Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jeff Rivera


Mr. Rivera is an award-winning young adult author and the founder of GumboWriters.com, the leading self-publishing website geared to bypassing the traditional book publishing method. Rivera’s first book, Forever My Lady (Warner Books/Grand Central), was a critical hit and was named Book of the Year by Mi Gente Magazine. In addition to his writing, Rivera is a sought-after speaker on new media and publishing and has been featured in The Boston Globe, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Miami Herald and on NPR and American Latino TV, to name a few.
In addition, Rivera has just started working with mega media outlet The Huffington Post contributing a regular blog/column and on-camera video segments mainly focusing on issues related to “Young Hollywood.” Rivera has also been brought onboard by web giant MediaBistro.com to conduct a series of on-camera interviews for its web channel, Media Bistro Weekly Round-Up, after the success of Rivera’s GalleyCat.com column on Media Bistro, for which he’s been interviewing various authors over the past year. As anchor for Media Bistro Weekly Round-Up, one of his first upcoming on-camera interviews will be with bestselling novelist James Patterson.

Mr. Rivera’s interview with me is exciting and insightful, so I’m going to post it question/answer style so as not to detract from the original content.

1. Could you tell us a bit about your background? Who inspired you?
I was inspired first and foremost by my mother, who was a single parent. I didn’t come to realize how much she sacrificed and gave up in her life just to raise us three kids. Here was a woman who attended Yale at one point, only to get married and end up raising three young kids by herself. We struggled on welfare and food stamps, but we never knew the difference until we were much older because she always made things fun. There were also some of the most amazing teachers I had growing up who recognized right away my natural desire to write and encouraged it by putting me in TAG (Talented and Gifted) classes in Oregon.

2. Can you acquire the “never give up” attitude, or is it something you’re just born with?

I think the “never give up” attitude is something that you are forced into in a sense. What I mean by that is that depending on your environment or what was going on in your life you either give up or you choose to move forward. For me, giving up wasn’t in my DNA. I just couldn’t imagine a world where I couldn’t write. It was as impossible to me as a world where I could not breathe.

3. Many kids have it very rough; what advice do you have for them?

I’m going to go beyond what they usually hear, which is “believe in yourself” and “never give up.” Kids hear that so much it goes in one ear and out the other. So what I’m going to say is if you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is your dream, whether it be an architect or a singer or a doctor, then that means you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to be in that field. But I would tell them to be open to the ways they can get what they want. For example, maybe you always dreamed of being a doctor ’cause you like helping people, but nurses often get to help and interact with people much more than doctors, so maybe when you get a taste of it you’ll find you really want to be a nurse. Or maybe you want to be a movie star ’cause you really love the attention and love you get from people when you perform. But if it’s immediate attention and love from your performance you might think about being a Broadway star. They get instant gratification performing in front of live audiences. Be open to how your dream, the essence of your dream, will happen, and you might be surprised what doors open up to you. And finally, I would tell them the same advice my father gave me, which was simplistic but very profound: “Be the best.” If you want to be a computer programmer, be the best there is. If you want to be a fashion designer, be the very best. If you’re the best, cream does eventually rise to the top.

4. What’s your opinion on “Young Hollywood?”

People always say there aren’t any real movie stars anymore. That those days are long gone from when we had the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I’m not so sure. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, young people loved music, for example, and their parents told them to turn off that “racket” [and] that “rock ’n’ roll junk,” but now we call that music “the classics.” Parents do the same today. That said, how we define a star is so different than the way we used to. Now we have TV stars, movie stars, reality TV stars, and even YouTube Stars. Whatever type of star you are, whether you like it or not, young people do watch you, and you do affect them. That’s just a fact.

5. Kids these days do tend to idolize movie and sports celebrities. What advice would you give these kids or their parents concerning this?

The fact of the matter is that kids are going to idolize people. That’s just a fact. You can’t demand that these movie stars behave better ’cause quite frankly they’re going to do what they want to do to get the attention they want to sell their TV shows and movie tickets and music and sports tickets. So, what can you do? I think parents can expose their children to other types of people their kids can idolize. Along with Britney Spears why not also show them a very successful doctor who came from nothing, or dare I say, a politician who is ethical (is that an oxymoron?). My point is trying to pretend your child will never see a Paris Hilton on TMZ stumbling through the streets drunk is unrealistic, so show them also a number of other role model alternatives.

6. Do you have any particular books you can recommend for our youth?

Definitely, I can recommend a number of great books. For those interested in books for young people of color, I would highly recommend the Bluford High Books. They’re clean-cut, but teens still love them, and they are great for reluctant readers. You can get them at most bookstores, and libraries often can’t keep them on the bookshelves because young people love them so much. If you’re looking for something a little more edgy, try Dream Jordan’s book Hot Girl. For Young Adults there’s a great graphic novel coming out by David Small called Stitches. Gotta get it. That’s all I’ve got to say. It totally changed the way I thought of a graphic novel. And then there’s Slant by Laura E. Williams. It’s great for teen and tween girls. It’s about body image and loving yourself, but it does it in a way that isn’t corny.

7. How did you manage to stay focused and “follow your dream”?

For me, I had no other choice but to make it. I couldn’t imagine not succeeding. I also kept going and eventually found people who were also going along the same path. As you succeed more and more, some old friends and even family members will be negative. They’re worried they’ll “lose you.” So they’ll discourage you or say you’re being “arrogant” when you tell them great things are happening ’cause they want to hold on to you. It’s great to be loyal and grounded, but always remember as you succeed you’re like a hot air balloon that must let out the sand bags. Sometimes those sand bags are negative people, sometimes they’re your own fears, and as you let go of the sand bags, you’ll rise above the clouds and realize, hey, you’re not alone after all. There are other people above the clouds too!

8. Any advice for our young authors out there?

My greatest advice is to keep writing, even if it’s just one page a day, to keep reading, and be the best writer possible. Surround yourself with published authors, not just struggling writers. And remember that a big part of writing now is living, so although you should be disciplined about writing, you have to live life too, or you’ll have nothing to write about.

9. Please feel free to add anything I may have missed or you want to touch upon.

I think I’d like to add that if I had listened to all the naysayers who said I didn’t have talent, that I would never make it, those that talked about me behind my back, I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing. You’ve got to be doing writing ’cause you love to do it, that you can’t imagine a world without writing. If you do that, then you’ll never want to stop.

Check out Mr. Rivera’s website at http://jeffrivera.typepad.com/jeff_rivera/.

2 comments:

  1. I've never heard of him before, but after reading this very interesting interview i've decided i have to make room in my bookshelves for some of his books.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great! Thanks for the comment and Please, check back often :)

    ReplyDelete

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