Let’s face it, even if he won’t say it himself, author Johnny Diaz is sexy. This delicious Cuban man is more than just a pretty face. He’s a reputable journalist who has worked at such outlets as The Boston Globe, Miami Herald and currently The Sun Sentinel. But his heart is in writing his popular gay romances.
I had the opportunity to chat with Diaz about his newest Looking for Providence, the challenges of balancing work and writing and his advice to other writers who want to get a media outlet to write about them.
You mostly write about gay romance from the angle of multiple friends (sort of a gay Waiting to Exhale type of feel) wouldn’t you say? Tell us what makes your books so unique?
Waiting to Exhale? I’m flattered. (smile) My books are light, fun and positive stories about gay Latinos and their friends. More often than not, gay fiction tends to be porn on paper or weighed down with heavy depressing themes. I began writing my novels because I wanted to celebrate the power of friendships by a group of men in Boston, Miami (and now Providence) as they search for their place professionally and personally. Each character is also looking for that special guy. Hanging out with my characters should feel like you’re spending a night out with your best friend as you gay about a crush you have or dating issues.
Do you worry writing about the Cuban American experience limits your readership? Have you ever been tempted to write for a mainstream audience under a pen name?
I’ve thought about that, how writing about the Cuban-American experience may limit my readership. It’s usually one main character in each of the books who is Cuban-American. The others are Italian-American or Portuguese-Irish or simply American-born. I believe you should write what you know so I pluck from my Cuban-American experiences in Boston and Miami. My sister keeps urging me to write for a broader mainstream audience to reach more people. But somehow I keep returning to my male characters. It’s like they speak to me, loudly.
What is Looking for Providence about? And how is it the same but different than your previous work?
L4P is about two best friends, Ronnie in Providence and Elias in Miami. They’re adapting to changes in their jobs. Ronnie was a features writer at a Rhode Island newspaper until budget cuts forced him to become a Business reporter which he’s not happy about. And Elias was a videographer/cameraman at a cable network until he was laid off because of the economy. So both friends are starting over in different ways. Along the way, they are there for each other as they discover new romantic interests. While on an assignment, Ronnie falls for a handsome toy executive in Providence who shows him around the city and how to open up to love again. Elias finds himself in Berlin as a volunteer helping clean up the historic memorial sites. He also crushes on his geeky handsome (geeksome) host roommate Otto who makes him feel appreciated and at home in Germany. So the book follows Ronnie and Elias’s individual journeys, which of course they talk, text and Skype about with each other. Readers of my previous books will enjoy this one as well but this new book has different settings.
Are we going to get anymore Beantown stories?
I feel like I’ve exhausted Boston as a muse which is why I shifted the story to Providence with this new book. I want to write about another New England city but I haven’t decided which one yet. Boston will always factor into my books even if it’s just a chapter or two. I still feel a strong connection to my former home.
We’ve known each other for quite some time in a “past life”. You really helped me at the beginning of my career. For those that don’t know, you came from a journalistic background. How do you manage to juggle day-job responsibilities with your author career?
Thank you, Jamie. One of my coworkers says I have the ability to fold time and space because he can’t figure out how I find time to report my news stories and features for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, keep up with my blog and write my books. (I tell him that I have a clone!) Just kidding. I’m slightly OCD so I can laser-focus on whatever I am working on at the moment and not get distracted. I use the weekends to work on the books. I park my butt at Barnes and Noble in Coral Gables weekend afternoons and work away on the fiction. During the week, I focus on my full-time job. It’s matter of making time to write. You have to be disciplined and just do it. No excuses. Sit down and write. Turn off your phone. Give yourself at least an hour and you’d be surprised how much pours out. But if I think of a scene or dialogue while I’m driving or running in downtown Miami, I leave myself a voicemail with those thoughts.
For those who are interested in getting coverage for their own books and want to pitch a journalist, what’s the wrong way to do it and what’s the right way?
I find the best way to pitch a journalist is an email with at least 2-3 weeks advance notice letting the reporter know why the book or story may be of interest to that publication’s readers (is the author from the area? is the story set in that news outlet’s coverage area? Is there some sort of local angle to the book that could be of interest to that publication?) You want to hook the journalist as you do your reader so you need to tailor your email/news release to his/her or their paper’s interests and needs. If the journalist hasn’t responded to the email after a few days, I would call them and nicely followup as a reminder. If they don’t call back, I would also email their editor or department head of that section. It can’t hurt. Journalists are multi-tasking all day so sometimes, we forget about an email or overlook it. So the more people you reach out to (but don’t over do it), the better chances you’ll have of getting on their radar and getting coverage.
You recently wrote a post on your blog about your segue into indie publishing. For those who haven’t read your insightful post yet, why did you make switch and would you traditionally publish again?
After seeing some fellow authors whom I enjoy reading experiment with self-publishing, I wanted to try it myself. I looked at it as a challenge but also an education in publishing from another perspective. I never designed a book cover or formatted my own copy. My two publishers always took care of that. I wanted to experience the process from beginning to end. It wasn’t easy but I felt a great sense of…I-DID-THIS! It’s been empowering. Also, after my mom passed away last November, I needed a project to distract me somewhat from the loss. Working on the book was therapeutic. I felt productive, working toward a goal. Right now, I’m not sure if I want to traditionally publish or self-publish again but I do know I will write another book. I want to see how the new book performs over the next few months before I decide which path to pursue. But another positive for self-publishing is the immediacy of releasing the book. You don’t have to wait a year or so for the book to be published. You have control over when to release the title. Just upload!
There are over 50 million Latinos in America right now, many of whom are primarily English-speaking or bilingual yet not many seem to support Latino literature, English Latino television or film. Do you agree and why is that? What are you doing or what do you think other artists or decision makers should do to change that?
I think it’s all about having good content and not trying to focus on the Latino market or bilingual generation. That’s where I think some of the networks and publications are missing the point. I’m Cuban-American, speak English and Spanish but I’m not interested in telenovelas or Spanish-language TV talk shows. I like science fiction movies, romance novels in English, “Psych’ reruns and reality TV. So commercials with Spanish or Spanglish don’t appeal to me. That may work for someone who is more dominant in Spanish or from another country. Latinos come in all hues and backgrounds with various interests so trying to create a one-for-all publication or TV program is not going to work. It’s all about the content. Most of my readers tend to be older white American men (and straight women) so go figure. I believe if you have content that an average person may relate to and see themselves in, then you’re on the right track. Look at “Modern Family”, it’s funny, smart and diverse. It appeals to everyone not just Sofia Vergara fans.
Where can we get a copy of your books?