Three members of our community talk to us about their books and share their publishing and personal experiences.
Gabrielle M Armstrong: “Partida en Dos”
Gabrielle M. Armstrong is currently Studying English, Comparative Literature, and Teacher Preparation. In addition to being a writer, Gabrielle is also a skillful and experienced dancer. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poems have been published in Her Campus, Emily, El Vicio del Tintero, Smaeralit and other online publications. She recently published her first book “Partida en Dos” (Ripped in Two) in January 2017.
About the Book
Gabrielle Armstrong’s bilingual poetry book “Partida en Dos” tackles “various sentimental topics, such as disenchantment, falling out of love, new love, love in itself, nature, maternal and paternal love”. It also includes a poem titled “Guillaim Barré” in which Gabrielle talks about almost losing her father due to his illness and “A Slave’s Prayer”, which at first was just a poem she did for extra credit in one of her English Literature Classes but then became “the spark that ignited the idea of writing a book”. Gabrielle decided to incorporate local artists and painters “so that the cover is by Patrice Lladó and art inside the book is by Kariel Maisonet, Laiana Lugo and Ivan Vega.”
Kelsins V. Santos: “Pleasure, Plague & Pain”
Kelsins V. Santos completed his undergraduate degree in English in June 2014, and his graduate degree in English Education in July 2017. He’s always considered himself to be an inquisitive person who likes to read and write. This, he believes, is a common trait shared between English majors. He considers himself to be a confident person as well but also “very far from perfect, but good enough to know that I should know better.”
About the Book
Inspired by his life from ages 19 to 25, Pleasure, Plague & Pain “deals with themes of transformation”. The author states that “It begins with the immature pleasures of adolescence, to the plague derived from over indulging in those pleasures, and finally having to deal with the resulting pain.” The book was also inspired by the author’s “interpretations of the events that form part of who [he] is today”. “The overaching theme of change is what underpins the entirety of the book which is exemplified in a slowly paced change of perspective. Kind of like someone awaking from a deep sleep to find themselves under a cold waterfall. It’s only refreshing if you know you’re getting under it voluntarily.
Celia M. Ayala: “Diario de un labial atrofiado : Vivencias y Fantasías”
Originally from the town of San German, Celia M. Ayala holds a BA in Teaching English as a Second Language at the Secondary Level, which she obtained from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, at San German. She is currently finishing her MA in English Education while working as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Puerto Rico, at Mayagüez. Not only has she participated in several open mics, including Vox Populi, and published several poems and articles in diverse literary magazines, including Her Campus, Sábanas Magazine, El Vicio del Tintero, Smaeralit, and Bohemia Borinqueña, but she has also offered various conferences, both national and internationally, from the National Women’s Colloquium, PRTESOL, and the International Autobiography Association.
About the Book
Diario de un Labial Atrofiado is a bilingual poetry book which includes poems in English, Spanish and Spanglish. “It is a recollection of memories, experiences, and fantasies where the senses take place in different contexts. Themes, including love, heartbreak, feminism, Caribbean and Puerto Rican women in society, race, identity, and sexuality take place in this poetic collection. It is the experience of feeling desire, love, lust, hate, and encounter downfalls which seem impossible to overcome. The speaker is mostly from the Caribbean or Puerto Rican woman’s voice, as she overgoes this timeless journey and learns a different lesson despite these circumstances.”
A conversation with the authors
We asked these three talented writers to answer a few questions regarding their inspirations, the writing process and personal experiences with the book.
What is your inspiration?
A lot of things inspire me but I’ve found that the muse wakes up when I am alone at the beach, with the wind in my hair and the sun on my legs. Otherwise, wine helps a bunch.
– Gabrielle Armstrong
My inspiration for writing comes from my mother. She would write plenty for religious purposes. Even though she wasn’t into school, she would write a lot, and me being her son, I would always be around to experience that. That coupled with some pretty great teachers and professors ignited my passion for writing in a variety of context.
Truthfully, I’ve always envied my favorite authors. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Virgil, Milton, Aurelius – all of them (and more) served to inspire me to write strongly about myself, my experiences, specifically through a masculine filter. They made me feel comfortable about writing, especially since its seen by a great majority as something “weak” or “feminine” to do (obviously I would argue against that).
Finally, rappers like Tupac Shakur and Kanye West, the themes in their music and their lyrical content motivated me to be comfortable with my art and to continue producing it. To write is to put the power of god in our hands. We create a story just like a god creates life, and we decide and manipulate the beginning and end, just like god does.
Its all a jam, you know? Truthfully, my inspiration comes from anything – how I felt when I woke up, what coffee reminds me of when it hits my lips, etc. etc. Everything and nothing inspires me.
– Kelsins Santos
As an undergrad, I had developed an immense passion for writing, due to sleepless nights, pondering about past experiences, and dreams to pursue in the future. I consider my writing product of random situations and events during my life. For example, I am able to write after a hardworking day, a brutal breakup, feeling love at first sight, a day at the beach, pondering in bed at 3:00a.m., gazing at the starry night sky, and many other inspirations in life where writing sprouts from within.
– Celia Ayala
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
A couple of months before actually publishing it [in] January 2017. I met Anthony Acevedo who had just published his first book and we chatted over coffee and his book inspired me. After I told him my idea and showed him a couple of my poems, he was like “Mija pa cuando esperas? Yo te ayudo a publicarlo.
