Everything You Need to Know About My 16th Book, “The Manager”

Well, it looks like once again I’ve fallen off the blog bandwagon for a while. While I may have stopped blogging frequently, writing is something I’ll never quit doing. I mean, I’ve already written 15. Why stop there? 

As I prepare to start writing, here’s some insights and sneak peeks when it comes to my “sweet 16” novel, The Manager! 

So our story takes a break from the action of my past novels and steers more towards comedic relief. It follows 20-year-old Carmen Rodriguez, a college student who works at a hardware store in her hometown of Miami. Carmen’s store, number 7711, (an homage to my hardware store which is number 1177 in the chain), has struggled for years. 

Carmen, although she is just a seasonal cashier at her local “DIY Depot,” nicknamed the “Double D,” loves her store and the people who work there. With another store manager being fired, the 5th in just three years, the store is in danger of closing. No one is willing to step up and save the store. Carmen, wanting to save the jobs of store 7711’s 100 employees, along with making sure the store she loves stays afloat, agrees to drop out of college and train as a manager. 

Although 7711’s employees love Carmen, they have serious doubts about her ability to manage a failing store. However, driven by her love for the employees of 7711, she searches for ways to cut costs that aren’t at the expense of employees, and finds new, yet original ways to create success for her store. Carmens strange and unconventional methods, from motivating her employees with expensive gifts to taking the store’s delivery truck on a road trip to hire the homeless, may actually turn out to be more effective than the store may have planned. 

But with managing a store comes more stress than Carmen originally thought she can handle. Carmen constantly battles with herself emotionally, trying to stay awake during 14 hour shifts and staying calm during all the customer complaints. As the youngest and first Latina manager in DIY Depot history, she also has to deal with pressures and judgement from the higher-ups at corporate. As time goes on, Carmen begins to wonder how long she can actually go on as 7711’s manager. Eventually she still wants to finish her degree, but if she leaves 7711, the store will end up closing. 

So there you have it! The full, non-spoiler details of my sweet 16 novel. More info on The Manager will be coming up soon! 

The First Job In My Field

For today’s post, I’m going to try not to get too emotional and tell the story of my first-ever job in the writing field.

Ever since I graduated in May of 2016, I kept looking for jobs in the writing field as I worked at my beloved hardware store five minutes away. Even though I landed a permanent job that I loved with set hours, weekends off, insurance benefits, and good pay, I still felt pressured to find a “real job,” something in my field. My bachelor’s degree just couldn’t go to waste.

So I kept looking once every few weeks online. In November I found a local opportunity that was different from the rest. It was actually something I’d be interested, the job posting said “Creative Writer/Author.” Not thinking anything of it, I applied, and a few weeks later was given an interview.

After work on a cold, dark, Monday night, I drove 25 minutes away to the little office in the middle of the woods where the startup company was located. I signed in. I looked at the list of all these other people before me who were interviewing for the same job. A lady came out of a nearby room, clearly in her 40s, holding a binder full of all her qualifications. I thought I had no chance.

I was up next. I went into the interview with not enough time to turn my phone off. The woman who would become my future boss frantically looked for my resume on her computer. She didn’t have it. Neither did I, since every place I’d interviewed at beforehand had already seen and reviewed my resume before interviewing me. So we had nothing to go off of. I started telling her about my experience and qualifications, my phone buzzing from my mom’s texts the whole time.  I thought I blew it.

“Okay, so the next part of the process is to judge this by writing,” Future Boss said. “We’ll give you some bullet points to go off of and you can submit us a writing sample.”

I was shocked that I made it to round 2. Since the company was an education startup, I needed to give them a 1,300 word story at a 5th grade level about apples. I spent hours on it each night after work, edited it meticulously, and submitted it two days before it was due. They made me an offer, and after going back and forth on the pay, I said that I needed a night to think about it.

“Umm, okay,” the talent recruiter said through the phone. “I figured you’d be excited because this is a job in your field.”

“Yes, of course, but this is a big decision,” I said.

What I really wanted to say was, “I’m scared because I don’t really want this job. I only applied because I felt pressured and I don’t want to leave my store.”

After some convincing from my parents and coworkers, I accepted the job and had to break the news to everyone at the store. They were sad about my departure, but extremely happy for me. My department manager bought me a chocolate cake on my last day. I tried not to get too emotional as I said goodbye to the members of my close-knit team (we were a group of 4 at the time).

I bought all new clothes for the office. I bought new shoes, because sneakers weren’t appropriate for the office environment. However, I saved all my jeans and sneakers, along with not deleting the early alarms off of my phone from my 6-3 schedule–just in case I needed them again.

