Karlina Veras Reid is a trailblazer and a half. A Dominican living in London since 2006, she is one of the most vivacious, creative and go-getting women I have had the pleasure to meet. Her first book, Yun Yun, was published in 2018 and has received high acclaim in the literary world.
Working in media marketing by day, Karlina works tirelessly towards her dreams of becoming a full-time writer. Focus, planning and sheer determination keep her on track to realise her goals. Last week I caught up with Karlina to find out how she became a self-published success and carved out her niche in the Caribbean literary circuit, all by her fabulous self...
Who are you, and what’s your story?
Well, my social media bio reads ‘Dominican legend writing her way through life’, and that sums me up! For me, writing is a way of working things out within myself, of trying different things.
Writing has always been part of my life, ever since I was a little girl and wrote the letter ‘a’. There are stories of me using my mum’s lipstick to write on the walls. Eventually, she just gave me a bit of wall to ruin. I’ve always been very artistic and expressive with words. When I’m talking I waffle and go around in circles, but when I have a pen and paper, I don’t have distractions and I can be myself. It took me a long time to realise that writing is my path.
What got in the way?
I am very artistic, so I paint and also play piano. I thought music was my thing, but when it was my time to go to university in the Dominican Republic, there were no options to study a creative career. There were options which meant leaving home and I didn’t want to do that so I studied advertising and communications, which was the closest I could find to something creative. I was always writing on the side to keep me sane with the odd story and poetry- really bad poetry!!
I got into the University of Miami to study music composition, but I knew something else was calling me. So I found a course in London, finished my degree and did freelance film scoring and gigs, but it was so hard. And being a session musician was hard. I realised that I didn’t enjoy it enough to make it a success. I have more flair with writing than music, and once I focused more on writing it, all started to sparkle and became my path. I wrote more and more, then quit music just to focus on writing. I still play piano and music is now in my words.
What was the turning point for you to start focusing on your writing?
It was a long journey. I would always get lost in films and novels. The fact that I didn’t get to study writing when I was younger made me go for it even more.
I was part of an anthology which made me feel really good. In 2011 I found a part-time job in a media company as a receptionist. Being Latin, it was difficult to be taken seriously, or to get my foot in the door. I work in marketing within the TV and on-demand world, and I am always juggling. I started finding writing groups in London, which helped build my confidence, sharing my work. Although I’ve always written, I wasn’t consistently sharing my work because I didn’t study it at university. That made me think ‘oh ok I can do this.’
What was your first book about?
Yun Yun is a compilation of flash fiction in Spanish, and it resembles Dominican life. From different characters and different points of view. Some are really short and poetic, and it was important that it represented my culture. It has a lot of social issues, the way Latin curiosity is, but at the same time it’s funny, colloquial, I focus on slang and the way people speak. Language is important to get the flavour of that part of the world.
Yun Yun book cover
You self-published Yun Yun this year. How was the process and how did you get the fantastic recognition that you did?
I hired a publicist in the Dominican Republic and organised a media tour. I got active on social media, writing to associations, bloggers, and reviewers. I hired an editor and made mistakes along the way but I learned from every one of them! I hired a graphic designer, and my sister illustrated the front cover. It’s important to delegate - I can do it, but I don’t want to do it. I want to focus on writing. I didn’t write as much in the six months after I wrote the book, because there was a lot of activity due to publishing the book myself. I was in control, but it also took a lot of mental energy and time. I sent the book to people who would review it, book me for interviews and conferences. It turns out there’s a real niche market for Caribbean writing!
Would you recommend self-publishing?
It depends on your circumstances. In my case, I self-published because I live in London and didn’t know many people in the literary world. My first book in Spanish and I felt it was my way to do it. You may be someone who already studied writing, or have connections so maybe you could go through an agent first. But all that takes a lot of time. The good thing about self-publishing is that it gives you an idea of what the process is about. You’re not dancing with the fairies when it all happens.
I’ve been approached by an Italian publisher, and the process is completely different. I sent her the book to read; she sent me the terms of the contract and that was it! I could focus on my other writing and I thought ‘oh this makes sense’ as I’m not making every single decision.
Did you write down your vision and goals? How did you keep focused on them?
I have a notebook for everything, and I do write down my goals in a goals spreadsheet. I write down different aspects of my life and where I want to be in a year’s time. I try to look at it every morning. After the workday ends, I’m exhausted, so I get up at 3-4 am to work on my dreams, and then write what I want to achieve the next day: writing in a journal, exercising, doing Tai Chi, then writing. Sometimes I do all of it, sometimes I don't, but if I do a bit, then it beats zero.
How do you feel that your experience of different cultures has influenced you and your writing?
If I hadn’t lived in London, maybe my book wouldn’t be published. Perhaps it was a necessity to anchor my longing and nostalgia. I’m not the only one. Look at Hemingway and Fitzgerald who were living in Paris, but were writing about the US. Sometimes you have to leave to get closer. That was part of the process. If I hadn’t written that first book, the things that are happening now maybe wouldn't have happened. Now that I am getting to know the publishing world doors are opening to me. People are asking me to work with them.
At the beginning of this year, I saw an ad on Facebook from a production company focused on telling Latin American Stories in a series of monologues. I had a piece in a drawer and said to myself; there’s something here. So I revisited it and submitted it. It was the first monologue of the series they announced. I was super thrilled.
It’s called La Viralata, which means ‘Stray’, and it’s about how living abroad can sometimes feel like that, not belonging here or there. Because the experience of living away from home has made you someone else, but that doesn’t mean you fully belong where you are. Maybe it’s about that, making peace with the idea that you’ll never belong anywhere, owning your ‘strayness’ - if there is such a word.
La Viralata Short Film
What does success look like for you?
I ask myself, ‘am I successful’? Well, I'm working like hell to get where I want. So yes. But what else is success? I think success for me right now is striving for what I want, freedom and peace. Peace is so important. Writing is a hard thing to do, to write well, but it’s what I love, and so it gives me peace. And it’s being on that journey. There’s no trophy at the end, and there’s always somewhere higher you can go. So I’m just travelling down that road! And success is certainly not a straight line!
What tips would you give to an aspiring writer?
I would say, first of all, read a lot and write a lot. I don’t understand writers who don’t. You should write every day, consistently. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but every day. It gets your confidence and juices going. The more you do something, the better you get at it. It’s a lonely process, so I do recommend signing up to writing groups because you meet other writers and can discuss literature in a different way than speaking with your friends. It’s important to share your work with other people as it’ll give you that thick skin you need to be in the literary world. It’s true that to be a writer, you don’t have to go to writing school, but if you want to, it doesn’t hurt! The reason why people go to school or creative courses is that it gives you the full-time opportunity to read a lot and write a lot, and for the connections. If I could go back in time, I would have done it. At the end of the day, if you want to do something, you should just go and do it!
What’s next for you?
I’ve written a novel, and I’m now going through the editing process. It will be with an independent publisher in Mexico in 2021. I have three film scripts I’m working on, and Yun Yun has been published in Italy by Edizioni Arcoiris, a beautiful independent publisher in Salerno, Italy that focuses on Latin American Literature. I am also working on the English translation of Yun Yun. And the life of a full-time writer hopefully!
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Yun Yun in Spanish, visit here.
For a copy in Italian, visit here.