Maria Hernandez interview – keep my vision intact
Maria Hernandez is an author of Puerto Rican descent born and raised in East Harlem, NY. She grew up in the Taft Projects on 115th Street, the setting for her book Trapped, which I’ve just reviewed. Trapped is already out and Trapped 2 is being released in January 2018.
About Maria Hernandez
Sam Hunter: You were born and raised in East Harlem. How has your environment, upbringing, and where you live, influenced your writing?
Maria Hernandez: Growing up in the Projects I was influenced by many. As a child I would hear my mother and her friends talk about the trials and tribulations that came with falling in love later in life. My mother divorced when we were very young and falling in love was never an option for her. She would always say if a man truly loved her he would love my brother and I as well. As an adult, I wanted to write about those many stories I heard and include the same projects that saw me grow.
Sam: What does your family think of your writing?
Maria: When I began to write I hid it from my family. They believed that one should work a nine to five in a stuffy office until retirement, so I didn’t want them to discourage me. Now, they are very proud of me.
Sam: What’s your favorite quote?
Maria: My favorite is a very simple quote by writer Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Maria Hernandez on getting into writing
Sam: What were you doing, before you started writing full-time?
Maria: I held various administrative positions in the Medical, Mortgage and Health Care field. My last place of employment was at an Adult Social Center in the Bronx, I was an enrollment specialist.
Sam: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And what started you on the path to writing?
Maria: I’ve loved writing for as long as I could remember but it wasn’t until I completed my first manuscript that I realized that I wanted to write full-time. It was on a dare that I began writing. I was employed at a Self-Publishing company and the CEO asked me if I was interested in writing. At the time I didn’t think I had it in me, so she dared me to write four chapters. When she reviewed it she asked me to continue writing and by the time I knew it I had my first manuscript. Working there exposed me to so many great authors who served as great mentors.
Sam: I bet you faced some challenges on the road to publication?
Maria: Sure, when I decided to bring my book out I was working a full-time job so the challenge was finding time to market my book. The other challenge was learning how publishing is done now-a-days. I took a break for a few years and was amazed on how much it has changed.
Maria Hernandez’s interest in books
Sam: What do you like to read in your free time?
Maria: I am interested in all, from romance to murder mysteries. I get a kick out of reading. It’s been my passion for many years.
Sam: Who are your favorite authors?
Maria: Growing up I loved the works of Stephen King, his work kept me on the edge of my seat with every page. I am also fascinated by the works of urban authors like Donald Goines, K’wan and Deborah Cardona, who’s pen name is Sexy. She is one of the first Latina urban authors to self-publish her books.
Sam: For your own reading, do you prefer e-books or traditional paper/hard back books?
Maria: I come from an age where paper/hard back books were the way to go so I avoided e-books like the plague. But I must say that now that I have e-books on my iPad I find it very convenient, especially when I’m away and want to read a good book.
Maria Hernandez on being an author
Sam: How long have you been writing?
Maria: I wrote short stories as a child and adolescent, but I mainly kept it to myself. It wasn’t until 2008 that I began to write a full novel.
Sam: How would you describe your style of writing?
Maria: I’d like to call my writing “Romance with a twist”. I add the twist because I try to write a storyline that doesn’t fall into the same flow as others.
Sam: What drew you to that genre?
Maria: I have always been a romantic at heart so writing about love comes naturally. I am looking to go outside of my genre in the future, but for now romance has a special place in my heart.
Sam: What are the upsides and downsides to being an author?
Maria: For me, the upside of being an author is the joy I get when a fan can identify with my characters because of their own experiences. I have not found a downside yet, I love being an author.
Sam: What’s been your most rewarding experience as an author?
Maria: When I see the young women from my neighborhood get excited when they find out I am an author. I love the feeling of giving them hope that they too can achieve their dreams no matter what their living circumstances are.
Sam: What nuggets of wisdom can you impart to aspiring authors?
Maria: I would advise the aspiring author to not hold back when they are writing, let their emotions run freely. When I am writing I immerse myself into my characters, it’s very exhausting but in the end readers can feel every emotion my characters experience.
Maria Hernandez on the writing process
Sam: What inspires you?
Maria: Living in NYC I get inspiration everywhere I go. I like to sit at Central Park and people watch, I have come up with many storylines by watching other’s mannerisms.
Sam: Pen, typewriter, or computer?
Maria: It depends, I use pen and paper when I’m out and an inspiration comes to mind (I always keep them in my purse). I’m not particularly a fan of the typewriter for fear of typos and having to stop and white-out the mistakes. I am more at ease with the computer.
Sam: Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?
Maria: I write because it’s the best way to keep the many ideas out of my head to make room for new ones. I love transporting myself into the scenes I create. When I find myself stuck on a particular scene, I go and take a kickboxing class. Punching the bags really clears my mind.
Sam: How do you find or make time to write?
Maria: When I decide to concentrate on my writing, I set aside a few hours every evening at home. I will turn off the cell phone, TV and avoid social media while I’m writing.
Sam: When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing? Or do you let them develop as you go?
Maria: I start to develop who my character is and their history in my thoughts before I begin to put them on paper. As I write their personalities come to light and I go from there.
Sam: What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
Maria: I like book series because they give the writer a chance to tell their story in a time span that cannot be fully written in one book.
Maria Hernandez on the industry
Sam: How do you feel about e-books vs. print books?
Maria: I never saw it as e-books vs. print books because I see both as very convenient. I have many e-books in my iPad, but I also enjoy a good print book, there’s something about turning the pages as I read a good book, it feels as if I’m entering a scene and watching the character’s lives.