On Tuesday I started at the office, since every Monday was a work from home day. Everyone was really cheery and friendly. Boss came in and got me working on my first assignment, which was carrots. I’d never written educational stories before, or stories for children. I was given a list of Lexile levels to stay within, did my research, and started writing. When my parents called after my day was over, they immediately asked how my day went. I told them, “I hated it. I want to quit.”

The people in my group, the content team, all worked in one space. There were 11 of us in one room. They were all funny, fantastic, caring women. However, communication was strange. Whenever someone has a question at the store, we call, page, or just ask them in person. At the office, even people sitting right next to me would ask me questions by sending me messages online. Being at a computer all day just wasn’t for me.

Management was very different, too. At the store, my manager was either with me or a phone call away during the day. And no matter what, he was never out of the store unless we were at lunch, which our group all took together anyway. Boss at the office was hardly ever around. She traveled weekly to California, Texas, NYC–you name it, for conventions and such. Understandable, of course, but very difficult to create content when the person who makes the final decisions isn’t there.

Of course, I was fine with Boss not being there. Everyone in our room felt nervous and intimidated. Truly, I’d never been afraid of a boos before. I’d had 5 different managers at the hardware store and never felt scared to approach them. Nothing was more frustrating than when Boss would stare at me and I could see her doing it out the corner of my eye.

On Valentine’s Day, I came into the office to find negative feedback on our special feedback website from her. She had a meeting with me that morning. She was furious because I “used an unsafe word” in a first grade story. While writing about a CHEMIST, I said that she worked with chemicals. Of course, I did not forget to put in a paragraph about how chemicals were unsafe and how the chemist only worked with them in her lab wearing protective equipment. Boss told me that my work lacked passion.

She told me, “I get that you don’t have any background in education or children’s writing, but this needs to be better.”

So I worked even harder. I stayed late, even working on my stories from home after work. Everything I wrote felt like it was garbage to my boss, even if the rest of the office enjoyed it and found them full of information. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I’d done so well in school. I was Cum Laude, aced all my writing classes, and had great relationships with my professors.

At the hardware store, I felt like a rock star. I was loved by upper management. My bosses always told me I was doing great work. How did I go from feeling so happy and secure in my store, to a room full of people scared of the Boss who was sending me passive aggressive messages online?

On a Thursday afternoon in April, Boss called me in for another meeting. I knew it was going to be bad. She asked me how well I thought I was doing. I didn’t know what to say. She told me that all my work was so terrible that she had to give it all to the other writer to be redone. I didn’t know how to feel. All I could do was cry. It felt like everything I did was for nothing. I told my boss I felt sick and went home early, immediately applying for jobs back at my hardware store. I couldn’t handle my job anymore. I cried so much that night, my face was sore from wiping away the tears.

I put in for 3 days of vacation time that night. The next day, I called hr at the hardware store and set up my interview for the next day. That same day, Boss approved my vacation time. Saturday morning, I accepted a temporary seasonal job at the hardware store. That afternoon, I held a party at my apartment with my coworkers from the office to celebrate completing my 15th novel. It was a full day of celebration, but I didn’t want to tell my coworkers that I was leaving. I was going to tell them on the day I planned to resign 3 weeks later, after using my paid vacation time for a trip I’d wanted to take for a while.

Monday was fine. Tuesday morning, the office environment was normal. My coworkers talked about my party and we all worked on our assignments. For lunch, my group of friends invited me out to lunch for the first time. We had a great time at the Indian buffet they raved about so much. I was on time with my work and it seemed like a relaxing afternoon. At 4:30, I was on the last rubric I had to make, only 3 questions away from finishing, and planned on heading home a few minutes early.

Then Boss’s Assistant asked to meet. The office’s HR was in the room. I didn’t know where Boss was. Boss’s Assistant proceeded to fire me, wishing me luck and saying that one day she hoped to “see my name on a book in Barnes and Noble one day,” when, newsflash, my name has been in books sold in Barnes and Noble for over 3 years…but that’s besides the point. I asked to say goodbye to everyone, even though HR told me they were removed from the room. Everyone was confused to see me crying. I explained to them that I was being terminated. We all hugged and cried while Boss’s Assistant and HR told jokes to each other and ushered me to pack up my desk faster. As I left the room, everyone sat down at their desks with their heads in their hands. They just couldn’t believe it.

On my way out the door, being escorted quickly by HR, Boss came in, carrying her cell phone. She smiled and said, “I tried to make it in time for this. Sorry! Good luck!” and walked off.

