Conducted by Robbi Hess
A native of New York City, Frank Caceres holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Manhattan College and a Master of Arts in Vocational Education from the University of South Florida. He shares the distinction of being a Manhattan College Alumnus with America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and novelist James Patterson. As a Vietnam-Era veteran of the U.S. Army, Caceres has a number of short stories and essays that were published in various journals, magazines and anthologies. He began his writing career by composing business correspondence and procedure manuals but he had always dreamed of writing a book. He realized that dream with the publishing of his book Because They Were.
FF: Frank, when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer “when you grew up?”
FC: Well, I’ve been writing, mostly business letters, reports, procedures manuals, etc. for most of my adult life (exactly when that began is debatable), but I’ve always wanted to write a book. Like most authors, I suppose, I’ve had a novel lurking inside me for many years. I began writing fiction, which is much less depressing (and more believable) than business-related correspondence, in January 1999, after I earned my Master’s degree — I guess I wanted to keep up the momentum my mind had gotten into.
FF: Was there one defining moment in your life that made you decide that now is the time to get started on that novel?
FC: Both my parents have passed away, my mother being the last to go in 1995. Since her death, I’ve become more aware of my ethnic background, adopting the use of the accent over the “a” in my name. It’s always supposed to have been there (my dad always signed his name with it) but I hadn’t used it before. My novel deals with issues of prejudice and discrimination, but it revolves around a sense of family and national unity. My parents’ deaths brought their sacrifices and hardships to the forefront in my thoughts.
FF: When you first sat down and began seriously thinking about where your writing career would take you, what were your initial thoughts? Did you have a course charted in your mind as to where, and how, you would begin?
FC: Becoming a published author didn’t really enter my mind until early 1999, and I had no clue as to how to begin. Prior to 1999, I hadn’t spent much time reading for pleasure. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had to read fiction in order to understand how to write fiction. I’ve since become a voracious reader and almost need a part-time job to afford all the books I buy. My first publication was a short story I wrote entitled, “Squints” that was produced in Thema, a literary journal, in spring 2000. I continued to write short stories and essays and sent them wherever I thought they had a chance of being published. Little by little, I saw more acceptance letters in the mail. In the meanwhile, I kept plugging away at my novel.
FF: Tell us a little bit about your book and how it developed.
FC: Because They Were is a story about a Puerto Rican man and an African- American woman who run for the two top spots in our nation’s government. Their primary opponent is the leader of a racist “church” who is found assassinated early in the novel. The Hispanic candidate’s younger brother is found next to the body with the proverbial smoking gun in his hand, and is accused of the murder. My experiences as a Latino growing up in New York City, which classifies me as a Nuyorican, laid the foundation for this novel. My characters are a conglomerate of various people I’ve known in my lifetime.
FF: Did you target a specific audience when you began writing Because They Were, or do you think your book will appeal to any audience?
FC: Anyone who has experienced the sting of prejudice should finish my book with a sense of satisfaction that there is hope, and that intolerance can be overcome. Those who have never tasted the bitterness of being hated, or looked down upon because of a skin color or an accent, will (hopefully) come away from my novel with a heightened understanding of what people have to live with each and every day — being punished for a sin they’ve never committed.
FF: What words of wisdom, inspiration and sage advice can you offer to our readers as they start their way toward fiction “careers?” Do you believe that writers should write what they know?
FC: A famous author referred to his first drafts as the sputum that spontaneously emerged from him and were transformed into words and thoughts. I think the most important thing for a writer to remember is that ideas should flow freely from somewhere deep inside. As soon as the writing becomes manufactured, it quickly takes on a plastic, synthetic and artificial tone. Yes, write what you know is a good foundation on which to build a story, but sincerity and spontaneity are most important. A writer can always go back and correct spelling and grammar, but the original thought is fleeting and must be captured and memorialized on paper before it vaporizes into nothingness.
FF: I imagine that writing is like any other habit/routine. You would have to get yourself on some sort of a schedule…is that correct? Does your writing day follow a set schedule or do you write when you can?
FC: My writing routine is that I have no writing routine. I have a full-time job, am trying to market my novel, am studying for a Doctorate degree, all while I try to write. I generally do most of my writing on weekends, though many weekends come and go without a single new word being added to my manuscript. The interesting thing is that, once I do sit at my computer to write, I can’t seem to stop. I’ll often write for twelve to fifteen hours without stopping. My aching back is usually the first reminder that I’ve overdone it. This happens to work for me, but I think it’s important for a writer to keep at it each and every day if possible. Perhaps it’s the work-associated writing I do that helps to keep my pencil sharp.
FF: I know a lot of people like to ask writers, “where do you get your ideas?” For the beginning writer ideas seem as elusive as capturing the Loch Ness Monster.
FC: Ideas for writing topics are not hard to come by. We’re surrounded by interesting people, each of whom has a story to tell. Listen and observe — story ideas have a way of showing themselves. For example, a co-worker once told me a sad story about an old high school classmate of his. This poor guy suffered through an incredible string of tragedies before, unable to deal with it any longer, he committed suicide. It prompted me to write a short story that was eventually published in a literary journal.
FF: I understand you have had some medical issues to work through in your life, has this affected your ability to write and have you used your writing as a therapy?
FC: I have Multiple Sclerosis and my neurologist once asked me if the protagonist in my novel had MS. When I told him no, he asked me about the adage, “Write what you know.” I promised him that my next novel would “star” a man with MS.
FF: Do you want to tell us a bit about what you are working on next?
FC: My second novel, entitled Chronic Nights deals with a serial killer who targets men in wheelchairs. My protagonist, indeed, has MS. For some odd reason, this guy’s personality seems remarkably similar to mine. I’ve finished the first draft, my sputum, and have begun the sometimes painful task of re-writing and editing.
FF: Did you find it difficult to go from the craft of writing to the business of marketing your work?
FC: Writing truly is a craft — an art form. But publishing is strictly a business. Ask any salesman and he’ll tell you that one has to hear a hundred “no’s” before getting one “yes.” This is also true of getting published. Just as a salesperson sees every “no” as getting one step closer to a “yes,” a writer has to look at each rejection slip as one piece closer to an acceptance letter. Perseverance and faith in your work will eventually win out. Whatever happens, don’t let the rejection slips stop you from writing.
FF: When can our readers expect to see your second novel?
FC: I’ve finished the first draft of my second novel, entitled Chronic Nights. The entire prologue of Chronic Nights is on my web site, www.novel-guy.com.
FF: Frank thank you for taking the time to talk with me and tell us about your writing habits and how you got your start on fulfilling your dream as a novelist. I hope everyone takes the time to check out your site, and your book.
Buy Because They Were
Copyright 2003. Robbi Hess