Carlos Aleman is a Cuban American writer, painter, illustrator, book cover designer, digital product artist/prototyper and web designer. An early e-book draft of this novel entitled As Happy As Ling was a finalist in the 2012 International Latino Book Awards. In 2013, the release in paperback of Happy That It’s Not True was named one of the best novels of the year by the Latina Book Club. Carlos lives in Sunrise, Florida with his wife Jean. Visit him here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, Happy That It’s Not True. How did you get the idea for it? It’s part of a trilogy, right? So how will the story unfurl?
Since there were so many themes going on with Happy That It’s Not True, I decided to sandwich it between a prequel and a sequel to further explain them. I wanted to tell a story about people falling in love with each other and experiencing conflict and tension and all sorts of inexplicable things that don’t fully make sense to them. That’s a little like life. We don’t usually see the reasons for the things that happen, and we also have a hard time accepting the randomness of life.
The first story,Happy That It’s Not True, gives the reader a glimpse of the interconnectedness of friends, strangers and family members.The end of the book reveals a sort of parallel universe existing and providing the possibility that there is something more profound going on.
The sequel, Diego in Two Places, shows that there is something far more mysterious at work than just two alternate realities running side by side. By the end of the book, everything is explained, crime is punished, and love is perfected.
The prequel, Nuno, is the very beginning of the family saga. It shows the strange sets of events that led up to leaving the old world and becoming first generation Americans. It provides a missing piece in the Nuno/Diego mystery.
I got the idea for the trilogy as a result of thinking about how different life would be if the opposite of every circumstance was true—if the good and the bad where swapped with each other. I also like the idea of a man loving a woman so much that he would do or give up anything for her. So, naturally, alternate realities seemed like the best approach for exploring such love in the mist of life’s storms—to see how love holds up in every condition.
NAW- Tell us about your forthcoming work, Diego.
Diego in Two Places further explores the theme of a man’s all-encompassing love for a woman. The story unfolds with each version of Diego playing a role in their mutual destiny. It starts off in Cuba with the discovery of a dead body washing up on shore. As an investigation is conducted, Diego’s circle of friends are suspected of being involved in illegal activities. Meanwhile, the alternate version of Diego, grows up in Miami, a teenager in the 1980’s unaware of his other self and how their destinies are intertwined. He eventually becomes a wealthy man and experiences an otherworldly proposal that changes his life. These events reveal all the secrets hidden in Happy That It’s Not True, yet a new mystery arises that has broader implications for everyone. The story achieves closure as the Diego and his love, Ling, listen to each other’s heartbeats, experiencing a miracle that only the reader is aware of.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Nuno. How did you develop the character?
Nuno was loosely based on my grandfather, Francisco. He was a political prisoner in Cuba. Having never been to Cuba, I researched the history of the island and found many things that I thought would be interesting in a story. Francisco, even without the mythic qualities I projected onto him was a very interesting person. He was a clever man, capable of talking his way into a just about anything, a lieutenant in the Cuban Navy, and a sharpshooting instructor.
Shortly after my father left when I was three, Francisco was released from prison and came to the US. He made a brief visit to New York City to see my mother, and eventually we moved down to Miami to live with him and my grandmother. He became my only father figure, and it was easy to reflect upon him and describe some of his traits in a fictional character.
In Nuno, I created a mythic hero. He experiences the joys and sorrows of life and comes of age in a time of mystery and danger. In creating someone approaching legend status, I wanted him to be a larger than life character, someone who felt a little more, thought a little more, loved a little more than most men. Through magical realism, Nuno transcends worlds and sets the stage for a trilogy.
NAW- Tell us about the research you carried out for your book? And why did you choose Cuba as a setting for your work?