Even after everything that happened, I have no ill feelings towards the company. Even though there were things I disagreed with, I loved everyone in the office, other than my boss, obviously. Even after everything that was said and done, I hope that things change for Boss and her life becomes less stressful than it was. As a startup, the CEO said to us numerous times how they were planning to go IPO in July 2017. I honestly hope they do and obtain all the success that was promised to us every Friday during the team meetings. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to celebrate that success with everyone, but with things improving at my hardware store, I’ll have success to celebrate elsewhere.

Life Goes On: Losing My Writing Job

Hello my fellow WordPress followers! It’s been a while since I posted because my life has been kind of upside down. So today I’m going to put a rare personal twist on my post, and share something that has changed the course of my life. 

On April 11th at 4:30, just 30 minutes before the end of the day, I was brought into a conference room with my boss’s assistant and the hr manager. After 4 months, they told me I was fired, wished me luck, and had me clean out my desk. Although it wasn’t a huge surprise, I was still upset. My first job in my field and I blew it. 

I left the office embarrassed and ashamed, but knew that I did my best, gave it everything I could, and that this would be a learning experience. A week later, I started back at the hardwear store where I’ve worked since I was 18. My life feels complete again. 

Even though right now I have crazy hours and no health insurance, I don’t regret leaving my permanent job at the store for the office job in my field. I knew from my college internship that offices weren’t right for me, and this job just reaffirms that–and that’s precfectly OKAY. Not everyone goes on to persue their degrees. I realized how passionate I was about my store, and although I wanted to get through this post without trash talking the company, I learned from my former supervisor what not to do if someday I move up into my new goal of becoming upper management at my store. 

Working at the office was extremely stressful. I really don’t know how people can sit at a computer all day every day for years. I was stressed from the minute I left on Fridays until I went back on Monday–not because I had to sit at a desk, but from other stresses within the company. It’s such a joy not to feel frightened and sick when I go into work anymore. 

Anyway, maybe I’ll work on another post sometime later on about my experience at the office. Although I’m tired after finishing my 15th book and taking a break from writing for now, I plan to keep updating regularly. 

Getting Close to Finishing a Book

So I realized rather late that it is a Sunday and I haven’t written anything for my lovely blog here. Instead of an advice piece, because I can’t come up with anything else, tonight I’ll go with a “Progress Piece,” or what I’m doing in my writing.

I’ve been working on my novel Fangs and Fortune for a while now (in my opinion, because I tend to finish books super fast). I started in early December, and now that the end of March is approaching, so is the end of my story…I think. I hope, at least. I’ve had a lot of different things going on within the book and every time I think that I’m getting closer to the ending, something else comes up.

But, I learned from all this that in my situation, all of these things coming up has been leading to a much greater word count. At 37k with a lot of stuff still to happen, I’d be glad to be at novel length, the 50k gem. Mostly because this book is a big deal for me. I’m pretty impressed with myself, being only 22 years old and a few weeks away from finishing my 15th book. Maybe even less than that, depending on how much I can get done this week.

I think the hardest part of being close to finishing a novel is knowing that you’re close and just wanting to hit that finish line. That was how I originally gave myself carpal tunnel. With Fangs and Fortune writing combined with writing all day at work, it’s a lot for my hands to hand-le. Back when I was in high school, I’d write 10-15 pages a day just to try and finish something.

So I guess what I’m trying to say, because I can’t just write a personal post without advice, is that if you’re close to finishing your novel, hang in there. Don’t overwork yourself to the point of carpal tunnel, or even ganglion cysts, like myself. If you think you can finish your book tonight, then that’s great. If you need a few more days or a week, then don’t sweat it. Stay focused and stay calm, because the finish line is in sight.

Diversity in Writing

Earlier this week was International Women’s Day. While using my incredibly bad artistic skills to draw a picture of all the main characters from my books celebrating, I noticed how different many of them were. All different heights and shapes, all with different personalities, but what stood out to me the most was the array of different colored faces.

Since I started writing novels at sixteen, I made a promise to myself that I’d have “something for everyone.” I wanted every person to like at least one of my books, so I set out doing all different genres, from comedy to horror, from fantasy to action. I also wanted to have characters with different backgrounds, from rich to homeless, from regular two-parent households to those with single parents or being raised by someone else. I’ve had characters that were adopted, characters that lost a sibling, and characters with up to five siblings.

Most importantly, my goal was to feature characters of different races and abilities. So far, I’ve made main characters that are Armenian, Native American, Asian, African American, Latina, and in my upcoming book, Indian.

