People are often surprised when I tell them that English isn’t my first language. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Spent the first 17 years of my life in a tropical island where everything was in Spanish (with a few things in English). And as much as I enjoyed some things in P.R. it’s not where my heart was. I wanted to be an American (which technically I am since P.R is a commonwealth of the US). Living in P.R was rough, the electricity often comes and goes (thank you hurricane season), same deal with the water, sometimes all you get is a tiny trickle of nothing to do simple things like take a shower. But the thing that annoyed me the most was the lack of library in town and in school. When I was 12 or 13 years old my father moved our family from the city to the mountains (aka El Culo del Mundo – The Ass of the World) things became even more difficult. If I wanted a book my mom would have to drive me and my brother for an hour and a half to Old San Juan (the capital city) to go to a book store that was roughly the size of my kitchen. The choice of books? Sweet Valley High, Archie and fairy tales. That’s it. Those were my choices.
Every once in a while I got lucky and would get a classic novel (in English) while I was at Walmart or Kmart (yes, they do have those in P.R) but it wasn’t until I was 17 years old that there was light at the end of the tunnel. We were moving to Delaware. I had no idea where it was on the map but it was in the US and that’s where I wanted to be. After being stuck in the mountains of Puerto Rico with few friends that I only saw when I went to school and nothing but cows chewing cud to keep me company I was finally going to get the hell out and rejoin civilization. I was going to find a library even if it killed me.
My dad was the first one to leave (he was getting a job and a place to live so that we could then move with him) and one of the things he said to cheer me up was that there was a place called Borders and that it was filled with books. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just saying that to make me feel better about moving. Because as excited as I was to leave…I was also terrified. P.R was all I knew. Sure, I was getting picked on at school, I was sick of the heat, hurricanes and the regular nothing that happened on a daily basis but it was all I knew.
But leaving P.R was on my to do list.
1. Leave P.R <—- see?
2. Find a library
3. Write a book
4. Publish book
5. Make friends
(Trust me, my list was much longer than this but you get the idea).
When I finally came to Delaware it was on September 9th, 1999. 9-9-99. Weird huh? It was grey, cold, drizzling and it was so strange for me but I was trying to be optimistic. The next day my dad took me to Borders. I still didn’t believe him. I thought it was going to be another lame little rinky-dinky hole in the wall with a few books. When he drove me up to the HUGE building I couldn’t help but smile. It was real. I walked inside still unsure of what to expect and I wish I could go back to that moment. Tears stung my eyes. I had never seen so many books in my whole entire life. I wanted to pitch a tent and live in this wonderful place. I wanted to read every single book in this building. I never wanted to leave. I think I stayed there for a few hours. And obviously I bought a book. Which one?
I went to Borders every chance I could get. I wanted to learn how to be a writer. I wanted my book to be on the shelves of this place I loved so much. So I went to the reference section and read every book I could get my hands on about writing a novel. I didn’t understand a lot of what I read (still had that language gap), I took a writing class at Del Tech and I didn’t even know how to use the tab key. The teacher made me drop the class because I was doing so poorly. But I kept on keeping on. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I kept reading novels and figuring out what these writers were doing that worked for them. I read Writer’s Digest, The Writer and any magazine that had the word ‘Writer’ on it.
Then I found out I could get a job at Borders. LOL That was an enlightening moment. Please keep in mind that I’m still seventeen years old at this moment in time. I think I applied once a month for about six months until someone called me and said, ‘We have your application….please stop applying.’ LOL. Safe to say I got the job. Stayed there for 2 1/2 years.
Anyway what I’m trying to say is that if you have a dream, you can make it happen. In my case it took A LOT of hard work and dedication to make it happen. I didn’t go to school to learn to be a writer. I’m still making mistakes. But you will still find me in the reference section of any bookstore looking for books on how to be a better writer. I’m always learning something new. I want to be better at my craft. I love working with editors, because even though it kills me when they point out my mistakes that’s the best way for me to learn. For someone to point stuff out to me and show me what I still need to work on.
🙂 I’m still learning how to make something out of nothing.