I met a Chicago author with Guatemalan roots, Dennis Avelar, at the 51st Ward Books Festival, where celebrated multi-cultural and linguistical books for young readers.
"The Blue Q" was a fiction novel for young adults, though Avelar's cinematic story-telling made it enjoyable for all adults. The main character was a young boy who became a spiritual animal - - you'll know what I mean if you read this book - - wink, wink. I think that Avelar has two strengths: ONE, The ability to create highly detailed narratives (his film background may contribute to this); TWO, Great support on his book tours (from his family and friends).
I met his family at the book festival. They were indeed supportive, gathering audiences and talking about "The Blue Q" and Guatemalan culture & history. Many writers may be shy when selling books themselves, but family support is very reassuring when close people excel at it.
Recently, I went to Beth McDermott, "Figure 1" book release party. Her mother ordered cookies that were frosted with the cover of her book. Those little things were real encouraging to the writers present.
Takashi Murakami, a Japanese contemporary artist, once said that writers & artists must sell their products to their parents & family first. If your family is convinced of your projects and purchase your works, your art is real.
"I don’t know of anyone in the traditional publishing industry. I have no contacts, I know no agents, and I have no idea how to go from completed story to New York Times bestseller – but that doesn’t mean I will not do everything in my power to at least try." - - Dennis Avelar
Here are three questions about Dennis Avelar's creative processes!
How did your family support your creative process?
My family has never stopped supporting my creative process, though I have been challenged in many ways by them. Prior to writing “The Blue Q”, I studied and graduated with honors from Columbia College Chicago’s film and video program. Here I learned the fine art of filmmaking, which is a massive undertaking regardless of the scope of any project.
Regardless of how thoughtfully diverse or just plain weird my ideas were, members of my family were eager to help me. My mother has always been my greatest fan, and my brothers have contributed wherever possible. My nieces and nephews have many times been my key actors and actresses. Even when I was working in a creative field on my own, I was fortunate in that I could lean on them for help when needed.
In terms of being an author, my first presentation in Guatemala (for a book with a Guatemalan theme and protagonist) was done in front of my extended family, and they happily and proudly purchased copies of the book and asked for them to be signed and dedicated. My family in Guatemala helps me tremendously, and they continue to do so even when my requests are above-and-beyond. There are some members of my family who refuse to miss a single one of my presentations, and even if they are the only ones in the room for the presentation, it makes me smile to know they are there for me. That’s a dedication and commitment that has no value, yet means more to me than I can express through words.
I can tell you a short story that recently occurred to me, which caught me by complete surprise. My nephew is currently a sophomore in high school, though he was a notoriously distracted child – very intelligent, but when he was younger his mind would travel to faraway lands while his teacher tried to get him to focus on something like spelling.
He has always been a fun-loving kid, but now as he has grown older, his priorities have shifted. One of the ways in which he is more social is by talking more to others, and in a complete, uncommon characteristic, he is now even talking to girls his age. I have yet to confirm whether or not he is interested in a particular ‘friend’, but we’ll see what happens. I learned just yesterday that he asked and took this young woman as his date to homecoming over the weekend.
Anyway, the friend that he may-or-may-not-have-a-crush-on had a birthday not too long ago. Now, having huge selection of options from which to choose for him to gift this young lady, my nephew choose to give her a copy of my novel. What’s more, he did not want it donated, but rather he used his own money to pay for a copy. I was shocked; not by the action, but by the gesture. The best gift a shy young man chose to give to his young crush for her birthday was a copy of his uncle’s novel, my novel! That is a compliment worth far more to me than any star-rating on any online network.
How did you find time to write such a long novel with your full-time job?
It comes down to one word: perseverance. After some time, it became more about the story I wanted it to be than about the number of words or pages that were typed. But there is much more to it than just sitting down in front of my laptop and adding words to a blank document.
The journey of “The Blue Q” began when I was approximately 9 years old. I vaguely remember the summer of 1992 as that was the year the Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, and the first time professional basketball players were allowed to participate (being from Chicago, my family and I were BIG fans of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and the Chicago Bulls). My family and I were in Guatemala at the time, so while I do not recall watching the events like we may have done back in Chicago, I do look back on that trip as the first I can recall of my visits to Guatemala.
What I most remember is visiting a small town named Esquintla – which is approximately halfway between Guatemala City and the city of Mazatenango (where most of my family lives) – where we had ice cream under a large tree. My mother explained to me that the tree under which we found shade was actually a ceiba tree, which is the national tree of Guatemala, and that it was unique because of its roots, it’s bark, and the formation of its branches. I did not think much of it at the time, but I recall that tree in the town square.
The only other aspect I recall about that trip to Guatemala was an interesting rock formation along the side of a busy, 2-lane road. It was a creation of art made of a few very large stones, slightly carved and then painted to look like a bird known as a quetzal. Now, I vaguely remember an uncle of mine pulling over the car and stopping briefly on the side of this narrow road to explain the quetzal to us.
