D. H. Cermeño: “Do not let others get you down or let them question your abilities”

Do not let others get you down or let them question your abilities. We all have our detractors and those who criticize us, but they are a fraction of those we know who help us, support us, and wish us well. We place so much emphasis on this small group of insignificant people and worry […]

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Do not let others get you down or let them question your abilities. We all have our detractors and those who criticize us, but they are a fraction of those we know who help us, support us, and wish us well. We place so much emphasis on this small group of insignificant people and worry too much about what they think which interferes with our ability to persevere. We all deserve success and we should not let those who criticize us get the better of us.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing D.H.Cermeño, speaker and multi-award-winning author of Rising Sunsets and Coffee and Cedar: Finding Strength From Memories. Mr. Cermeño frequently lectures on his writing at both public and private events and fundraisers. He completed his undergraduate work in Communications at Loyola University New Orleans; holds an MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College; and has led the marketing departments for such major entertainment/hospitality corporations as Disney, Hard Rock, and Marriott.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Growing up, I always loved to write. I would make up stories in my head and then put them down on paper. Whenever I went anywhere, I would think about how what I was experiencing could be formed into a story that people would want to read. But everything I wrote was handwritten since I did not have a computer of my own. When I went to graduate school in the late 90s, we were given laptops as part of our tuition and all of our classwork was done on the laptop and transferred to floppy disks. When I graduated, I asked myself, “What am I going to do with my laptop now that school was over?” So similar to Penny Sycamore in You Can’t Take It With You, who wrote her plays because a typewriter had been delivered to her house by mistake, I thought, “What the hell? I’ll write a book!”

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Right after college, I secured a job teaching English in Japan. Being able to travel to the other side of the world to live and work for a year was a dream come true. I taught elementary and junior high school students as well as adults. There, I learned how to truly depend on myself while living in a country where I came to understand how it feels to be illiterate since nothing was in English. Everything was a combination of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji. But the generosity of the people, the eagerness my students had to learn English and the picturesque landscape inspired me to keep a diary. And when I decided to write a book, this experience was the basis for my first novel.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge for me was finding time to write. Maintaining my full-time job and being able to carve out time during the day to write was extremely difficult. What I did was get myself into a routine of writing before work began, during lunch and on the weekends. I realized that to make my dream come true of becoming a writer, I needed to make sacrifices. At times when it was hard to maintain this type of routine, I knew I needed some sort of reinforcement. So, I would give people snippets of what I wrote for them to read and give me feedback. Even though there were times that their critiques were harsh, which is what I wanted, their overall enjoyment of my stories gave me encouragement. They liked what I was writing and that gave me the drive to continue what I was doing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I learned quickly to keep my day job responsibilities and those for my personal interests separate. I was in the midst of sending out query letters and I needed to make copies of my letter, as well as of the pages I was sending to a prospective agent. I made my copies at my office, which I should not have been doing, and placed them in a manilla envelope on my desk. At one point during the day, I left my desk and as I passed a colleague, they asked if I had the updated contacts for one of our clients ready to go out. I told him I did and they were on my desk in the envelope. Long story short, my colleague grabbed the wrong envelope and sent via messenger my query letters to the client. I called the client immediately, when I realized what had happened, and told them the correct envelope was on its way. We had a good laugh afterward, but not at that moment.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, I am working with a brilliant illustrator, Mike Woodcock, for my next two books which deal with the lessons and gifts we receive from pets, specifically dogs. It is similar to my last book, Coffee and Cedar: Finding Strength From Memories. I am also working on another book that deals with children learning to appreciate their parents and not be embarrassed by their idiosyncrasies. I also tried my hand at playwriting and I adapted Coffee and Cedar into a one-act play which I hope to premiere at the Orlando Fringe Festival next year.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The one aspect of my book, Coffee and Cedar, that readers find the most interesting is that it shows the guidance and love given to a grandson by his grandfather. Most stories nowadays show the love and guidance from a father to his daughter or a mother to her daughter. And these are extremely important and necessary. But, for boys, there are very few stories that show them being vulnerable and being loved by a male family member. Books that showcase men showing their emotions and developing their own confidence and strength from those who love them are very few and far between.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Do not let others get you down or let them question your abilities. We all have our detractors and those who criticize us, but they are a fraction of those we know who help us, support us, and wish us well. We place so much emphasis on this small group of insignificant people and worry too much about what they think which interferes with our ability to persevere. We all deserve success and we should not let those who criticize us get the better of us.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Write what you know. When you write what you know, the feeling and familiarity will show. When I came back to the U.S. from Japan, the story of Rising Sunsets flowed and my readers saw that. Coffee and Cedar was a similar experience and when you write what you know, the emotions and the story are genuine, which is what readers look for. If it is too far-fetched, the writing will show that and your readers will not enjoy it.
  • You have to get out of your comfort zone. You will need to feel comfortable about people judging your work, and you cannot take that personally, which is a challenge. Your heart and soul have been put into this so how can you not take it personally? But you have to separate the work from your personal attachment. And you need to be able to do other things that you will not be used to. For me, it is speaking in front of people, but unless I talk and promote the work, no one will know about it. But the one thing I take with me before I step out onto any stage is that I am talking about something I love, which makes it much easier.
  • The work begins after you write the book. You have to devote time to get in front of publishers and do what you can to gain interest in your book. I spent many months doing what I could to secure an agent in order to get my books published, but to no avail. However, several agents told me how much they enjoyed the book, but they were afraid to represent me for fear that they could not sell it. That is what led me to self-publish. And once that happened, I was devoted to market my work. That has also been the hardest part and the most taxing.
  • Always be promoting. You always need to be prepared to promote your work. You need to have your business cards handy as well as your elevator pitch prepared. Being prepared has allowed me to get scheduled to speak in front of others and sell more books. This is the most important thing I have learned in becoming an author.
  • You can’t let negative comments get you down. People are going to criticize and you can’t let that discourage you. Not everyone is going to like your work and that is okay. Focus on the positive feedback you receive. That is what you need to hold onto to keep going.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I always tend to carry a pencil and pad with me. I never know when I will get an idea that I can draw from and I have gotten into the habit of writing it down so I won’t forget. One time at a wedding, an idea came to me and I spent the entire ceremony jotting down my ideas and thoughts. Because of that, I did not see the couple exchange their vows, nor kiss. But I used what I wrote in my first novel.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I mostly enjoy contemporary fiction, especially Gail Godwin’s work. I find the experiences she creates for her protagonists riveting and the characters they meet help inspire, mold and enhance their existence. This helps give me inspiration and allows me to create similar experiences for my characters. I love stories where lessons are learned, especially when the characters are at an impressionable age. This helps define them and create experiences they carry throughout the story and makes me wonder how they use it beyond the story itself. What would the character be like years after the story ends? These are questions I ask myself and do my best to incorporate this thought process when developing my stories.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Every day, I look to give a compliment to anyone I come into contact with, in addition to those closest to me. When I see them smile, it makes me think that I have made a difference in their day. What I wish could happen is that for every compliment I give to someone, that person could do the same to another complete stranger. I read somewhere that we speak kindly to our plants to help them grow. What would happen if we could do that to each other? What a wonderful world this could be.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow my author adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as connect with my book, Coffee & Cedar on Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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