Vicki Solá here, longtime host, producer, and originator of weekly radio program Que Viva La Música, heard on 89.1 WFDU-FM and online at wfdu.fm, providing the New York metro community and beyond with salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz.
I’ve served as an advisor to the Smithsonian Institution for their traveling exhibition, Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta. Since 1988 my articles and columns have appeared in internationally circulated trade periodicals Que Pasa, Descarga, Impacto, Latin London, and Latin Beat Magazine.
In the Spring of 2019, I released a second comedic Sci-Fi Fantasy, You Can’t Unscramble the Omelet, sequel to my novel, The Getaway That Got Away. Both are geared toward the Young Adult market but enjoyed by readers of all ages. These works detail the adventures of young Latina protagonist Nicki Rodriguez as she begins to discover that she is not helpless, but powerful.
What are the real-life stories behind my books?
As I established my own radio show, I worked full-time at a New York Spanish commercial station and part-time at a faraway one that offered oldies along with local fishing reports. I took evening classes in which professors apologized for keeping me up. I also performed freelance audio production, usually at three a.m.
In short, I spent years guzzling black coffee, gulping down cold pizza, and walking into walls. After I banged my head up against a particularly hard cinder block, it dawned on me that the stories I was cranking out during my “spare time” were autobiographical.
Nicki Rodriguez is an alternate version of me. (Rodriguez happens to be one of my family names.) Nicki is, like me, proud of her Puerto Rican heritage, and also a Latin music radio host and producer. We both have a strong sense of right and wrong, and we both fight for justice.
Her character development parallels mine: In my first book, The Getaway That Got Away, things keep happening to her. She is trapped in a strange dimension (run by greedy, self-serving canine-humanoid Gneeecey) and is mainly just reacting most of the time, desperate throughout to return to her world and her old life. She longs to eat peanut butter sandwiches in her freezing shoebox of a basement apartment. Even her hated high-pressure, low-paying production job at a Spanish commercial radio station seems like a pretty good deal now.
You Can’t Unscramble the Omelet finds Nicki finally standing up for herself as she discovers that she possesses certain powers. But she must learn to control them. All the while, she and her companion, the walking, talking, and exasperating Jack Russell terrier Gneeecey (who mysteriously reappears in her earthly apartment, one night) fight to survive in a bizarre parallel universe. And they must learn to put their differences aside and pull together if they’re ever going to make it out alive.
What inspires/inspired my creativity?
My actual pets inspired my characters…feisty white-and-black seventeen-pound Chihuahua-terrier and Jack Russell-lookalike Gneeecey who’d walk on two legs for a five-dollar bill…Sooperflea, the sleek black beagle-terrier who understood words when I spelled them aloud…dopey-but-beautiful golden beagle-terrier Flubbubb…and black-and-white high jumping mouse Altitude.
Real life also serves as constant inspiration. I’m always writing, in my head. One afternoon, years ago, as I waited for my son’s school bus, a sparrow zoomed past my nose. At once, I envisioned the diminutive descendant of dinosaurs wearing a miniature helmet and carrying a football under its wing. This sowed the seeds for a scene in The Getaway That Got Away, where bumble bee-sized birds play football on a dazed Nicki’s face.
I’m also very interested in the exploration of consciousness.
All that we take in—as our nervous systems interface with presumed reality—becomes part of that subconscious mix, reemerging in some convoluted, richer form. Does consciousness create reality, or does reality create consciousness? And I’ve wondered, does what we write already exist in another dimension, somewhere out there, or maybe in there? (Gneeecey argues that the writer creates actual reality. “Perhaphoops, youse humans make up all this dumb junk,” he states. “Then us poor peopoople gotta stinkin’ suffer through it.” He most likely prefers this explanation because it relieves him of personal responsibility for his actions. And he has an environmentally induced speech impediment, or “impedipoodiment,” as he says.)
When Gneeecey suggests to me that there are characters out there in the far reaches of the universe possibly plotting their revenge, I reply, “Oooh, I am so scared. Not.” (At times I do, unbeknownst to him, shake in the dark, under my covers. But that’s usually because I’ve mindlessly dipped my French fries into chocolate ice cream that night. You can’t just eat one…)
Anyway, I’m reminded of my book title, You Can’t Unscramble the Omelet. The only way to unscramble an omelet (as Gneeecey reminds me) is to run a video of it being scrambled, backward. Once characters become involved with each other and plots thicken and twist, relationships and circumstances become forever altered. They cannot be unscrambled. (Unless, as Gneeecey maintains, you read the story backward.)
