Author Q & A with René Saldaña, Jr

To get everyone excited for the Texas Book Festival and WLT’s Bookish Brunch that’s happening THIS weekend, here’s an interview with author René Saldaña, Jr., who will be a featured author at both events.

What book are you reading right now?
Would you believe, nothing at the moment? Or, nothing fun, I should say. I’m reading some Paulo Freire and Louise Rosenblatt for some academic writing I’m doing. And though I can appreciate their contribution to literacy, I’d rather be reading and re-reading Henning Mankell, Dennis Lehane, Dago Gilb, Matt de la Pena, or Sherman Alexie.

What is your writing routine and where do you write?
I’m really very loosey-goosey when it comes to a “routine.” I don’t challenge myself to write X number of words per day. I don’t have a place where I have to be sitting to be able to work.  I don’t write exclusively on a laptop. I’ll use a notebook sometimes, if that’s what I’ve got handy. The stereotypical napkin if that’s it. The only thing I try to keep on routine is working at night once my three boys and my wife have gone to bed. Every night.

Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?
Nope. I won’t show any of my writing to a soul. Not even my wife. Over the years of working with a few different editors, taking classes for my PhD, I trust myself to do the best I can. When I feel a manuscript is ready, then I’ll begin the submission process.

How do you balance writing with work and family?
I sleep less. I don’t start the work of writing until after the evening news and the Leno or Letterman opening monologue (white noise to wind down mostly). So we’re talking 11 or so before I pop open the laptop to write or revise. I’ll stay up until 2 in the morning, or so, depending on how on I am.

What is a little known fact about yourself?
You know, I love cashews, salted and peppered.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Back during my junior year in college, it had to have been. I wanted to impress the ladies with my brilliant words. A friend, Glenn Brown, had a line of them after him, and I’ve got to say it was that he was a poet. He was okay looking but no model. And so I thought I’d try my hand at it. My mind changed quite a bit, toward thinking of myself as a writer and beginning the hard work of the craft, after my first magazine rejection.

How do you deal with ups and downs of the publishing business?
I’ve had a manuscript rejected by my editor at Random House, then an editor at Penguin, then one at HarperCollins, then Cinco Puntos. So I’m left with one of two decisions to make: quit submitting the manuscript because four editors (all of whose opinions I respect highly) cannot be wrong, or I submit it again and again and again because I see in my work something good and worth it. So I did just that, and so Arte Publico Press/Pinata Books took it in the form of my next book, A Good Long Way, and the couple reviews that have come out say all good things about it. I figure a writer will have plenty of downs, but man, one up and all the other stuff just about is erased.

If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?
You know, I’m a big fan of the detective/mystery writer Henning Mankell. I love most of his work, the genre stuff, but also his weightier historical fiction. And he’s Swedish where they have really good coffee and pastries. But he’s alive and I’ve met him briefly when I got him to sign a copy of one of his books for me. The person I’d much prefer is the guy who wrote Beowulf. Though I think we’d have a hard time communicating because of that whole Old English thing. But him, definitely.

Beer or coffee?
Coffee, most definitely. Black. Flavored if that’s all there is, otherwise a good Columbian medium roast does the trick. I start out every day with my 20 oz mug.

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