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Author Chat with Steven Torres


Transcript of Live Chat
June 30, 2004

NYPL Our guest today is Steven Torres, the author of the Precinct Puerto Rico mystery series featuring Luis Gonzalo, the sheriff of Angustias, a fictionalized small town in the heart of Puerto Rico. Library Journal said of Steven's second book: "A welcome second helping of crazy characters, unique situations, and an unusual protagonist."

NYPL Welcome, Steven. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

S.Torres Born in the Bronx, Puerto Rican, Went to Hunter College. Living in Utica, now. I'm also the author of several mysteries set in Puerto Rico, The Precinct Puerto Rico series.

S.Torres Married, and I teach college English at Utica College in upstate NY.

NYPL Why did you decide to use Puerto Rico as the setting for this series? The setting is so lovingly described, it's almost another character, would you agree?

S.Torres No one else was using Puerto Rico for mysteries. I think the island is underexposed. I'm trying to show readers what kind of people there are in PR as well as the natural beauty of the island.

NYPL Could you describe for us what the most challenging part of being a writer is? Is it staying motivated?

S.Torres Probably the most challenging part of being a writer is staying focused on the audience. Making sure one understands that it's not being written JUST for fun.

NYPL Could you describe for us what the most challenging part of being a writer is? Is it staying motivated?

S.Torres It's easy to focus on just what I want to do. A little harder to keep the reader in mind.

NYPL When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

S.Torres When I found out I could make money from it.
Just kidding. When I convinced myself that I could do the work just as well or better than other people who were getting paid for it.

S.Torres Any aspiring writers out there?

Carlos Steven- Is this the first fictionalized detective in Puerto Rican literature? Any detective works written in Spanish by Puerto Rican authors?

S.Torres Hi, as far as I know, this is the first and only series set in PR. I'm not positive I'm the only PR writer out there. I know there are a lot of good Latino mystery writers. Carolina Garcia Aguilera for one. Cuban.
Carlos Steven - Have you had any proposals for film rights?

S.Torres I've got an agent in LA who is TALKING, but that's about it. Agents can talk forever.

NYPL Was there any one person or event in your life that influenced you most as you developed into an author?

S.Torres Nope. It's a lot of things.

NYPL Was there any one person or event in your life that influenced you most as you developed into an author?

S.Torres I just now figured out that I get a love of hearing words and different ways of saying them from my father. The love of story telling is too Puerto Rican. Everyone tells stories. You need something to laugh about.

NYPL Do you think you'll send Gonzalo to NYC to solve a mystery? There must be many things that you observed growing up in NYC that might work their way into a story...

S.Torres I'm going to be writing a NYC mystery soon. I don't know about bringing Luis Gonzalo to the city though. It seems a little like bringing Tarzan to NYC.

NYPL What 's the best advice you can give to aspiring writers? What's one piece of knowledge they shouldn't live -- and write -- without knowing?

S.Torres Writers have to write. If you're not writing, you're not a writer. If you are writing, then you are.

NYPL What 's the best advice you can give to aspiring writers? What's one piece of knowledge they shouldn't live -- and write -- without knowing?

S.Torres Also, remember that you are looking at a LIFE of writing. It's not just one story or poem or even a book. Keep your eye on the next project. It's not a one shot deal.

NYPL Do you have any books hidden away that haven't been published?

S.Torres I just finished one that starts out with a few scenes about Chupacabra. It turns into a murder mystery. Pretty good if I do say so myself.

NYPL Was it hard getting your first book published?

S.Torres That's a long story. I'll make it short. I sent out my first novel to seven publishers and one of them called me back the next day. A few months later, it was sold and I had a contract for three more. But the publisher went out of business. My editor went to work at St. Martin's Press and brought my novels with her. So I've been paid twice for those same books. Pretty sweet.

Clay Hi, Did I hear that you actually grew up right in a library???

S.Torres Yeah. It's true. Where'd you hear that? My father was the janitor for the Tremont Branch on Washington Ave. in the BX. In those days some of the janitors got free apartments above the library. It was pretty huge, and at night I had all the books I wanted.

Clay O.K., I admit it, it's inside information since I know your Mom.

S.Torres Hey, what a coincidence. I know her too.

NYPL Where do your ideas come from? Do you read the newspaper every day?

S.Torres I don't read the newspapers, I mean not for crime stories. The premise in Book #1 came from the headlines -- it's about the death of some illegal immigrants based on a true story. For the most part, it's all imagination or I spin something out of a story I heard.

NYPL Have family or friends, or yourself, inspired any of your characters?

S.Torres Yes, but they don't know it. I take little bits and pieces of the people I know and love and give those traits to the characters. Every writer does it. Sometimes it's the way a person looks or a verbal tic they may have. Whatever. If a character is in love with Johnny Depp, then it's my niece. But I can change that so that they love another actor or turn it into a singer.

mj-morrisania What books did you pick up the most while at Tremont?

S.Torres I guess I was in grades 2 to 5. I remember a lot of Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. I could never figure them out.

NYPL How did you learn so much about crime and investigative work?

S.Torres Still learning more every day. I have family members in the police (or retired). More importantly, it's also reading. There are a lot of great books on police work, investigation work, etc.

NYPL Who are some of your favorite mystery authors?

S.Torres I just finished a book called Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas. Excellent. Ian Rankin. SJ Rozan. Dennis Lehane. The usual suspects.

NYPL Which of the books that you've written is your favorite?

S.Torres The first one I wrote is scheduled to come out in May 2006. It's still my favorite. Other than that, I like the first one to be published pretty well, too. Lots of action.

