Rudy Ruiz

Author of "Valley of Shadows"

Rudy Ruiz is a social entrepreneur, advocate, and author living in San Antonio, Texas. He is the cofounder and CEO of Interlex, an advocacy marketing agency. Founded with his wife, Heather Ruiz, in 1995, the firm helps its clients make a positive impact on diverse audiences.

In addition to his work with Interlex, Rudy Ruiz is a social advocate, focusing primarily on the disproportionate impact of issues such as financial literacy, healthcare, and immigration reform on minority groups. He has contributed to multiple publications, including CNN, the Houston Chronicle, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Rudy Ruiz studied literature and creative writing at Harvard, and was awarded a Ford Foundation grant to support his writing career. His fiction debut was Seven for the Revolution, a collection of short stories that won four International Latino Book Awards. He has been published in several literary magazines, and has also won several awards for his fiction. In 2020, Ruiz released his first novel, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez, which was named one of the Top 10 Best First Novels of 2020 by the American Library Association’s Booklist.

Ruiz’s most recent novel, Valley of Shadows, will be published in September 2022.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

A lot of the elements of it have been floating around in my mind for many, many years because of its setting on the border and its historical context of US-Mexico relations and the long, fraught history of those relations between the two countries and the cultures. In that sense, I feel like it’s been germinating my whole life. But what really sparked me to write this particular kind of novel, which is unique, was strangely, my son, who’s a teenager. He actually asked me, “Dad, would you write a Western horror story?”

I was like, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because I’ve been writing a very long time and I’ve never written a Western, and I’ve never written a horror story. Those weren’t two genres that I felt naturally compelled to write in, so it was a very fun challenge and very interesting to have that opportunity to write in a very different style, in the sense of a different subject matter than what I was accustomed to writing. I found it very inspiring and very stimulating to my creativity to explore these new genres.

I’ve been writing for a while and really, my natural inclination is to write literary fiction. I’ve been very drawn always to magical realism, so it’s always come very naturally to me to write in that magical realism style. Most of my fiction, before this novel, was either more straightforward literary fiction that was very rooted in every dairy reality that we live in, and then the rest of it has been more in the magical realism vein.

In a way, diving into that Western and horror aspect of it, it felt like it freed me. It freed me up to have more fun with it in a way, maybe because I wasn’t taking myself or my writing as seriously and I was just having fun within those genres. I found it liberating. It’s weird to say, because you’re putting some constraints around yourself. But then within those constraints, you just opened up this universe within which I could have a lot of fun.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

To be honest, I have no typical day. When I was writing this book, it was during the pandemic, so that was kind of also different. But my typical day was, I mean to do the things that everybody does I suppose, I have to have coffee. My wife and I have coffee, then we’ll exercise, that kind of stuff. Then writing for a couple hours during the earlier part of the day, during the morning, when I was writing this book or whenever I’m writing a book, that would be typical because I find my mind is fresh, and the creative ideas flow, and it’s a really good time for me to write. And then, in the afternoons, I always found it was a good time for editing, more kind of, I’m not asking as much of my brain in the afternoons, I’m just kind of trying to polish things up and fix things. Unless I’m really on a roll, and then I will keep writing.

Then, usually, in the evenings, I just chill out with my wife and family. But, again, if I’m writing and I’m in a very intense part of the book, or I’m in the middle of something that’s crucial, I’ll go back and I’ll do like a nighttime writing session as well. And that’s one of the tough parts about writing is it really is a very solitary craft. And so when I’m really in the midst of the writing, that’s probably one of the hardest aspects of it is having to sort of retreat. It’s kind of a self alienating process and not my most favorite aspect of it, but I mean, unfortunately, you can’t really write a book if you don’t kind of isolate yourself and focus on it.

One of the themes in the novel of Valley of Shadows is isolation, and also self-isolation, when people retreat from the world and sort of shut the world out because they feel hurt or they feel wounded and, bottom line, they feel afraid. You’re afraid to connect, afraid to care, afraid to be hurt. And that’s an aspect of the main character of somebody that is very present throughout the whole book.