I’ve heard people say that a writer should actually experience the place they’re writing about. They theorize that physical familiarity with a place in essence legitimizes the work. Having traveled quite a bit, I know that there are certain things you can never feel about a place unless you’ve been there. However, never having been to Cuba didn’t prevent me from writing extensively about it. My fascination with the island, because of my Cuban heritage, made it quite easy to write about Cuba. In the prequel, Nuno, I’m writing about a Cuba that no longer exists, so far in the past it seems now that all one can really do is ask people who do remember it for details and read books about it. In Diego in Two Places, I write about the current Cuba. I referenced the Cuban activist/blogger Yoani Sanchez quite a bit as well as a tremendous amount of online research. I’m aware that views of Cuba usually fall within two political perspectives, so I’ve tried to achieve a balance between the two. Ultimately, it’s all about telling a good story. If you do this well, the reader will never know that the scene is full of props, the blood is fake, and that it took hundred takes just to get something right.
NAW- How do you decide the names for your characters?
The naming of characters has to flow like the rest of the creative process. For me, they need to come naturally, as if someone whispered them into my ear while I was typing. If you dwell on it too much, you lose the flow of imagination. Sometimes, character names don’t work and you realize this later on. This happened to me with Nuno. I knew I need a better name, and one day I was flipping through a sports magazine and saw a player named Nuno. I instantly knew that Nuno would work perfectly for the story.There was also a military history to the name, which serendipitously worked out for me.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How difficult (or easy) was it finding a publisher? What is your favourite and least exciting part of the publishing process?
As many writers might tell you, most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore. So it’s not really about finding a publisher, but landing a literary agent. Neither of which worked out too well for me. I received about 400 rejections from agents. It wasn’t surprising since my story didn’t fit the mold of what was considered commercial. I eventually submitted my story to the International Latino Book Awards and it was nominated for best e-book. The best thing that came out of this was that AignosPublishing , based in Hawaii, wanted to publish my book. They were the perfect publisher for me, because of their specialty in experimental literature. Instead of needing to conform to a commercial formula, they actually encouraged me to be different. So, I was able to use the exact titles and covers I wanted with very few changes to the narrative. I’ve developed a friendship with the owners of Aignos, so I’ve been quite fortunate with my publishing experience.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing? You are also an artist, right?
I’ve been working at the same technology company since 1999. I’m a senior designer and prototyper. My first love is painting and drawing. My last exhibit was in the fall of 2012. I work in mixed media, usually Asian inspired subject matter. I’ve been to China and Japan, and I’ve had a lifelong love of Asian art and culture. My wife, Jean, is Chinese and has inspired much of my work, from my character, Ling, in my novels, to the anime like drawings of empresses and geishas. I’m quite a gym rat;and body building is also something that takes up a lot of my time.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
On the very top of my list are Haruki Murakami, Khaled Hosseini, Amy Tan, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
In a separate list for poets: Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Tagore, Walt Whitman
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I spend a lot of time reflecting, dreaming, or thinking in the shower. I allow this only if it’s part of the creative process. If the mind starts to ruminate without boundaries, that can lead to a lot of negativity. So instead of trying to make any effort to manage my emotions, I keep my thinking to the construction of something light and fun. I can do this with heavy subject matter as long as I’m aware that I am merely entertaining and everything is ultimately theatrics. If I’ve had enough interesting dreams or ideas during those times in the morning when I’m still half asleep, I might start writing if I get the feeling it’s leading to something. Once I officially embark on a novel, I’ll make a very rough timeline of events that seem to help me in constructing a story. Every day, new ideas flush out the old ones and I’m able to make connections between events that I couldn’t before. Subplots spontaneously arise, and the complexity grows organically. Once the characters become ‘real’, it’s easy to think about them all the time and imagine new situations for them. So it’s kind of a snowball effect, millions of different ideas seem to get added by the time you reach fifty thousand or more words.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami. It’s the longest novel I’ve read since the Green Mile by Stephen King, actually, TGM was the complete serial novel bounded together as one book. I’ve read several of Murakami’s books. I like his erotic—Kafka style narrative. If you find any such naughtiness in my books, you can blame Murakami.