From Boy King Of Texas To Literary Superstar | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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 As an unpublished writer, the closest I could come to the award was buying Patti Smith's book.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

The World Music Education of Philip Glass

In his new memoir, Music Without Words, the composer explains how a chance meeting with Ravi Shankar sparked a fascination with the cultures of the world and their music.
NPR

PepsiCo Swaps Diet Drink's Aspartame For Other Artificial Sweeteners

The company says Diet Pepsi consumers are concerned about aspartame. But the Food and Drug Administration has long affirmed that the sweetener is safe in amounts commonly used by beverage companies.
NPR

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy On Gun Control, Vaccines And Science

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was officially sworn in this week. His confirmation was held up for more than a year because of comments he made about gun violence. Murthy talks with NPR's Scott Simon.
NPR

As Health Apps Hop On The Apple Watch, Privacy Will Be Key

The notion of receiving nutrition advice from artificial intelligence on your wrist may seem like science fiction. But health developers are betting this kind of behavior will become the norm.

Leave a Comment

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