NYPL Do you think there's any chance that any of your books will become movies? If so, who will play Luis Gonzalo in the movie?

S.Torres I hope so. When I wrote the first novel I had a singer in mind as Luis Gonzalo. Ruben Blades. I remembered him from The Milagro Beanfield War.

Clay Who are some of your favorite non-mystery writers?

S.Torres I like 19th century novels. Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, especially. Of the modern people, I really like some short story writers: John Updike (who also writes novels, of course), Stuart Dybeck. I also read a lot of the Star Trek series of novels.

NYPL How long does it typically take you to write a novel?

S.Torres I can write one in a summer, if I'm not teaching. It takes longer during the semester.

NYPL Do you think fiction writing is something that can be taught or do you believe it's entirely dependent upon natural talent? How did you discover your talent? "

S.Torres I think there is a lot about fiction writing that can be taught. There is really only one thing that I think can't be taught in fiction writing. I can't teach someone to be interested in writing. I can give you good reasons why you should be interested, but I can't make you get there.

NYPL Do you know how your books are going to end before you begin them? Do you use a complete outline?

S.Torres I sit down to type once I have a good idea how the book is going to end. Sometimes I surprise myself and there's a different ending than I thought. Something more exciting or something that is a better logical fit.

NYPL I'm fascinated by people who can write mysteries. Do you know how it will turn out when you begin? Do you know whodunnit?

S.Torres I start writing when I think I know who did it. It sometimes turns out that the character I thought did it, didn't really do it. Not because I am not in control, but because I create a character who is more interesting.

NYPL Are you working on any special books or projects now?

S.Torres Well, there is the Chupacabra book. (Sample on my website []). Also, I'm thinking up a pretty good Sci-fi adventure.

NYPL How does your family feel about your becoming an author? Are there other writers in your family?

S.Torres There are a lot of people who tell stories in my family, but not any who put it down on paper. They think there's some special magic that I have that they don't. Silly, but that's what a lot of people think. I'm certainly not the best story teller in my family, but I'm the only one who thinks them out and writes them down.

NYPL What are some of the most interesting things people have said to you about your books?

S.Torres I've been told that my books are funny. I put so much fighting and shooting and so many serious issues in them that it's hard for me to think of them as funny.

Bibi Hello


NYPL Did you have a special teacher who encouraged you to read/write as a child?

S.Torres I had a teacher who DIScouraged me in college. Said my stories weren't really sellable. I guess I showed him.

NYPL When you are working on a book, do you jot down ideas for upcoming books as well, or do you just focus on the book you're currently writing?

S.Torres I'm a little too disorganized to jot down things. If it's a good story, I'll remember it. I also try to get a start on stories that come to mind, maybe write out the first chapter. That will jog my memory later.

NYPL What are some other obstacles (besides that teacher) you've had to overcome?

S.Torres Interesting. Being a Puerto Rican is an obstacle in some ways -- people expect you to be the stock boy, not the store owner. But, I never really bother with obstacles. If people don't think I can get a Ph.D., I'll get one anyway. If they tell me getting published is too hard, it rolls off me. There are obstacles to overcome, but the best way to do that is to ignore them and do what you want to do.

NYPL How do you write? Do you sit in the same place all the time, or write in a special place, or wait for inspiration -- or do you just do it?

S.Torres Just do it. I wrote a chapter on a train last week. I usually write at the computer I'm using now. But I can also use pen and paper.

NYPL Do you spend a lot of time getting the JUST PERFECT word to use in a situation?

S.Torres Nope. Remember, this is a career. There's another book to write so I have to get this one done. The perfect word may never come. How do you find the right word to describe how you feel? Hard. Just come up with something. There'll be time after the story is out on paper to edit it.

Bibi How many books have you written?

S.Torres I have written a total of six books. Seven if you include my doctoral dissertation.

Clay Have you done book tours across the country? Any surprises out there?

S.Torres I have done book signings in Texas, California, Puerto Rico. Lots of strange things in this country but what kind of surprises?

Clay Surprises like unexpected questions or points of view you weren't expecting.

S.Torres Yes. I didn't expect that there were so many book buyers who don't care about me. I mean. They want my autograph on their copy of my book, but they
want it just because I'm AN author, not because they like my books. They have actually put the books I sign into plastic bags right in front of me. They're collectors, and they will never read the book because they might damage the spine. Weird.

NYPL If you had to pick a favorite character you have written about, who would it be? Is there someone else's character that you love?

S.Torres Of my own characters, I guess I like the Luis Gonzalo character from book #1. He was pretty well developed there. For other authors, any character by Dickens.

Clay What was the subject of your doctoral dissertation?

S.Torres God. 19th Century American Literature and Speech Act Theory, a theory about how words are used to perform actions. Pretty boring.

NYPL How many rewrites do you usually have to do on your books?

S.Torres It turns out my publisher likes me to do two official ones. It's hard to say what's a rewrite. If I delete a paragraph and do it again, is that a rewrite?

NYPL Where do you teach? What courses?

S.Torres Utica College. I teach American Literature and College Composition.

NYPL Steven, we're running out of time. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us before the session ends?

S.Torres Is that all? I was just getting started. I wanted to thank the Library for allowing me to speak to the readers in this way. Don't be shy, if there are more questions, come over to my website. Email me. If it tells you the message didn't get through, ignore it. It's a glitch. Thanks again.

Clay Thanks! This is my first experience with an author chat, and it was great!

S.Torres My first experience too. I agree.

NYPL Thanks, Steven, for a wonderful look inside the mysterious mind of a mystery writer. Everyone, please join us for a chat next week with children's author Ann M. Martin on Tuesday, July 6.

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