We often use the expression “labor of love” to describe those tasks or projects into which we pour our attention, energy, and capacity for feeling. And while in some cases the saying may lose its potency from overuse, bestselling author and actress Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol reinvests it with meaning in her latest volume of poetry, Letters, To The Men I Have Loved. In a recent interview with Outskirts Press, she shared with us her motives for writing and her secrets to success in the world of self-publication and self-promotion. Here’s a hint: whether she’s walking the red carpet, writing a poem, or posting to her blog, Mirtha Michelle strives for authenticity.
OP: Where did the idea for Letters come from?
MMCM: One day I had an encounter with a boyfriend I’d had in years past, and we talked about what had gone wrong between us. It was already too late for us, so after I went home that day I wrote a letter to say all the things I hadn’t been able to say to him in person. When I read it over the next day I really loved it, so I decided: all of these poems that I’m putting together are connected to these men I have loved–past and present, you know, since I still love them–and I decided to write the stories that go along with the poems.
The book is a roller coaster. It’s a short novel of a girl becoming a woman, and it happens through poetry, and letters to the men I have been involved with romantically, as well as to my grandfather, father, brother, nephew. I took the idea from one of my favorite books–[Rainer Maria] Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet–which I was told to read by an acting coach. I loved that it was a conversation. It was so honest, and so genuine. And it was cathartic for me to write.
OP: What drew you to poetry as distinct from other art forms?
MMCM: I think, to be honest, I like poetry because you can write it really quickly. You can capture a feeling in an instant. Writing is a skill that anyone can learn if they go to school, have great teachers, and really dive into learning how to write. But poetry is, I think, a gift. I grew up in a very creative household; I would go into my parents’ room at night, and I would share with them that I had discovered this or that poet. I would get so excited. I thought I had discovered gold! And they would know the verses, and we would recite them together. That was the childhood I had. For me, poetry came naturally. It’s how Rilke said: “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?” It was something beyond me–I was describing seas and oceans I had never seen, as a child. They were really short at first, haikus and stuff like that, but the impulse was there. I had to put words on paper, because they would eat at me inside.
OP: You mention in your preface that “hate is just as powerful, just as influential in the human life” as love. Why did you choose to champion love?
MMCM: When I was eighteen years old and in one of my theater classes, one of my professors required everyone to say a certain word. For some people swearing was very difficult, but the professor told us that certain words emote very distinct emotions. Those words are necessary, sometimes. That’s how I think about hate–no one teaches us to hate, no one teaches us about hate. So I talk about hate toward the end of Letters, in the chapter “Resentment.” I don’t think that hate is good, necessarily, but until you experience hate and understand it, you won’t really know what love is. The only way to overcome something is to accept that you feel a certain way, to feel it, and move past it.
OP: How did you discover Outskirts Press?
MMCM: I had a conversation with a literary department at an agency I currently work with, and they told me ‘Yeah, we can do the book. We can submit it to different publishers.’ But they said, ‘Realistically, this could take up to two years, and if we were you–you already wrote it, you’re already promoting it, you’re already building a fan base. You should go ahead and self-publish.’ I started looking into different self-publishing companies, but I immediately liked that Outskirts wasn’t Barnes & Noble or Amazon. I didn’t know much about the publishing world, but I just knew I didn’t want to drive myself crazy. I looked into different companies as well, but Outskirts was what felt right, and I went with my gut.
OP: Artist Deanna First helped create the cover of your book. It’s an intriguing piece–how did it come to be?
MMCM: Deanna is a really amazing fashion illustrator. I found her online, through a blogger friend of mine. I loved how soft and mystical her art was. I live in Los Angeles, but I went to New York for a wedding and for New York Fashion Week, and I met up with her. I had a vision of what I wanted, and she totally understood what I was trying to do. I sent her a copy of the book, and an image of myself that I really loved, and told her to make the artwork her own. She sent me three proofs one day, with variations in color and lettering, and as soon as I saw it–her art was so, so beautiful. I chose the version with black because I felt it was symbolic for a chased chapter, a closed book. I was starting a new life at that point, and the art expressed a sort of mourning. Since Letters is an intense book, with lots of ends of loves, it fit.
OP: What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of becoming a published author?
MMCM: The most rewarding part is and will always be the ability Letters has to touch people. It’s crazy because I didn’t think people really read books anymore. But for me, having these girls go and buy my book, and spend their twenty dollars or so on Letters–it’s amazing, that someone believes in things still. People say my book has helped them heal, and that it has touched them, and that they have read and reread the book five or six times. It’s not a long book, but still! That’s the best feeling.
A lot of girls and guys have hit me up, saying I inspired them to write again. It’s so great, because I’ve had people inspire me throughout my life, so it’s kind of like I’m paying it forward. I love showing people that things are possible. When I first saw Jennifer Lopez in a movie, you know, I was like–wow, a Latin girl on screen! I was being represented. It was so powerful. If I can be an inspiration to someone to write, to publish a book, that’s beautiful.
OP: You have an active and vibrant presence on social media. How is your digital presence informed by your life as an author?
I see it as a job, to be honest. I pay close attention to my social media. Two years ago, I just posted about my life a little bit–my outfits, if I went out somewhere exciting, and so on. But after a while, I started posting quotes I liked, and I started to see that [social media] was an outlet to express myself and show what I was working on. I’m still going to write whatever I’m going to write, but it has helped me get to know my readers, my audience. I am always excited when my posts and my poems get more likes than a selfie, because I know they’re touching someone. And I don’t try to be anything I’m not. I’ll post pieces of who I am.
OP: What advice would you offer new authors?
Go with your gut. Don’t write for what you think people want–write your heart. People receive honesty well, unless they’re your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Just be honest in your writing, and then publish it. Don’t go to the coffee shop where people are writing scripts and things like that when you’re trying to write something heartfelt; the city noise and the distractions will prevent you. Take that time for yourself. Imagine you’re meditating with your computer, with words. Really listen to your soul, so you can express what it wants to say.
OP: What does the average day look like for you, as a writer?
I make time to write, and obviously I also write whenever I feel something specific move me. I’m constantly thinking of new material, so I’m constantly on my phone. Some people might think I’m texting, but I’m actually writing. Discipline is super important. With acting as well, you want to go to class–you want to make sure you stay on top of your game by auditioning. It’s an entire job just to get the audition, and another job to book it, and then another job afterwards. The same discipline I follow as an actor I bring to my writing. I wake up early every day and try to write something, whether it’s one paragraph or a chapter. Each morning at a given time, I’m writing.
OP: Can we look forward to more of your work?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Letters, which for now I’m titling Eighteen Inches. It deals with decisions between the heart and the brain. It’s a bit more…decadent. Still very honest, and very real. After Letters, which deals with a lot of loss, this book has an open-your-eyes, je ne sais quoi flavor. What happens after loss? We fall in love again. We learn self-love, and become stronger.
Mirtha Michelle Castron Mármol’s brutal–but loving–honesty has touched many readers, indeed. Her book, which was published through Outskirts Press in June of 2014, has rapidly risen in sales, particularly through digital retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBook store, and the Outskirts Press Direct bookstore. She is known for her roles in the “Fast & Furious” franchise and the upcoming film, “AWOL-72,” and she keeps her fans and readers up to date on her activities through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Check out her hashtag, #MMCM, to learn more about her work.
You may not already be a social media expert like Mirtha, but Outskirts Press is here to help! Consult with one of our Personal Marketing Assistants, or go social with the Author Platform Set-Up Through Social Media. We make it easy to sell your book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple’s iBook store. When it comes to creating a digital platform or any other Marketing options, we’ve got you covered.