He explained that the quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala and that it is a symbol of our people. I remember the impression that rock formation made on me, and despite it being noting more than a few painted stones - it was not nearly as massive in scale as Mount Rushmore or any number of rock carvings that are so prominent in the United States – the fact that this bird was important enough to be represented in this manner made a great impression on me.
Time went on, years passed, and though I vaguely (though fondly) remembered that trip, new priorities came to light. Chicago continued to provide endless stories, but none were so prominent in my life than the (mis)adventures of my brother’s activities. He seemed to always find a way to get himself in trouble (or methods in which to get himself out of it), but no matter what he gave me the foundation for storytelling. One day, for reasons I have yet to understand, I took pen to paper and wrote a story about him. The short story became my very first, “My Big Brother”, which today is the standard by which I create my artistic universe; not because of its success nor its global appeal, but because it taught me about the power of the written word.
“My Big Brother” was not published, was not entered in any competition nor was it memorable to anyone outside of my family. But to me, it became the foundation of what I wanted my future stories to become. At the age of twelve I learned that my father – a man who worked hard to provide for his family, even though doing so meant working the 2nd shift at a factory and missing a great portion of his children’s activities – took a copy of “My Big Brother” to work with him and would read it on particularly difficult days.
The story would immediately change his outlook on work, and while it did not solve the problem (or lessen the work-related stressors), it enabled him briefly escape and find joy among a place of tension and pressure. The standard of my stories thus became to have a similar impact; to use words in a way in which people can escape, where readers can discover laughter or joy or drama, and be transported somewhere else entirely if even for a moment. It was at that age in which I told myself and my mother that I would one day write a book, even though I did not have the slightest idea of how to do it.
But of course, at the age of twelve, the term “some day” could just as easily be a few weeks as much as it could be a few months. For me, that statement lasted two and a half decades.
Twenty five years later, I had nothing but an extensive list of excuses as to why I had not achieved my goals – personally or professionally – and I found myself at the intersection of perhaps the darkest crossroad I hope to ever face in my life. I had lost myself along the trail of excuses, and I had little more than a long list of failures, experiences, and a few minor successes for which to draw upon. It was my mother who then reminded me of the promise I had made to her and to myself, and the process began as a subtle attempt to silence the voices that lingered austerely in my mind.
But the challenge was not merely a creative one. I was forced to challenge every part of my being in every possible way. In order to help clear my mind, I first needed to clear my body of years of laziness. I began to walk – first just around the block, then at a nearby trail – which later became longer and longer distances. The days grew colder and shorter, though my running distances became longer. In the fall of 2018, I thought it would be highly unlikely that I would be accepted to participate in the 2019 Chicago Marathon, yet I chose to submit an application. As fate and luck would have it, I was selected as a participant, and so rigorous training became a part of my daily routine.
Having my body burn thousands of calories on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis was by no means a simple task, though I found that my creativity flowed like a strong river as I ran on the woodland trails, or along bike paths, or anywhere I found it to be safe enough to run. Ice formed on the sides of my shoes, and while I was pushing the limits of my physicality, my mind thought of nothing but highly imaginative scenes of a story I was yet to draft. My body was exhausted, though my mind felt liberated, and I had yet one part of me that remained to be addressed.
In an effort to not decline a sincere request from my sister, I attended a service at her church. I listened and felt something within me that needed to be reconnected to a greater source, and I found a passion that I thought had long since abandoned me. I found a purpose beyond hope, and despite my heavy training routine, I knew I did not want this to end. I expressed my gratitude for my life while on the elliptical. I found the joy of nature while running hundreds of miles back and forth along the Great Western Trail near my home. I discovered that I had yet to fulfill the promise I made to myself such a long time ago, and I had run out of reasons not to.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the entire process was getting started. Even after I had fully committed and decided to begin writing a story, any story, I had brought forth a list of reasons and excuses why it would not be done.
Page one began as an attempt, but I had made it a strong point that this would only be a short story with no more than 10 pages and certainly not any chapters. Ten pages later, I found it to be exhilarating and liberating, but remained skeptical that it would become anything greater. I worked the courage to give myself more time and pages, resetting the limit from 10 to 25. I got to page 30, and learned more about the process than I ever knew to be possible. The new limit was re-reset from 25 pages to 50 pages, but that was the absolute maximum I would allow!
I landed somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 pages before I realized how far the story had gone, and I had absolutely no intention of ending the progress I had made after weeks of writing. I loved the process so much, and each day brought forth new scenes and challenges that came to life with the magic of the written word. My daily schedule became as follows:
I stayed true to this same daily routine, minus a few changes on the weekends, for 10 months. I say this not to boast about my accomplishments, but rather to express what it took in order to transform 25 years of negating my own passion to produce something that would outlive me.