Sam: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. the independent route?
Maria: With independent publishing I have more control on my work. I work with people who I know will work diligently to keep my vision intact.
Sam: What process did you go through to get your book published?
Maria: When I decided to publish my book, I surrounded myself with people who I’ve known for years who are experts in the industry. I reached out to an editor and book cover designer whom I knew had the best reputation when it came to their work. I also reached out to publishing organizations to navigate me through the newest phase of publishing.
Sam: What marketing strategies do you find most helpful?
Maria: Social Media is one of the best tools to market my book. I’ve purchased advertisements through them as well as trade magazines. Amazon has great tools as well that has helped me.
Sam: Do you think that giving books away for free works?
Maria: I totally believe in book giveaways. It’s a great way to get readers to know your work, especially if you’re a new author.
Sam: What do you think of “trailers” for books?
Maria: They are very helpful if professionally done.
Sam: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Maria: Absolutely! The cover introduces the reader to the book, it’s what peaks a reader’s interest enough to pick my book from others.
Maria Hernandez’s most recent book
Sam: I’ve just reviewed your book Trapped. How did you come up with the title for the book?
Maria: My ex-employer, from the self-publishing company, and I were at her home trying to come up with a name, so we wrote down several ideas. I wasn’t too happy with them, then out of the blue the word “Trapped” came to mind. She fell in love with the title as well, so we kept it.
Sam: Did you plan on Trapped being the first in a series?
Maria: At first, I didn’t think of Trapped as a series because at the time I didn’t think I was going to continue to write because of issues that arose in my life. When readers approached me, and asked when I’d write a sequel I re-read my book and realized there were unresolved issues my characters needed to address.
Sam: Tell me about the main characters?
Maria: I love my main characters. Angelina and Daryl are two people who met by chance and began a love affair for different reasons. I love the complexity of their journey together and how they both carry demons inside that explode throughout the book.
Sam: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Maria: I always believe that a writer should write what they know. At the time, I came up with a scenario of a woman in her early Forties who, due to circumstances beyond her control, had to return to her childhood home, an imperfect place she tried to escape when she moved to another state, it was a situation that happened to me. From that scenario I developed the other characters.
Sam: What’s the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
Maria: That it’s okay to fall in love, but be vigilant of who we fall in love with. We often see uneasy signs that the person we meet may not be the right fit for us, but love often has us turn a blind eye.
Sam: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Maria: My main character Angelina’s relationship with her father. There were some scenes I used from experiences I went through with my own father. There were times I had to walk away from my computer and take a breather, especially when I wrote the pain Angelina felt throughout her life because her father wasn’t there.
Sam: I got the sense that you really poured yourself and your experiences into Trapped and its characters. Can you tell me a bit more about what that was like for you?
Maria: It wasn’t easy writing about Angelina’s father, especially the pain she felt for many years growing up without him. Like her character, I grew up without a father figure in my household. People think that the pain a child feels doesn’t carry into their adult life, but I can tell you it does. I didn’t realize it until I began writing Trapped that the pain of abandonment was still with me, and it was a driving force that drove me to the unhealthy choices I made as an adult. But writing Trapped helped me walk through the pain and get to the other side with a whole new perspective of who I am.
Sam: Is there a balance to be struck between writing from your experience for the interest of your readers and writing your own experience and getting wrapped up in it? How did you handle that?
Maria: When I would sit down to continue my writing, I would always read the previous three chapters, it’s a habit I continue to this day. By doing so it helped me focus on continuing the story as an outsider looking into the lives of my characters, like a ghost standing in the corner watching the living go on with their lives. By doing so, it helped me write a clear storyline.
Sam: The end of Trapped has Angelina going into the ‘family business’. I’m guessing this isn’t something you’ve been involved in, so how do you see yourself connecting with her as the story continues?
Maria: I am a strong believer in research when writing something I am not familiar with, so I have spent time studying the lives of people who have lived ‘The Life’ by reading and viewing documentaries. Angelina will be thrown into a life unfamiliar to her and with time she will become accustomed to it, however, who she is doesn’t change much. There are personalities in us that we could never shake off because our lives are different, and that is what I bring into Angelina’s new world in Trapped 2.
Sam: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Maria: I enjoyed watching Angelina evolve into a person she never imagined she could be. Her confidence and determination to be happy was most joyous.
Sam: What’s the story behind your cover? Who produced it? What was the process like?
Maria: My book cover was designed by an outstanding young artist named Nicolle Cure. I met her when I lived in Miami, she was an aspiring artist entering college. When it came time to design my book cover I reached out to her on Social Media and she was more than happy to do it. I let her come up with a design based on a photo I had purchased and when she sent me the finished product I immediately fell in love with it.
Maria Hernandez on her future projects
Sam: What are you working on right now?
Maria: I finished the sequel to Trapped and I am currently working on its release in January 2018. I want to continue writing and I am also in the process of opening the doors of my publishing company, MCT Publications, to new authors. We all have a story to tell and I want to give others the opportunity to do so.
Maria Hernandez on her readers
Sam: What do your fans mean to you?
Maria: They are great! My fans give me the enthusiasm to continue writing.
Sam: Do you hear from readers much?
Maria: Oh yes, I do and I love it. I get emails from readers across the United States and England who enjoyed reading my book. They are anxiously awaiting the sequel’s release. They are also contacting me through social media.
Sam: Anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Maria: I want to thank them for walking this wonderful journey with me. It’s because of them that I continue with my work.