Iván Sánchez, autor of the memoir “Next Stop.”
Two first-time authors bring fresh Boricua lit right from the streets
By Carlos Rodríguez Martorell
Two Boricua authors from New York are debuting this fall with stories of hard-earned lessons from the streets.
Iván Sánchez’s harrowing memoir “Next Stop” involves guns, drug dealing, addiction, fights and everything a gang member can experience during a lifetime — only he went through all of it before reaching drinking age.
“I was brought up in a pretty harsh environment,” says Sánchez, 32, whose book, which comes out Tuesday, chronicles the violence-infested Kingsbridge section of the Bronx of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“My mother left New York when I was 15, and she tried to take us to Virginia,” says Sánchez, who decided to stay in the city.
“Because I was pretty much living alone, I was able to just kind of run wild and make all kinds of mistakes.”
And so did dozens of friends who didn’t live to tell about it. “I lost about 15 or 20 friends killed,” he says, unable to recall the exact number.
Sánchez left the Bronx in 1993 and settled in Virginia, where he lives with his wife Stormy Sanchez and three daughters.
A computer technician, he has partnered with actress April Lee Hernández as a youth advocate and motivational speaker.
“I’ve been able to turn my life around,” says Sánchez, although, as a writer, he may have got himself into trouble. In “Next Stop” (Touchstone, $14), he used the real names of some of his ex-friends’ crack dealers, “a crazy idea,” he admits.
“I’ve received a lot of death threats,” he says. “And I have reasons to fear for my life.”
Once he even brought a bullet proof vest when visiting the city but ended up not wearing it. “I figured if someone’s gonna kill me for writing an honest book, maybe there’s a lesson in that as well.”
Author Daniel Serrano never feared for his life, but did lose the first manuscript of his debut novel, “Gunmetal Black” (Grand Central Publishing), on 9/11.
“I was a paralegal at a reinsurance company that had its offices in Tower 2,” says Serrano, 41, a Brooklyn resident who never made it into Manhattan that day.
“I left three years’ worth of work on the hard drive and on a disk next to the computer,” he says.
Serrano rewrote the entire novel, which is the story of Chicago Boricua Eddie Santiago, an ex-con who dreams of settling down in Miami to run a salsa shop but can’t get a break from old friends and corrupt cops.
“Tough neighborhoods are diverse, and so are Latinos,” says Serrano, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago.
“Growing up, I knew ghetto-nerds like Junot Díaz’s Oscar Wao, but I also knew street-smart kids like Eddie. Myself, I walked somewhere in the middle.”
Most of the action and romance packed “Gunmetal Black,” published last month, is set in Chicago’s Paseo Boricua.
“Today, that neighborhood is largely gentrified, but when I grew up, it was notorious for poverty, crime and drugs,” he says. “Nevertheless, it was a ‘home away from home’ for many Puerto Ricans.”
Although they haven’t met yet, both Sánchez and Serrano share a bond with other Boricua crime writers, such as the late Jerry A. Rodríguez, who died of cancer last June.
“When I read about his passing I choked up and felt a loss, because there was something uniting us,” says Serrano, whose next book is “Boogiedown,” a thriller centering on NYPD Detective Cassandra Maldonado.
As for Sánchez, he has just finished co-writing the autobiography of DJ Disco Wiz, “the first Latino hip-hop deejay in the ’70s,” to be published after his unlikely literary debut.
“In my first interviews after the book came out, [in a self-published edition] people kept asking me if I was a fan of [street-wise writers] Piri Thomas and Luis Rodríguez. And to tell you the god-honest truth, I had never heard of any of them,” he says.
“I had never finish reading an entire book in my life.”