Edwin Castro: Massage therapist
Meeting the Rising Writer No. 23
Today, I have Edwin Castro, our featured writer and a massage therapist from Tampa, Florida. Although he was born in the Dominican Republic, most of his life has been in Florida. If he isn’t writing, Edwin will read a book or swim, but he is a movie lover and a comic book collector, as well.
Edwin has agreed to a virtual interview with me today, where he shares his thoughts on both the reading and writing world, insight unique to each side of the coin.
Thank you, Edwin, for agreeing to an interview.
What about comic books interests you the most? Do you have a favorite?
I’ve been a comic book and superhero junkie for most of my life. They’re basically morality tales. They’re entertaining and I like the imagination that goes into writing and drawing those stories. They’re characters that have existed for decades and are always growing and changing with the times. My personal favorite character is Batman. I gravitate toward superheroes that are less powered, a bit more relatable, like Batman, Green Arrow, Captain America, Daredevil. They have some superpowers but they’re limited, or in the case of Batman and Green Arrow, they just have a skill set and billions of dollars to back them up.
What are your thoughts on self-help/inspirational books since you enjoy being active?
Whatever you need to get through the day is valid as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else. I’m not much for self-help books, but I do have a notebook where I jot down quotes that people I admire have said in the past, which help cheer me up or buck up my spirits.
When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. I read a lot and write little stories for my own entertainment. I have always found a lot of enjoyment with writing.
What inspires your writing?
Reading helps me out a lot. I always try to keep a notebook nearby and record any stray thoughts that pop into my head. Some of my best poems have come to me because I read a word or phrase and built a poem around it.
What are you currently working on? How did you begin working on it?
Well, I tend to switch between writing projects (poetry, short stories, essays, film reviews) but the project I’m really trying to focus on is a novel. The best way I can think to describe it is…it’s the story of one man (a very long-lived man) who spent his life chronicling and grappling with the changes and upheaval throughout the 20th century and is trying to record his story before his death. The idea came in a strange way from Forrest Gump. He was a character who always seemed to be where the action was and I wanted to tell a story like that but with a longer timeframe and from the immigrant perspective to start. I wrote an outline, and I add to it as I write the story. I do try to see where the story takes me, to keep myself open to new ideas and elements I’d like to include in the novel.
Give us insight to your main character. Who is he or she? What is his or her purpose?
My main character is Hispanic. An elderly man on his deathbed, remembering the events of a very long life. A former soldier, journalist and writer, he fought in both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War and the Korean War. He interviewed, witnessed or personally participated in many of the major events of the 20th century and knew or worked with many of the famous figures of the century. He has a strong sense of justice and fairness. In a way, he is his own worst enemy. Twin threads of compassion and selfishness run through his character. He’s a man capable of great acts of heroism and great acts of cynicism. His experiences leave him jaded, sometimes questioning a higher power.
His father shaped his character in many ways: through his father, he gained an appreciation and identification with the underdog, a strong work ethic and a wanderlust spirit. His father was a dreamer. His mother taught him compassion and responsibility. She was also the practical parent. He combines sentiment with hardened pragmatism. His father abandoned their family when he was 12. He saw how hard his mother had to work to support them. He didn’t want the responsibility of a family. Her exhaustion from work left him growing up on his own and wanting no part of a “normal” life. He never saw his father again, which left him angry which I think could explain why he went off to fight so much, he was exorcising some demons. Trying to outrun and exorcise his demons, he was incurably on the move, wherever the action was. He has a wicked sense of humor and is impatient, though he gains patience with age. A quiet and reserved man but truly brave, he never gave any thought to his physical safety. He has no problem stepping up and taking responsibility for himself. Enjoys reading and literature, analytical and learns by doing, by experience. Not a flashy person but possessed a tremendous sense of timing with incredible physical vitality.
What do you want your readers to take from this novel?
