Alisa Valdes on Writing, Rejection, and Blessings
Best-selling novelist Alisa Valdes spoke at the Southwest Writers meeting on December 3, 2011. She is a warm, down-to-earth, engaging speaker and kept me, and everyone else in the room, laughing virtually non-stop: when she talked about how entertainment industry executives tend to (mis)categorize Latinas, she said, “I don’t wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m a poor, oppressed Latina.’ I wake up and think, ‘I gotta pee and I need coffee.’ Just like everybody else.” She had lots to say on a variety of topics, from the business of writing to learning to let go.
On Writing: “It’s a passion, and it’s a job.” Common advice that I have been hearing from writers is that you need to market yourself and not rely on the agent or publisher to do that for you. Alisa affirmed this reality. The writing and publishing industry has become very corporate, she said, so writers have to look at the business side as well as the creative side. Just like putting on a suit to go to the office, writers must market themselves, which often times involves “remaking yourself to make it every single time.”
On Rejection: “You’re only as good as your last book.” Valdes’ debut novel The Dirty Girls Social Club, sold 700 thousand copies. Subsequent book sales, though far from shabby, came below that count, causing agents and publishers to look at her “like the prom queen who is now the lunch lady.” Ironic as it sounds, comfort and reassurance is to be found in the fact that even for successful writers, the rejection never stops. When Alisa queried her upcoming publication, a memoir titled Learning to Submit, she met with numerous rejection letters, some of which were so scathing Alisa’s agent wouldn’t let her read them.
On the Appeal of Twilight: “It’s not that the hero is a vampire, it’s that he’s a vegan vampire.” I, too, have tried to analyze why the Twilight books are like crack. (After my beloved pit bull died, the only book I could read without going into PTSD mode was Breaking Dawn. I know, given the grisly child-birth section, I don’t get it either.) To me, the series is an addictive blend of that intense adolescent yearning and that “I’ve been searching one hundred years for you” romance. Alisa herself said that today’s teenagers, especially girls, are constantly bombarded by images of sex devoid of affection, so they need stories of romance and love to fill that void. The Twilight saga fills that void. She also said that the grander overarching theme of choice and sacrifice is what elevates Twilight’s success to phenomenal: everything in the hero’s nature tells him to hunt, to kill, to suck blood, and he chooses not to. He sacrifices his needs and desires for love, for the greater good. In a time of economic crisis and Corporate greed, this is a powerful message.
On that Business with Ann Lopez: “Never get into a deal with someone just because they look like you. Decisions based on narcissism never lead anywhere good.” Alisa sold Ann Lopez the rights to her popular novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. She trusted Ann to do right by her and her book. Instead, without Alisa’s knowledge and after Alisa had already relocated to L.A., Ann turned around and hired someone else to write the television script. Alisa, broke and disillusioned, hit the road back to Albuquerque, and just before she left, a friend slipped her a copy of the script. Alisa stopped at a roadside fast food joint to read it, and cried. Her beloved characters had been degraded into grotesque, dysfunctional caricatures, conveying a message completely contrary to the diverse, spirited, complex world Alisa had created. She protested this publicly on her blog. Ann Lopez then hired an experienced entertainment lawyer to go after Alisa for defamation. After many sleepless and tear-filled nights, followed by plenty of prayer, Alisa hired her own experienced entertainment lawyer who agreed to work pro bono because he couldn’t stand Lopez’s lawyer. The TV project died, and to Alisa’s surprise, Lopez let her rights to Dirty Girls expire, so Alisa once again owns her book. In a serendipitous twist of events, the entertainment lawyer Alisa hired is also an independent film producer, and he has introduced Alisa to a talented screenwriter who is now onboard to adapt Dirty Girls to the big screen. The lesson Alisa learned and the advice she offers as a result of this experience (besides always get good representation) is that “Every bad thing that happens to you is a blessing. You just don’t know it yet.”
On Learning to Submit: Alisa’s memoir, Learning to Submit, scheduled to be released in 2013, is about how she had to learn not to control everything, including falling in love. When you learn to let go, you receive the ideas, meet the people, and witness the events you need to reach your place in the world. Alisa’s creative and romantic life synchronized after she read a newspaper article about two young and gifted rodeo boys killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. She got the inspiration to start writing her Young Adult Kindred series, an endeavor that she says is the most true creation of her heart. About this time, following a string of bad to horrifying Match.com dates, she finally agreed to meet with a man she had previously rejected because she thought he could not possibly be right for her: a conservative, rural rancher. In a classic case of opposites attract, her cowboy has turned out to be a great boyfriend as well as a great supporter and teacher. He is the one who told her that her series hero could not be a bull rider, because bull riders are crazy, that he was a roper instead. The eerie coincidence? The man who pursued her despite her resistance and is now the love of her life is also friends with the family of one of the rodeo boys who died.
Kismet. The kind that happens when one learns to let go.
Check out Alisa Valdes’ blog Learning to Submit. Key posts:
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