Guest Post: Author Alex Sanchez Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of Rainbow Boys

By Alex Sanchez

I’ve actually been writing longer than twenty years, but to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my first novel, Rainbow Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2001)(Woo-hoo!), here are a few life lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. They don’t need to be other writers, but it helps if they have their own creative passions so they understand why you’re up at 3 a.m. working on a project you might never get paid for. My first artistic support buddies included a songwriter and a papier mâché artist. It’s thanks to them that I got to today.

2. Reach out for help to improve your craft—and your process. For years I was too scared to show anyone my writing. I knew it wasn’t very good. Instead I accumulated boxes full of manuscripts. It was only when I reached out to supportive workshops and instructors that I was able to improve my writing and start finishing projects.

Rainbow Boys cover published in 2001 by Simon & Schuster

3. Try not to think about being published. As much as I dreamed of seeing my book on a store shelf, it also set me up for anxiety and overwhelm. It was much more helpful to focus on goals within my control. That meant writing…and rewriting…and rewriting the rewriting. The more we write, the more skilled we become, the more we find our unique voice, and the more likely it becomes that we eventually will see our book on a shelf.

4. Write the stories your heart is burning to tell, even if you think no one will ever want to publish them. When I began writing, I thought nobody would want to publish stories that affirmed gay teens because nobody was publishing affirming stories about gay teens. I wrote the stories anyway, and broke new ground. Write the stories you would write if you had only one year to live. And since you’ve given up caring if anybody will publish your work…

5. Have courage to break your heart open onto the page. Fiction is an invitation to feeling—for both the reader and the writer. To accept that invitation, we need to be vulnerable. As Robert Frost said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” I love those times when I’m writing and start to cry. It means I’m touching something deep inside, and I’ve heard from readers those are the parts that touch them the most, too.

6. After pouring your heart onto the page, there’s a strong chance your work will be rejected. Maybe a lot. For the ten novels I’ve been lucky enough to have published I’ve had another ten that never got published. Even now in my career, my work gets rejected. Rejection hurts. But if you’re a writer, you keep writing—because you can’t not write.

You Brought Me the Ocean published by DC Comics

7. Ask yourself: Why do I write? There have been moments in my life when the answer to that question was the only thing that sustained my writing. I’ve had to remind myself over and over that I write not for the prospect of money or praise but because it’s as vital to my wellbeing as eating, sleeping, socializing, exercising, or being in nature.

8. We succeed by showing up. For me that’s meant writers’ groups. Conferences. Reading like a writer. Taking classes and workshops. Teaching what I’ve learned. Putting in the hours working at my desk. And most of all, showing up as my most authentic and honest self on the page. Often when I show up, I don’t fully know what I’m doing but I…

9. Just say “yes” and figure out how to do it later. I relearned this lesson a couple of years ago when DC Comics asked me to write a graphic novel. I thought: Who, me? I had no idea how to write a comic. So, I read 63 graphic novels and wrote You Brought Me the Ocean with illustrations by Jul Maroh (DC Comics, 2020). After that I was asked to write a proposal for a book packager. I learned how to do that, too…and my proposal was rejected. Which takes us back to…

10. Let go of outcomes. That might be the biggest lesson I keep relearning. Over and over. There are too many parts of publishing (and life itself) I have no control over. The one thing I can control is, as Mary Heaton Vorse said, “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” And on days when I can’t even do that, remember that…

The Greatest Superpower published by Capstone in 2021

11. Everything in life changes, including our creativity. I’ve had: Exhilarating zones of productive ‘flow.’ Exasperating ‘dry spells’ (a long one during Covid). Creative bursts. Emotional blocks. Middle of the night insights. Amazing collaborations—and disastrous ones. Times when I thought I was a genius and times when I was convinced I was an imposter. All of the above has taught me…

12. Success is seldom a straight line. For me, like for many others, success has looked like this: It’s been a journey riddled with disappointments and failures, in which I’ve often had to remind myself that anything worth doing is worth failing at. As Michael Jordan put it, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” And when we do succeed …

13. (Bonus):  Celebrate the successes, no matter how small. If we can’t be grateful for the little successes, what makes us think we would be grateful for the bigger ones? Even this little post is a success—one that twenty years ago was beyond my imagining. Thanks for celebrating it with me. Here’s to your successes!

Cynsational Notes

Alex Sanchez has published ten novels, including the American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults” Rainbow Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2001) and Lambda Award-winning So Hard to Say (Simon & Schuster, 2004). His novel Bait (Simon & Schuster, 2009) won the Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Book Award and the Florida Gold Medal for Young Adult fiction. Alex’s graphic novel, You Brought Me the Ocean, was published by DC Comics. His latest book, The Greatest Superpower (Capstone), came out in 2021. Alex now teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program on Writing for Children and Young Adults. Find out more at: