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Nina Alvarez says the process of writing a book is a metaphor for the journey of life.
Her business, Dream Your Book, helps clients develop their writing and see their book projects through to publication. Her clients quickly learn that she is interested not only in what they are writing but who they are. What are the words behind the words?
"I'm interested in the idea, the sense, that everyone has a reason they're here. It's the idea that ... you remove obstacles from the text, that it's not the real story. It's the person behind the person, the story behind the story," she says.
Alvarez, 35, grew up in Gates and attended Aquinas Institute. From an early age, she wanted to be published. She got her wish when Teen magazine printed one of her poems in high school. When she enrolled in college, however, she declared a psychology major, not yet understanding that creative writing and a love of books could fuel a career. Soon, though, she switched her degree to English.
"I started to think ... not only is this what I do, but this is what I am," she says.
Still, she had trouble envisioning creative writing as a career. She remembers raising her hand in class and asking how to submit a story for publication. Her question was waved off as if she were completely missing the point.
"There aren't a lot of models for doing this as a living," she says.
For a few months after graduating in 2001, Alvarez worked on a loading dock at Eastman Kodak Co., operating a forklift and reading literary theory on break. She felt the tug of Oregon and left to work at a youth hostel, then moved to Brooklyn with a boyfriend. She found work in customer service at Foreign Affairs magazine, but it left her empty.
"I feel looking back it was a heartbreak that happened in that time. Nobody wanted me to edit their magazines," she says, laughing. "I kept trying to write novels but couldn't finish them."
That's when she returned to school, earning a master's degree in English at SUNY Albany. A fellowship in the writing center gave Alvarez her first taste of working with others on their writing. She spent her last semester in South Africa; her thesis, based on a long interview with a Xhosa woman who became her friend, was a blend of critical analysis, memoir and creative non-fiction.
"I was very, very serious about changing the world," she recalls. "I'm more moment-by-moment now."
Alvarez returned to Rochester and taught composition and literature for three years at Finger Lakes Community College and Monroe Community College. At that time she inherited a small publishing company from friends in Albany. Even though she knew it wasn't a moneymaker, it appealed to her love of books and "made me feel like I was on track."
For the first time, Alvarez faced the challenge of selling a book online and placing it in bookstores. The book was a tough sell.
When Alvarez grew tired of teaching, she moved to Philadelphia, where a staffing agency for creatives found jobs for her in corporations and non-profits. There she cut her teeth on editing, learning copy editing skills and using style guides, "things that people don't think are important, but if it's missing you notice it," she says.
Her boyfriend, a freelance photographer, encouraged her to go out on her own as a freelancer. She moved into her parents' Florida home to cut expenses and got work as a freelance copywriter and a blogger. After a visit to friends in Paris, she decided to move there-but after arranging for an apartment over email, she discovered the offer was a scam. She lost $2,000.
"I sat on my parents' porch and stared at a tree for a month," Alvarez recalls. "That was a really big lesson to get over myself."
Staying in the States with a bruised ego led to the work Alvarez does today. Within three weeks she had landed a book-editing client. She has worked with the client on several books, the first of which recently was picked up for publication. She also sharpened her skills in social media, taking on writer clients to help them build an author platform, an online presence to draw publishers and readers.
These are lessons Alvarez shares with students at Writers & Books. She teaches classes on the business of writing and the hard work of publishing.
"They come into Writers & Books and they don't really know what they are up against," she says. "The joke is that my business is called Dream Your Book but it should be called Realistically Consider Your Book. My job is to go in and see what is there in terms of structure and logic."
When she returned to Rochester in 2011, five years after she had left, the city had changed. Friends told her there was new entrepreneurial energy and collaborative spirit.
"All of these places I'd thought of moving to-California, Paris-and Rochester felt resonant," Alvarez says. "It was really just based on a strong intuition. I felt really connected to the land and connected to the people, and I wanted to be in that sense of community."
She has been busy since her return. Her play, "The Life of Leo Wool," will be staged in April by Greater Rochester Repertory Companies at RAPA. Through the recently launched CordageBooks.com, Alvarez is creating artistic and experimental book projects with other writers using a co-op model. She wants to coach more and copy edit less.
And she teaches a class at Writers & Books on the metaphysical side of writing-accessing the writer's inner voice.
"Inspiration is ... where I'm being channeled by something greater," she explains. "I want to work with people on the level of the spirit, helping them figure out why they want to write. I do feel much more pulled toward helping people hear and find their voice through their writing. This is something I want to do for people in a more open way. It is a transition for me.
"The real joy of my life is I'm starting to be more open about who I am, to speak my truth more honestly and to help people. And if writing ... comes out of that, that will just be a byproduct."
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