I did not want to create just a story, but rather a memorable mission that would encapsulate the very core of my being and that could be used to create a positive impact for readers around the world. And so for those 10 months, I did not see it as putting myself through hell, but rather as a means of escaping from it. There is a strange correlation between training for a marathon and writing a novel, and I discovered a joy that far outweighs even the darkest, coldest nights I have ever experienced.
I ran the 2019 Chicago Marathon in 4 hours and 24 minutes, and at exactly 400 typed pages, had finished the first draft of what became “The Blue Q: The World As I See It”. Both of these events happened around the same time, which I now see as ironic. Just as I had after completing the first draft of the story, I had one tough question to answer: now what?
The response was to keep going. Surely there would be other marathons, but more importantly, there was a 400-page story to edit. The schedule persisted as best as I could manage, though it was altered in March of 2020 due to the pandemic. Unexpectedly, I hurt my knee as a result of over exerting myself, and while I may have temporarily put away my running shoes, my bike enabled me to greatly over-exceed the difference. I biked just shy of 4,000 miles that summer, and by the end of it, the book was completed.
When I saw and held the book in my hand for the very first time, I became completely overwhelmed. It was an accomplishment that I never thought would see the light of day, and now it had a title, a beautiful cover, a mission, a purpose…and my name at the very top of it. I had to run hundreds of miles for months in order to draft that story. I had to bike thousands of miles in order to edit it. I had to invest countless hours in prayer, self-reflection, meditation, and self-help literature in order to be lifted to the point where I felt that I was worthy of my accomplishments.
For me, I hope the process never ends. Though new challenges may be on the horizon, new chapters for the sequential books are already underway. I have learned to enjoy and appreciate each step as it represents a new word; each mile as it represents a new sentence; each tough training month as it represents a new chapter; and each achieved goal as means the story is further along. Though I may not win the race, I am in a far better place knowing that I at least got up and did my best.
I recall that your English edition was self-published. What are the pros and cons about working through Amazon publishing?
Well, I must start by saying a pro to one may just as easily be a con to someone else. My experience with being a self-published author is not the same as other authors.
I found the Amazon process to be simple to navigate though oftentimes difficult to understand. Unless you know about the business (through school or self-research), it can be very daunting, intimidating, and confusing. Amazon does its best to explain the process to new self-publishers, but it is not as user-friendly as one would hope. Much of what I learned I gained through Google searches and through the kindness of strangers (many of which are on Reddit).
It can be difficult to see your competition and see how success seems to come to so incredibly easy to some authors and writers, while I can go weeks without selling a single copy. That’s part of the game, and you must realize this prior to launching your work under the self-published title. It can also be disheartening to see how big of a percentage Amazon (and other retailers) take from each sale of your work, but that is part of the process.
What I appreciate the most is the complete creative control I am given (via Amazon and other self-publishing networks) over my work. Just as an independent filmmaker has complete creative control over the vision of the film, so too does an independent author over their stories and characters. Amazon does not limit me on page numbers, or story content, or character names, or anything really. As long as I fit the dimensions of the print-size book I want, the rest is relatively simple. I have my own ISBN numbers, I have my own barcodes, I run my own websites, and I have entirely full control.
On the other end of that, however, is that because I am on my own, I am solely responsible for the book’s performance. I have to be an author, a content developer, a web developer, a content writer, a photographer, a videographer, an editor, chief spokesman, legal officer, public relations manager, marketing and communications director, head of operations, accounts payable and receivable, and also the chief financial officer of the entire enterprise – not to mention social media specialist, travel manager, public speaker, and other duties as self-assigned. That might not be worth it to some, but for me, it is the best that I can do – and I truly appreciate all that I am learning because of it.
I don’t know of anyone in the traditional publishing industry. I have no contacts, I know no agents, and I have no idea how to go from completed story to New York Times bestseller – but that doesn’t mean I will not do everything in my power to at least try.
This is not in any way an attempt to discourage self-publishing, but rather a method in which I attempt to paint a more accurate portrait of my experiences. Here is a word of caution for anyone who wants to go it this endeavor solo: there are PLENTY of scammers out there waiting patiently for your money. These are difficult waters to navigate, and even after years of learning, I am nowhere near the level I want to be to say I am an expert at this. But I don’t have time to waste, as my story is not going to tell itself and will not find readers by just sitting in my mailbox or tucked away in a storage closet. If I have the opportunity to work with publishers in the future, I welcome the opportunity to do so, but if not, then at least I know I did my best in putting my work and my name out to the world.
Dennis Avelar’s mission to become a published author began while he was in middle school, where he developed a passion for telling compelling stories. Born and raised in and around the suburbs of Chicago, he drew inspiration from the people, places, events, and experiences he shared with friends and family.
As a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s film and video program, Dennis further developed his passion for storytelling by incorporating elements of cinema into the universes created by his mind.
His lifelong goal remains the same as it was when he first sought to achieve it, and he hopes that the opportunity to help others with his words and writing continues to inspire his future works and stories.
He currently resides in Addison, Illinois. Learn more about the author and view his other creative works at www.DennisAvelar.com.