I feel like the fact that it was written during the pandemic kind of helped me tap into those feelings a little bit more than if it had not been the pandemic, the pre-pandemic. I guess the pandemic helped, or not helped – made most of us experience a degree of isolation like that, maybe we hadn’t ever experienced. It was interesting how that informed the story and the character, and I think it helped me in the sense of trying to capture some of those feelings more authentically than I may have otherwise been able to.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It’s really always been a very natural thing. I think if you’re creative and you’re entrepreneurial, you can’t help but be driven to do that. For me, that’s always been the most exciting part of my work, whether it’s in the writing or my other work. Aside from just having the ideas, because when you’re a creative person the ideas come to you, it’s learning how to discern between the ideas I have that are just fun and fanciful but will never go anywhere, and the ideas that I have that might appeal to others. Because if the idea only appeals to me, it’s kind of like, okay, well, no one’s going to be interested in that.

After I discern what ideas I think will appeal to others, I think it really just goes to believing, having confidence, believing in those ideas enough that you’re able to invest the time and energy that it’s going to take to give it that persistence and that discipline I talked about earlier, that you’re really going to keep pushing the idea forward and you’re not going to give up. Because I think if it’s a good idea, you just can’t give up on it, and eventually other people will recognize that it’s a good idea. If it’s a book, read the book, if it’s a movie, they’ll watch the movie. And if it’s a business, they’ll do business with you.

What’s one trend that excites you?

This is a media and entertainment trend, but I really like the trend that has sort of happened over the last few years and, again, the pandemic even further accelerated it: the trend towards these really good long form dramas that are, instead of making a movie, a TV series that is like a movie. That level of quality, and that level of depth. Years ago, you would’ve just done a two hour movie about something and now, you’ll do an eight hour long mini-series on Netflix, or HBO Max, or wherever. But because of that trend, you’re able to go way deeper into the characters. You get immersed as a viewer, you get immersed into the story, you invest more time in it, you care more.

They can explore the smaller characters that in a movie would just be kind of have a few lines and be forgotten, can become stars in their own right within these types of formats. So I like that a lot as a storyteller because I just feel like it frees up storytellers, writers, directors, and actors to just have about as much fun as we novelists do, because they can spend so much more time with the material. I think it’s a fun trend and one that benefits readers and viewers and people who enjoy good stories.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m very goal-oriented and I have a habit of sticking to working towards those goals. Being a creative person and being an entrepreneur, it’s not necessarily a very rigid habit of “I have to work these hours” or “I have to do this or that.” But it is sort of a daily habit of mentally going through a checklist of, “Okay, what have I done today to work towards that goal?”

Often, I will make lists, if you want a more very tactical habit. If I don’t have it in writing, I have it mentally and I’m always working towards certain goals.

What advice would you give your younger self?

In honesty, I think I would just say, do what you’re doing. Because I’m happy with where it’s gotten me and I wouldn’t really want to change much of it. Even the things that went wrong, it’s those things you learn from. Do what you’re doing. Believe in what you’re doing, do what you’re doing, you’re going to get there. You’re going to get to the places you want to be.

I think if I’d done the things other people told me that I should be doing instead of what I was doing, I would’ve been a lot less happy then and I probably would’ve ended up less happy now. So I think the do what you’re doing would be my advice because in the end, you live with your choices and I feel comfortable with the choices I made.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I think really being true to myself and my vision of how I think I can help make the world a better place, even if it’s in a small way. Being true to that has sort of helped in everything I’ve done, whether it’s work or in the writing. It really carves out a niche that over time becomes unique.

There’s so much competition out there for people’s time, and attention, and dollars. So whether it’s as a business, or whether it’s as a writer who writes a book, if what you’re offering is unique, it’s going to eventually stand out to people who are looking for that and you’re going to connect with your audience.

The audience might be more niche, but if you can connect to them, they become a loyal base of support, whether they’re clients in business or whether they’re your readers. So I think that for me has been the strategy that kind has helped me be successful. I may not be JK Rowling, and in the business world I’m not like Elon Musk, but it still works for me. And I’m happy with where it’s at right now.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There’s been definitely a few of those. There’s a lot of times when you fail to reach your goal and you don’t know really what you can take away from it. But the ones that have kind of stuck with me that I look back on always tend to remind me the importance of keeping your cool and letting patience prevail.

Early on in both my work and writing careers, sometimes when facing failure, rejection or whatnot, the ego would allow the resentment or anger to kind of show through. Not in any violent way, but I let my anger or my temper get the best of me. I learned early on the first time it happened that in the business world, even if you’re right about something, that doesn’t give you license to let your temper get the best of you. When this incident happened, the CEO of this company, who was probably 40 years older than me and had wisdom, gave me some advice.

She told me this quote that was in Spanish, but it was basically, “the person that gets angry loses.” And to top it all off, she was also a distant relative of mine, so she could not only give me this great quote, but she could also lay it on me that it was my own grandfather that had taught her that when she was a youngster. And so now she was passing it on to me from my own grandfather, and she was right.

So ever since that, I learned, don’t get angry, don’t lose your temper, be patient, and try to see the other person’s perspective, try to find a positive way through the challenge.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I went to a bookstore with my daughter in Mexico City and neither of us had been in Mexico City in a very long time, since she was a little girl. It had been about 19 or 20 years. I was there to introduce her to family, some cousins of mine that live there, and my older cousin took us to this bookstore and kept recommending different books. He’s an avid reader, super smart, very intellectual.

So he kept bringing all these amazing books, Spanish, different philosophers, and very intense literature. One of those moments when people come and tell you, “You got to read this book, you got to read this book.”

We walked out of there with this giant stack of books and I probably spent well over a hundred dollars, but it was totally worth it. Totally worth it because it was so much fun to listen to my cousin tell us about what the books were about, to reconnect with him, and introduce my daughter to him. And then, to come back home with this great stack of books to eventually get around to reading.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Everyone knows about Microsoft Teams and Zoom, of course, which I think have been amazing. As a writer, one that a lot of people don’t know about that I think is this website called Submittable. Submittable is really great for writers. It helped me a lot over the years because it’s just a great resource to search for places to submit your work, where before that you’d have to go buy some giant manual and look through it, and this saves all your submissions. It reminds you of their status. It allows you to correspond with places you’re submitting your work to and find opportunities that you might not have otherwise even really known existed.

You can also search that database in Submittable for various types of things. If you like to write, I don’t know, travel writing, then you could kind of search for those opportunities. If you like to write horror or mystery, you’re going to find those opportunities. So it’s a great resource and it’s free. I sound like a commercial for it, but I’ve told several younger writers that are just starting out, and photographers, and artists about it, and they’ve circled back and told me like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.” So I think it’s a really good one.

I found some really good opportunities in there. In fact, I maybe wouldn’t have this book deal if it hadn’t been for a short story I submitted through Submittable to a contest. My short story won that contest a few years ago and my agent identified me through that contest, reached out to me, then I started working with my agent and then she got me the book deal.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s really not in my style of writing or my genre, it’s not even necessarily a novel, but The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

I’ve often recommended that book to people because I’ve never been a big reader of that particular vein of book, which might be a little bit of almost self-help, or reflection, or self-discovery. But a friend of mine recommended it to me many years ago when I was going through a tough time personally, and when I read the book, it really helped change the way I looked at my life and kind of changed my perspective on the future ahead at that time and it kind of gave me hope at a difficult time.

Oftentimes, I think back to little aspects of that book, passages from that book at different times and, as you go through life, you kind of find different meaning in them or different aspects that have meaning. The people I’ve recommended it to have also told me they were very touched by it and really help them get some positive perspective on how their life was going or hard decisions they were facing, things like that. It’s a really special book.

What is your favorite quote?

I keep a quote on my desktop, on my computer, because I never want to misquote it. The quote is, “You write in order to change the world. If you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

That’s by James Baldwin. He’s one of my favorite writers as well. But I love that. Definitely part of why I write is that.

Key Learnings:

  • Trust yourself and your vision. Your unique perspective can be valuable tool in being successful, so don’t allow yourself to lose sight of that.
  • Stay focused on your goals. If you keep your goals in mind, and remember why you established these goals in the first place, you will be more likely to achieve them.
  • Be open to the wisdom of others. Whether it’s a book recommendation or a piece of advice, people have a lot they can show you.