How do I deal with creative block?
Generally, once I begin editing and revising, the rest starts to flow. A few squares of 72% dark chocolate don’t hurt, either.
Do I have tips on choosing titles and covers?
My titles have sprung from plot and dialogue. In my second book, when a distressed Nicki complains bitterly to Gneeecey about being stuck with him again, he responds, “You can’t unscramble the omelet.”
It didn’t take long for me to title my first two books. With the third, however, I had been drawing blanks and just typing “Book 3” in the heading. That is, until the other day, when again, a perfect snippet of dialogue leaped out of my screen and poked me in the eye.
People do indeed judge books (and everything and everyone else) by their covers. I’ve been beyond fortunate to have a great friend, phenomenal artist Jay Hudson (www.yojayhudson.com), do the cover illustrations and design for both books. He has consistently demonstrated an astonishing ability to create exactly what’s in my head, plus some. I’ll never forget the first time my sister and I viewed Jay, hundreds of miles away, streaming live on his website while he did a preliminary sketch of my Gneeecey character. Our eyes widened—it could’ve been one of my drawings! And I feed off Jay’s creativity. For this second book, he drew the four-fingered Gneeecey with five fingers on each cartoonish hand. As it was too late to make changes, I wrote in a scene where Gneeecey wails disconsolately that dimension burn has inflicted upon him a most dreadful disability. Overnight he had sprouted two new fingers, giving him a total of ten—like (gasp) humans have!
And it was sheer magic to watch as Jay live-streamed his creation of my book cover for You Can’t Unscramble the Omelet. To witness one’s vision become a reality, in real time, is humbling.
How does negative feedback affect me, and how do I deal with it?
I belong to three writing groups. I’ve found the feedback of my peers throughout the years to be absolutely invaluable. If several fellow authors have the same issue with something I’ve written, there is a problem. These writers represent a cross-section of readership, so I know that I have to take a serious look at my material with an eye to making changes. Sometimes we mistakenly assume that because we know something, our readers do as well. We may have failed to transmit some vital information.
That’s not to say that I implement every edit suggested. A particular piece of advice must ring true to me. (I also take issue with those who leap to defend their own work, closing their minds to the positive possibilities inherent in considering the input of others.)
There are nights where I slink out of the library, feeling beaten up. Then there are those evenings where I float out through the door after reading my five pages to the group, the critical member whose opinion I value most having exclaimed (in her Romanian accent), “Perfect!”
I feel that my work has been made immeasurably better thanks to constructive criticism.
How has my creation process improved over time?
After an informal study of screenwriting (and by no means do I consider myself able to produce a screenplay), I’ve begun thinking visually, writing more in terms of scenes. Additionally, I’ve learned through the years to use less words and know when a simpler one suffices, engaging the five senses as much as possible, recognizing where and when to break a chapter or scene, and maintaining a balance of dialogue, action, setting, and character description. I’m usually dealing with new worlds I’ve created, and consider those to be characters.
Do I tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve my readers? Do I balance the two, and how?
The fact that my inner child has never left enables me to approach my readers with integrity, authenticity, and respect, striking what I feel is a good balance. For me, writing is a labor of love. I love the process (even editing and revision!) Humor and zaniness are also part of my makeup—survival tools. If my readers are laughing (with me, not at me), I’ve done my job.
What are my plans for future books?
I’m at work on a third book in my Nicki Rodriguez/Gneeecey series and have files for books four and five. I’m planning to republish The Getaway That Got Away, including bonus materials, such as my own drawings. During public readings, I have a grand time doing my characters’ voices—whether Gneeecey’s nerdy, shrill shrieking, or my evil alien gangsters’ raspy rumblings—and I look forward to producing audiobooks. My dream is to see motion picture adaptations of my tales, with the salsa and Latin jazz music I’ve devoted most of my life to preserving, serving as soundtracks.
Amazon Author Central page:
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/vickisolafanpage/
Facebook book page: https://www.facebook.com/scrambleduniverse/?modal=admin_todo_tour
You Can’t Unscramble the Omelet is available in paperback and e-book at: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=you+can%27t+unscramble+the+omelet&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
The Getaway That Got Away is available in both formats at: https://www.amazon.com/Getaway-That-Got-Away/dp/0983371148