know. I had the chance to chat with Chris about his new book release and his writing.

Please introduce us to Chris Hernandez, the author: Background and a little history.

I’m a husband, daddy, granddaddy, former Marine and U.S. Army combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m also an almost 20 year cop. I’ve got no degrees and no formal writing training. When I was in Afghanistan I got an idea for a story, and once I started writing it I was obsessed with finishing it. That story has now turned into three novels. Proof of Our Resolve was the first part, Line in the Valley is actually part 3, but has been published second. 

Give us a short synopsis or a blurb about Line In The Valley.

Line In The Valley is about a battle on the Texas border. Unknown attackers take over eight small towns, infantry sergeant Jerry Nunez and his soldiers are ordered to take one of the towns back. And everything goes wrong. Nunez and his men find themselves in a worse situation than any of them ever imagined.

Line In The Valley is your second published novel. Why did you write this story? And in your heart, how does it compare to your first novel Proof Of Our Resolve?

I wrote this story to answer a question: what’s the worst thing a soldier can face in combat? And I came up with an idea. It was inspired by the no-win wars we’ve fought since 9/11, and the endless moral quagmires they generate. Proof is very close to my heart because it so closely mirrors my wartime experience, but Line In The Valley is a better book.

How would you describe your journey into the publishing world?

Oh, geez. In a word? Frustration, anger, determination, fury, resignation, compulsion, and finally, limited success. I pitched to many agents at conferences, sent queries, and kept looking into literary agencies. I had several close calls with success, but nothing worked out. Then one day I was watching Fox News with my wife, and Tactical16 CEO Erik Shaw was being interviewed about their search for veteran writers. I immediately looked them up and sent an email. Less than a month later I had a contract for Proof. I still tried to get LITV published through the mainstream literary world, but a conversation at my last writers conference convinced me it’s not even worth trying. A very honest agent talked to me about LITV, told me it sounded extremely interesting and that he’d love to read it, but he was sure his agency wouldn’t be interested. Because literary agencies are looking for stories that appeal to the average book buyer: a liberal, educated woman. My subject matter wasn’t right for the target audience.
At a conference I met an agent who expressed a lot of interest in my story and background, praised my writing sample, gave me their personal email addresses, asked for my full manuscript, promised they’d be in touch as soon as possible, and then I never heard from them again. I had another agent tell me the dialogue in LITV was wrong; cops and soldiers don’t talk like that. I’m a longtime street cop, a two-time war vet, and this agent tells me I don’t know how cop and soldiers talk. She also told me to remove the entire first third of the story. Another agent told me LITV was too unrealistic, and that I should make Jerry Nunez more like James Bond. Because James Bond is such a realistic character.
After that, I quit wasting time with the publishing industry. If I have any success, it will come from independent publishers like Tactical16, and word of mouth. 

What advice can you give a writer who wants to get his or her work published?

If they just want to get published, write about zombies, vampires, young adult fantasy or a combination of all three. Or self-publish. But if they have principles, if they have a story in their heart that they want to stay true to, then they need to dig in and prepare for a long, painful road. Give up any stupid fantasies about overnight success, go to critique circles, go to conferences, get as many test readers as possible, and dedicate years to getting it right. And even then, there’s no guarantee of success.

How do you handle negative criticism, feedback and peer critique?

I welcome all of it. For a short time after I started writing, I had the “my writing is great and if you don’t think so then you’re wrong” attitude, which I think most new writers have. Fortunately, I’m a pretty humble guy, so that attitude didn’t last long. Plenty of peer readers, volunteer test readers and critique circle members have torn my writing apart, and I’ve made lots of changes based on their (and your) feedback. I’ve had some criticism I didn’t agree with, but when I see four out of five readers saying the same thing, they’re right and I’m wrong. I’ve also had some great critique from my blog readers, and my stories are better because of everyone who has taken the time to help me become a better writer. Thanks to all of them, and to you.

Thank you, Chris for sharing your thoughts.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

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