Diverse doesn’t necessarily have to mean a different race, it can also be someone who goes through life differently than us, from a mental illness to reduced mobility. Two of my main characters suffer from a physical issue, like Lia who is blind and Violet who is a little person. I’ve also had characters with mental health issues, like Arabella with social anxiety and Freya with depression. Billions of people go through life with the same issues, and I want them to have relatable characters too.

I started thinking about famous modern novels, ones that you see or here about everywhere and have been adapted into movies. Most, if not all, of the main characters are similar. It makes me wonder why there aren’t more ultra-famous novels starring characters of different backgrounds. Mental health issues seem to be covered, but main characters with a physical disability are few and far between. When you think about it, our world is diverse. In a room full of people no one looks the same, so why should our characters?

Illiteracy in America

Although it isn’t well-known, March is National Reading Awareness Month. Largely partnered with  an organization called ReadAloud, who aims to have each parent across the country read aloud to their child for 15 minutes a day, I believe the main goal of Reading Awareness Month is to bring awareness to illiteracy and when we can do to help those who are illiterate.

Illiteracy is an epidemic that I personally care about very much, especially as an author. In college, my sorority’s philanthropy was focused on literacy. We went into schools and worked with underprivileged children who had trouble reading. Illiteracy is something that needs to be talked about.

Here are some facts about illiteracy in the US that you may not know (via the Literacy Project Foundation):

  • 44 million adults can not read a simple story to their children
  • Approximately 50% of Americans can not read well enough to perform a simple task, like reading a product label
  • 20% of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage
  • 3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read
  • 85% of juvenile offenders have trouble reading

We’re constantly reading, no matter where we are. It’s hard to imagine how different our world would be if we couldn’t read. Thankfully, there’s a lot that can be done.

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • volunteer to read at your local library
  • read to someone younger than you, like a sibling or children you babysit
  • donate the books you’ve finished reading to charities, like First Book, who give them to the underprivileged

I hope this post was able to open your eyes to the problem our country faces with illiteracy. We can all do our part to help those who cannot read.

How to Stay Interested in Your Book

Imagine having a great idea for a book, but not necessarily planning out the whole thing. You’ve got your setting and main character, you know what is going to happen to them throughout the book, but you start writing and just don’t feel that same passion. This happened to me once, and I hope it never happens again.

Writing a book you’re not passionate about can be a total drag. Of course, if you have OCD about finishing your books like I do, you can’t just stop writing it. After suffering through the writing process of a book I didn’t feel connected to, I devised a list of five ways to change your book so that you can not only make it to that last-chapter finish line, but have fun getting there!

1. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

There’s nothing more interesting than writing something you haven’t done before and have no idea about. It’s fun to research and then apply what you’ve learned into your book. In my current novel, Fangs and Fortune, my main character Taliah is an expectant mother. I chose to go this route because, well, I’ve never done it before! It’s helped me get excited about the book and learn about something I didn’t know much about.

2. Write About Something Close to You

Grief, loss, and trauma happens to everyone at some point in life. If you can’t think of a struggle for your character, try incorporating something that was difficult for you in life. Maybe they were bullied or had anxiety. Maybe they lost a loved one or were a victim of a crime. If your character shares the same experience, no one knows how they feel better than you.

3. It’s Okay to Change Course

My action story, Saving Flight 926, was originally going to be the thrilling tale of my main character Arabella, an aviation-obsessed 17-year-old, landing a plane full of people and becoming a hero. When the plane landed on page 30, I knew I had to have a different approach. The second half of the story describes her struggle with PTSD. If something isn’t working in your story, just try something else!

4. Bring Out Your Fun and Crazy Characters

Now I’m not talking actual characters here. I’m talking about real people. In high school, I loved incorporating people I knew into my stories (and sometimes still do). Bringing in people from your real life takes away the process of having to think of personalities for all your characters, and for me, was a ton of fun to write. I loved incorporating common things they said and their personality traits. Just be sure to have them go through a name change.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

We all like to think of ourselves as novel-writing geniuses. And then we hit writer’s block. After the plane landed in Saving Flight 926 and Arabella was home with her family, I had no idea what to do! So, I reached out to some friends for help. One said, “Why don’t you have her struggle with PTSD?” It was the “eureka” moment for me. I never even thought of that! I truly believe that it would have taken me so much longer to finish that book if it weren’t for the help from my friend. Friends and family help us when we’re stuck in life. They also help when we get stuck on books, so reach out to them!