Tony Robles' debut children's picture book, Joey Gonzalez, Great American, challenges the idea of "affirmative action." In this interview he talks about his inspiration for the book and what compelled him to write such a story.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?
I’m a retired customs agent. I never dreamed I would write a children’s book. I found World Ahead Publishing and the Kids Ahead line of conservative children’s books and I was intrigued by the notion of teaching conservative values through children’s literature. That’s what inspired me to write the story of Joey Gonzalez, Great American. I believed World Ahead would have the vision and the courage to handle a kid’s book that challenged affirmative action.
Tell us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
My children’s book, Joey Gonzalez, Great American is a response to the affirmative action mentality that presumes all black and Hispanic people (children included) are inherently inferior and cannot succeed without special preferences. I believe many of our kids are absorbing that belief and in effect becoming prejudiced against themselves. My book gives kids an alternative to that poisonous mentality. It teaches ethnic pride and self reliance and shows kids they all have the potential for greatness because they have the greatness of their ancestors inside them. It’s a sweet little story with lovable characters and it’s a book that every black and Hispanic parent will want to read to their children.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
This story had been cooking in my subconscious for years if not decades. It just needed a catalyst to bring it to the surface. When I sat down to write, I simply created the characters and set up the confrontation. From that point the story told itself.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
I wrote and submitted the story in November 2005. I heard back from World Ahead December 16, 2005. It was published March 25, 2008. So, it was about two and a half years from idea to publication.
Describe your working environment.
I have what I call my Bat Cave in my finished basement. I have a nicely equipped gym and a small adjoining office. The whole place is usually a mess, with my bicycles and biking gear and other stuff tossed here and there and my office with scattered piles of paper, books and magazines. I hardly ever open the blinds, so I’m isolated from the world when I’m working. My wife says it’s a mess. She’s right. It is a mess – but I love it!
Are you a disciplined writer?
I don’t write often. I have no plan or system. I write when I feel like it. But when I sit down to write it becomes an obsession and I find it hard to stop. I wrote Joey Gonzalez in four hours. Once the story started coming out I could not put it down. I was hooked.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
I don’t suffer from writer’s block. If I did I would go for a long bike ride. I think about a lot of stuff when I’m out riding. If I ever started writing down all the stuff I think about on the road I might end up with a few books. Maybe I should carry a recorder.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
I’m having a blast doing radio interviews. I get a big adrenaline rush whenever I’m talking live on the air. I’m reaching a huge audience and I think the exposure could generate even more interviews. Radio is a great way to get a message out. Of course, TV would be better. I dream about being on Oprah’s TV show. Doesn’t every author?
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Please bear with me on this one. I want to build up to the advice. I once wrote an essay called “The last Voyage of the Sunfish” that was published in the National Submarine Review (my only other published work for which I received payment in money – not copies and a T-shirt). I was on the commissioning crew of the nuclear powered – fast attack submarine, Sunfish (SSN-649) from 1968 until I was discharged from the Navy in 1971. I loved that boat and I loved my shipmates. The day she sailed without me for the first time, I stood on the pier and cried.
After Sunfish was decommissioned I received permission from the admiral of the fleet to sail with her on her last voyage from San Diego to Bremerton, Washington. It was very emotional to be underway on the Sunfish again after all those years.
At the Sunfish reunion, I read my essay during the banquet. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. One of the wives told me I would be a great writer someday because I wrote with courage. I believe she was right about courage. What Joey Gonzalez has in common with "The Last Voyage of the Sunfish" is the courage and the passion and the honesty that went into the writing.
I took that as serious advice and I would give the same advice to anyone who aspires to be an author: always write with courage, passion and honesty. Bare your soul. Don’t try to hide behind the words.
The essay is posted on the Sunfish website and there’s a link from my website, www.joeygonzalez.us.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
No one has ever asked me why I chose the title Joey Gonzalez, Great American. I want to share that with you. I named the book after my grandfather, Jose Gonzalez who came from Spain to America to be an American – not a minority. His proudest moment was the day he became a U.S. citizen. My grandfather lived as an example of the personal qualities that have helped make America great. He was self reliant. He fulfilled his responsibilities. He never accepted anything he hadn’t earned by his own labor. He loved his adopted country and would have defended her with his blood and his life. My grandfather was a Great American. I know he would have loved the book. I hope he’s watching from Heaven and enjoying all the hoopla.