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Ruben Colon

Ruben Colon Asks
"What If?"

by Pat Janda

WHILE GLANCING AT A PICTURE in The New York Times one day, Fort Myers resident and retired pharmacist from Manhattan, author Ruben Colon, found exactly what he was looking for — the idea for his second novel. As those who write fiction know, you ask yourself a lot of “What if?” questions. And that’s what Colon did. The result is a fascinating story of romance/intrigue entitled, Painted Eyes (Publish America). We met recently to discuss the book and how it developed.

Tell me about the photo in the Times.

“It was of an actual captain in today’s Spanish Army, dressed in 15th Century armor. I felt the tall, handsome captain was the perfect hero for a story I had imagined. When I started researching, I came across information on the voyage of Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator and explorer. This provided the impetus. Next I devised the plot. I didn’t envision a swashbuckler with friends to help. The captain would have to succeed on his own in the strange, exotic and dangerous land of 15th Century Africa. I immersed myself in the lives of the conquistadors: Spain during the Moorish wars, Portugal, Marco Polo, Alexander the Great and ancient Egypt — and all come into play in my story. Next I studied the clothing, food, manners and weapons of that century.”
How did all this help you develop your story?

“The gifted and artistic Captain, recently returned from the wars against the Moors, is cajoled into painting a portrait of a nobleman’s wife. A brief affair ensues between the two and he’s drawn into a duel, which Queen Isabel has strictly forbidden. When the noblewoman’s husband throws down his glove signaling a duel must take place, the captain disregards the queen’s order. In order to uphold his personal and family honor, he accepts the challenge. The duel ends with the death of the nobleman.

What does the Captain do now?

He leaves Spain and heads to Portugal to take ship with Vasco da Gama. On the disastrous return trip to Portugal, da Gama abandons the captain on the western coast of Africa to avoid the young man’s arrest. The captain is now a castaway. A deserted beach stretches in front of him, a dense forest at his back.

Days pass and he’s close to starvation. Frantically roaming the forest, alert for wild beasts and possible hostile tribes, he suddenly hears piercing cries. Running to help, he spies a beautiful young woman about to be attacked by a lion. The captain fires a shot and draws his sword, killing the charging animal. Turning to look at the woman, he wonders if she could be from the kingdom described by Marco Polo — the one of great wealth and women of incomparable beauty? She beckons him to follow her, and a great adventure begins.”

What happens next?

“You’ll have to read the book to find out!”

How long did it take you to finish your novel?

“I started about five years ago. It took a lot of time to find the right background information, along with weaving historical fact into the story. The library was a big help. Several readers have asked me if the events really happened.

Did they?

“That’s a secret.”

Do you have a certain schedule devoted to writing each day?

“I usually write or read every morning for a couple of hours, and then the same in the afternoon, if time permits, seven days a week. I also review former chapters and try to put myself in the shoes of the characters.”

You said getting all the facts straight is a monstrous job. Do you have advice for other writers embarking on such a task?

“Well, I’m not of the ‘write what you know’ school. After all, where would Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan, which has been translated into over a hundred languages and made into at least six movies, be if he followed that advice? I try not to write ‘beach books,’ novels you read for relaxation and forget the details soon after. An important point to remember if you’re writing fiction is that although it’s your story, it’s really not your story. The tale belongs to the characters and you shouldn’t interfere. You sweat and suffer doubt and agony over and over again, but the moments of pure enjoyment come when everything falls into place. You have to apply your determination and dedication and not let anyone discourage you – not friend, family, editor or publisher. Let yourself be carried away by imagination and the intricacies of fiction and beauty of language.”

Are you working on something else now?

“Yes, I’m finishing my third novel, which I expect to be published sometime next year.”

Is it truly worth all the time and effort?

“Yes, I can’t imagine a better feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction than when your story is complete, finally published, and you hold the book in your hand.”

For more information, visit publishamerica.com. •

from the September-October 2008 issue

"An important point to remember if you're writing fiction is that although it's your story, it's really not your story. The tale belongs to the characters and you shouldn't interfere."