Filed Under:

From Boy King Of Texas To Literary Superstar

Play associated audio

Domingo Martinez is the author of The Boy Kings of Texas. He has been nominated for a National Book Award in the nonfiction category.

Yesterday morning I'm lying in bed and the phone rings. It's way too early. I'm thinking — "Wow, bill collectors are calling earlier and earlier."

Except it wasn't a bill collector. It was Alice Martell, my agent. She was calling to tell me that I'd been nominated for the National Book Award.

I didn't really understand what she was telling me. Probably, if I did, I would be even more intimidated than I am now. I'm the only author in my category without a Pulitzer.

Actually, if I stop to think about it, I might seize up. So instead, I'm reorganizing my Netflix queue. And concentrating on keeping my iPhone from switching to "landscape" mode — anything, as long as I don't have to think about what I'm up against.

I've thought about this award before. I remember one November about two years ago, I was stuck on my commute listening to Patti Smith accept her award. I was miserable, the weather was gray, and I was managing a print shop in Seattle. I was mad at Patti because it wasn't enough for her to change rock and roll, and blaze the trail for women: She had to go and win a National Book Award. MY award.

I had written a book by this time, but it had taken me almost 15 years to finish. I'd had these fantasies of the publishing world: I'd get the agent, the phone call, sold! Then I'd get my check and I'd walk around in a pinstripe suit. A three-piece New Orleans jazz band would follow me around everywhere I went.

But that's not how it happened. As an unpublished writer, the closest I could come to the award was buying Patti Smith's book.

My book did get published, eventually, but I took a crooked path. I carved it on my own with no compass, no map and no idea of what I was doing.

I didn't know how to write memoir. But I found that when I told people about growing up in Brownsville, Texas — it sounded to them like stories from another world. Stories about families swapping children, and smuggling drugs with my parents, or my whole family sending out a chain letter, terrified of what would happen if we didn't. Those stories astonished people ... so I wrote them down.

I wrote the book without the help of academics, writing groups or peers. I taught myself the art of storytelling by telling myself my own story, over and over again. I layered it with the emotional complexity that I had for the place. I think it worked.

The term "dark horse" has been mentioned once or twice since yesterday, and I have to chuckle. I wasn't even in the race two years ago. I wasn't even a horse, for that matter.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Far From 'Infinitesimal': A Mathematical Paradox's Role In History

It seems like a simple question: How many parts can you divide a line into? The troublesome answer was square at the root of two of Europe's greatest social crises.
NPR

Soup to Nuts, Restaurants Smoke It All

While you won't find cigarettes in restaurants anymore, some smoking isn't banned. It's not just meat, either; it's hot to smoke just about anything edible.
WAMU 88.5

Virginia Remains At Odds With Feds On Medicaid Expansion

Lawmakers in Virginia continue to resist the $9.6 billion Medicaid expansion on offer from the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act.

NPR

Watch For The Blind Lets You Feel Time Passing

A new watch allows the blind to feel time on their wrists. Designer Hyungsoo Kim tells NPR's Wade Goodwyn his watch allows users to tell time accurately without revealing their disabilities.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.