– Gabrielle Armstrong
When Fernando EE Correa dropped 36 Chambers of Fen, I was inspired. To me, he is Colegio’s Promoetheus, you know? He did it first, and explicitly let us know that we could do it too. Without him, I think that I would have never published. Shout out to Fen.I also like writing about women and my experiences with them, and it turns out that women liked it too.This also motivated my desire to become and author. Initially, most of my writing was inspired by the beautiful women I’ve had the opportunity to share with in variety of capacities. Being teenager at the time, my focus was obviously set on the “divine feminine”. As grew older and more mature, my poems would still be inspired by women, but more about life experiences, the act of living, dying and learning. IT all seems like the same thing nowadays.My mother, father and brother are major inspirations/motivators as well. Who they are, what they’ve done for me, the experiences we’ve had are invaluable to me. The least I can do is document them in my way.-Kelsins Santos
I decided I wanted to be an author when I turned around 18, when my father passed away due to colon cancer, and one of my sole refuges became writing poetry. After many tiresome nights without resting, I decided I wanted to share my writings through social media, publishing in websites, until I finally confectioned my book.
Tell us about the process of publishing the book and what happened afterwards. How has it been received?
I published my book through Create Space (an amazon sub-company of sorts) which makes the process so easy! You feel empowered to make your book exactly how you want it down to the smallest detail, and it’s a cheaper way to get out in the world without having to invest in Casas Editoras. I remember I was with the UPRM Dance team competing in Orlando when the box full of my first copies arrived home. My mom couldn’t help herself and opened it and sent me a Picture. Sales were crazy at first; I wasn’t expecting such good feedback! I think I’ve sold about 150 copies. Last semester I presented my book at Huella Colegial and at Libreria La Casita in Aguadilla Mall. Apart from those two places, my book is also for sale at Libreria El Candil in Ponce and Amazon. All the reviews have been so amazing and I’m still ever so grateful.
– Gabrielle Armstrong
Correa was who showed me the ropes when it comes to the independent publishing process. He pointed me towards Createspace.com, a website that allows you to organize and design your book and put it on amazon, createspace and kindle’s digital marketplace. It’s simple really, but the first time around can be rather frustrating. Luckily, through trial and error, I was able to form a product that I was satisfied with. They’ll send you a test copy, and if you’re happy with that, you can order any amount of physicals you please at a bulk price. Selling them physicallly is more profitable than selling them virtually.
3xP has been received great. According to reviews, solicited and otherwise, I was able to get the primary matter of my message across. The fellas and ladies vibed with it so I’m definitely satisfied. However, I know I can do better, and working towards making my sophomore project just as good, if not better, than 3xP.
In sum, its all about having patience and making sure the formatting is just right. I went back to the drawing board more than ten times, and to be honest I’m still not completely satisfied with it. But then again, I don’t want perfection – I want me.
It took me around three months to complete the book-publishing process. After receiving constant feedback from my editor, Patrick O’neill, he recommended me to publish through Create Space, an indie publishing website. It included a step-by-step guide into publishing a well-revised book, from inserting the draft, to placing the cover, until the book was completed. My book cover is an old self portrait, back when my hair was long, holding a white flower with diverse small petals. However, from the moment I gazed at the portrait, I found several symbols aligned with my book’s themes (using sensorial images, female aesthetics aligned with fruit and nature, among others).
After presenting my book in Libros AC in Santurce, the Inter-American University in San Germán, and introducing it in various open mics from Vox Populi and Alianza Artística Revolucionaria, my book has been received positively, reaching to several audiences throughout the Island. I feel grateful to evoke that many emergent writers have contacted me, expressing how my publishing experience inspired them to write poetry and publish their own anthologies as well. The overall experience is fully rewarding and never ending.
– Celia Ayala
Their advice for aspiring authors:
My advice for y’all is: ‘tírate!’ Find someone that can help you edit the whole thing, because doing it on your own can be quite the challenge. Also, don’t keep it a secret! Be proud of your baby. I mean ‘si ya te atreviste a tirarte de pecho como Pocahontas’, show it off. The world needs to know what Puerto Rican writers and/or poets have to say about life. Because people forget that art and literature can change the world. Even if that world lies in the mind of a sole person; it’s a changed world nonetheless.
Don’t be afraid to talk your shit. For real – don’t be afraid to speak your truth. People will always have something to say – it’s the way of life. Understand that, in any aspect of life, you will always be under scrunity. If you let the opinions of others stop you from doing you – it’s your problem not theirs. It means that you are a slave to them. It’s better to dress yourself with the ugly clothes of confidence rather than the beautiful clothes of a coward.
Writers – artists in general – have to understand that they in a sense are gods. They bring creation into thin air,as a god would – it’s godliness in us all. It’s the privilege of being human. You can either sink into mediocrity, or achieve greatness, personally or otherwise. Yes, be confident with what you do. Go hard, or don’t go at all; half ass life and life will half ass you, Do not be ashamed.
Practically speaking, jot down ideas whenever they come to you – I do this on the notes app on my phone. From there I workshop the ideas, develop, merge and/or discard them. I would like to say that I write everyday, but that wouldn’t be truthful, but when I do write, I write with intention. Do what you do life you’re doing it for TV.
Never stop from pursuing your dreams. You have no idea how many doors are available for you in the future. It is always possible to reach your goals. All you have to do is learn to surpass all your obstacles, and literally “never say never.” If your passion is to write, then write! I find writing a healing process where you can freely express yourself and create your own voice to show the world who you truly are.
Like Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”