I want my readers to walk away after reading my novel, first of all to feel entertained—that they didn’t waste their time reading my book. If my writing can make you think, can make you dream or make you feel some kind of emotion, then I did my job. Engaging your readership, I feel, is key for a writer. To me, what ultimately matters is writing what you want to the best of your ability. All a writer owes the public is a good story. A writer knows what they want to say. Writers write so readers can read. Let the critics try to pick it apart. If you’re secure in what you’ve written, then you respect an honest critique of your work and keep writing.
Where do your ideas come from?
I really don’t know where they come from. I just try to get them down on paper before they disappear. When I have enough material, I try to form a poem or the beginnings of a short story or some other kind of writing out of those disjointed thoughts.
Where do your characters come from?
I use the adage of “write what you know.” My characters are based on different aspects of myself or people in my life or people that I once knew.
Do you research your book?
When it comes to research, it depends on what I’m working on. For instance, my novel is going to require a lot of research in order to make it possible that my character could’ve interacted with all the historical figures he’s supposed to have met. When writing poetry, I like re-reading poets I admire, see if I pick up something new, some nuance I never noticed before.
Were you always good at writing?
I like to think I was, but I think I’ve improved over the years. Writers are the worst judge of their own work. We tend to think everything we write is brilliant or we’re overly critical and think everything we write is garbage. I prefer to let the reader decide whether or not I’m any good.
What/who are your favorite or most reliable support groups?
Honestly, Authors’ Tale is the only writing support group I’ve ever been a part of and it has been great to actually feel like part of a community. I don’t get much support for my more artistic side in my daily life, and it’s too easy to get caught up in the daily grind to take some time and put pen to paper and see what happens.
What is the biggest mistake you think you make while writing? How do you overcome it?
I tend to overthink when writing and doubt myself. I wonder if it’s even worth it or if I have anything worthwhile to contribute. I haven’t really overcome it. I just try to keep my head down, keep writing and let the rest take care of itself.
Which authors inspire you?
Too many to list but the ones I come back to again and again are: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Junot Diaz, Oscar Hijuelos, Ralph Ellison, Albert Camus, Derek Walcott, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Julia Alvarez, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar, Ernest Hemingway and Vladimir Nabokov.
When do you usually write? How often?
I don’t really have a set schedule for writing. There are times when my writing muse is very cooperative and the words flow out of me, and there are times when it’s like pulling teeth to write five sentences. When I write, it tends to be either very late at night or early in the morning before my wife wakes up. I try to write until I reach a natural point in the narrative or until I’m too tired to focus.
What genre do you enjoy most, and what draws you to the genre you write?
Well the genre I really enjoy reading is mystery and crime fiction. I love detective fiction. As for genre I write, my work tends to be very grounded in reality. I once wrote a story about a man and a woman who were sitting in a coffee shop talking about why their relationship ended. No flights of fancy, something human and relatable. I read a lot of history and biography.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Writer’s block is my great enemy. Staring at a blank page, it feels as if it’s challenging you to express yourself and almost mocking you if you’re unable to come up with something good, something lasting. I wish I had some advice to offer on how to combat it. If you have any ideas, please share them with me, I could use the advice!
Are you reading any books right now? If so, what are you reading?
I’m currently reading The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly and I’m about to begin a short story collection by a young Latin American writer named Daniel Alarcon called War by Candlelight.
Do you have any favorite books?
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Drown by Junot Diaz
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Collected Poems by Derek Walcott
The Poet by Michael Connelly
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
What advice would you give your younger self?
Make time to work on your craft and learn the fundamentals, the technique of writing. Pay more attention in school.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give other writers?
Just keep writing. Don’t let anyone discourage you from expressing yourself in whatever way you see fit. Even if it’s never published, even if it’s for your eyes only, keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. There’s so much in this world to be curious about, to discover. Keep an open mind.
What is your greatest fear?
Mine is that I won’t have the opportunity to do something great, to do something that outlasts me. I want to leave something behind that stands the test of time.
BONUS QUESTION: What is the key to giving a good massage?
Communication is key. Massage therapists know what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do but the client has to tell the therapist if the pressure is too much, if it’s too soft or whatever. We’re not psychic. Tell us what you want and we’ll do our best to provide it.